Saturday, 21 September 2019

Intended: To the praise of the glory of His grace

It is hot and hazy. A cool breeze sweeps mercifully through the wide open doors and windows of our mountain home. The deep, resonant call of an African Olive pigeon brings the forest closer, frogs call in hope of much needed rain. There is a flurry of activity at the bird feeder, while bees and butterflies visit the lavender and pineapple sage with a regularity and intent that is both soothing and reassuring. A few nights ago I lay awake, trying to pray, while my mind kept wandering into a maze of disjointed thoughts. At some point, a single word came into my head, and I remember thinking: "This seems important, I should explore it when daylight comes." Then daylight came, with all it's busyness and distractions, and the word was forgotten. After I'd served the midday meal and everything was cleared away, I sat down (where we all have to sit down from time to time), and the previous night's time of sleeplessness came back to me. But the word which had seemed so conspicuous then, remained elusive. "Is it important Lord?", I asked. "If so, please help me remember it." And there it was: "Intentional". The word was clear, but it's meaning and application remained a mystery. So, that is why I decided to look into the deeper meaning of the word, more specifically, relating to the character of God, as well as it's possible application in my life, and perhaps yours...

The meaning of the word intentional according to the Cambridge English dictionary is: "planned, intended or deliberate" The definition is: "done by intention or design". Purposeful, willed or conscious are a few more synonyms.

My first thought, before I even opened my bible, was that perhaps Jesus is asking me to be more intentional about the way I serve Him, as I know I can be quite haphazard in much that I do. With Him as an example, I thought to look at some of the ways in which God was and is intentional through His Word.

The creation as we see it in Genesis was clearly intentional. The intended reason why, perhaps not always so. The short answer, that resounds like rolling thunder throughout the bible is: "God created the world and everything in it, for His glory".

Isaiah 43: 6b-7 says: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” The use of the words created, formed and made, point right back to the original act of creation. This is then clearly why all things ultimately exist and what God had intended for all things, - for His glory. But when man was created in the image of God, what was His "intention"?

The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original — to point to the original, glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with "reflectors" of God. So that nobody would miss the point or intention of creation. Then one may ask, if earth is the only inhabited planet and man the only rational inhabitant among the stars, why the whole empty universe? What was God's intention with all that? Is He perhaps trying to show us that it really isn't about us after all, that we are created to love and know and show Him, and the universe serves to give us a glimpse or hint of what He is like? "His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God". ~ Romans 1:20-21.

There are many more verses in scripture that help to press this home, should we loose sight of God's intention with all that was created. Here are a few:

"Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; . . . And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 40:4–5)

"I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols." (Isaiah 42:8)

"Break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel." (Isaiah 44:23)

"For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you. . . . I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another." (Isaiah 48:9–11)

"And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” (Isaiah 49:3)

"For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you." (Isaiah 60:2)

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . . to give them . . . the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that HE may be glorified." (Isaiah 61:1–3)

I read earlier that our lives are intended to be like "telescopes for the glory of God". We were not only created to see and reflect His glory, be amazed and thrilled by it, but to magnify Him, so that others may see and savour Who He Truly Is.

The next question may be: "why this world"?

Why these thousands of years of human history with a glorious beginning, and a horrible fall into sin, and a history of Israel, and the coming of the Son of God into the world, a substitutionary death, a triumphant resurrection, the founding of the church and the history of global missions to where we are today? Why this world? This history? (John Piper)

The short answer to that question is: For the glory of God’s grace displayed supremely in the death of Jesus. Or to say it more fully: this world, all history as it is unfolding, was created and is guided and sustained by God, so that the grace of God, supremely displayed in the death and resurrection of Jesus for sinners, would be glorified throughout all eternity in the Christ- and joy-filled lives of the redeemed. 

“God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5–6). In other words, the glory of God’s grace -what Paul calls “the riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7) - is the pinnacle in the revelation of God’s glory. And would the aim of this intended predestination not simply be, that we live to the praise of the glory of this grace now and forever?

