142. Miracle tree of God in action

[New Year 2019]

The rhythm of nature and the certainty of the seasons are always a source of inspiration for me.  There is so much of what we experience on a daily basis that encourages us to believe the Word of God with deep assurance.  I have quoted Genesis 8:22 often.  I am sure all of you know it by heart by now.  The language echoes the rhythm of the words and the meaning.

“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”

Every person caught in the tight grip of winter knows that spring is coming. Relief is coming.  Many psychologists and counselors use the symbolism of the seasons to explain life.

Our life is not constant and mostly it is difficult to “see” the spring in the middle of winter.  However, it is ALWAYS there. It requires a closer look to see the promise of the bloom on every tree, waiting for the silent announcement of the turn of time.  In the beginning of spring the trees get a gleam of green – a light green, a new green.  Later it becomes clearer and deeper in colour.

Usually the turn of the calendar year finds the northern hemisphere in the fiercest grip of winter.  The south enjoys its warmest days.  The first day of the New Year is either very cold or very hot and it is hard to envisage the turn of the season.  That is exactly the utilization of imagination that we need to believe the promises of God for the future.  The things hoped for becomes firm and confident faith.  (Hebrews 11:1)

The visual and atmospheric experience of the season while the opposite is reality, is the challenge.  It is what God expects of us.

The golden thread of symbolic learn experiences in the Word of God, is true treasure.  We know there were three elements in the Ark of the Covenant that stood in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, representing the presence of the Most High God.  There was the golden bowl with manna that did not go bad, as nothing ever decays in the presence of God.  There were the stone tablets on which the law was written and lastly the staff of Aaron that bloomed, blossomed and bore fruit in one day.

This staff is the symbol of the supernatural, literally above and beyond the natural and expected process.

We have just mentioned the seasons. Usually the blooms are ready in winter already.  In early spring they swell out and grow into leaves and flowers.  Mostly on fruit trees, like the almond of which this staff was cut, the flowers become fruit – a most magnificent progression.  After some more time has passed, the fruit is ready for harvesting.

Aaron’s staff was a dry stick.  A staff was a common accessory for a man at the time. David writes about it in Psalm 23, visualizing God as a good shepherd using a staff as protection for the sheep.  Jesus depicted himself as a good shepherd, saying it in one of the seven I AM-sayings in John’s Gospel.

This dead piece of wood becomes the symbol of the supernatural when the normal process of nature is accelerated as a sign of God’s intervention and communication.

Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds.  (Numbers 17:8)

Many centuries later we read of the almond shoot in the first chapter of Jeremiah.  This particular passage was a lifeline in a dark time in my own life.  It was God’s encouragement to me that He will make his promise true.  Read with me in the Amplified translation.

Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Jeremiah, what do you see?

And I said, I see a branch or shoot of an almond tree [the emblem of alertness and activity, blossoming in late winter].

Then said the Lord to me, you have seen well, for I am alert and active, watching over My word to perform it.

The Hebrew word for almond shoot is similar to the word for “alert and active”.

The almond blossoms very early, in late winter, before the first signs of spring.  God’s timing always resembles his grace and mercy, just like He shortened the exile in the time of Daniel.  The blossom of the almond is a symbol of God’s action upon his word and our circumstances.

How are you these first days of 2019? It is quite daunting to look at a year ahead and again realize how little control we have over our future. Our answer to the future is HOPE. Our hope in God fills our hearts and minds and our faith in God guarantees God’s action to our advantage and benefit, especially when things look dark and uncertain.

How do you know that God will act on your behalf?  It is his promise since the earliest days on earth.  Listen closely to the words of my dear friend, the ancient prophet Isaiah:

The Lord has made bare His holy arm. In the eyes of all the nations and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.(Isaiah 52:10)

To bare your arm implies that you have rolled up your sleeves and are ready for work.  Isn’t this just such a magnificent picture of God in action? Let 2019 be the year of God’s grace in your life and expect a special revelation of his goodness.

Sing with the Psalmist the promise for 2019.

Sing to God a brand-new song.
He’s made a world of wonders!

He rolled up his sleeves,
He set things right.

God made history with salvation,
He showed the world what he could do.

He remembered to love us, a bonus
To his dear family, Israel—indefatigable love.

