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.

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111. Come on – throw a party!

It is significant how the concept of a joyous get-together is part of ancient Jewish history and religious worship. In general, ancient societies were much more socially supportive, than the modern focus on privacy, personal preference and individual superiority afford a member of the social order today. Survival demanded group cooperation. Feasting found a firm place into national celebrations of momentous events on public holidays commemorating important occasions of a specific nation or cultural group.

We are used to celebrating birthdays and achievements like graduation and retirement, even welcoming and farewell parties. Christians have Christmas and Easter and celebrate Thanksgiving in unity with the continent of North America. I would like to make a case for the celebration of Pentecost, which we should celebrate with the same expectation of Acts 2 although it is a Christian feast that is very neglected these days. Other religions have their days of fasting and feasting.

Going through many trials in a demanding corporate job, my husband routinely fasted throughout a season of his life. Sunday was the only day that he was able to take his time and slow down to spend time in the Word and listen for Holy Spirit guidance. Many Sundays I made special plans for the children so that a Sunday will remain a family day and a day to look forward to, even though their dad disappeared for a few hours into his study.

One day he came out of his quiet time with amazement and joy written all over him. He told me that God talked to him about feasting and said that his time of fasting is over. We should feast more and adopt a life style of celebration. He decided to take us out for dinner there and then late afternoon on that Sunday and declared our meal a celebration of the goodness of God. Slowly this concept of feasting while we eat out and more and more around meals in our own home, became part of our vocabulary. It changed our table prayers. He guided us into conscious praying at every meal. No more little prayer rhymes to ramble through at the table. We had to look each other in the eye and declare God’s provision and our thanks. I rejoiced in my heart and thanked God for a father in the house who routinely celebrates God’s goodness and our testimony of outcome in faith. He also declared two private feasts on specific days that we as a family had to remember and party about; one in the first half and one in the second half of the year, to testify and joyfully remember answer to prayer.

In the last part of John 7 (7:37-53) the Feast of the Tabernacles is mentioned again. This Feast took place in October. It had important historical significance: they left their houses and lived in little booths made of branches to remind them of the time in the wilderness. It was not permanent structures. The booths had thatched roofs. They were able to see the stars. The instruction and material for the booths are found in Leviticus 23:40. According to Leviticus the length of the Feast is seven days. In the time of Jesus an eighth day was added.

The Feast had an agricultural significance also. It was a thanksgiving for the harvest (Exodus 23:16; 34:22). The Feast became very popular (1 Kings 8:2). It was celebrated with the bounty of nature, which made life possible and happy. The dream was that this feast should be celebrated everywhere by everybody – rich and poor, servant, slave and master.

There was a daily ceremony during the time of the Feast. People would take their palm and willow branches to the altar; the priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam while the people recited Scripture: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)

Water was poured out as an offering to God while the people were singing. They sang the Hallel – Psalms 113 -118 with flutes and a choir. On the last day they marched seven times around the altar in memory of Jericho.

The Feast served as a reminder to miracles.

What do we do to celebrate miracles in our lives? Could we throw a God-party to celebrate His goodness? Remember and remember well. Do not let the enemy rob you of your own testimony. Lest we forget, is the cry of Remembrance Day that celebrates the end of World War 1. Let us not forget God’s miraculous intervention in our lives.

then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 6:12)

The water that gushed out over the branches, reminded the people of the life-giving water that Jesus mentioned in His encounter with the woman at the well (John 4).

The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your soul in drought,
and strengthen your bones;
you shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail
. (Isaiah 58:11)

Let us rejoice and feast since we have Jesus who came and fulfill all the feasts of Israel. In Him we find the ultimate reason for every feast.

 This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 John 5:6)

And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. (1 John 5:8)

Jesus was promising a cleansing – pure and revitalizing. With His purity comes peace and satisfaction.

The symbolism of water is found throughout the Old Testament. Psalms 105:41, Ezekiel 47:1; 47:12. Also Joel 3:18: A fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord.

Jesus is the rock in the desert from which the waters flowed (Exodus 17:6). That is why it was so important for Moses to be obedient to the voice of God and not strike the rock a second time. Jesus has been struck once – on the Cross. From that moment the water of salvation flows freely. Moses should have spoken to the rock the second time and not assume that water will flow exactly the way it happened the first time. Paul confirms this.

