11. Go on, open up – it is all yours!

Boom met geskenke

Over most of the world the Christmas trees are up and on. Here in Canada December are marked by long dark hours and every lit tree makes a difference. In all the shops everything around the Feast of Light becomes more beautiful every year. It is with delight that I enjoy the wide variety of talent of a creative world around Christmas, decorating and beautifying to celebrate the coming of the Light of the World. That creativity is God in us; no doubt in my heart about that, although I know not everybody acknowledges that, since not everyone has faith. [2 Thessalonians 3:2].

I have long ago decided to shake off my irritation over the over-commercialization of Christmas and enjoy the cooperation of the most unexpected participants. I marvel at the size and splendour of Christmas trees in so-called pagan societies and countries where Christians are far in the minority. All over the world this day is celebrated with light and a focus on gift-giving and charity. It is, after all, inevitable. The world must hear the Story. In the history of all mankind there is only one man who ever said the words: I am the Light of the world. For every child asking why the trees are lit and gifts exchanged, the reason is given. Giant nativity scenes in many centres tie all the bells, balls and tinsel back to that first Christmas in the manger in Bethlehem. The message goes out over anointed and un-anointed lips. Romans 10:18:

But I ask, Have they not heard? Indeed they have; for the Scripture says: Their voice [that of nature bearing God’s message] has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the far bounds of the world.

We might underestimate the work of God and the power of that invisible Kingdom that Jesus came to establish on earth when He and John the Baptist started their ministry with the very same words:

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. [Matthew 3:2 and 4:17] Could we ever get our minds around the full magnificence of our Father, the God of the universe? If I could stretch my brainpower to the fullest, I would not be able to comprehend the extent of the kingdom of God.

For many Christians the true meaning of Christmas is lost in the baggage of the secular interpretation of gifts and trees and everything shiny. Some even react radical and do not celebrate anymore. Others debate about the elements of the feast and try to eliminate anything “un-Christian”. The Christmas tree is often under suspicion and is thrown out of many homes. We as a family also try to stay true to the message and choose our decorations carefully.

Eugene Peterson, the translator of The Message Bible, has written beautiful Christmas poems and by it, relieved me of some stress about Christmas elements. I gladly reclaimed amongst other things, the cards and the tree and delight in their deeper meaning. He tells of the wonder of Christmas cards, which illustrate the Message in art and poetry being hand-delivered by postal services all over the world.

For us, the Christmas tree in our home is the symbol of everlasting life and victory over death. Isaiah 11:1:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [David’s father];

    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

That is the message of the tree. The branch that bears fruit is Jesus. Death is overcome. Life triumphed. The root, with no sign of life has blossomed and bore fruit. It is now the time for a joyful Christmas chant! What would it be? Allow me to suggest:

VIVIT – Latin for He lives.

Careful thought on Christmas decorations will give you the opportunity to minister to your family and friends, but first of all to the children. It is a joyful celebration, a time of peace and harmony and our Christian homes reflect the truth and deeper meaning of this time. Could we submit our words and home atmosphere to the Word of God? Let us allow the Holy Spirit to enable us to have real Spirit-filled conversations in our homes. This is our first and foremost “decorations”. James 3:17:

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure (undefiled); then it is peace-loving, courteous, considerate, gentle. It is willing to yield to reason, full of compassion and good fruits; it is wholehearted and straightforward, impartial and unfeigned; free from doubts, wavering, and insincerity.

Just when you might think that this is a tall order, change your attitude from achieving the standard to receiving the ability to conform to the Word from the Holy Spirit in you. 1 Corinthians 2:4:

And my language and my message were not set forth in persuasive, enticing and plausible words of wisdom, but they were in demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power,

[a proof by the Spirit and power of God, operating on me and stirring in the minds of my hearers the most holy emotions and thus persuading them].

We are being equipped by the Holy Spirit to choose our words wisely and clothe ourselves with the joy and peace of the season. It is not the effort that we put in that results in spiritual victory, rather the degree of surrendering our life and inner being to the working of the Spirit. This is our prayer for Christmas:

Holy Spirit, I am positioning myself to receive Your indwelling and direction. Please cleanse my heart of any sin and be welcome in my thoughts and deeds.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my firm, impenetrable Rock and my Redeemer. [Psalm 19:14 Ampl]

Prayer is faith in action. Andrew Murray, a respected theologian of the previous century, declares in his book: With Christ in the School of Prayer (strongly recommended reading*) that unanswered prayer does not exist. The adjective unanswered cannot be used with the noun prayer. God hears ALL prayer and if we think He does not answer, it is only a reflection of our own “spiritual feebleness”. When I read this, I confessed that I might have thought God didn’t hear and asked Him to forgive me for my ignorance about His true character. He is my Father and He is actively involved in my life. He will not play deaf to any request.