Paul says in Romans 9:22–23, “Desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, God has endured with much patience vessels of wrath . . . in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.” God planned and intended this - even His wrath - the praise of the glory of his grace - before creation.

“God chose us in him before the foundation of the world . . . to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:4, 6). Grace did not come as an afterthought in response to the fall of man. It was intended, the crown of His redemptive work. He intended the world for the glory of his grace, not as a playground for man.
From before creation, it was God's intention, that the praise of the glory of his grace would come about through the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Again, Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9: “God called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Before the ages of time began, the intention was for the glory of the grace of God to be revealed, through Jesus.

Before there was any human or sin to die for, God planned that his Son be slain for sinners. We know this because of the name given to the book of life before creation. “Everyone [will worship the beast] whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8).

The name of the book before creation was “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” It is not easy for us to imagine a time before time, a time before Adam, a time when the God of the universe already intended this unfathomable grace, intended the praise of the glory of His grace through Jesus' redemptive death on a cursed cross. But He did.

For all eternity we will sing “the song of the Lamb.” We will lift our hands and proclaim: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). We will praise ten thousand things about our Savior. But we will not be able to say anything more glorious than this: you were slain . . . and ransomed millions.

I started writing this, thinking that I would find a way in which to "live intentionally" for Jesus. To overcome a perceived flaw in my character. To understand what He had intended for me in this messy world. Instead, there is a new lustre in the night sky, millions of stars reflecting His glory back to me. Each crashing wave of the ocean tells it, the forest whispers it, birds sing it out! Each sunrise and sunset a megaphone shouting: "Look, it is Him, the Master!" And once again, the most beautiful realisation of all, is this: It is not about me, about what I do or say or write or make or think or pray... It is about how I show Jesus - by sitting at His feet, learning to know Him, loving Him. By becoming less, so that He can become more. By surrendering what I think I need to be, to the perfection that God is. By living out the freedom that His sacrifice bought. By living in the victory of His resurrection. By walking in the light that is Jesus. 

All the while, knowing this to be true: that God chose me and you, before the foundation of the earth... to be accepted in the beloved, His Son Jesus, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Seek His Face, Continually

Seek the Lord and His strength, seek His face continually ~ 
1 Chronicles 16:11

Crab Apple Tree Blossoms

It is a crisp new morning. A heavy dew covers our wooden deck and sparkles on the blossom-bedecked Crabapple tree. The Cape Parrots make a noisy fly past across a clear, powder blue sky. New tender growth pushes through the leaf-covered ground and shows on the stark white limbs of Silver Birches. Spring is certainly in the air, but it is a subdued arrival this year. The normal exuberance of the season has been inhibited by an abnormal dry Winter in our mountain village. Dust hangs in suffocating clouds over our roads. Streams dry up and there is a mild panic in the air, as people realise that their once overflowing water tanks are empty and their taps may soon run dry. People gather to pray for the heavens to open, yet others call for rain dances to be performed, to appease the gods, ancestors,  or whoever they believe to be with-holding the live-giving water.

The verse that is often used by Christians when praying in a time of drought or upheaval in our country is 2 Chronicles 7:14 ~ "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." I thought to look briefly into the background, context and deeper meaning of this verse. I looked at a few references besides the Bible and Bible commentary, but have found for biblical questions and answers very helpful. Therefore some of the following was taken more or less directly from this source.

The key to understanding any verse of Scripture is context. There is the immediate context—the verses before and after it, as well as the larger context of Scripture—how the verse fits into the overall story. There is also the historical and cultural context—how the verse was understood by its original audience in light of their history and culture. Because context is so important, a verse whose meaning and application seem straightforward when quoted in isolation may mean something significantly different when it is taken in context.

