Thursday, 26 November 2015

Look and Listen

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.
(Rev 3:20) NLT

Summer abundance. Gratifying days of planting, watching things grow. Little hands learn to press a new seedling down gently as it is seated in the soil. Letting my own hands sink deeply into a warm, fragrant pile of compost (and ignoring the tell-tale ache at the small of a "repaired" back). New winged visitors find their way into our garden, and we listen wide-eyed to their calls and conversations. And then just as sudden as the summer heat, another misty day arrives. Bringing respite and rest from hard work.

Indoor days are meant to be gentle, and for most times they are. But there are "those" days... Like when I find myself outside a bedroom door, the sound of it's slamming still ringing in my ears. Deep breath. A little hurt at being "shut out" so easily. Too soon there may be more than just a door between us. But for now, a gentle coaxing (or a not so subtle threat at times), still gives me access, and I am allowed to hold all that precious softness once more.

My message today is an impromptu one, and I hope to keep it short and unedited. As we are nearing a season of heightened busyness and hype, it is once again so easy to shut Christ out of Christmas time.

It is not the distant story of baby Jesus that we celebrate. It is the reality of the living Christ, who was born into humanity in the most humble manner. As helpless babe. God came near in flesh and form of a man, but always remained God.

Peter said it best. "We were eyewitnesses of His majesty". His Majesty. The emperor of Juda. The soaring eagle of eternity. The noble Admiral of the Kingdom. All the splendour of heaven revealed in human body. For a period ever so brief, the doors to the throne room were opened and God came near. His Majesty was seen. Heaven touched earth and as a result earth can know heaven.

Those who missed His Majesty's arrival that night, missed it not because of evil or malice; they missed it because they simply weren't looking and listening. And maybe because they were too busy?

It is easy to get caught up in all this busyness. Even if you live on a hill in the mountains. The keen young man who helps me in the garden looked at me yesterday, uncharacteristically lugging rocks and directing various projects like a conductor leading the orchestra to a climatic finale. "You making it nice for Christmas?" he asked. "No Joseph", I answered, "it is for every day of looking after this special place." But he did get me thinking.

Jesus not only longs to make Himself known to those who do not know Him, He longs to be known by those who do. He knocks and listens, hears the clatter of pots and pans, the tingling of money being spent, the sound of suitcases being packed and shut for holidays. The sound of busyness.

The busyness in itself is not "wrong". It is when it overcomes us and takes first priority that it veers towards a place where awareness of His Majesty is lost.

How our Lord Jesus' heart will sing if the door is opened and He is invited to share this time with us! God still draws near, is always near, but we can only experience His embrace and live His presence if we stop and acknowledge it.

Invite Him into the stress of getting everything done on time. Invite him into the planning and anticipation for everything to fall into place just so. Invite Him into every moment. But most of all, let's invite Him into the celebration, as the center, the motivation and the reason why we are free to celebrate.

It will be the best Christmas ever.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

A Change of Mind

"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts..." (Hebrews 3:15)

Another misty morning dawns. Time is obscured along with the vegetation around our cabin. A day for planting, copious cups of cocoa, reading, learning and writing. Plans for brush-cutting and work on the newly dug garden pond, are put on hold. Minute droplets float gently, consistently - refreshing all that breathes and grows.

This piece of mountain land that we live on, was a wattle forest when we bought it. The first time we set foot on it, we “bundu-bashed” our way through dense forest and bramble, with a kind neighbour and a flustered, huffing estate agent.

Many years later, we are still taming the wilderness. And at times, just letting it be. It is not a garden to show off. But it is home. A place where children can play freely, with no finicky flower beds or high walls. It has critters and crawlies and secret hide-outs to delight curious boys’ minds and senses.

But not only have our children experienced freedom here. Apart from freedom from the demands of an affluent society and the pressures and expectations attached to it, there is another freedom that is growing gracious roots in our hearts.

After the last blog that I wrote, I felt that there were some aspects concerning how we are truly set free from sin, which I needed to clarify . And how we come to have free access to the loving, just Trinity of God. While it is true that Jesus loves all sinners, regardless of the sin or the condition of the individual - it is not true that He accepts all sinners to come before His throne without the sinner's acknowledgement of their sinful state.