I would like to invite you to a Christmas night. Close your eyes and imagine yourself finding your way to the spectacular Christmas tree in your half dark home. With a little light, so as not to wake the others, you search for your name on the beautifully wrapped packages, just to find your name on ALL of them. You fall down on your knees and stare in wonder at the shapes and sizes of the wrapped glory before you. Just surrender to the magnificence and start opening – you have a lifetime – and you have received the perfect gift for every situation that might arise. Could we take a peep together? Romans 8:32:

He did not spare His own Son, but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also grant us EVERYTHING? {my emphasis}

In Luke 12:32 Jesus says:

Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.

It is God’s delight to provide. He is never reluctant in the provision we need, rather abundant.

Hear the wonderful explanation of this Scripture in The Message:

What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works.

Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

Are you comfortably seated in His Presence, tuned in for the joy to come. Jesus is still speaking: Luke 11:13:

If you then, evil as you are, know how to give good gifts [gifts that are to their advantage] to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask and continue to ask Him!

The Holy Spirit is the key to receiving the gifts. He will prepare you and guide you and equip you. He is the promise of the Father to Jesus. Jesus knew how utterly abandoned His followers would have felt after His departure. The Holy Sprit was God-with-us manifested in the receivers of the promise. Last words are alway important, to be absorbed and remembered. Jesus said: Acts 1:8:

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…

Your next step is exactly the same as those overwhelmed people on the day of Pentecost when they asked Peter: Acts 2:37-9:

Now when they heard this they were stung (cut) to the heart, and they said to Peter and the rest of the apostles,

Brethren, what shall we do?

And Peter answered them, Repent, change your views and purpose to accept the will of God in your inner selves instead of rejecting it, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of and release from your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

For the promise of the Holy Spirit is to and for you and your children, and to and for all that are far away, even to and for as many as the Lord our God invites and bids to come to Himself.

God promises to direct even your relationship with Him. To please Him is to know Him better, to open you heart to His love and surrender to Him in prayer.

2 Peter 1:3:

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God.

My favourite gift is wrapped in the healing wings of the Sun of Righteousness [Malachi 4:2]. This wonderful promise is only a glimpse of what is to come. God promises more than you could ever imagine or dream up in you wildest thoughts. Read 1 Corinthians 2:9,10 in The Message with me:

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,

Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—

What God has arranged for those who love him.

But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you.

Thank you Lord for you indescribable gifts to us, giving us Your glory for our life. We thank you for Christmas and rejoice in You marvelous light.

Be blessed!

*www.path2prayer.com

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10. I’m still here…hello, hello…?

In this day and age of modern communication, everybody knows the frustration of a telephone or internet connection fading or becoming static and noisy. Before cutting the call and trying again, we call out: hello, hello, can you hear me? I sometimes smile at a Skype connection freezing the image in funny moments, or becoming patchy and blurry. Uncertainty reigns. Can you hear, does the other side hear, shall we start over? Often a fresh call does the trick and conversation can continue, with an effort to pick up the thread where the call was cut of.

Just imagine the intensity of communications becoming fuzzy and incoherent in the unseen world. Have you lost the connection? Has prayer become stagnant and so static with the noise of life and busy-ness, that you need a fresh connection? God is saying, throughout all the ages: I am still here…hello, hello, are you there…?

Maybe you haven’t prayed at all in your life so far, or maybe not since childhood or forced and prescribed church prayers. Please stay with me and keep reading/listening. Do not let anything hinder you to make a fresh start, whatever your background may be. Nothing at all can ever be a surprise to God – He already knows your deepest and most shameful secret. Psalm 139:7… This is most reassuring – He is already at the place where you thought you are hiding!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? 

to be out of your sight?

If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there!

If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon,

You’d find me in a minute—

    you’re already there waiting!

It is your own guilt and the accusations of the great accuser, the devil, which keeps you captive. Break loose and call out. He promises to hear and answer. Jeremiah 33:3: Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

Do you hear Him? Whispering into the deafening noise and echoes of your stress and rush? If you incline you ear to hear His voice, His whisper becomes the thunder and the sound of rushing water. The mere fact that you are reading this piece, means that your heart is stirred towards your Father. [Revelation 1:15,19:6] It is the wind of His spirit, searching for you, knocking at the door, waiting for your cry to bring you revelation and insight.

