A Holy Heritage

Being born again is a miracle that dramatically and permanently changes a believer’s trajectory. Through the gates of Radical Repentance we move from death to life; from darkness to light; from the orphanage to the family of the Triune God. In place of fear we have a Father, and the father of lies has no claim over our lives (John 8:44Eph 2:1;2;3). Last week’s devotion, “From Slaves to Sons” featured a picture of a person in a hammock overlooking the world. I loved that picture the minute I saw it! It suggested to me the joy of being a child of God:

No fear!

No longer a slave to fear but a beloved son/daughter of ‘Abba’ Father. No longer striving in my own efforts but resting in the perfect work of Jesus, my older Brother. Forgiven and free, secure in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, with a new perspective and destiny. There’s no end to the blessings of being an adopted child of God, as we’ve been discovering the last few months on The God Walk.

But we cannot bask in the ‘hammock’ of these wonderful truths for the rest of our lives, hoping that the Holy Spirit will miraculously transform us! The gospel is only half a gospel if it revels in the wonder of justification, but never the lifelong process of sanctification. It’s like a runner who enters a trail race, hears the starter gun, and then sits beside the road to admire the view and the goodies in his hydration pack! The hydration pack equips and the view inspires us for the journey ahead, but we must use every muscle of our body to run all the way to the finish line. For a child of God, getting right with God is the starting line. Each day thereafter, we take active steps of obedience to the Father as we run in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. As children who are ‘born of God’, we must take hold of our holy heritage. According to John’s first letter, there are three proofs that we are children of God —Obedience, Love and a commitment to Truth. We will be examining these three proofs over the next few weeks as we look at the doctrine of sanctification. Our text today is 1 John 2: 1-628-293:1-2:

The proof of obedience

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked…28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure.

Talk is cheap but the walk is costly.

The apostle John could not be more direct in his letter to all God’s children: A claim that we are God’s children is empty if not backed up by obedience to our heavenly Father. If we are truly ‘born of God’, we will ‘practice righteousness’ and walk the same path Jesus walked (1 John 2:529). It is matter of cause and effect.

John is in rapture as he reminds us of our identity as children of God and our heavenly family home (1 John 3:12). I love his affectionate words to motivate us to copy our older Brother’s example of purity (1 John 2:6293:3). Obedience to God’s moral standard is an expression of our love for the Father and the outflowing of His love for us (1 John 2:5). Obedience is an observable genetic trait which proves our holy heritage.

Peter and the apostles give us an example of how costly this obedience can be in a world that does not recognize Christ as Lord (1 John 3:1b). They chose to obey God rather than the world even though it cost them beatings, imprisonment and ultimately their lives (Acts 5:282941). We too are instructed to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him” (Col 1:10), to practice righteousness, not just to talk about it (1 John 2:29). Talk is cheap, but the Christ-walk is costly. Jesus teaches the identical message in John 15:14,

“You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Jesus doesn’t offer suggestions or wise words. He is not fooled by false spirituality or bold claims (Matthew 7:22;23). He is Lord over every inch of our lives, because He is God. There are no half measures. Living as a Christian means obeying the Father as Jesus did (1 John 2:5,6). For Jesus, the cost of obedience was death on a Roman cross.

Never perfect but ever striving

But knowing that we are just little children who don’t look much like our older Brother yet, the gentle Apostle first encourages us (1 John 2:1). He reminds us of his earlier promise (1 John 1: 8,9,10.) There is no such thing as a perfect Christian and we are fooling ourselves and calling God a liar if we hide or deny our sin. Every time we fall, Jesus is there to defend us in the court of heaven as He’s paid our penalty in full (Rom 8:1). We are a work in progress.

But after the acquittal, we must look our sin square in the face and own it. Every moment we actively ‘abide’ (or continue) in Jesus (1 John 2:28), we place ourselves under God’s standards, not man’s. In fact, John calls us hypocrites if we claim to know God but habitually do as we please (1 John 2:4).

Just as children in a healthy family resemble their parents and try to please them, God’s children will take on the family likeness, even though we are not always perfect. Holiness is our distinct family heritage. But we do not strive in our own power. Remember that we are children of the Triune God and one of the members of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, the guarantor of our adoption. He has made his home in our hearts. Only God’s Spirit can transform us into the image of Jesus ‘from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor 3:18). Only the Spirit’s conviction can help us to see our sin and ask for forgiveness (John 16:8). Only the Spirit can give us different desires (Phil 2:13). It is the Spirit of truth who opens our eyes to understand reality (John 16:12-15). Only the Counsellor empowers our prayers and helps us in our weaknesses (Rom 8:26). Only the Spirit gives us the power to exercise self control and say “No!” to sin (1 Cor 3:17). Only through the Holy Spirit can we produce good fruit (Gal 5:22;23). That’s why it’s impossible to please God unless we are born again and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5;6;8).

There can be no holy heritage without the Holy Spirit.

Burn the ships!

You may be wondering what the feature picture at the top of this devotion is all about. You’ll have to join me next week to find out! In “Burn the Ships!” we will look at what it takes to “continue in Christ” and the unbreakable link between holiness and happiness. Don’t miss it! As a sneak preview in the meantime, you can listen to our family’s favourite song Burn the Ships (For King and Country–Click and listen here.)

Live out today’s devotion:

  1. Be honest about your Christ-walk. Spend time thinking and praying about whether your walk matches your talk. Ask people close to you whether they can see the proof of obedience in your life in real concrete ways.
  2. What command of God the Father have you recently obeyed? Was there a cost to yourself?
  3. Worship as you meditate on the holiness of God and the work of the Trinity in your life. Click on here to listen the hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy sung by Shane and Shane. Only when we get a glimpse into the character of God can we truly appreciate our identity as Abba’s child and the Spirit’s work in our lives. Pray about what the words of this hymn mean to you.

From Slaves to Sons

Abba’s child

Romans 8:15-17 (ESV)

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Psalm 56:3-4 (NIV)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

No longer a slave to fear!

(Click on the song by Bethel music here)

I know without a shadow of doubt that I am a child of God, but if the truth be told, I still live in the shadow of feelings of fear and anxiety—sometimes even doom! It’s not just the ordinary kind of fear either. It’s irrational, debilitating and hits me from nowhere like an invisible assailant. My peace and joy are erased and I suddenly feel untethered, fragmented and panicky. At one time in my life, I used to have a fear of speaking, reading aloud and being with people in a social setting. Loosening the chains of fear, especially my fear of loss and failure, has been part of my journey of faith, but the most helpful question I can ask my own soul when in the grip of fear is this:

“What can anyone or anything in this world take away from me or do to me that God has not ordained?”

Of course, as a child of God I know the answer to that question, but I have to preach the truth to my fluttering heart over and over again. Personally, one of the most liberating and honest verses in the whole of Scripture is Psalm 56: 3-4. Here it is in the ESV:

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

I love David’s candid statements to express both his fear and his trust in God at the same time. God has used my fear to show me my own weakness and the power of Jesus to supply all my needs. My fear has driven me to hunger for my Father and the truth of His word. It has forced me to meditate on, memorise and hold onto his promises for dear life. I would never have understood the faithfulness and love of God if I had not been driven by the storm of my own fears to take refuge under his wings. Faith and fear are not mutually exclusive as long as we live in this world, in the period between redemption and the day we take occupation of our perfect home (Rom 8:2Rom 8:2122). Faith is believing the promises of God even when we cannot see or feel any evidence that they are true– Just because He said so. No matter what. There is a tension but not a contradiction in David’s prayer, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

In today’s devotion, I am going to call on you to click on a few worship songs, because music has been a great megaphone for preaching truth into my own soul.

Look up child!

(Click on this song by Lauren Daigle)

The key to living out our adoption in flesh-and-blood lives, is the Aramaic word “Abba” (Rom 8:15). Abba translates as dadda, the phonetic sound an infant would use before he can utter his first word. Think of a baby holding her daddy’s face and expecting to be fed, protected and loved. There is complete trust and dependency implied in the word. No question of earning Abba’s love or approval. No attempt to manipulate Abba. You and I “cry Abba” when we run like a child towards our heavenly Father to pray to him. We have direct access to Him because we have put our faith in the Lord Jesus, the one and only mediator between sinful people and a holy God (1 Tim 2:5). Like that trusting infant, we simply open our arms to receive God’s gracious gift of adoption. We don’t wear ourselves out trying to ‘make God’s team’ or prove our worthiness. We don’t fear being sent away. It is only because Jesus is worthy that you and I can boldly approach God’s throne of grace (Heb 4:16Eph 1:7). Our prayers to Abba are nothing like the ritualistic prayers of those who do not know God as their Father (Matt 6:5;6;7;8). We do not relate to Abbalike He is the Genie of the Lamp, with prayers to impress or demand His favour. We know we have it already, covered in Jesus’ robe of righteousness (Rom 4:4-6Isa 61:10). We are children, not slaves! Look up child, into your Father’s face instead of the face of your circumstances.