The whole earth comes to attention.
Look—God’s work of salvation!   (
Psalm 98:1-3, The Message)

Just pause and think of God’s love and his salvation and then jump up and dance.  You have good reason to twirl and swirl in the beauty of his grace and love.

May God bless you with a firm conviction of his love for you in 2019!

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141. Hear…the sound of abundance

[Christmas 2018]

I wonder whether we hear anything these days.  When I was growing up my father taught me that ignoring people is bad manners.  I had to look someone in the eye while that person was talking to me.  It was almost like rejection or at least grave insult when you did not greet properly on arrival and departure.   When we give our attention we give value and acceptance to the people around us.   Today people might easily continue on their phone or tablet without looking up, or concentrate on the TV while their kids and family are around. Where is our attention? What do we hear?

Jesus often talked about ears and hearing. His regular warning statement: let him who have ears, hear, is repeated in every message to the churches in Revelation, in other words the church today.  Jesus also quoted the prophet Isaiah (6:9,10) in Matthew (13:14,15).

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

These words of Jesus bug me.  He links healing to hearing.  Is this not a very good time to fine-tune our hearing?  In the humming and drumming, the clamour and confusion of Christmas shopping and songs, the true message – the healing of your life by the baby in the crib – gets lost.

Christmas is important.  It is “our” feast, we Christians, even within the secular hijacking of the elements of this birthday of all times. We are never victims of this world.  We give Christmas content and we are in control.  We celebrate with the voice of the Holy Spirit in our ears.

My excitement every Christmas and Easter is compounded by my decision some years ago to trust God to learn something brand new about Him and the Feast I am busy with.  I wait for a “new” word from His mouth.  We cannot be satisfied with what we know.  We press on for new things.

God is faithful.   He never disappoints!  I am writing the word that burns in my heart.

A few weeks ago I switched on the television on Daystar Canada, a spiritual channel.  Coincidentally I hit the beginning of a programme of somebody I knew from long ago.  He is not one of my favourites, but before I flipped the channel, I thought it would be interesting to see where his ministry is now.  It is always very encouraging for me to see ministries develop and grow over many years.  One day I will stand before the Throne with all of them and say the precious words of Paul:

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

So many of my friends have rejected the faith of their upbringing.  They have fallen into the trap of post-modernism and rejected the truth of the Gospel and everything of value.  It is such a privilege to say: I have kept the faith.

Back to my television programme.  The preacher opens his Bible and reads from one of my very favourite chapters about Elijah and the slaying of the Baal priests.  I often think on my unbelieving friends and the false gods they worship.  Priests of false gods spread the lies that keep people in bondage even today.

As he reads the chapter in 1 Kings, the words of the Word wash over me and I truly “hear” the Lord speak to me. It is indeed a spiritual tingling of the ears!  God’s word is mighty to penetrate between body and soul and joint and marrow. (Hebrews 4:12)

The story needs background to know the impact of the miraculous words of Elijah.  In a nutshell it goes like this:

Ahab is king in Israel, one of the two kingdoms, which is formed after the death of Solomon.  Judah in the south with the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin had twenty kings; only eight of them did good in the eyes of the Lord before they were taken in exile by the Babylonians in 598 BC.  Israel in the north had nineteen kings – all bad before they were taken in exile by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Throughout the years of decline and backsliding, there were prophets active in both kingdoms.  God always made sure that the remnant of people who stayed true to Him and His precepts was cared for. The call of the prophets went out to the backslidden and sinful people to repent and turn back to God. (2 Kings 19:30,31)

Ahab is described as:  Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. (1 Kings 16:30)

Ahab’s wife was Jezebel, a Phoenician princess from the splendour of the palace built on the peninsula in Tyre, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  She was a Baal worshipper and to satisfy her needs, Ahab built a Baal temple in Samaria, much to the dismay of his people and the utter vexation of the prophet Elijah who was called to bring God’s word to the regressive religion of Israel.  Elijah was not quiet and therefore a most hated man in the palace.

As a result of the sinfulness of the people and their king, Elijah announced a drought over the land.  God provided for Elijah…

So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. (1 Kings 17)

After the brook dried up, Elijah resided with a widow in Sidon in ancient Phoenicia, modern day Lebanon.   Her son died and Elijah prayed him back to life, blessing the whole household with enough through the dry years.