For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

There is no Spirit, no Pentecost without Calvary. Before the Cross, the Holy Spirit was a mystery. After the resurrection He was a person who lets the risen Christ live in us. Pentecost opened the floodgates of heaven.

Great miracles can end in religious aridity. Only by the pentecostal experience the miracle is alive. God’s action does not stop.

Does He do it again? NO, He does it all the time. My prayer is always and will always be: Lord open my eyes to see Your wonder.

Do not confine God to our calendar time. He works all the time.

The crowd was talking about Jesus. (7:40-44) Many believed He was the Promised One. They talked about His place of birth. Most people knew He was from Nazareth. Only a bit deeper investigation would have proved that He was indeed born in Bethlehem. They knew that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem according to the prophecy.

Never shy away from investigation. Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand in His wounds. (John 20:27) Jesus will never rebuke you for asking questions. He promised that you shall receive, when you ask. (Matthew 7:7)

The officers were amazed by the teachings of Jesus. They could not bring themselves so far to arrest Him. To hear Jesus speak will change your life.

The leaders reacted with contempt and insults towards the officers and towards Nicodemus. Their aristocratic attitude, intellectual snobbery and spiritual pride caused the Pharisees to look down on the ordinary man and on the region of Galilee. They did not even mix with them to bring them the Law that they held in such high esteem.

What they are saying: If you count for anything intellectually or academically, you would not be swayed by Jesus. Isn’t it exactly the argument today?

Is number any indication of truth or worth? The mob turned away, then welcomed Him into Jerusalem and then shouted for crucifixion.

We can never follow the mob. Not even in church. Do we follow the people or the Man, Jesus? Will you find Him in our churches?

Even Nicodemus defended Jesus timidly. He defended the right for the officers to listen and decide, but the fury of insult and snobbery against Galilee, shut him up.

How will we confess loyalty to Christ in the face of opposition? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit will we resist the drawing power of popular opinion and the foolish superficial conclusions of the mob. He will convict us of righteousness, sin and judgment. Scripture and our testimony are witnesses to the goodness of God.

Jesus went on teaching. Early in the morning he was back at the Temple teaching. The people came…

 

 

 

 

92. Wine, wedding and song.

This title rings a bell, doesn’t it? Yes, you are right of course. It is not correct. The title of the beautiful waltz written by Johann Strauss junior in Vienna many years ago in 1869 is: Wine, women and song. Well, both titles are an accurate description of one of the oldest events we still celebrate today. Customs have changed over the course of history, but love is still and will ever be a reason for feasting.

A wedding is such a magnificent occasion. It is the official merriment of love discovered in private, going public. Weddings these days are so full of traditions and expectations that I always feel honoured to be invited. All the many requirements make it expensive and often stressful. Our global village brings guests from far away places to be accommodated and entertained, often in events over more than one day. Still, it is a life-event to be dreamed of, planned in detail and remembered forever. Be careful how you respond to that elaborate invitation privileged invitation; it will be in the memory of the main players for years to come.

One thing that thrills me about Jesus, is that He never shunned a party. Reading through the Gospels I could come to the conclusion that He was a popular and honoured guest to many occasions. Quite a few of the stories take place in a party or dinner party setting.

Here in the first eleven verses of the second chapter, John sets the scene for Jesus’ first miracle – the wedding in Cana.

Jesus and his disciples were invited and it looks as if Mary, his mother, was involved with the arrangements of what was most probably a family event. She was very worried that the wine ran out and she had authority to tell the servants what to do.

A village wedding was really important. A virgin wedding took place on a Wednesday and the feast lasted several days. After the ceremony the couple was escorted under a canopy to their home on the longest route possible, so that many people could wish them well. They had no honeymoon. They stayed home and kept open house for a week. For the whole week they wore crowns and were treated like a king and queen. They were addressed that way and could request anything. They were most likely awaiting a life of constant hard work; therefore the wedding week was a festival of joy and relaxation.