You make me brave!

(Click on You make me Brave by Bethel music). If you prefer hymns, click on  In Christ alone)

Children of God have a primal connection with their perfectly good, strong, faithful and loving Abba Father. When they run to Him for refuge, fear gives way to confidence, devotion and a desire to please Him. This boldness reminds me of my two dogs, Honey (the terrier) and Caspy (the retriever) below.

caspy and honey

When we adopted our no-name brand, “Honeydew” from the SPCA, she was terrified of everyone and everything. She had been rescued on the busy highway near Honeydew, hence the name! It was obvious that her early months of life had been scary if not abusive, and I often had to claim her at the vet’s rooms after she bolted from me in Delta Park. Her panic could be triggered by something as innocuous as a man riding towards her on a bike. Everything changed when we brought our golden retriever, Caspian (‘Lionheart’) home. My son chose him because he was the biggest and gentlest in the litter. Caspy soon outgrew Honey and claimed his spot as top dog. But something significant changed too: Gradually Honey transformed into a bolder, braver terrier than ever before as she hid behind her big brother, Caspy, the most friendly, fearless dog I know! After six years, Honey has become Caspy’s shadow, barking and wagging her tail as if she belongs to our family and proud of her role as guard dog! There’s no trace of fear as long as Caspy is near, but alone, Honey is timid and lost. It’s best not to bend this analogy too far or it will surely break, because trust me, Caspy is unruly and nothing like Jesus! But Honey’s transformation is a little like our own when we become Abba’s children. As we learn to trust and tuck in behind Jesus, our big brother, we start to believe that we do indeed belong to God’s family. We embrace our forgiveness and it dawns on us that we are truly at peace with God. The reality that we are in Christ trickles from our head into our heart and we start to live as though we are true heirs of the blessings that Paul describes in Ephesians 2. Little by little, fear and sin no longer have the power to control us and we relate to God as if He is indeed our Abba. In place of fear, we have a Father. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Which father do we believe? Our heavenly Father or the father of lies?

Whom shall I fear?

Click on Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin

Live it out:

Do you know that your heavenly Father delights when you love and take care of your spiritual brothers and sisters? Are you meeting with a small group regularly to remind yourself of your status as Abba’s child?

Join us next week in “Which father do you believe?”

From Orphans to Heirs

The Father’s love

One of my favourite books is Knowing God by J.I Packer. I especially love the final chapter titled “Sons of God”:

“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father… Do I, as a Christian, understand myself?  Do I know my own real identity?  My own real destiny?  I am a child of God.  God is my Father;  heaven is my home;  every day is one day nearer.  My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother and sister too.

Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning…and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of – a happy life? –yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say.  This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life and of a God-honouring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.”

Packer is referring to the greatest mystery of the gospel– Adoption.

Our text is Romans 8:12-17

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

From Orphans to Sons

In another letter, the apostle John calls us to open our eyes and “look at what kind of love our heavenly Father has for us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Our heavenly Father’s love is a kind of love only explained by the gospel. It is nothing like the sentimental ‘love’ we see on romantic comedies or Valentine’s cards. It is a far cry from the ‘love’ that leaves when my needs are no longer met. It is the kind of love which goes on a journey in search of orphans faraway and brings them home, giving them a name, a destiny and writing them into his will as heirs. It is the kind of love that fiercely protects, defends, delights and grieves over his family. It is the kind of love that stays for the long haul.

We are those orphans. God our Father came in search of us while we still scorned and rejected His love (Rom 5:8). But His love was so persistent, so unfailing, so fierce, that He gave His own life to pay for ours.

Let me paint a picture of the Father’s love for his children: When we receive Jesus the Son as our redeemer, the Father adopts us as if we were his natural born children, (John 1:12-13). We exchange orphan rags for Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10Rev 19:8). Our shame is replaced by bold confidence. (Rom 8:1Heb 4:16). Our fear is traded for assurance of the Father’s provision. We surrender anxious striving for a permanent position in God’s eternal family. We will never be returned to the orphanage for bad behaviour. The signed adoption papers are God’s Spirit who comes to live in our heart as proof of our status (Rom 8:16). We are given a new identity card (Isa 43:1), a family mission statement (Matt 28:16-20) and a new wardrobe of clothes to wear (Col 3:12). We receive a personal tutor, the Holy Spirit, to help us live beyond the doors of the orphanage where we used to scrap for food and lived only for ourselves (Rom 8:1214). We now have a secure family and a home. Paul says we have received (not earned) adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15).*

Adoption is the ultimate unearned, undeserved privilege that every Christian inherits when we repent and believe in Jesus as Lord. There are no super-star children or runts in God’s family! No child is invisible or overlooked by this Father. No child is belittled, rejected or abandoned by this Father. This Father cannot be fooled or manipulated. He is the only perfectly good father.

It is hard to take on the world without the secure love of an earthly father who protected and cherished you. This vacuum can become a terrible handicap on the journey of life. But King David tells us that even if “my father and mother have forsaken me, yet the LORD will take me in” (Ps 27:10). No matter what your human heritage, no matter how wonderful or deficient your earthly father is, the father vacuum in our soul can only be filled by the Lord, our perfect Father. He will take you in.

As children of the most high God, we must knead the Father’s love into our minds every day so that even our subconscious dreams start to believe it! Seeing the beauty of this love and guarding it with all our might will prepare us for whatever we may need to suffer for Christ now and to share in His glory when he comes to take his children to our eternal home (Rom 8:17). Our Father’s love is not a mystical secret we can master through theories, books or religious practices. Nor is it a body of knowledge we can learn like maths or history. The Father’s love is something we can only know by experience as we walk in relationship with Him, just as the love of a husband or wife can only be known through the journey of marriage. It is a mystery that reveals more of itself day by day as we learn to walk like a child, in trust and obedience, with our Abba Father. “As a father shows compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

Live it out!

  • Take a rain check on your soul: Are you wearing yourself out trying to prove yourself, earning your place in the world or the family of God? Do you sometimes feel like an orphan? The root of your weariness may be that you are not living as a child of the Almighty, in the shadow of your Father’s great love for you.
  • Take time now to meditate on God as your Father and the love he has lavished on you throughout your life, even when you didn’t want Him. Think of how he pursued you and called you his own. Re-live your journey from orphan to son or daughter as you pray to your Father. Thank Him right now, express your praise and devotion as his beloved child. Pour out your heart and ask Him to reveal Himself to you as ‘Abba’ Father.

Worship your Father as you listen to The Father’s love (Sovereign Grace Music) and Good Good Father (Chris Tomlin).

Join us next week for part 2 in the same text, as we dig deeper into what it means to be “Abba’s Child.”

*Note: In the Roman empire, it was only the firstborn son who could inherit his father’s estate. Daughters were not heirs. When Paul calls us sons and fellow heirs with Christ, he is conveying great status to our position in the family (Rom 8:17).

Radical repentance

Metanoia

the name of my son’s new residence at Stellenbosch University! The word caught my eye beside  the other Afrikaans names. Ever curious, I googled metanoia and was bowled over by what I discovered. In classical Greek, meta means movement or change, also implying something beyond ourselves. The suffix noeo refers to the mind: its thoughts, perceptions, inclinations, motives and goals. So Metanoia is a complete overhaul of the mind— a new internal allegiance which radically changes the identity and trajectory of a person’s life. Metanoia is what happens when a train switches tracks and goes full steam ahead in an entirely different direction, generated by a new engine and directed by a new train driver.

It is difficult to find an English word to fully convey metanoia, but it is translated in the Bible as “repentance.” To repent encompasses much more than mere regret or remorse for sin, a few tweaks, new habits or surrender of negative energy. Nor is it like our new year’s resolutions which don’t last beyond January. Instead, repentance is a supernatural, Holy Spirit-driven process that is radical, ruthless and relentless. Metanoia is the only root of lasting change, and it will bear the fruit of life and peace in even the most shattered lives (Rom 8:6).

Metanoia stands on four legs: a)a complete surrender of ourselves, b)turning to God, c)laying aside of the old, and d)putting on the new (John Calvin).

Jesus insisted that repentance is the only border post to His eternal Kingdom and forgiveness by the King is the only acceptable passport (Luke 13:3;5). This is how CS Lewis describes repentance:

“Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” (Mere Christianity)

Metanoia lies at the heart of our text today, extracted from Peter’s first sermon to Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:22-4122 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[a] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’[b]

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Cut to the heart

Three thousand of Peter’s listeners were pierced by the sword of God’s Spirit that day! (Acts 2:37) Their sliced hearts are proof that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged-sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”(Heb 4:12).