When approaching 2 Chronicles 7:14, one must first consider the immediate context. After Solomon dedicated the temple, the Lord appeared to him and gave him some warnings and reassurances. “The Lord appeared to him at night and said: ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.’ When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

The immediate context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows that the verse relates to Israel and the temple, and the fact that from time to time God sent judgement upon the land in the form of drought, locusts, or pestilence.

A few verses later God says this: “But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshipping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’”

No doubt Solomon would have recognised this warning as a reiteration of Deuteronomy 28. God had entered into a covenant with Israel and promised to take care of them and cause them to prosper as long as they obeyed him. He also promised to bring curses upon them if they failed to obey. Because of the covenant relationship, there was a direct correspondence between their obedience and their prosperity, and their disobedience and their hardship. Deuteronomy 28 spells out the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience. Again, divine blessing and divine punishment on Israel were conditional on their obedience or disobedience.

We see this blessing and cursing under the Law play out in the book of Judges. Judges chapter 2 is often referred to as “The Cycle of the Judges.” Israel would fall into sin. God would send another nation to judge them. Israel would repent and call upon the Lord. The Lord would raise up a judge to deliver them. They would serve the Lord for a while and then fall back into sin again. And the cycle would continue.

In 2 Chronicles 7, the Lord reminds Solomon of the previous agreement. If Israel obeys, they will be blessed. If they disobey, they will be judged. The judgement is meant to bring Israel to repentance, and God assures Solomon that, if they will be humble, pray, and repent, then God will forgive them and deliver them from the judgement.

In context 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a promise to ancient Israel that, if they will repent and return to the Lord, He will rescue them. As the true church - His people who are called by His name - we are part of this covenant and God's dealings with Israel serve as an example to us. But it also means that the promises of this covenant are indeed conditional. There is a popular interpretation that if Christians humble themselves and pray for their nation that God promises to heal their land - often a moral and political healing is expected as well as economic healing. The question is whether or not this is a proper interpretation/application.

The first problem that the modern-day, “Westernized” interpretation encounters is that we do not have the same covenant relationship with God as a nation, that ancient Israel enjoyed.  Certainly, if a nation is in trouble, a prayerful and repentant response by Christians in that nation is always appropriate and part of what God calls us to do. However, there is another issue that is often overlooked.

When ancient Israel repented and sought the Lord, they were doing so en masse. The nation as a whole repented. It was national repentance. There was never any indication that a small minority of the nation (a righteous remnant) could repent and pray and that the fate of the entire nation would change. God promised deliverance when the entire nation repented.

When 2 Chronicles 7:14 is applied to any modern nation, it is usually with the understanding that the Christians in that nation—the true believers in Jesus Christ who have been born again by the Spirit of God—will comprise the righteous remnant. God never promised that if a righteous remnant repents and prays for their nation, that the nation will be saved. Perhaps if national repentance occurred, then God would spare a modern nation as He spared Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah (see Jonah 3)—but that is a different issue.

Having said that, it is always appropriate to confess our sins and pray—in fact it is our duty as believers to continuously confess and forsake our sins so that they will not hinder us (Hebrews 12:1) and to pray for our nation and those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1–2). God in His grace will bless our nation as a result—but there is no guarantee of national deliverance. Even if God did use our efforts to bring about national repentance and revival, there is no guarantee that the  nation will be politically or economically saved. As believers, we are guaranteed personal salvation in Christ (Romans 8:1), and we are also guaranteed that God will use us to accomplish His purposes, whatever they may be. It is our duty as believers to live holy lives, seek God, pray, and share the gospel knowing that all who believe will be saved, but the Bible does not guarantee the political, cultural, or economic salvation of our nation.

So how do we then pray for deliverance, whether from regional or national drought or political/economical/moral crises? We know from the above that God judges individuals and areas, but that there is also a judgement of nations. That is how we know that we cannot scorn our responsibility to pray for our country and it's people. No one can really prescribe to another how to pray, whether it is for our country, brothers and sisters in Christ, family, friends or those who do not know or wish to know Jesus. It is in humble submission and drawing closer to Jesus, that the Holy Spirit will help us to pray sincerely and powerfully.  It is also in this place of surrender and reliance that we will experience the Lord's peace, grace and strength, in the midst of His judgement on our nation as a whole. 

