Friday, February 23, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-23 [Lent2018] Lent and Repentence and Preparation

Lent and Repentence and Preparation

"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' " ...
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.      (Matthew3:3-8)
John the Baptist is an interesting character:
  • He danced in the womb when pregnant Mary came to visit.
  • He was set apart from childhood to a hermit-like priestly order where he spent his time studying the law, fasting and leading a self-denying lifestyle.
  • He came from the desert wearing sackcloth and eating locusts as a protest against materialism
  • He came preaching repentance, justice and change
  • He denounced evil - especially among influential and powerful people
  • He announced the coming Messiah
  • He baptised Jesus (although he felt it should be the other way round).
  • But he was confused when he landed up in prison and Jesus' ministry wasn't that of a conquering Messiah

A quick glance at John could lead one to conclude that he represented to "old way" that required one to deny yourself, obey the law and live an austere lifestyle to please God. This "old way" or "old covenant" could also be interpreted as a "works based" salvation and one might argue that John was everything that Jesus was not.

But John isn't a contrast or foil for Jesus. He is Jesus' forerunner.
Jesus says this about John: "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist"(Mt.11:11)

How can this be? John seems to represent the old covenant.
So why does Jesus hold him in such high regard?

I think it was because John was Hungry. Hungry for God, Hungry for Holiness, Hungry for Righteousness, Hungry for Justice, Hungry for change, Hungry for Service, Hungry for God's Messiah.
When one is as hungry and passionate as John was, it points beyond the desire to pull oneself up by one's bootlaces. It points towards the Spirit's spark in our souls. This is the image of God in us. John had this in bucket-fulls! And Jesus loved him for it.

Lent thought for today:During Lent we deal with sin and pursue justice in our lives, not to save ourselves or prove ourselves, but because we are getting hungry. How hungry are you?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-22 [Lent2018] Magi: Obedient Adventurers

Magi: Obedient Adventurers

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
...10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.      (Matthew2:1-12)
Ironically, the "East" these star-following wise-men probably came from was the area of Babylon and Persia (which was (in)famous for its astrologers and where horoscoping comes from). It was to the Babylonians that the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing. (Isa.40:26)

These Magi were attentive to the signs that were visible in nature and instead of exploiting nature's signposts for their own ends, they were simply obedient to what they heard and saw.

Imagine packing up and heading off on a long and dangerous journey just to follow a star! (If you haven't read TS Elliot's "Journey of the Magi" you should read it after this...) The Magi were not only obedient to God's prompting, but they were courageous enough to head off on an adventurous journey and gutsy enough to defy Herod's wishes.

What would the modern day Magi look like today? And how could we be like them?
Firstly I think one needs to be sensitive to the "signs of the times" - not astrology per se - but rather a being sensitive to what God might be doing in our world that many others aren't seeing. The writer of Chronicles talks about the men of men of Issachar, "who understood the times and knew what Israel should do..." (1Chron12:32)

Secondly we need to be sensitive and obedient to the promptings and responsive to the signs and needs that God is drawing to our attention. We need to be willing to go and willing to be prompted. The Magi followed the star's guidance, but also listened to the dream they had about Herod. But their greatest sensitivity is shown in the gifts they bring: Gold symbolising Jesus' kingship, Myrrh which anticipated Jesus sacrificial death and Frankincense which pointed to His role as our priest.

Thirdly, we need a courageous adventurousness that would take us into the unknown and uncharted, just because we believe that we will find what God is doing there and that we would do it with a sense of worshipful extravagance!
-----------------------------------------------
(This dev is a "reprint" from something I wrote a few years ago...)




Wednesday, February 21, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-21 [Lent2018] With us

With us

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."      (Matthew1:22-23)
In the midst of his troubles and suffering Job utters the heartcry of all humanity: "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!" (Job.23:3)

But Job's longing to go and find God in His dwelling could not be fulfilled. In Psalm 15 David explains why:
"LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous..."
(Ps.15:1-2)

Job wasn't blameless and nor are we.

BUT when we could not go to God, God came to us!

John says it so well:
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1John.4:9-10)

Your Lent challenge today is simple:
Spend the day delighted that You are so loved by God that He came for you!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-20 [Lent2018] Gentle

Gentle

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
      (Matthew1:18-19)

Mary and Joseph were called by God to be the earthly parents of Jesus. We do not believe they were chosen because they were worthy. They didn't "earn the right" to become the parents of the Son of God. They were sinners, just like us. And, after all, just what would one have to do to earn such an incredible privilege??

But God prepares the ones He calls and He uses the gifts and fruit of those He calls...

Mary and Joseph lived in a patriarchal culture. It centred around men and their rights and dignity. A classic example of this is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The woman is dragged to Jesus - shamed and exposed - but where is the man? No-one except Jesus even seems to blink at this blatant injustice.