As Peter cites Old Testament Scriptures (Ps 16; 110), it dawns on his Jewish hearers that they have killed Jesus “whom God made Lord and Christ.” The Holy Spirit gives them 3-D glasses to see the screen of their hearts clearly and it’s not a pretty picture. Their rejection and violation of God’s chosen Messiah… Their offence and defiance against Yahweh himself… Their utter contempt for His love. As Jews, they knew God’s anger was rightly on them and they desperately needed forgiveness. The Holy Spirit pressed familiar prophecies against their hearts to convict them: “To him (Jesus), all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

Peter’s metanoia

Now, let’s turn to Peter the preacher. He is saturated with the Holy Spirit as he speaks. Scripture drips from his lips. This uneducated fisherman is confidently delivering his debut sermon to thousands of Jews, many of whom were probably scholars (Acts 2:14). Yet he is not the least bit intimidated nor diplomatic. How did such power come from the same quivering man who, just fifty days earlier, thrice denied knowing Jesus and then abandoned Him, crushed by his own cowardly betrayal? Peter’s confidence is living proof of his own metanoia and the Spirit of God in him. When 3000 desperate Jews cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” Peter speaks from personal conviction as a fellow traitor of Jesus. He prescribes the one and only remedy —Metanoia!

Repentance guarantees not only that God will wipe out their sins, but will also make his home in their hearts by his Spirit. What a relief for us to hear Peter’s next words: “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). The offer is not just for believing Jews and their children, but also for Gentiles who stand outside the privileges of the Old Testament covenant! Most of us are the ‘far-off ones’ and the offer is for each one of us who answers the Lord’s call.

The power of conviction

Like his listeners, Peter had been cut to the heart by his own betrayal of Jesus. It was the lowest point for the zealous man who had been first to follow Jesus (Mark 1:16) and confess Him as Saviour and Lord (Matt 16:1617). But Peter had repented and been restored by His beloved, risen Jesus (John 21:15-17), then taught by Him for 50 precious days thereafter. Peter preaches with the conviction of one called to feed and take care of his master’s sheep (John 21:16). Fearlessly he obeys God’s call “to preach and testify that Jesus is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). He fears the judgment of God more than man’s approval as he calls them to save themselves from their generation, crooked with sin (Acts 2:40). He could be speaking to us today and our own generation. He looks not to his audience, but to the risen and ascended King to empower his life of obedience (Acts 2:31-32).

Peter’s sermon displays the extraordinary power of metanoia in a person’s life. His urgent tone reminds me of the words of another apostle called by the risen Jesus, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16, Paul.)

Our metanoia

Radical, relentless, and ruthless repentance always bears powerful fruit: supernatural peace, power and purpose start to characterise the lives of those who allow themselves to be shaped by it. I have seen it personally in Christians who have truly come to the end of themselves and fallen at Jesus’ feet in desperation. Their personal conviction is deeply compelling.

“But I haven’t denied or rejected Jesus!” you may be protesting. “And I certainly haven’t killed anyone.” Nor had Peter’s Jewish listeners physically nailed Jesus to the cross. Yet, Jesus’ demand to repent is for the Jew and all the nations alike. That means us too! And it’s not just for unbelievers.

If we haven’t ever been cut to the heart as Peter’s listeners were, we must ask ourselves what Jesus asks us: Do you always worship, serve and live for God alone (Matt 4:10)? Have you ever accepted and loved the worship of others (Acts 12:23)? Have you ever been embarrassed to speak up for Jesus to cynical friends (Luke 12:9)? Have you always put your neighbour first and never hated anyone (Matt 5:2122)? Have you obeyed God’s top ten rules? Are you holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16)? Are you never arrogant (Phil 2:3)? Does your life give glory and thanks to God rather than yourself?

We are all traitors of Jesus. Jesus has not come to call the righteous (in their own eyes), but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).

Personally, the more I know the holiness of God, the more I see how my pride offends his majesty (Prov 16:5). The more I experience the goodness of God, the more I see how his grace trumps his justice (James 2:13).

If you are battling to see the need for metanoia in your own life, this is the opportune moment to ask God for the gift of repentance and His Spirit to show you the true condition of your heart. Do not ignore the fleeting moment of the Spirit’s conviction.

Kairos and the call of the Spirit

Just one last word on metanoia! In Greek mythology, Metanoia was a shadowy goddess who accompanied Kairos, the god of the “fleeting moment” that determines a man’s fate. In his statue, Kairos is bald with a lock of hair on his forehead and wears no clothes. He is running, balancing on a razer blade. Kairos is a symbol of opportunity: If you grasp Kairos from the tuft in front, you can hold him, but once he moves on, no one can pull him back. According to ancient Greeks, the fleeting moment must be grasped. Otherwise the opportunity is gone and cannot be re-captured! Kairos is the brief moment in time, the favourable moment when great things are possible (Aesop fable 536).

kairos resized

My beloved readers, if you feel the Holy Spirit cutting your heart like a razor blade, it is a fleeting opportunity, a favourable moment for metanoia– a Kairos moment. Conviction is a precious gift from God and a great loss if you ignore it, leading to a hard heart or seared conscience over time. Each year, day, moment or crisis appears only once in a lifetime. Metanoia is not a once-off emotional experience when we are first saved. Metanoia is what we do each time the Spirit of God calls our name. That’s why we read the Bible, pray and meet with Christians. We want to be cut to the heart by the Spirit’s conviction! We don’t want to be numb or dumb or left alone in our blindness! Sometimes the call of the Spirit may pierce you with anguish, deep shame or regret. Sometimes his call woos you with a great longing, emptiness or urge to follow him in a more costly way than ever before. Sometimes the Spirit convicts us in moments of pain and brokenness. Don’t ignore or distract yourself from these calls! Each time the Spirit of God touches your heart, it is a unique, God-given opportunity for metanoia. Jesus is calling you to switch tracks and drive full steam towards himself.

Join us next week as we walk through the gateway of repentance to the lifelong journey of sanctification.

Pray the words of Psalm 85 as your own.

CS Lewis: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor- that is the only way out of a “hole”. This process of surrender—the movement full speed astern—is repentance.”

The Freedom of Forgiveness

“Let it be known to you therefore, friends, that through this man (Jesus) forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).

Many are amused, embarrassed or offended by talk of sin and repentance. After all, if there’s no God, each of us must define what is right and wrong for ourselves. Surely we will be free when we throw off the shackles of guilt imposed by society and religion? Surely feelings of shame and unworthiness vanish when we are finally true to ourselves? Yet, looking around our postmodern, post-truth world, we see a different picture—less freedom, less peace, less joy. More angst, more anxiety, more disorder. God’s word tells us that repentance is not a dirty word. In fact, it is the only way our souls can be clean from real sin and guilt, from the inside out. If we find ourselves in a mud bath, we can scrub ourselves to the bone, but will remain covered in mud. Our sin is like that oppressive mud bath, because we are unable to atone for ourselves no matter how many good deeds we do. When storms and pressure come, the benign mud bath often mutates into a mud slide which threatens to drown us in its deadly path. But when we receive the extravagant gift of God’s forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ, it is as though we are plucked out of the mud bath of our own sin and pride, and placed under a waterfall that cleanses and restores us to wholeness, rest and shalom to the depths of our soul. Peace with God our Father streams into every aspect of our lives, including our relationships with others. This is the freedom of forgiveness.

Our text today is Psalm 32:1-6

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.

Undermining God’s grace

“No judgment”, “positive self talk” and “self love” sound like gracious and liberating buzzwords, but they can undermine the grace of God by implying that we do not need His forgiveness. The Psalmist in our text has no doubt that his sin and guilt are real (Ps 32:5) and that he has greatly offended God (Ps 32:4). He knows his actions are at odds with God’s will for his life. His guilt even causes physical symptoms that sap his vitality (Ps 32:3-4), but he does not try to affirm himself, ask God for relief or offer excuses. He does not delve into what was done to him to provoke his sinful reactions or blame his family of origin. He has no doubt about God’s holy character and His unchanging measure of what is good and acceptable. Then the tone of the Psalm lifts as the writer begins to pray to God, admitting that he is part of the problem, not part of the solution (Ps 32:5). At the same time he clutches onto the hope of forgiveness because he is breaking his silence and acknowledging his sin. As he removes the covers from hidden sin, he allows God to cover his shame instead, and receives forgiveness (Ps 32: 5). The result is that his anguished spirit is revitalized and blessed (Ps 32:1-2) and he walks in intimacy with the Lord again, praying and trusting him with the challenges of life (Ps 32:6). It is blessed forgiveness!

Solomon sums it up well in this proverb: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). We must be careful not to undermine God’s mercy by sugar coating sin.

Sin is why Jesus died

When Jesus proclaimed and proved himself to be God’s chosen Messiah, this was the core of his message: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). I wonder what Jesus would say to those who speak only of God’s grace and love, but minimize sin and repentance? Brian McLaren, speaker in the emerging church movement and author of A New Kind Of Christian, argues, “The church latched on to that old doctrine of original sin like a dog to a stick, and before you knew it, the whole gospel got twisted around it. Instead of being God’s big message of saving love for the whole world, the gospel became a little bit of secret information on how to solve the pesky legal problem of original sin.”