After three years, Elijah announced himself at Ahab’s palace, since God said that He would break the drought and send rain to the land.  Elijah invites the king and all the Baal priests to Mount Carmel for a showdown.   God’s power had to be demonstrated to the people in such a way that there would be no doubt about the superiority of God above all other gods.

Elijah conducts the events like a maestro. Two altars are built with the sacrificial animals upon each, but no fire is made.  Fire had to come from God and Baal.  The Baal priests go along with this whole show, which is amazing in itself, as they were not used to miracles.  Maybe they also wanted to find out about the supernatural power of their god.  They pray and beg and cut themselves as was the customs of worship.  They crawl in the dust and do everything that they ever practised in the worship of their god for most of the day. Elijah stands by and mocks them in the process.  Read it – it is an amazing account of that day in Israel.

When his turn comes he commands the altar to be soaked with water so that even the trough around it is drenched.  There could be no doubt as to a spark of fire somewhere.  Elijah kneels and asks God to light the altar.  Let us pray with him:

And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said,

Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this daythat You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”

 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 

Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”  (1 Kings 18:36-39)

Elijah and the people killed 450 Baal priests that day to rid the land of the lie they represented.

After the slaying of the priests, Elijah says to Ahab:

“Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.”

The words cut into my heart.

It is Christmas.  There are all sorts of sounds: the bells, the tills, the carols, the excitement of children, the shuffle and shoving in shops, the voices around us asking about plans and menus and gifts.

What do you hear?

In the aftermath of the miraculous events of that day, Elijah hears something nobody else hears.  He hears the unfolding of the Word of God, which he received in a prophetic word, of which there is NO proof or sign.

The king goes to eat and drink, but Elijah and his servant climb the mountain to pray.  There is NO sign of rain.  He prays seven times and sends his servant seven times up the mountain to see if there is anything remotely indicating the coming of rain.  Only the seventh time his servant reports a cloud as big as a man’s hand.  That is enough for Elijah.  He starts running. He acts because his faith senses are sharp and he knows rain is coming to Israel – big time!

Let us pray for God to anoint our ears. I want to hear what God is doing and I do not want to miss His word in this very special time of the year.

Then the Lord said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.(1 Samuel 3:11)

Are your ears tingling with the sound of abundance?  Abundance is immeasurable and uncountable.  Can you count the raindrops?  Can you count and measure the abundance of God’s creation?  That is exactly what our scientists are doing over centuries and centuries!

Think on God’s abundance.  Believe His abundance is for you.  Give away the abundance that He has already blessed you with.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.  (2 Corinthians 9:8)

 

 

God’s abundance does not sound like anything you have heard before.

When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, [Uncle Andrew] had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing—only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautifully the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia, awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, baying, and howlings.

 

FromThe Magician’s Nephew

Compiled in A Year with Aslan

 

The Magician’s Nephew. Copyright © 1955 by C. S. Lewis Pte., Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1983 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With Aslan: Daily Reflections from The Chronicles of Narnia. Copyright © 2010 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Extracts taken from The Chronicles of Narnia. Copyright © C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. 1950-1956. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

140. Deeply and fully covered in love.

[John 21]

You had to know the fishermen of Galilee to write this account.  Nighttime was the best for fishing.  The catch described here is something that often happened on the lake.  The man with the net relied on the call or bell of someone who sat at a higher place to see where the shoals of fish were moving.  Jesus was acting as guide to the fishermen that day.

Jesus is only recognized when He reveals Himself to people.  Maybe the grey of dawn was still too dark for them to see Him clearly.  Again, love brought sight.  John saw and when Peter saw, he ran.  Peter was only in a loincloth like all fishermen when they worked.  He put on his tunic.  To greet somebody was holy (a religious act) and he clothed himself for it.

The chapter was obviously added to emphasize the reality of the resurrection.  Many would say that some of Jesus’ appearances were visions of the disciples, even hallucinations.  The Gospels all insisted that the risen Christ was a real person.  The tomb was empty and Christ had the wounds in His hands and side to prove it.

A vision was unlikely to point out the shoal of fish to the fishermen.  A vision was not likely to make a fire and fry fish on it for a meal to share.  John tells us in the previous chapter how Jesus showed His hands and side.  Jesus insisted that they touch Him to make His resurrection real and undisputed.