So when Mary falls pregnant and Joseph isn't the father, we expect him to conform to public norms and put her through a nasty, messy, public divorce. (Betrothal (being pledged) was considered as binding as marriage.) We expect him to make a big show of his bruised dignity and shame she has brought on him.

But Joseph behaves unexpectedly. He doesn't "power-up" - He "powers-down". He is gentle, considerate, gracious and even protective of her.

Think through the hot anger, bruised pride and the deep sense of betrayal and disappointment he would have had to work through. But he does it.

Joseph is called a righteous man - his righteousness came not from being right, but doing right.

Today's Lent challenge is to emulate this kind of gentleness - even when we may be right, even when we have the moral high ground or even when we may have earned the right to payback.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-15 [Lent2018] Ordinary

For the rest of Lent we'll be working our way through the gospel of Matthew, slowly making our way to the cross...

Ordinary

Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.      (Matthew1:15-16)

Matthew starts his gospel with a genealogy. His original audience was predominantly Jewish and he started with the genealogy to demonstrate that Jesus was, in fact, from the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David as the prophecies had foretold.

Many people look at the genealogy and pick out the significant names: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Hezekiah and so on. Some pick out the unusual names - Rahab, Tamar, Uriah's wife...
But today I want to pause on the last few names...

Why?

Because we know absolutely nothing about them!
They may have been boring normal folk, peasant carpenters like Joseph. Or one of them may have been a wild character... Maybe one of them was a lazy layabout, another could have been an elder and leader in the community.

Jesus' lineage is a mix of kings and commoners, honourable people and ragamuffins. He comes for all of us and He comes in the midst of grandads finishing their lives, dads raising their families, and sons dreaming about starting their families.

We tend to limit our focus on God for "Holy" moments: Church, Daily Devotions, saying Grace and so on. But God comes in the midst of all our lives.

Today's Lent challenge is to go through the ordinariness of the day and remind ourselves that Jesus came to be with us in that...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-14 [Lent2018] Scruffy Valentine

Scruffy Valentine

God asked Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer. She was a prostitute, probably not by initial intent, but now trapped emotionally and spiritually in brokenness. She kept running back to her old life and Hosea would have to go and rescue her.

God asks Hosea to love her faithfully even when she didn't fully grasp his unconditional love and would return to her brokenness.

Hosea is a picture of God's love for us.

We are His "scruffy valentine."
We're broken:
- Damaged by the corruption, harshness and abuse of the world.
- Wounded by our own selfishness and greed.
- Scarred by our failures in the past.
- Intimidated by the bullies who push us into corners.

But God doesn't give up on us.

He pursues us and calls us to Himself.
Look at what he says:

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.      (Hosea2:19-20)

God betrothes you and me, the scruffy valentine, to Him in love.

That's what Ash Wednesday is about.
We are scruffy and broken.
But He loves us, forgives us and makes us whole.
-------------------------------------

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-13 [Lent2018] Shrove Tuesday - Thanksgiving


We're pausing our Isaiah series for Lent.
You can read all about Lent at www.emmanuel.org.za/events/lent-2018

Shrove Tuesday - Thanksgiving

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.      (Psalms95:1-7)

Lent starts officially with "Ash Wednesday" but unofficially with Shrove Tuesday. "Shrove" is derived from the word "Shrive" which has to do with absolution. In the Early Church, the season of Lent was a season of fasting. They'd use Shrove Tuesday to use up the fat and luxury items in the house. It was the "feast before the fast" and pancakes were a good way to use up the leftovers which were used as fillings.

Shrove Tuesday became an opportunity to celebrate God's providence and His forgiveness.

Our Psalm does this too:

I love the verbs of worship:
Sing, Shout, Come Before, Extol, Bow and Kneel.

I love the description of God:
- He is the LORD ("I am who I am")
- He is the Rock of our salvation
- He is the great King above all other gods
- All of creation (depths to mountains, sea to land) are His.
- He is our Maker
- He is our Shepherd.

And who are we?
The flock of His pasture and under His care.
-----------------------------------------
Why not slow down this evening?
Enjoy a tasty meal with loved ones and let your hearts be filled with great gratitude to our wonderful God who gives us life and, as Lent teaches us, gave His us His Son.

Friday, February 9, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-09 [Insights from Isaiah] You can't ignore this truth...

You can't ignore this truth...

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,
14 and he will be a sanctuary;
but for both houses of Israel he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured."      (Isaiah8:13-15)

Chapters 7 and 8 of Isaiah are all about the "hyenas" (aka Pekah and Rezin, aka Samaria and Aram), the panic-fear that King Ahaz has about them and the folly of trusting the Assyrians (the "bear"). Isaiah makes it clear - the hyenas will be sorted out by the bear, and the bear, in turn, will ravage the land, but God will rescue them and leave them as remnant.

Chapter 8 ends with Isaiah saying: "Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion". His sons' names mean "A remnant will return" and "Quick to plunder / Emmanuel - God with us". His two sons offer Ahaz a message: God will rescue, the bear will destroy but God is with you.