But if there is no such thing as sin, how does the agonising death of the Lord Jesus prove God’s love for the whole world? Why was Jesus forsaken by God as he died? Why did Jesus cry out “It is finished?” What was finished? Why did the temple curtain split down the middle to give access to the Holy of Holies? What a wasted sacrifice of the only perfectly good man who ever lived (and thousands of faithful martyrs after him)… unless of course the bitter cup Jesus drank on the cross achieved what the Bible claims it did: Forgiveness of sin for everyone who repents and believes in Jesus’ name.

From the lips of Jesus

Jesus could not have painted a clearer picture of the emptiness, desperation and filth of sin alongside the extravagant forgiveness of the Father than in the parable of the lost son:

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living… 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

The son was forgiven and reconciled with his father because he got up, went to his father and confessed his sin. He threw himself at his father’s mercy and then received his father’s forgiveness. Jesus sees each one of us as that prodigal, alienated from God because of our sin. If we create ways of saving ourselves without God, without a sense of sin and without the way He has provided for our forgiveness (repentance and trust in Jesus), we will remain in the pig pen, spiritually empty, alienated and in desperate need, but utterly without hope.

Biblical hope assures us that when we acknowledge our sin as an assault against heaven– against God himself– and come to the Saviour who has paid our ransom in full (Mark 10:45), we will always be met with the Father’s gracious and compassionate face (2 Chron 30:9b). We will experience the freedom and joy of forgiveness, along with the angels in heaven (Luke 15:10).

Live it out!

  • Distinguish false from true guilt. Feelings of shame due to another person’s actions or self condemnation are not convictions from the Holy Spirit, but lies from the enemy. Once you are forgiven, you are “in Christ” and no one can condemn you (Rom 8:1).
  • Pray the words of Psalm 51, which is a great template for confession: “Create in me a clean heart, O God… Wash me and make me clean O Lord…Against you only have I sinned… Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt 6:12).
  • Sin does not only distort our actions, but also our thoughts, desires, motives and will. Lay your heart bare before the Lord and ask Him to expose your blind spots. It is risky to pray for exposure, but better to be free than blind.

Pray

Father, search me and know my heart today. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps 139:23-24). Lord Jesus, I know my sins are great but I know that your forgiveness is greater. Please give me the blessing and freedom of your forgiveness, so that I may rest in your grace and mercy, not my efforts. Holy Spirit, give me assurance that I am absolutely forgiven in Jesus. Stir my heart with your great sacrifice so that I am truly sorry for my sin and am sad to offend you and violate your holiness. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Join us over the next two weeks to explore what it means to repent and believe: “Repent, Believe and Receive” and “Radical Repentance.”

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Why Bible reading should be part of your holiday plans

The Apostle Paul spent his last days in a cold Roman prison convicted to die as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. In that dungeon he wrote his final thoughts to his “son” Timothy to remind him of what was truly important and encourage him in his faith. He describes a society which is remarkably like our own– “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5

There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s last written words to Timothy, and also to every believer living in the ‘last days’ (the time between Christ’s resurrection and his return). As we enter the holiday season, it is good to rest and renew our strength. But Paul warns us not to be lulled into a false sense of security, but to understand the times and wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11Eph 5:14-18). Paul urges us to be “prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). Satan does not go on holiday when we pack our bags! When life slows down and we let our hair down, we have a God-given opportunity to taste the sweetness of His inspired Word and equip ourselves to live courageously for Him in 2019! Our text this week is 2 Timothy 3:14-17:

 

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Hunger for God

The prospect of reading the Bible during the holidays may fill you with mixed feelings—perhaps reluctance at the thought of study after a year of hard work; perhaps guilt or dread at the idea of imposing duty and structure on lazy days; perhaps excitement at the thought of diving into a new book of the Bible. Guilt and duty are hopeless motivators for Bible reading and will definitely not sustain us during the holiday season. A neutral or complacent attitude towards God’s Word will be useless to combat “holiday rot!” Only awe and hunger for God himself can motivate us day after day to open our hearts to the Bible—to be receptive to its teaching, correction and training in righteousness. If we understand the miracle of God’s Word, the Logos, we will not see reading the Bible as medicine to swallow or a chore to tick off. It is pure pleasure, an experience of communion with God that is as sweet as honey (Ps 119:103Ps 19:10). That is how David saw it a millennium ago even though he only had the first five books to read—mere shadows of what was to come. He longed for greater intimacy with God and saw the law as a vital conduit to this relationship. Timothy’s “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15) were also limited to the Old Testament. But we are far more privileged than David or Timothy. What a gift the holidays provide to us to get a taste of the Bible’s 66 God-breathed books, written by around 40 different human authors, spanning over 1600 years! Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Word –“the Word made flesh” and when we are guided by the Holy Spirit, we see Jesus and everything he has done for believers in the Old and New Testament. It is awe inspiring that we have free access to these sacred texts which tell the greatest story the world has ever heard! How strange that we should plan endless entertainment, distractions, meals and celebrations, but not give a thought to nurturing our souls on holiday? Let’s remember that the Word is essential to our Walk with God. Let’s commit ourselves to a plan of how we will spend time listening and talking to God in prayer over the holiday season. Let us approach his Word with anticipation, like opening a beautifully wrapped gift every day, full of messages that are trustworthy, true and satisfying (Ps 119:14-16).

Show me!

“Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

Benjamin Franklin was right. We remember nothing when we are just told things. The same goes for reading the Bible. Although the Bible is full of life changing power and can cut into our hearts like a surgeon’s scalpel (Hebrews 4:1213), its words are not magic bullets that automatically transform us. We need to do more than just read Scripture. We need to first open our hearts and pray, “God, show me the meaning of this text. Help me to understand your truth, not my own.” Then read the text carefully, following clues in the margins and notes of your Bible so that you understand what the text is saying to its original readers and against the backdrop of the rest of the Bible. See this as a treasure hunt rather than hard work!

Teach me!

Then whisper the simple prayer, “God, teach me what you want me to learn. ” Be still and quiet as you observe details in the text that stand out for you. Think and chew on it as a cow chews on the cud. Meditate on the words as if you are warming your hands at a fire. No word is wasted or arbitrary. When God the Holy Spirit teaches us, He doesn’t do it all at once. He peels away thoughts like an onion, layer by layer, leading us deeper and deeper into the truth of his Word. In a whole lifetime of reading Scripture, we will always be struck by new truths and will never plumb the depths of God’s Word.

Change me!

But the Bible is useless to us if it remains in our head and does not seep into our heart and emotions, our will, thoughts and actions. Our final prayer as we read Scripture is a commitment to action and a simple request: “Lord, I surrender my will to you. Please change me.” It is a prayer of yielding our whole hearts to God like the good, receptive soil in the parable of the sower. The rebuking, correcting and training function of the Bible can only take place when the veil is removed from our eyes and we finally see the attitudes, behaviours and thought patterns that need to be changed. Each day we need to turn away from ourselves and towards God—a daily recalibration as we wrestle actively and honestly with God’s Word. “Faith without works is dead,” says James (James 2:17). Jesus is looking for doers of the word, not just hearers or talkers (James 1:22232425). “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron 16:9). Jesus accused the Pharisees of being ‘blind guides’ because their knowledge of Scripture led to information, but not transformation. Paul warns Timothy of people who are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim 3:7). Scribble down what the Holy Spirit is showing you as he confronts, comforts and convicts you with the inspired text of Scripture. Be specific and hold yourself accountable to your commitments.

Live it out!

  • ROMA is a useful acronym to help you wrestle with your Bible this holiday.

R- Read

O- Observe

M- Meditate / meaning

A- Apply.

  • Plan to read a book of the Bible this holiday and download the Explore Bible Devotional app (The Good Book Company) on your phone to guide you through it in bite-sized daily readings. The App is simple to use (even for the technologically challenged), the devotions are brilliantly written by some of the world’s best Bible teachers, and are very practical. I use the Explore Bible Devotional app as a vital companion to my quiet time as it helps me to interpret the text in front of me against the backdrop of the whole Bible, instead of through the lens of my own personal hobbyhorses. Start a new journal to jot down your thoughts and prayers. As you look back on your journal this time next year, you will be amazed at what God has done and how many of your prayers He has answered.

A river of grace for 2019

Imagine filling your mind every day with heaven’s pure river of wisdom, intimacy and guidance. The Bible is a flowing stream of grace that God himself has provided to enable you to be fruitful in season and not to wither (Ps 1:3)– To remain nourished and restored through every season of life. See this holiday as a gap to reflect on eternal things, to see the beauty of Jesus on every page of Scripture, to spend time taking pleasure in God’s beautiful world and renewing your awe and love for the One who created you and has numbered all your days. Make up your mind today not to succumb to holiday rot! Allow God’s Word to transform you into a man or woman who is mature and complete, equipped for every good work in the coming year 2 Tim 3:17

Pray:

Lord, thank you for getting us through this year and never leaving our side. Help us to lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees at this time. Make straight paths for our feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed (Heb 12:12-13). Please restore us this holiday season and remind us that Christmas is all about you and your gift of Jesus.