Jesus conquered death.  He made sure they had no doubt.

John names the number of fish for a reason.  A catch of 153 fishes had to be divided between the partners on the boat.  It was an exceptionally large catch but there is more.

According to the numbers and words of the ancient world hundred represented the fullness of the flock (Matthew 18:12).  The good seed in fertile ground was hundred-fold.  The number fifty represented the remnant of the Jews and the three is for the Trinity that does it all.

The net is the church, no exclusiveness or selectiveness.  It is big enough for all.  The church should embrace like Jesus did.

For the three times Peter denied the Lord, Jesus gave him three times to confirm his love for the Lord.  He most certainly knew Peter was full of guilt and shame about the denial, and He made sure to bring Peter to a place where love is the topic and not shameful failure.

With each declaration of love Peter received a task.  His declaration was to equip him for the task ahead.  Love is privilege but also responsibility.  In the end his love for Jesus had him die on a cross as well.  He was crucified upside down, because he did not feel worthy to die the same way Jesus did.  Incredibly the Romans obliged.  What courage Peter displayed that day, after the equipping of love on this day and the touch of fire to empower on the day of Pentecost.

Peter’s role in the early church was forever established.  He was a shepherd and he cared deeply for the flock of Jesus.

Jesus asked: Peter do you agapé Me?  Peter answered: Lord I phileo you.

Agapé is the amazing love of God for humankind.
It is defined like this: Unconditional love, love by choice and not by chance. Love by an act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill.  Agape will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind.  Agapé (noun) is the word for God’s unconditional love.  It does not need an affinity, chemistry or feeling.  It is a word that exclusively belongs to the Christian community.  It is virtually unknown to writers outside the New Testament.  It is as if the word existed in Greek and waited for Jesus to give content to its full meaning.

God loves unconditionally.  Jesus on the cross was proving God’s love in the deepest and most glorious way possible.

Peter knew he was not capable to love that way.  His uncertainty is reflected in the word he uses for love – phileo, which means brotherly love.

The second time Jesus asks: Peter, do you agapé Me? Peter answers: Lord I phileo you.

The third time Jesus asks: Peter, do you phileo Me? Peter answers: Lord, You know all things. You know that I phileo You.

Peter acknowledges his deficient love, very real and very truthful.  He acknowledges that Jesus knows this and there is no point in pretending.

One can almost feel the raw heart to heart communication that cuts to the bone of the matter.  Peter is restored and forgiven.  His relationship with Jesus is cemented in the love he experiences in the words of Jesus.  Jesus puts the whole burden of love for the church that will be birthed on the day of Pentecost on Peter.  He knows Peter is forever changed.  He knows just how deeply this man loves Him.

In the next passage (20:20-24) John says something of words spoken about himself.  Peter was already concerned for his fellow disciples and John was young.  Some say John was only 15 or 16 when he met Jesus.  Jesus tells Peter not to worry about his brethren.  Jesus will look after His own.

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.(John 10:28)

John, while writing this Gospel, bears witness to all this.  He was the one to write in his old age in Ephesus.  He was also the one looking after Mary.

Christianity is sealed in experience.  Meeting Jesus is the foundation of the Christian life.

Jesus says here: Do not worry about the task given to someone else. Your job is to follow me and do what I have given you to do.  Jesus is the perfect shepherd over His church and us.  He will manage our ministry.  If we venture out to minister like others or try to be something else than he ordained us to be, we are set up for failure and disappointment.  We cannot manage the whole church, big trends or doctrine.  We must do what the Holy Spirit gives us to do.

Christ is limitless.   His resurrection is real.  His church is universal.  No one competes in the Kingdom.  Peter is the shepherd and John is the witness.

John thinks upon the splendour of Jesus and knows that he could write to us so that we could only grasp a fragment of who Jesus really is.  He will reveal Himself.  The world can never fully comprehend.

When you think you know, then know that He is much, much more.

Our mind and our books fail miserably when we have to describe the indescribable.

John ends with the innumerable triumphs, the inexhaustible power, and the limitless grace of Jesus Christ. [William Barclay]

 

This brings us to the end of the study of John.  I hope that the many months we studied Revelation and the Gospel of John will serve as an inspiration for more deep diving into  the powerful Word of God.