It is fitting that we round off the "Bear and Hyena" section with our verses for today, because they remind us that hyenas and bears will come and go, but God is the rock solid reality that we ignore at our peril.

Ahaz is scared of the hyenas, he's put his faith in the bear.
But he has ignored the truly powerful One.
Isaiah urges him:
"The Lord Almighty is the One who is holy"
"He is the One you should fear and dread"

Something amazing happens when we right-size God and down-size our enemies... When we right-size the fearful and dreadful God, He becomes our sanctuary.
But when we overlook God we will stumble and fall.

We recognize the idea of "a stone that causes men to stumble" from the New Testament. This prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus.

Isaiah's message is straight-forward and simple. We can spend lots of time and energy on the hyenas and bears or we can downsize them while we rightsize God. If we don't rightsize God and don't downsize bears and hyenas, we're going to stumble and fall. God's holiness, love and faithfulness is a truth embodied in Jesus is a truth too great to ignore.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-08 [Insights from Isaiah] Emmanuel

Emmanuel

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights."
12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test."
13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.       (Isaiah7:10-16)
When God invites you to ask for a sign, you don't treat the gift lightly, but this is what Ahaz does. It is a clear indication that he has lost touch and connection with God. His relationship with God is distant, legalistic and fearful. And while he has quoted the same passage that Jesus quoted when Satan tempted Him to ask for a sign, the circumstances are completely different: When Jesus quoted it, Satan was asking for a sign, whereas it is God himself who invites Ahaz to ask for a sign.

And so God, through Isaiah, gives the sign and seal of his promise:
"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a child and will call him Emmanuel."

Now we read this promise at Advent and Christmas - seeing it as a prophecy pointing to the coming of Jesus, but that is its final fulfilment. It's initial fulfilment can be explained by the rest of this chapter and the one that follows:

What Isaiah is promising Ahaz is as follows:
Very soon a child will be born and before the child reaches "the age of responsibility" the Northern Kingdom of Pekah and the Aram of Rezah (the hyenas) will be destroyed by the Assyrians (the big bear) who will plunder the land.

In ch.8 Isaiah will take a young prophetess as his wife and they will have a child - "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz" which means "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil" but they also invoke the name "Emmanuel" which means "God is with us".

The child will grow up eating honey and curds - living rough off the land instead of enjoying the fruit of a settled agriculture because the Assyrians have invaded and plundered the land. The Assyrians will destroy the hyenas.

For many this initial fulfilment is a far-cry from the final fulfilment. The Assyrians were the coming super-power, a blunt instrument to execute God's judgement on the hyenas, but the clear point that Isaiah is making is that they are God's agents and are fulfilling God's agenda and that God will be with Israel.

We will see this prophecy initially fulfilled before Isaiah's child is between 4-5 years of age: Pekah and Rezin will be defeated and a little later when Ahaz is gone and Hezekiah is on the throne and the Assyrians arrogantly come to attack Jerusalem, God delivers the city and pushes the Assyrians out of the land. (This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that Isaiah had had to bring his first son "Shear Jashub" ("A remnant shall return") as a sign to meet with Ahaz)

Emmanuel means "God is with us" - He is not far off - He is as near to humanity as the birth of a child. This is a great comfort.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-07 [Insights from Isaiah] Stand #2

Stand #2

Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smouldering stubs of firewood--because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"It will not take place,
it will not happen....
"      (Isaiah7:2-7)
Back in the 1600's when soldiers used muskets that required shoving some gunpowder and a metal ball-bullet into the the barrel of the musket, Oliver Cromwell was reported to have said to his troops: "Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!"

As we noted yesterday, Ahaz was between a rock and a hard place. Assyria (the "bear") on one side and Aram-Ephraim (the "hyenas") on the other. (Ephraim is another name for the Northern Kingdom).

Ahaz has heard the rumours: "Aram has allied with Ephraim." He heads out to inspect the aqueduct that supplied water for the city as this water would keep them alive during a siege. On one hand, this is good responsible leadership - he's keeping his powder dry.

But he has forgotten to trust God.

God sends Isaiah to talk to Ahaz. His instruction has an unusual addition. "Make sure you take your son, Shear-Jashub, with you."
Unfortunately we know very little about this son of Isaiah other than that his name means "A remnant shall return."

This is a constant promise in Isaiah - no matter how bad things are, there will always be a faithful remnant. There will always be a way out. There will always be deliverance. Just when it looks like there is no way out - God will make a way.

Isaiah stands before a worried king to put things into perspective: The hyenas are smouldering stubs - they will not last, they will not endure. They may have their plans - they've even named a successor for Ahaz - but God says: "It will not take place - It will not happen."

How often are we like Ahaz? We might even be good at keeping our powder dry, but are we forgetting to put our trust in the Lord?