Jesus, help us to sit at your feet like Mary, instead of being distracted by many lesser things, as Martha was. Help us to choose what is better this holiday, instead of trying to do everything (Luke 10:38-41). Jesus, you are the living Word, and we pray that you will help us to connect to you through the written Word of Scripture in the coming weeks (John 1:1418). Please equip us for every good work in 2019.

In Jesus’ name

Amen.

Thank God for speaking to you through his Word as you listen to this classic hymn by Amy Grant. Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path is based on Psalm 119:105 (click here).

Have you ever seen a stressed sheep?

There’s a special variety of stress that comes over us as the year draws to a close. It’s not the good kind of stress that makes us perform better and think sharper. It’s that numbing, make-you-crazy kind of stress caused by excessive worry, hurry and too many choices and demands. Perhaps some loss, regret and conflict is also thrown into the mix. According to statistics released by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), as many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression and substance use . Our daily newspapers report increasing numbers of murders committed out of blind rage, and every year the levels of aggression, anger and hostility seem to intensify. With our official unemployment rate of 27% (6.2 million people) and retrenchment figures rising by more than 5% in the last year, it is no wonder so many South Africans feel a sense of frustration, fear and powerlessness . If driving in the traffic is a reliable gauge of the mental state of our nation, things don’t look good! The hard truth is that stress damages our emotional, physical and mental health. But King David knew all about that kind of stress when he wrote Psalm 23 three thousand years ago. It was a prayer to settle his own fears by declaring the Lord as the Shepherd of his quivering heart. Let’s meditate on how each verse of this timeless Psalm counters a stressor we face today.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

My Provider

Verse 1 is a powerful image of God as our great provider. David was himself a shepherd and likened his relationship with God to a shepherd and his sheep. God is my provider and will give me everything I need (Phil 4:19). I can trust Him completely (2 Cor 9:8). I am under His constant care and provision (Matt 6:34Luke 12:24Ps 34:10). He will supply all my needs (Phil 4:19). He will never abandon me (Heb 13:5). The only antidote to worry is to trust in One infinitely more powerful than myself, Jehovah-Jireh, my provider (Gen 22:14).

My Rest

(Ps 23:2)

I love that God makes us lie down! It’s not an option. God commands us to rest so that we can be restored. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the top ten commandments for a reason. God has made us to work for six days and rest for one. It is a rhythm built into our human DNA which we defy at our peril. The Sabbath is God’s gift of love to meet our deepest needs, not an oppressive burden to make us miserable. Jesus also invites us to come to Him to find rest every day of our lives. When we feel frantic, we need to be still and ask ourselves two honest questions:

  1. Do I know that my fruitfulness in life depends on God’s labour rather than my own?
  2. Am I striving too much on my own and resting too little in Jesus?

It may be time to recalibrate our rhythm of work and rest.

My Great Counsellor

(Ps 23:3)

The modern world considers it progress that we have many more choices available to us. But more choices require more decisions, and that translates into more stress. What do we hold onto and what should we let go of? Which school, which job, which house, which investment, which vitamin is best? Most people have hundreds of decisions to make every day, but moral choices are the ones that have the most far reaching implications. Verse 3 reminds God’s children that we have a Shepherd who will lead us along the “right paths” if only we follow his guidance. The Bible is God’s voice and becomes useful when we apply it to our lives. But how long do we spend in God’s word to grasp its meaning and respond to its message? Do we first spend precious hours worrying about a choice before getting on our knees to ask God for wisdom for the way ahead? The “mighty counselor” knows each of us intimately and the future is not uncertain to Him. He promises to guide us “for his name’s sake” and we can be sure that God knows what is best for us.

Do you steamroll ahead with your agenda? Or do you commit to the Lord whatever you do, and trust that He will establish your plans? (Prov 16:3). Regular consultation with the Great Counsellor is the only way to be free from anxiety in a world full of problems and pressures.

Fear No Evil

(Ps 23:4)

Verse 4 reminds us that in the darkest valleys of loss, disappointment, hurt or injustice, we do not need to be ruled by fear. Our Shepherd God will never leave us alone. He will fight for us with his “rod” and pull us back into the safety of the sheep pen with his “staff”. Fear is a paralysing emotion which can convince us to give up and withdraw from life. Or it can cause a flight or fight reaction which wreaks havoc in our lives and relationships. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” is a deeply personal declaration of trust in God. Immersing ourselves in the Psalms is a God-ordained practice to build courage and faith when we are afraid (Ps 27:1Ps 115:11Ps 118:6). Declare these verses out loud (Isa 43:1Isa 35:4John 14:27Josh 1:9) and allow the truth of God’s word to seep courage into your bones and banish fear from your heart.

My Defender

(Ps 23:56)

David had many enemies who conspired against him, even his own friends and son. Nothing is worse than betrayal. David closes his Psalm by placing vengeance in God’s hands and focusing on the bigger picture and his place in eternity. God sometimes intervenes miraculously and saves us from harm (2 Sam 22:3) and it is right to pray for protection (Ps 140:4). But in God’s infinite wisdom and sovereignty, He sometimes defends us in other ways: He gives us his peace and joy that defies our circumstances. In another Psalm, David says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Ps 94:19). He protects us from Satan (2 Thess 3:3). He stands with us and will not leave us (Deut 31:6). He upholds and strengthens us through our ordeals (Isa 41:10). He gives us refuge under his wings until the disaster passes (Ps 57:1). Two things are certain—

  1. No one can snatch us out of our Father’s hand (John 10:282930).
  2. Nothing in all the world can separate us from our Father’s love (Rom 8:38-39).

A Song for the Surrendered

This Psalm reminds us that although we cannot avoid the valley of the shadow of death, we do not need to be driven by fear and anxiety as we walk through it. Jesus did that for us as he died on the cross and bore the sin and evil of the world. For three hours darkness covered the whole land (Mark 15:33Luke 23:44Matt 27:45) as Jesus walked alone through the valley of the shadow of death, forsaken by his Father, abandoned by his friends, rejected by those who should have recognised him and hated by his enemies.

There may be times that people will oppose or hate us, but we do not need to defend or justify ourselves. Jesus did not even open his mouth to defend himself in the great miscarriage of justice that sentenced him to be crucified. Instead, he entrusted himself to his Father who judges rightly (1 Peter 2:23). Our Shepherd will defend us and His approval is the only approval we should seek. He is the one who prepares our place at the great banquet of heaven. He anoints us with the oil of gospel blessings because of our status “in Christ”. Our cup overflows with his generous gift of forgiveness and grace, because Jesus drank the cup of God’s judgment and wrath for us on the cross.

As you end today’s devotion, pray Psalm 23 aloud to God and personalise each verse. Surrender each one of your stressors today to the Shepherd of your soul, Jesus Christ. Let Him lead you beside quiet waters and refresh your soul.

Pray

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thess 5:23-24).

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Worship as you listen to Chris Tomlin’s Whom shall I fear? (click on this link)

Come Dine With Me

A few weeks ago we read together about Jesus’s Great Commission in Matthew 28. Today we are going to read about Yahweh’s Great Invitationin Isaiah 55. It is like an ancient echo of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, when He revealed himself  as the long-awaited Messiah (A Leaky Bucket—John 4). The context of Isaiah 55’s great invitation is important: From chapter 40 onwards, Isaiah shines his spotlight on Israel’s final redemption and ultimate hope– the suffering Servant. This suffering Servant will bear the sins of God’s people and die in their place (Isa 53:4-6), then rise again to share the spoils of victory over sin and death (Isa 53:12). For this reason, Isaiah is often called “the Old testament evangelist” as the gospel announcement drips from his pen like honey. Today Isaiah invites us to come while God is near and satisfy our souls with spiritual water, wine and milk. The table is heaving and the tickets are free. He invites us to delight in the richest food, so that our soul may live. It reminds me of a day in the future when the doors of the great banquet hall of heaven will close. (Luke 13:24;25Matt 25:10). Only those who have accepted the great invitation will celebrate the marriage feast between Jesus and his people. The time to come to Jesus the Saviour will be over.

This Saturday I am giving a talk on prayer at the Christ Church Midrand ladies’ breakfast, so have decided to write this devotion as a prayer in response to the great invitation of Isaiah 55. It is based on many Scriptures which I would encourage you to read as they pop up on your screen. Wherever you find yourself at this moment, Jesus is inviting you to come to him, just as you are. He knows your heart, so please adapt the prayer to your own situation and pray “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:2324).

Isaiah 55:1-7

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Pray

Father, thank you that in Jesus there is pardon for sin. Thank you that you have made a way for me to belong to your chosen people, to enjoy your great banquet of salvation, completely free of charge. Today I accept your generous invitation to come. I come to you in the name of Jesus my Saviour– to drink and eat what is good. To enjoy the abundant life that Jesus has bought for me which I could not pay for myself.