But 2 Chronicles 7:14 is not only a call to prayer, it is call to repentance, for a people and individuals to "get right with God". It suggests responsibility on the hearer's part. God was saying to Solomon, "You are the man to carry my flame into the world." And, to the nation of Israel, "You are the people. The responsibility of proclaiming my forgiveness and healing is yours."  At the start of the chapter, at the dedication of the temple a fire descended from heaven and consumed the burnt offering (which was rather substantial) and the "glory of the Lord filled the temple". (The temple symbolised commitment to worship and partnership with God.) So there they were, amidst a huge bonfire that simply fell from heaven, the smell of burnt meat all around them. If there was one or two who were not on their knees by now, the glory of the Lord would have brought them face-down with awe and trembling from head to toe. God has always used fire to identify His presence and to purify His people. 

People who are right with God are separated from the world. They are sanctified and made holy. Jesus himself prayed that all his followers would be separated from the world, "I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth" (John 17:15-19). Jesus used the word sanctify three times. It means to set apart for sacred use or make holy. Remember what Peter wrote, "but, as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16).

A person who is right with God is a person made holy. They have separated themselves from the world. They have distanced themselves from sin. They have detached themselves from evil. It shows in how they live, how they talk, and how they think.

A law of physics states that two objects cannot occupy the same space. That is also true regarding our hearts. God and sin can never occupy the same space. 

People who are right with God, who have fallen in love with the God of the universe, meet Him in his consuming glory. They long to meet God in worship and prayer. They know that worship and prayer is not a means to an end, it is an encounter with the living God and part of an ongoing relationship with Him.

People who are right with God are humble. They know that their Saviour Jesus, once humbled himself ultimately on the cross, so that we could be  "made right" with our God. They know that there is nothing that we can do to save or sanctify ourselves. We do what we do, out of obedience and for the glory of God, any other reason would be conceited or for our own gain. He longs for us to "seek His face" constantly, spend time with Him, long to know Him and seek the truth in His Word. He does not say "seek my hand", as we so often just want a helping hand, rather than a personal encounter.

The last "condition" that God gives Solomon in this verse, is to turn from their wicked ways. It shows the direction of our walk, away from our sins, towards our God. Repentance literally means to turn around, to change the direction in which the heart is inclined. It is a change of mind that calls for a change of way. It is an act of the will, not just a "saying sorry" or a feeling.

Be encouraged by the knowledge that we serve a God who does not merely want lip service from His children. He wants an all-consuming, ongoing love-relationship with us. He wants to be the fire that cleanses, the fire that sets us aglow for Him. He wants us to not only cling desperately to His hand, but to look for His beautiful face, for there and there alone will we find His perfect presence, His perfect will, and His joyful response to our worship and prayer.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Who builds your house?

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. ~ Psalm 127:1

Image result for autumn

Autumn slips softly into the mountains. At first the changes are subtle. The pale limbs of Silver Birches become exposed as yellowing leaves curl, and let go. Barely breathing or blinking, we spy on a Knysna Loerie. He is perched on a branch flanking the deck, his graceful neck and artfully painted face tilted towards us - frozen-to-the-spot inconspicuous.* In the distance, the first flecks of amber stand out against a green forest canopy. Dawn brings with it a hint of Winter, the smell of Wattle-smoke and a reluctance to leave the sweet warmth of night. I glance furtively at our woodpile, suddenly so insignificant, measured against the long winter months ahead. Outside our kitchen window, the tiny double collared sun-birds flit among the pineapple sage flowers. The male hangs upside down from a swaying stem, his jewel coloured breast shimmering in the sun. A curved beak disappears deep into the cerise heart of a flower. We find the swaying pod of their meticulously constructed nest near the washing line. The female (yes, the woman gets to build the house in this family... ) delicately weaves grasses, lichen, plant matter and spider webs to make a sturdy ball. Her design even includes a small veranda over the opening to shield her young from the elements. The interior of the nest is a cosy lining of soft plant matter, feathers, and fur.