This remains impossible as long as the sinner considers him- or herself "acceptable" in a way of living which is unacceptable to God. With no regret or deep sorrow for sins of the past and the sins of each day. Which continue to block our access to God and are a hindrance to our prayers being answered. Please note: sorrow and regret - not guilt.

Isaiah 30:15 reads: "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it."

And: Acts 3:19: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."

There are two Hebrew words used for repent/repentance in the Old Testament:

1. נחם - naw-kham' The Hebrew word is used 108 times in the OT and is translated, “comfort” 57 times, “repent” 41 (plus 2 more including the noun), “comforter” 9, and “ease” 1. It can mean “regret,” “be moved to pity,” “have compassion” and similar.

2. שׁוּב - shoob A common word in the OT, used over 1,000 times and is usually translated “turn,” “turn back,” “return” or similar.

In the New Testament forms of the word “repent” or “repentance” are used 66 times in 60 verses. The majority of the time it is translated from the Greek words μετάνοια (met-an'-oy-ah), noun, and μετανοέω (met-an-o-eh'-o), verb. It simply means “a change of mind". The object of the change of mind must be determined by the context.

The way I understand this and is made clear in Scripture, is that even though God calls all sinners to Himself through Jesus, we cannot be set free from sin and "turn" to a new joyful life with Him, without repentance towards each other and before God.

This is a hard teaching of Christ. It is unrelenting and direct in its objective; but – as are all things with Christ – it is rooted in unconditional love. The word that Christ would have used to say “repent” is the word “Metanoia”. While the concept of repentance has been distorted into meaning to simply stop sinning, the word that Christ used is a word that means “to think differently”. God’s heart is not focused solely on our actions, but rather, on our motivations. Therefore, His charge to those that follow Him is not only to resist the urge to act negatively. It is to use the opportunity (with His strength) to act positively, according to His will.

In Luke 13:3 Jesus says: "...unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

A group of people came to Jesus and told him about how Pilate had murdered some worshiping Galileans and taken their blood and mixed it with the blood of their sacrifices—their sheep and pigeons and doves. It was a dreadful thing that took place.
Jesus hears it in their voices—these slain Galileans must have really offended God that He allowed something so horrible to happen to them. In other words extraordinary tragedy must signify extraordinary guilt.

But Jesus answers simply, "No, I tell you, BUT unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

These are words that have become hurtful to people's ears. Words like: sin, repentance, judgement.

Scripture says, "Your iniquities have made a separation  between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear." (Isaiah 59:2). Even our prayers will not reach God's ears, we are left without spiritual authority.

Revelation 1:5,6 teaches that Jesus "loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father". 

And therefore, as the Old Testament shows us, coming before God as a priest, means having clean garments and clean hands each time one enters the sanctuary for prayer.

Without cleansing (repentance), we cannot come before God's throne; without cleansing, we lack authority. This does not mean that we are made righteous through our repentance alone. It is still only with and through Jesus that this is made possible. A close relationship with Him, will move us to repentance, as those who love Him, and want to live in right standing with Him.

"The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears toward their cry" (Psalm 34:15). This is why only the entirely righteous One, who lived on this earth could say: "I knew that you always hear me..." (John 11:42)

God longs for us to be priests who will step into the breach, repenting first for ourselves (for judgement always begins with the household of God - 1 Peter 4:17), and then for others. But sadly, often our ears are deaf, because our hearts, in love with this world, have grown hard and insensitive to God's judgements. How can a nation be roused from its apathy if the priests of God (the Christians) do not wake up first?

"We are challenged to confess our sins, to separate ourselves from the world and to be purified, so that we may live in the sanctuary as priests. Then, as priests, we can, with authority, place the saving and freeing name of Jesus ever anew on all the suffering people in our land and throughout the world. Judgement will be transformed into blessing, as many who do not know the Lord or even hate Him, come to a saving faith in the Redeemer. The forces of destruction will be held back. Amid all the hardships, an eternal weight of glory will be prepared for those who love the Lord, a glory incomparably greater than the sufferings of this present age." (M Basilea Schlink)