Water

Jesus, I come to you today for life-giving ‘water’ (Isa 55:1). Refresh me on the inside with your spring that never runs dry and let me drink deeply of your internal and eternal well (John 4:1314). Lead my tired body beside still waters and restore my weary soul and mind today (Ps 23:2-3). Jesus, give me the rest and peace with God that only you can give (2 Cor 5:20Matt 11:282930).

Milk

Lord, I come to you today for ‘milk’ (Isa 55:1). Nourish my soul with your word day after day. Feed me like a newborn baby craving pure spiritual milk, so that I will grow up in my salvation and continue to taste your goodness each day of my life. (1 Peter 2:2). May I never lose my eagerness to drink your rich and nourishing word, sip by sip, cup by cup.

Wine

Father, I come to you today for ‘wine’, a symbol of joy and celebration, praise and laughter (Isa 55:1). I come to you to find my true contentment and delight. Let me never settle for lesser things. Thank you that even my greatest trials are pure joy in your sovereign hands because of the faith you are growing in me (James 1:2-3). I praise you that I do not merely have to endure life, but can enjoy it to your glory too. Thank you for the people and blessings that give me joy. Thank you that your grace is everywhere I look. Help me to choose gratitude over grumbling; faith over fear; praise over pessimism.

Godly thirst

Jesus, keep me forever thirsty and dependent on you. Do not let me become self sufficient, getting and spending my life on physical things only (Isa 55:2). Save me from a wasted life, ever searching, always wanting more, working for things that get old and dreams that cannot satisfy. Save me from being too ‘full’ and forgetting that everything I have comes from you. And save me from poverty too, “lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov 30:9). I thirst for you today and seek you with all my heart (Jer 29:13).

Listen and Come

Lord, today I come, not just to hear you but to listen to you attentively, so that I may live (Isa 55:23). Give me understanding and help me to obey you with all my heart (Ps 119:34). I love your commands because they give life and healing to me (Prov 4:22). Thank you Jesus, son of David, that through your death and resurrection I inherit the covenant promises made to your people, Israel (Isa 55:3). Thank you that I am part of the true Israel and a child of the covenant (Gal 3:6789). Thank you that this everlasting covenant rests on your steadfast love, not on my faithfulness. May your goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life and may I dwell in your house for eternity (Ps 23:6). I trust in you, Lord and I know my times are in your hand (Ps 31:13-15).

Seek and turn

Lord, today I seek you while you may be found and call on you while you are near. (Isa 55:6). I confess my great sin against you and make no excuse for it. I ask for you to be true to your promise of abundant forgiveness (Isa 55:7) and cleansing (1 John 1:9) because Jesus took the punishment I deserve. I confess that everything is disordered in me. Even my faith is half hearted and my desires warped. Today I turn away from my sin and towards your great mercy. I draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that I may receive mercy (Heb 4:16). Holy Spirit, help me to control my tongue (Prov 4:24) and forsake my sin and selfishness (Prov 4:27) to live a life that pleases you. Help me to guard my heart, the source of everything I do and say (Prov 4:23). Keep my eyes fixed ahead (Prov 4:2627), not distracted to swerve to the right or left of the truth. I seek you and turn from my sin today.

Drink

I hold your symbolic water, milk and wine in my hands and drink deeply– for refreshment, for nourishment and for joy. For life itself, flowing over and spilling into my lap.

“You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps 16:11)

In Jesus’ precious name,

Amen.

RSVP

The gospel invitation is open to everyone, but we must ‘come’ to Jesus. We must RSVP. Everyone had a chance to enter the ark during the 100 years Noah took to build it, but only 8 people went inside. Then came the day when God shut the door of the ark and the flood destroyed all those left outside. I pray that everyone who reads this devotion has accepted God’s great invitation to Come! Drink! Live! We do not know how long the invitation will be extended. Call on the Lord today while He is near and seek Him while He may be found. And continue to come to Him every day of your life for refreshment, nourishment and joy. That is the only antidote to half-heartedness.

A Leaky Bucket

After his encounter with Nicodemus, an insider, Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman, an outcast. His tone is more gentle with her and the encounter is laced with grace. Instead of a late night visit, this meeting takes place in the blistering heat of the midday sun beside Jacob’s well. Jesus is parched and tired after walking for at least six hours. Breaking all social, religious and gender taboos of the day, he strikes up a conversation with the woman about water, a precious commodity in this desert region. Instead of shunning her, Jesus artfully exposes the desperate thirst in the woman’s heart, the driving force behind her disordered life. If her soul was a bucket, it was leaking badly.

John 4:1-26; 39-42

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he….”

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”

Rain can soak a leopard’s skin but it does not wash out its spots.

(African proverb)

Superficially, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman couldn’t look more different. He has a designer life as an insider– a prosperous, respected, moral Jewish male. To use last week’s metaphor, his proverbial deck is well scrubbed. The woman by contrast, is a half-caste Samaritan defiled with Gentile blood and pagan worship practices, a female, socially despised and immoral. Her deck is in complete disarray– faded, cracked and warped. Rain could have soaked her skin but it would never have washed out its spots. No strict Jewish man would have come near her, as the woman points out (John 4:9). Only a woman full of shame would have visited the well at noon to avoid the virtuous women who filled their buckets early in the morning. We can surmise that this woman was rejected, used, disgraced and unloved if her string of sexual partners is anything to go by (John 4:17;18).

Not a son of his culture, but the Son of God

Group identity is nothing new to the planet! It was particularly rife in Jesus’ time. Humanity has always been divided into the haves and have-nots; insiders and outsiders; the virtuous and disgraceful; the powerful and the oppressed; those who are holding their lives together, and the junkies whose lives have unravelled. The African continent is repeatedly torn apart and impoverished by bitter conflicts and separation between different groups. But even though Jesus is fully aware of this woman’s nationality and her sexual immorality from the outset (John 4:17), he ignores typical distinctions based on gender, class, morality and ethnicity. Jesus is not a son of his culture, but the Son of God, a God who cares more about the heart than the outward appearance of a person (1 Sam 16:7). Instead of snubbing or recoiling from the woman in disgust, he connects with her by requesting a drink of water. This would have been an outrageous gesture for a Jewish man. But in Jesus’s eyes, Nicodemus the pious Jew, and the unclean woman from Samaria, are equally lost. Both need to be born again. Both need the living water that transcends all human categories.

Looking for water, finding Life

In the Limestone Hills around Sychar, life literally depended on finding water, and John 4:13; 14 is the pivot of this encounter: Jesus identifies himself as living water– God’s free gift to ALL who are thirsty. Jesus describes himself as an internal and eternal water source that wells up inside a person, giving life (John 4:14). The image is of a spring inside your body which keeps filling up and spilling over no matter how much of it you drink! This is an astonishing claim for anyone who knew the Jewish Scriptures.

The shock value is that Jesus is clearly identifying himself as Yahweh’s promised Saviour. Centuries before, Yahweh had promised that his people would draw water with joy from wells of salvation (Isa 12:3). He promised to pour water on a thirsty land, streams in the desert and an outpouring of his Spirit on future generations to enable them to flourish, like green grass in a lush meadow, like poplars planted by flowing streams (Isa 44:3; 4). Isaiah prophesied that Yahweh would bring his people home from captivity to “neither hunger nor thirst,” to be led beside springs of water and no longer to be scorched by the desert sun (Isa 49:10). The apostle John himself writes the last prophetic book of the Bible, Revelation, in which he identifies Jesus, the Lamb of God, as the source of this living water on the day of His return:

‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev 7:16-17)

Meditate for a minute on this emotive picture of Jesus, the divine Shepherd-Lamb leading his people to life-giving springs, wiping away every tear from their eyes and erasing every misery. This is the image Jesus ascribes to himself as he talks to the woman!

Imagine the climax of this encounter when the woman says, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

And, without a moment’s hesitation,  Jesus replies, “I, the one speaking to you– I am He …” (John 4:25; 26).

Looking for love, courting disaster

“I am he!”Jesus’s declaration was outrageous…unless of course it was true. Being able to tell a person their life story without any prior knowledge sounds a bit like something only God could do.

The woman may have been good at drawing water from Jacob’s well, but her soul was thirsty to the point of dehydration. She was looking to men to satisfy her thirst, perhaps in search of the one true love that would leave her feeling whole, significant and secure. Why else would she be shacking up with partner number six? (John 4:18) Yet, she was unloved and rejected despite their attention. Jesus knew all this about her without her saying a word.

He knew that her soul was a leaky bucket that kept drying up no matter how much she filled it with ‘love’. Today we might call it an addiction or dysfunction of some sort, but Jesus directs her to the thing that drives all addictions, even those that appear healthier than the woman’s. He puts his finger on the root of all our cravings which ultimately lead to disillusionment: FALSE WORSHIP. One of the most stark forms of false worship is the devotion to excess that we call greed, gluttony, jealousy and lust; the “I want more” reckless mentality which is rife in our world. Runaway desires that eventually lead to bondage, and ultimately to death. The endless seeking of pleasure…fame…approval…love, only to find disillusionment… emptiness…thirst…broken relationships. Jesus gently confronts the woman on this soul thirst (John 4:16; 17; 18). To mask her pain and guilt, the woman tries to sidestep the issue with a theological question about the proper location of the temple, a hot topic that still rages today (John 4:17). Jesus doesn’t dismiss her red herring, but rather uses it to reveal the disorder behind the woman’s leaky bucket. The cause (rather than the symptom) of her thirst is FALSE WORSHIP.