I smiled (and cringed a little) as I remembered all the planning and deliberating that went into our wooden home. I had ambitious ideas of nooks and crannies, a loft for stargazing, carved wooden deck railings, etc... My brother (who was the builder, project manager and practical Dutch-stubborn-perfectionist), had other ideas. Which I eventually, although reluctantly, surrendered to, in order to save family relationships. With the result that we have a well-built, simple, strong and wonderful house that works. I also recall how meticulously the foundation was designed, and redesigned until my brother was absolutely sure that it would be sound, solid, secure, stable and enduring.

When setting out to plan and/or build the home that one intends to live in, raise children, be safe from the elements, no-one would want to cut corners or settle for shabby workmanship. As I grew up the daughter of a builder, dusty, raw building sites were often my playgrounds. I have a distinct memory of my dad pushing over a newly built wall with the ball of his foot. I watched in horror as the bricks fell away from us (fortunately...). With his practised eye, he could see at a glance that it was no good. Not enough or too much "daga", the wrong mix of cement and sand in the daga, the bricks not laid properly, inadequate foundation... Whatever the reason, the builder of that wall had laboured in vain, and his efforts were destroyed in a second.

The reason my thoughts have been on houses and their construction, is this verse: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain." (Psalm 127:1). I picked it up in a song a while ago, and the phrase has been tip-toeing through my mind ever since. Even though the psalm was probably written by David for his son Solomon at the time when the temple was being built, it is not really our earthly houses or church buildings that God is concerned about. Both David and Solomon understood that the work of man had its place, but was of little ultimate consequence without the work and blessing of God.

In Scripture a dispensation/system/family is called a house. Moses was faithful as a servant over all his house; and as long as the Lord was with that house it stood and prospered; but when He left it, the builders of it became foolish and their labour was lost. They sought to maintain the walls of Judaism, but sought in vain: they watched around every ceremony and tradition, but their care was idle. Of every church, family and every system of religious thought, this is equally true: unless the Lord is in it, and is honoured by it, the whole structure must sooner or later fall in hopeless ruin. Much can be done by man; we can both labour and watch; but without the Lord we have accomplished nothing, and our wakefulness cannot and will not ward off evil.

In John 2:19 Jesus tells the Jews who had been asking him for a sign to prove His authority: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Naturally the Jews were bewildered, hadn't it taken 46 years of building to finish the temple! But Jesus was referring to his body, and only after He walked out of that dark tomb, did the disciples understand... Later in John, we see Jesus comforting his disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit who was to come. He says:
"A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul asks the Corinthian believers a question: “Or do you not realise about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?”

Jesus is holy God, the Word (Logos) who became flesh, and we are fallen sinners. So how can Christ live in us? To accomplish His desire to dwell within mankind, God took some tremendous steps. First, God Himself became a man named Jesus Christ. This man, Jesus, lived an authentic human life on earth, yet without sin. In His living, His actions, and His speaking, He fully expressed God. After living and experiencing every aspect of human life for thirty-three and a half years, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Through His redemptive death, we can be forgiven of our sins and brought back to God. But this is not all. After three days He rose in victory from the dead, and in his resurrection became the life giving Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul asks: "Do you not know that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, your were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies."