The darkest moment of sin and failure in the Garden of Eden, which we discussed in Pebbles 9, could not break off communication with God. He came, as usual in the evening breeze, and searched for His friends, His people, His companions. Yes, even if you don’t feel worthy, you are created for communication with God and will always feel unfulfilled without it. You are the crown of creation, His special child. 1 Peter 2:9 [NKJV]

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

Psalm 139:13… [The Message]

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking.  Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

He seeks to speak to you, to hold you in His embrace and be your shelter and strong tower. God is looking out for you to come back to Him or approach Him for the first time in your life. This is His invitation: Revelation 3:20

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

Sometimes when I ask people what their image of God the Father is, I am not surprised at the caricature of a fiery, fierce, angry, over-powering bearded figure, eager to punish and rob man of all pleasure and joy, they have in their imagination. I too had a distorted and vague image of a Godhead. I consciously changed my thinking to an image in line with Scripture. Make a picture of the father of the prodigal son, standing on the hill, waiting for a sign of your approach and then running with outstretched arms in welcoming exuberance. That is you heavenly Father!

Blame and guilt truly are the most effective weapons of our enemy, the devil, to thwart our confidence to approach God in prayer. You are already special and chosen by the work of Jesus on the cross and it is by His blood that you are made worthy to talk to God.

Jesus is the Key, the Door, the Life, the Way, the One and Only. Do not let the reason and resistance of the post-modern society hinder your spiritual victory. This is not a narrow and exclusive way of coming to God, as they would like to argue. It is a wide-open invitation to the warmth and provision that you will find for every possible problem you might have.

So often I get the impression that people want to investigate Christianity from the outside. It is like somebody walking around a lovely mansion in the cold and frost outside, peeping into the windows and just glimpses the warmth inside. The door to go in is wide open and there are lots of people inviting them in. Above the door is a cross, they need to bow and enter through the cross. Postmodern thinking makes this impossible and they feel it is so old-fashioned and exclusive. Why do they have to enter through the cross? Why can’t they enter by their own goodness, as all people, no matter what and who they are, are good, right? They walk around the house and see the room with a big fire and a room full of people finding joy in prayer and worship. They feel the need to investigate…. and peep through the chimney.

Oh, can you imagine what happens when you investigate a fire through the chimney. Your eyes burn, you stink of smoke and come away worse that ever, coughing and disgusted. Whatever the church may be, any denomination, God is working in there. Many people are hurt and disappointed by church people and church doctrine, but God will never abandon His church. There is always a remnant of upright, loving Christians, who walk in His love and care about you. We might think that a church is dead and irrelevant. God is patient and faithful and will always be there for people who draw near to Him in spirit and truth, far away from church or inside.

Come in, or come back in – which ever might be applicable to your life – and taste that God is good. [Psalm 34:8] Open the door, so that He might dine with you. Open your ears, so that you hear the knock on the door of your heart. Talk to Him.

We will be talking about prayer in a few more Pebbles to come. I hope it will restore your confidence and encourage your faith to approach God and pick up that ancient chat. It will change your life.

Prayer is not mystical or a trance-like state of mind. God is you father and Jesus taught us to call Him dad. It indicates a close and warm, liberated and fearless relationship. The key to come close to God is through Jesus. He declared the Plan for our salvation there in the Garden and established His set path to redemption. His Plan stands firm and cannot return to Him void; it always will accomplish what He purposed. He gave us the highway, the smooth path, the sure foundation in the cross. It is through the innocent blood of His son that we have the immense privilege to enter into the Presence of the most high God. Hebrews 10:19

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus

May I invite you today to start your prayer in the Name of Jesus and ask God to forgive your sin? He will wash you in the precious blood of Jesus and you will be made free and whole. 1 John 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Submit your life to Him and start over. He promises a whole new life, in which you follow in His footsteps, are guided by His Spirit and are empowered by His Scriptures, the Word of God. You will find the peace that surpasses all understanding, joy that is not dependent on your circumstances and unconditional love.

Focus on the cross and the blood that cleanses us from all sin, is a good start for every prayer. It is through the blood that we are made worthy, that we become the holy priesthood and very special people in God’s eyes. Ephesians 2:13:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

See you soon.