CS Lewis puts it well, “Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” The Four Loves.

False worship

The Samaritan woman is a serial adulterer– a worshipper of her own desires, instead of the God who created and loved her. She is searching for redemption and love in all the wrong places.

But we cannot hold Scripture at arm’s length. We must ask the Son of God to direct the spotlight on our own hearts too. If Jesus is right, then false worship is the cause of our leaky bucket syndrome too! Every appetite can quickly become an object of worship that controls us, whether it is a socially acceptable desire, such as achievement, wealth, family and affirmation, or a less acceptable obsession like sex, drugs, anger or alcohol. If the beginning of soul emptiness is idolatry, the end is always slavery, as “a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Peter 2:19). That is why Nicodemus is only a short walk from the woman at the well.

My grandfather was a humorous old Scot who spent five years of World War 2 in North Africa building bridges and roads for the Allied forces. At one point they marched for two days through the scorching desert and my grandfather nearly died of dehydration. The reason was that he had filled his water bottle with whisky, intensifying his thirst with every sip! This incident obviously left its mark on him because he often issued a grave warning to us grandchildren, “Whatever you do, NEVER EVER put whisky in your water bottle!” As though this was the greatest temptation we would face in life! My grandpa’s point was relevant to this devotion though: If we drink from a leaky bucket, we will find ourselves thirstier than ever. It is a simple matter of cause and effect, because we were created to worship the only true God.

True worship

If the cause of leaky buckets is false worship, Jesus proceeds to tell the woman about true worship. He says that true worshippers worship God the Father “in the Spirit and in truth”. The Father is seeking those whose worship is sincere and Spirit-filled, not those who are trying to put on a religious show (John 4:24). The real disgrace is not people like the Samaritan woman whose lives are in a mess, but those who play church to look respectable. Jesus sees into our hearts and cannot be fooled by empty rituals or super spiritual pretences of any kind. That is a form of false worship, and its deceptiveness makes it more perilous than any other kind. The picture Jesus gives of true worship is a beautiful reminder that God does not care about ethnic, gender, cultural, intellectual or denominational differences in his people. Those who put their trust in the Messiah must worship the Father as one, in the truth of the gospel, in unity and diversity, regardless of man-made distinctions (Gal 3:28).

But wait a minute, where does the woman’s temple question fit in? (John 4:20)

It’s not about location!

As Jesus predicted (John 4:21), the Jerusalem temple and the temple at Mt Gerizim were soon destroyed, in 70AD and the second century respectively. But Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that it doesn’t matter, because soon worship of the invisible God will no longer be tied to a physical location in Jerusalem or anywhere else (John 4:23-24). With hindsight we can know why: In the Old Testament, the Temple was the meeting place between God and sinful people. It was the place for sacrifice and atonement for sin. The Holy of Holies was the ‘dwelling’ place of God on earth. John tells us at the beginning of his gospel that Jesus, the Son of God, became flesh and made his ‘dwelling’ among us (John 1:14). Jesus calls his body the new Temple of God that will die and be raised to life (John 2:19; 20; 21). Everything the temple embodied, was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross! He paid the final sacrifice on the cross. He was the perfect atonement lamb. He split the temple curtain in half to give us access to God the Father. He was the High Priest who reconciles us to God. He was the Jewish Messiah from the line of David. In other words, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus becomes the symbolic Temple of God, the supreme and final meeting place between God and sinners. The physical building becomes obsolete.

And it is because of Jesus’s death and resurrection that every Christian becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives inside us (1 Cor 3:16). God’s living people are now God’s dwelling place on earth, not a physical building in a special location or an ethnic nation! This is a truly revolutionary announcement by the Messiah.

Looking forward to the new Creation, there will be no temple building, because the Lord God and the Lamb are its temple (Rev 21:22). All those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter (Rev 21:27). Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “I am He.” True worship is about the person (Jesus) and the way in which we worship (in the Spirit). It is not about a physical temple or church building. Worship of the Father takes place in the lives of ordinary Christians filled by the Holy Spirit.

Live it out!

1.     Thirst is not quenched by a stagnant pool

Jesus’ lack of prejudice, his gentleness and insight, his scandalous grace and the masterful way he directs the Samaritan woman to himself via the vacuum in her soul, are a prototype of how we should share the gospel with love. The eager response of the woman and people of Samaria is my favourite part of the story (John 4:39; 40; 41; 42). Only the Holy Spirit could have caused such a faith-filled harvest. Phillip, John and Peter later became missionaries to Samaria to build on the work of Jesus and the woman at the well (Acts 8:5-8; Acts 8:14-17). Anyone can make disciples through their sincere testimony. Discipleship starts by knowing Jesus and drinking deeply from his well every day of our lives. Only then will the living water spill over into love for others. The thirst of the world cannot be quenched by a stagnant pool. Is your spring flowing with oxygen?

2.     A shamed wife becomes beloved

The story of the Samaritan woman stuns me each time I read it. Especially in the light of Isaiah 54, which I read this morning in my own time with the Lord. When Jesus removes the woman’s disgrace, he fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy about the restoration of Israel, Yahweh’s unfaithful ‘wife’. Stunningly, she (Israel) is called “the wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young only to be rejected”. (Isa 54:6) Could there be a more apt description of the woman at the well? Perhaps you can relate to this loneliness or the pain of broken relationships. Because of Jesus, the Suffering Servant, God says to anyone who is drinking from a leaky bucket, “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life (Rev 22:17).” “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth…for your Maker is your husband— ” (Isa 54:4;5). Only Jesus, the great Bridegroom, can quench your spiritual thirst! Everyone who comes to him in faith and repentance is his radiant Bride, no matter what your past. But you must come and take the gift of living water for yourself.

Pray Ephesians 5:25-28:

Thank you Jesus, that you are the great Groom who will return to take me home as your Bride, holy and blameless in your sight. Father, thank you that because of Jesus, who gave up his life for me on the cross, I am cleansed and spotless, radiant and without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish. Help me to see myself like this and not to feel condemned by my sin in my weak moments. Thank you that you will never leave me or reject me because of your everlasting covenant with me. Help me to drink deeply of your living water and to quench my thirst only in you. May your living water spill out of my heart into love for those around me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Worship as you listen to Chris Tomlin’s rendition of the hymn Come Thou Fount. (click here)

I would highly recommend the following books:

  1. Encounters with Jesus, by Timothy Keller.
  2. Addictions—A Banquet in the Grave, by Edward T. Welch.
  3. The Dynamic Ministry of Women in Early Christianity http://subspla.sh/ctpxc6k

1.     Further food for thought:

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

“Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job:  but something has evaded us.”

N.T Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking heaven, the resurrection and the Mission of the Church

“One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.”

Ernest Becker:

“Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing.

A Polished Deck

According to my brother, who sold up all his worldly goods to sail around the world with his family, the three most important parts of a sailing vessel are the HULL to keep water out,  the RUDDER to steer, and the KEEL to keep the yacht upright. Although largely invisible, without these essentials below deck, the boat is doomed to sink. He assures me that a polished deck is of no use in a storm! The trouble with humanity is that we try to satisfy our soul needs and our longing for significance with the equivalent of a shiny deck. In his frank encounter with a moral, religious man called Nicodemus, a pillar of the Jewish community, Jesus shatters any delusions of a polished deck. The Son of God candidly tells Nicodemus that his best efforts are futile without a new spiritual trajectory and orientation. Self help and external renovations are false security for this world and eternity. Jesus loves Nicodemus enough to tell him the most important truth he will ever hear– that only spiritual rebirth through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, can breathe life into the human soul. Only a spiritual remedy can heal a fatal spiritual condition, no matter who you are. I pray that as you step into this real life encounter, you will recognise Nicodemus in yourself and will hear Jesus of Nazareth, God’s own Son, speaking directly to your heart, as He speaks to mine.

John 3: 1-21

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Unimpressed by the deck

Nicodemus comes to Jesus in secret and calls him ‘Rabbi’ and ‘teacher from God’. He is spiritually astute to recognise that no ordinary man could have performed the miracles Jesus did, but he also fears offending his peers whose hatred for the rabbi has already become evident. He is a spiritual seeker walking a dangerous political tightrope, hence his late night visit. Nicodemus was used to being treated with respect and he is obviously impressed with Jesus. Perhaps he wants to invite him into the inner circle of religion and end the animosity. Yet, Jesus is not impressed with Nicodemus or his quiet diplomacy! He does not even respond to Nicodemus’s flattering address (John 3:2). Instead, Jesus plunges straight through the veneer to the core of this man. He loves him enough to tell him the truth.