"Temple" refers to the dwelling place or the house of God. The temple Solomon built was magnificent! Many parts of the temple were overlaid with pure gold, including the altar and the inner sanctuary (1 Kings 6:21-22). Why?
Our bodies, which are to be the temple of the Holy Spirit are equally magnificent. Made so, only by God's indwelling. Made holy and pure by His presence. The body that receives the gift of the Holy Spirit is precious to God and is to reflect His nature. I have been asking myself: Do I live in an awareness that my frail, fleshy body, houses the Spirit of the living Christ? Does His Word dwell in me richly? Do I keep the dwelling place of God clean for Him? Do I allow Jesus to build daily onto the wonderful foundation of His saving grace in me? Or do I labour in vain for "things" that please people or myself, rather than the Spirit that lives in me? Do I care more for my outward appearance than for the sanctuary that Jesus has made inside of me?

David praised God for His amazing creation - the human body.  As I followed the development of our two children in my womb, I could echo those words - fearfully, wonderfully... But why fearfully? The Hebrew word for fearful is "yare", which can be translated as "to be afraid" or "to stand in awe".  The way we were made, in the image of God, is not so that we can honour these amazing bodies we were given, striving to keep physically strong and happy. God alone is worthy of our awe. More and more, it is Jesus who I stand in awe off as I watch our children grow, knowing that their precious bodies also, were made for Him to live in.

I want to live in the awareness that my body is the temple of God. It is a temporary dwelling, held together only by His grace. In the increasing limitations of my own body, I want to be aware that I serve a limitless God. God who made the perfect way through Jesus, to receive not only forgiveness for sin, but His life-giving Spirit. God who has made a way, for what is decaying, to be eternal, beyond the bonds of bones and flesh... 

*These striking birds (the 10 species of the Turaco and the 2 of the Musophaga) are the only birds to possess true red and green colour. When you look at most birds, the color you are seeing is a reflection produced by the feather structure. The Turaco's red pigment (turacin) and green pigment (turacoverdin) both contain copper. In fact, if you stirred a glass of water with a red Turaco feather, the water would turn pink! The Knysna Loerie is thought to use its red wing feathers to escape predators. Indeed, when it flies, the predators tend to focus on the most visible colour and follow the red patch. As the Loerie lends and folds its wings, the red feathers of the wings become invisible and the Loerie has a chance of escaping unseen.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Be Refreshed!

He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth. ~ Psalm 72:6

It is a mercifully cool morning, with gentle breezes tugging at the curtains. Everything seems to sigh with relief after the melting heat. Our boys discover an old shoe-box full of photographs and time slips away, as we rummage through the past. The beds unmade, our little cat curled contentedly between us. The year has once again settled into a vaguely familiar rhythm, even if it tends to be a syncopated, abstract beat at times. When clouds swell and gather, we look longingly towards the horizon for a promise of moisture...

As parts of our country still thirst desperately for rain, and people become wearied by the pressing responsibilities and realities of the "not so new" year, I thought to turn towards the bible for a little time of refreshing.

Hosea 6:3 says: "Then we shall know, if we follow on to know the Lord: His going forth is prepared as the morning, and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and the former rain unto the earth."

Palestine was especially dependent upon rain, since the people who lived there, cultivated the sides of hills and terraces, which were parched and dry when the rains were withheld. The "former," or autumnal rain, fell in October, at the seed-time; the "latter" or spring rain, in March and April, and it was this rain that filled the ears of grain before harvest, reviving and refreshing the earth to produce an abundant yield. If either were withheld, the harvest failed...

In this we see a wonderful likeness of Him who is the Beginning and the End of our spiritual harvest. To know God is the secret to all wisdom, and for this reason we were created. To know Him as our Saviour, Master, Protector and Friend. It is the source of deep, lasting joy, regardless of the circumstances. The want or lack of this knowledge, can lead to misery and spiritual drought.

"Refreshment" means restoring strength, energy and vigour. A light snack is sometimes referred to as a ‘refreshment’. Rest or exercise can bring physical refreshment.

Paul tells Philemon that he has ‘refreshed the hearts of the saints’ (Philemon 7). Later on in the letter, Paul asks him to ‘refresh my heart in Christ’ (v.20). But how do we refresh our minds, hearts and souls?