Jesus arrived with five disciples. Wine was essential for any Jewish feast, although drunkenness was considered a shameful disgrace. The wine was diluted with water – two parts wine and three parts water. Hospitality in the East is a sacred duty. For the provisions to fail at a wedding like this would be a terrible humiliation for the bride and the bridegroom.

The translation of Jesus’ words to his mother make his words seem disrespectful. Jesus opens with a common conversational phrase. It was spoken gently and meant:

“Don’t worry; you don’t quite understand what is going on; leave things to me, and I will settle them in my own way.” Jesus was simply telling Mary he would have his own way of dealing with the situation.

The word for woman is gunai. In our ear it might be misunderstood. It was used for a well-loved woman and well known in the Greek language.

The jars used were very large, probably 75 liters each. John had to explain it was the jars that were used for the purifying ceremonies of the Jews. Washing of feet and hands were very important in a dusty, dry climate and needed lots of water. Hands were washed several times throughout the meal.

The jars were filled under supervision to make sure they held clean water. Then the contents were taken to the head waiter (the maître d’). The bridegroom was responsible for the wine that it why the headwaiter addressed the bridegroom and joked about serving the best wine last. Usually inferior wine was served last, when the wine drinkers cared less about the taste and more about the feasting.

This was the first glimpse for Jesus’ disciples of who He is.

He participated in a joyous occasion of ordinary people, helping the feast along, spreading the joy.

This momentous miracle happened in the humble home of a villager. It was not presented to vast crowds. Jesus manifested His heavenly glory in a home with no pretence in the lives of a small circle of friends and family in the village of Cana.

Jesus stepped out to save the host embarrassment. He exercised His power and heavenly authority for the benefit of a lowly villager in sympathy and kindness to the simple folk. He did not save the big thing for a big occasion; rather, he did a big thing on a small occasion.

Mary had faith in Jesus. One might think that she had seen His power before. She instinctively turned to Him when things went wrong. Even when she did not understand what He was doing, her response was obedience. She had faith to trust without understanding.

Jesus says to her: My hour has not come. [John 7:6,8, 12:23, 17:1. See also Matthew 26:18,45 and Mark 14:41.]

Jesus knew the miracle would thrust Him into public life. Maybe He was aware that Mary did not fully comprehend the full consequence of His revelation through the miracle.

All his life Jesus knew of His specific reason for living. It was not a life in terms of His wishes; only for God’s purpose. His life was lived with an eye on eternity, not real time. He lived in the deep and permanent truth: every detail counts.

There were six water pots filled with water. Seven symbolizes completion and perfection. Six symbolizes imperfection and incompletion. Six shows the imperfection of the Jewish law. Within the imperfection, Jesus pours His new wine of the Gospel of grace. Old pots have good wine after He touched them.

He made a lot of wine. He filled all the pots. It was enough to last throughout the wedding and a lot to spare. Grace never runs out. This miracle speaks of glorious superabundance.

 John is telling us that in Jesus the imperfections have become perfection. Grace has become overflowing, sufficient and more than enough for every need.

The Greeks also had a story about three empty jars sealed in the presence of the priests, then miraculously filled with wine at the beginning of the festival. John is saying: Bring your stories about your gods; you know it isn’t true. I have the real thing. He is the dream come true. Everything you thought your gods would do, Jesus can and will do for you.

John is teaching that Jesus does not do a miracle as a once off. He is forever doing His miracles. He will always fill your jars with new wine and new life for feasting. A changed life is the miracle. The impossibility becomes possible. We are testimonies of the glorious impossible!

I am always very aware and overjoyed at the sighting of a rainbow. To me the rainbow is the symbol of God’s faithful covenant love, supporting and confirming all the covenant promises. You know how often one sees a rainbow just in the reflection of a shiny object, or in the shower when the sun hits the right spot. It struck me one day – the rainbow is always there. We need to look at the right angle with sunlight and we will see it. It all depends on how we look.

God taught me that day. There are always miracles. It depends on how we look. Do we see His hand moving with Holy Spirit anointed eyes or do we look through the dark veil of politics, negative circumstances, broken relationships or wounded lives?

Oh pebble pals – let us call out the prayer of the blind man again and again. Lord, that I can see…

Fill up your jars. Jesus is here to make wine.