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”(John 3:3).

In spite of his shiny appearance, Jesus knew the darkness in Nicodemus’ heart. In fact, he sees the sorry state of each of our hearts (John 2:25) to which we are often blind. Who of us obeys even the first three commandments God gave to Moses? 1. Have no other gods but the one true God. 2. Worship God alone. 3. Do not misuse God’s name. Jesus sees how we constantly look to something other than God to save us; how we put ourselves in the place of God (Rom 7:18); how we try to be our own saviour; how we deceive ourselves (Jer 17:9Prov 4:23); how casually we treat God; how our own desires determine the way we live. Jesus knows our mixed motives and pride in its many guises (1 John 2:16). He sees the offence to God in our misplaced worship and lack of gratitude. The Son of God sees below the deck and cannot be fooled by illusions of goodness that even we sincerely believe. Jesus knew that Nicodemus could not be improved, because he understood the true nature of sin. That’s why he cut through Nicodemus’s polished deck and prescribed the spiritual cure to a fatal spiritual problem:

New birth by the Holy Spirit.

Just in case we do not recognise ourselves in Nicodemus, Jesus repeats it three times (John 3:357) in a tone that is urgent and unequivocal. “You must be born again!” Belonging to God’s kingdom depends on it. Being born again is not the requirement of some strange Christian cult. It comes from Jesus’ own lips. The midwife of this rebirth is the Holy Spirit.

A brand new baby

But why does Jesus prescribe a new birth? Aren’t there more dignified ways to enter God’s kingdom than as a howling newborn covered in blood and vernix? Isn’t this image a bit radical?

Imagine the life of a healthy unborn baby in the dark cave of a womb. Its experience is limited to the steady thump of mom’s heartbeat; whooshing of blood; stomach rumblings and incoherent sounds. The foetus peers through a fog of amniotic fluid for forty weeks before bursting into the world. Suddenly it is alive to vivid light, colour and distinct shapes, voices, facial expressions, adventures. Best of all, it is welcomed into the loving nurture of a family. The baby does nothing apart from accept its delivery into the world! It is naked and helpless, totally dependent on mom. This is the metaphor Jesus chooses to describe the radical transformation of every sinner who becomes a Christian and takes hold of life. The ‘labour’ belongs to the Triune God– Father, Son and Holy Spirit who play unique roles in the birth of a Christian: The Father loved us enough to send his own Son to die in our place (John 3:16). Jesus the Son willingly submits to the Father and dies in our place (John 10:18).  The Holy Spirit breathes life into a dead, dark spirit, like a wind kindling a fire (John 3:8). The work has been done. The ‘family’ that receives us is God’s people (John 13:34Eph 2:19.)

If you are ‘born of water and the Spirit’, you were like a newborn baby, delivered from a dark domain and transferred to the light, to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin” (Col 1:13-14). Nicodemus, the concrete thinker, asks, “How can this be?” (John 3:9). He is baffled by these metaphors and still has many questions. Jesus explains that cleansing and a new spirit are an inside job.

An inside job: Water and the Spirit

Being born of “water and the Spirit” is something that happens on the INSIDE first, below the deck (John 3:5). We might be a bit confused by Jesus’ language, but he is speaking to a Pharisee who would have been able to recite this Old Testament prophecy of Ezekiel in his sleep:

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:25-28)

It is mind blowing that 500 years before Jesus’ late night chat with Nicodemus, Ezekiel announced Yahweh’s wonderful restoration plan, which would bring great blessing to his people. It included:

A perfect cleansing of his people from all their sin and idolatry (Ezek 36:25).

The gift of a new, soft heart with new desires (Ezek 36:26).

God’s Spirit to move God’s people to live God’s way (Ezek 36:27).

It is a picture of homecoming and reconciliation (Ezek 36:28) between God and his rebel people. Nicodemus would have made the link as soon as Jesus spoke about being born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5-67-8). Water symbolises inner renewal and cleansing. (Unbeknown to Nicodemus, he would soon witness the death of God’s own Son in full and final payment for the sins of the world.) The Spirit regenerates the heart, steering its desires away from self destructive gods, towards God and his truth (Ezek 36:25John 3:21). This was spectacularly fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and in the heart of every believer. Just to be clear, Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus about his part in being born again.

The outside story: Believe

“Whoever believes in him (Jesus) shall not die, but have eternal life.”

The outside story is that Nicodemus must give up his smug self sufficiency and surrender his veneer of virtue. He must expose himself to the light and stop hiding in the shadows (John 3:192021). He must live by the truth by trusting in Jesus instead of his efforts. The summative verse of the gospel and the whole Bible, is John 3:16. Life is ours if we rely on the sacrifice of Jesus who absorbed the judgment of God on our behalf (John 3:17).

To help Nicodemus understand his role in the new birth, Jesus astutely reminds him of a concrete Old Testament story: The Israelites had been wandering in the desert after being rescued from Egypt. Tired, grumpy and ungrateful, they complained incessantly to God and blamed him for everything. God sent a plague of poisonous snakes which killed many of them. The people begged Moses for God’s help. God told Moses to raise a bronze serpent on a pole. Those bitten by snakes only needed to look at the serpent on the pole and God healed them of their venomous bites (Numbers 21). That is the image Jesus applies to himself, soon to be lifted up on a Roman cross (John 3:131415). The bronze snake was just a shadow of the gospel promise, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10:9).”

True transformation

Why is faith in Jesus crucial? Because as sinners we are incapable of being at peace with God. Jesus is the only one qualified to wash away our sin because He is the only perfect man who bore our sin on the cross. He is the only way humanity can know God (John 17:3John 10:9).  And once we become a Christian, continuing to believe the Son is how we satisfy our soul longings and need for significance (1 John 5:11John 8:36Rom 8:12). It is only Jesus who can give us life that is abundant and free, because He is the only one who can re-orientate us away from ourselves, —our selfish pride, greed and ambitions, our warped addictions and desires that destroy us (John 10:10). Best of all, Jesus is the only one who can give us eternal life beyond the grave.

How does a Christian know and trust Jesus today? By asking for his forgiveness and developing a relationship with him. Taking simple baby steps to get to know Him. Growing in the habits of grace he has provided, like reading God’s word, praying and meeting with God’s people.

Without spiritual rebirth and growth into mature faith in Jesus, personal or social transformation will fail in the long term. The centre cannot hold without the spiritual power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to change the human heart and its desires. Human effort alone is lifeless, like scrubbing the deck of a yacht without attending to what’s below.

But with the RUDDER of God’s SPIRIT steering us, our trajectory will progressively move towards light as we begin to see that God’s ways are best for us (Isa 48:17). Our HULL will keep the stormy waves outside our boat, as we learn to trust in the FATHER who loves us and gives us new life through his SON. And our KEEL will steady us through turbulent oceans, as we hope in His promises to make all things new. The Trinity continues to empower our Christian journey.

Whatever happened to Nicodemus?

For me, the most wonderful thing of all is knowing that Nicodemus didrespond to Jesus’ offer of life. We don’t know much about what happened after their clandestine meeting, but John tells us that Nicodemus tried to get a fair hearing for Jesus before the Jewish council (John 7:51). Who knows his torment at witnessing the injustice of the kangaroo court of his peers who condemned Jesus to be crucified. But later John describes Nicodemus as a ‘disciple’ of Jesus who took his body down from the cross with another rich Jew, Joseph of Arimathea. Together they lovingly prepared him for burial with 75 pounds of spices, wrapped his broken body in linen and placed our Lord in the tomb (John 19: 3839). How I pray that every person reading this devotion has responded to the Lord Jesus as Nicodemus did. Nicodemus stepped into the light and made his faith public at the crucifixion, despite inevitable persecution by his inner circle.

Just as Jesus frankly confronted him in the middle of the night, Nicodemus asks us the hard question, “What is it costing you to follow Jesus?”

Live it out!

  • Whether or not you are born again, if the Holy Spirit is stirring you today, Jesus is calling you to himself. Don’t ignore the wind of the Spirit when he blows on your heart. Go to Jesus. Make him your only Treasure, your one true desire. If you trust in Jesus, He will always satisfy you. If you fail Jesus, He will always forgive you. No other person or thing can do that for you.
  • Are you willing to love people with the truth as Jesus did with Nicodemus? Challenge yourself by listening to Love You With The Truth by Casting Crowns. (click on the link)
Lyrics of Love you with the truth, by Casting Crowns.
For the longest time, I believed the lie
That I’m not a strong enough believer
To be the friend that can take your hand
And lead you straight to Jesus
I’m waiting on the preachers, singers, and the teachers
To string the perfect words together
But every single time I have to say goodbye
I wonder will this be the last time
I can’t call myself your friend and walk away
When we love, we earn the right to speak the truth
When we speak truth, we show the world we truly love
I’m not pointing my finger, I’m holding out my hand
Let my life and my words be the proof
I’m gonna love you with the truth (Oh)