1. Refresh your mind with the words of God (Psalm 119:121-128)

Gold is the most valuable thing this world knows. It cannot be tarnished. It shines with a glow like no other metal. Gold is the one metal that all humankind bows down to. Yet, God’s words are far more valuable than even the finest gold. The psalmist writes: ‘I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold’ (v.127).

The source of the psalmist’s soul refreshment is God’s words. Earlier in the psalm he said, ‘My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times … My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word’ (vv.20,28).

Nothing refreshes mind, body and soul, like God's Word.

2. Refresh your heart with the people of God. (Philemon 1:1-25)

Paul writes to his friend Philemon to ask for a favour (v.1). Philemon had a slave called Onesimus who had escaped. Whilst Onesimus was on the run, Paul had led him to Christ (v.10).
Now, in this letter, which is full of grace, humility, genuine love and charm, Paul writes to persuade Philemon to take Onesimus back – not as a slave (the normal fate of a runaway slave was death or flogging and branding on the forehead), but as a friend and brother (v.16). Centuries later, the ripple effect of these words contributed to massive social change. Local history became world history.

It is a request that Paul knows will receive a "yes". He is absolutely confident that Philemon will do what he has asked him to do (v.21). It is a shining example for us, and a challenge, to bring love, forgiveness and reconciliation, especially among our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul goes on to say, ‘Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you have refreshed the hearts of the saints’ (v.7). And he asks Philemon to refresh his heart in Christ by another act of love (v.20). His whole appeal for Onesimus is ‘on the basis of love’ (v.9).

Forgiveness involves extending love and mercy to someone who has wronged or hurt you. It clears the way to reconciliation and restoration of a relationship.

Love refreshes the heart and the soul. Spending time with and edifying people we love and who love us, whether it is family, friends or neighbours, refreshes our hearts and souls.

3. Refresh your soul in the presence of God (Lamentations 2:7, 3:39)

We see in this passage that Jeremiah's heart is in great need of refreshment. As he looks out at the devastation of Jerusalem, he is surrounded by the most appalling suffering. There is destruction all around. The people are starving. It has reached the point where there is the possibility of women eating their own children.

It is not just that the suffering is all around Jeremiah. It is also in his own heart and soul. He writes, ‘My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground’ (2:11). His heart is pierced (3:13). He feels besieged and surrounded by ‘bitterness and hardship’ (v.5). He is dwelling in darkness (v.6).

But he knows that the answer lies in the presence of the Lord. He writes, ‘Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord’ (2:19).

He goes on, ‘My soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose 
hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him …
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love’ (3:20–25,32).

Times of refreshing come from being in ‘the presence of the Lord’ (Acts 3:19).

Our God’s mercy truly is new every morning. You and I have been given the freedom to make a fresh, new start every single day. Regardless of the mess the previous day may have turned out to be. Every day we may seek Him, wait for Him quietly, hope in Him, ask His forgiveness, and be fully refreshed by His beautiful presence, His wondrous Word, and His unfailing love.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019


It is a new year... Cicadas' buzzing song infuses the heat and the cat is stretched long and limp at my feet. On cool forest walks, we spot the first wild mushrooms, with the Rameron Pigeons cooing in the forest canopy. Bramble berries ripen in the sun. It is a season of abundance, fruit trees bend low under the weight of mellowing fruit, fields of wild flowers dazzle, lush green foliage whisper in the breeze. The call of the seldom seen but often heard Piet my Vrou/Red Chested Cuckoo (called the Christmas-bird by the Xhosa people for obvious reasons) has become more drawn out and less urgent. The glossy starlings amuse us with their friendly chatter. A pair of inquisitive yellow billed hornbills come to perch on our deck-railings, clearly finding us as interesting as we find them. When the sun beats down, we slip into a nearby dam, mud curling between our toes. These long Summer days seemed endless, and "playtime" came to an end all too soon. We shed our childlike skins and square our shoulders to face reality. The pace picks up and time just skips ahead - an impatient child, rather hard to keep up with.

As with previous years, I hoped to have a bible verse to make my own at the beginning of this year. A verse which would be like a reminder or promise or a "theme" for 2019. Instead, I got a word: Selah... 

It is not even a word that is read out loud most of the time. A mysterious little word, with no clear interpretation or translation. In many translations of the bible, it is just spelt out phonetically from the Hebrew. The NIV have removed it altogether. It appears 74 times in the bible, 71 times in Psalms, 3 times in the book of Habakkuk. That makes it more frequent than two other "famous" Hebrew words from the bible, "Amen" and "Hallelujah". So it is an important word. Up to very recently, I just had no idea what it meant, or how I could apply it to my every day.

Some biblical scholars speculate that it’s a kind of musical notation, maybe indicating something like a key change, or a repeat. Others think maybe it marks a pause, or a shift in subject or tone. But it is still just speculation. The word Selah is, and will remain, a mystery.

For me, that’s kind of fitting. Some people may think that the Bible is simple, straightforward, and that they have it all figured out. Psalms, and especially "Selah" reminds me that there are many unanswered questions, many mysteries, "For now we see through a glass, dimly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Cor 13:12

Charles Spurgeon (the Prince of Preachers) wrote a beautiful interpretation of the word Selah - Lift up the heart. Rest in contemplation and praise. Still keep the soul in tune... let it be our aim to maintain the uprising devotion of our grateful hearts...

With that in mind, I thought to look at one Psalm and how "Selah" lifts my heart, moves me to rest in contemplation and praise, keeping my soul in tune, maintaining the uprising devotion of my grateful heart.

I chose Psalm 46. Two years ago our boys memorised this Psalm verse by verse. Reading it, I still see their faces, frowning with concentration and dramatising the "dramatic" parts with flourish.

Psalm 46 is not advice, like Proverbs or Psalm 1. It’s not about me, or you or anyone else. Psalm 46 is about God. It is reassurance about who our God is, where God is, and what God has promised us.

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.

6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.

7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.

9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

11 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Firstly, our God is a God of Might. Selah. God is our strength. The one who breaks the bow and shatters the spear, who will, on the wonderful day appointed by Him, make wars cease to the end of the earth. Or, as Martin Luther famously paraphrased this Psalm: A Mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing! (bulwark: a defensive wall, rampart, fortification, protector, guard, defender; or a ship's sides above the level of the deck.)

Our God is a God of Might.

Secondly, our God is a God of Mystery. Selah. Psalm 46 reminds me that no matter how desperately I want to understand why things happen in this world, why God does or does not do the things I may think God should do… there will always be some things beyond my ability to comprehend.

I value this mystery because it enables me to feel and trust in God’s love… love that was fully revealed in Christ Jesus. It reminds me that we are the players of life in God's universe, not the playwright.

God is always greater than our understanding of Him and there will always be mystery about Him that causes us to fall down in awe and worship. This mystery, which we may try to categorise, keeps causing struggles in our life. Every time we get God tidied up like a ball of rubber bands, another end bursts out and the struggle begins all over again... until we learn to live in faith with untidy ends. If everything was clear, then faith would be irrelevant! We are not called to solve the mystery... but enter it. 

Our God is a God of Might, and a God of Mystery.

But finally, and perhaps most importantly, our God is in our Midst. Selah


God with us, among us, ever present;

Before we were born, throughout our lives, and after our days are done;

God who stands with us and strengthens us today and for the road ahead;

God who watches over us, guides us, protects us, comforts us. Selah.

Might, Mystery in our Midst...

So, as the year and the unknown stretches out before you and I, let us enter into the mystery that is our Trinue God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. With trusting hearts lifted up. Resting in contemplation, with souls in tune, keeping the uplifted devotion of our grateful hearts...