Friday, December 7, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-07 [Encouragement] The Ultimate Encouragement


The Ultimate Encouragement

Most of you will know the story about the pig and the chicken who walked past the orphanage. "Let's give them breakfast," said the chicken. To which the pig replied, "Well, for you it's a donation, for me it is total commitment!"

When tough circumstances bludgeon us, we have this amazing comfort and encouragement: God did not make a quick donation to our brokenness and need. He made a TOTAL commitment.

No matter what we go through, Christ went further. We will never be more lonely, more hurting, or more suffering than Christ. No matter where we are, Christ is with us because He gave everything for us.

Our victory is not in the absence of trouble, but in the fact that wherever we are, Christ already blazed a trail through.

And the crunch is this: He didn't have to! He chose to.

And now, this God who gave up everything to buy us back when we sold ourselves to sin, also
- gives us the right to be His children,
- fills us with His Holy Spirit
- and prepares a place for us to be with Him in eternity.

If this is this the extent to which God gives Himself for us and if we remember that Christ has already overcome suffering, sin and death for us, we can look trouble in the eye and say:
"Hey trouble! Is that the best you've got?"

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?      (Romans8:31-32)


This brings us to the end of our our series on Encouragement and I pray that it has encouraged you.

This is also the end of the EmmDevs for the year. I will resume in January, but will send you a short five part Christmas reflection early next week.

If you have a moment, I'd really appreciate it if you filled in a brief evaluation of the EmmDevs this year. Just go to https://tinyurl.com/y7oxqztj .

I pray for God's blessing over you and your loved ones over this Christ-mass season and I pray that you may have time to rest, reflect and revive.

God bless and Love,
Theo



Thursday, December 6, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-06 [Encouragement] Comfort in a VUCA world


Comfort in a VUCA world

Our third encouragement comes to us in a VUCA world. The clever people who coined this phrase say that VUCA stands for: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. (Some have suggested that the V can also stand for Violent.)

There is evidence of this everywhere, in business, politics, relationships and even in the weather!

Volatility and Violence have us living on the edge the whole time. We find ourselves suspicious, fearful and distrustful with the feeling that there is no solid ground to stand on. This leads to Uncertainty that can gnaw at us and suck the marrow out of our backbones while Complexity and Ambiguity exhaust us and overload our brains and common sense gets thrown under the bus!

Jesus described the VUCA world that the early church would be born into. Christians were going to face the resistance of hardcore conservative Judaism and the harsh intolerance of the Roman Empire. He talks about how the disciples will be sheep among wolves, about how brother will turn against brother and the how the Christians will face persecution and violence and how they will need courage to stand up for what is right.

But He ends this description of a VUCA world with an incredibly beautiful picture of God's care for sparrows. In the birding community the acronym LBJ stands for "Little Brown Job" which is the catch-all phrase for those nondescript, unidentifiable, common place birdies that we're barely interested enough in to even identify them. Sparrows were the LBJ's of Palestine.

But Jesus points out that God is interested in them. And God is interested in us to the point that the hairs on our head are numbered.

In a VUCA world God is very aware of what we are going through. We don't always get to go around pain and heartache - sometimes we have to go through it. But God knows the intimate details and He is with us.

The overwhelming sense I get whenever I read this passage is that I am deeply and profoundly loved. I am worth more than many sparrows!

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.      (Matthew10:29-31)


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-05 [Encouragement] In spite of pain


In spite of pain

Our next encouragement from God comes via the prophet Habakkuk who is a contemporary of Jeremiah. His work as a prophet was to write up a dialogue between himself (representing the remnant in Israel) and God. The dialogue is about the reality of suffering and the presence of God in the midst of suffering.

What is significant is that after a thorough exploration of the pain Israel was experiencing and the conundrums this caused, the book ends with the three-verses that were their (and our) encouragement

The reality is that life is not always easy - sometimes the fig-tree does not bud and crops fail. We are not always prosperous and often suffering and loss find their ways into our lives. But the presence of trouble is not a show-stopper for faith - Faith can outlast trouble. Not because faith is strong in itself, but because our faith is in God and God is by nature a Saviour.

Habakkuk was confident that Israel would be saved from exile. He was hopeful that the exile was not the end of the line. He knew that it is God's nature to save.

But Habakkuk also believed that when we have to make the perilous mountain-crossings over trouble and hardship, we can trust God to give us strength and sure-footedness.

I like to use this passage as a call to worship because on any given Sunday there are people in the congregation who have experienced the crop-failures and stable-emptiness of sadness and pain. These verses acknowledge that reality but point toward our saving and strengthening God.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.      (Habbakuk3:17-19)


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

EmmDev 2018-12-04 [Encouragement] God's encouragement when it's daunting


God's encouragement when it's daunting

As we conclude this series on encouragement, I want to end with four passages that are encouragements from God.
The first encouragement from God is for when we are overwhelmed and daunted by the task ahead...
---------------------------------------------
God is speaking to Joshua who has to step into Moses' shoes and lead a new generation of Israelites into the Promised Land where a variety of enemies and dangers await.

All of God's instructions to be strong and courageous and to build a just and Godly community are bracketed by God's promise to be with Joshua.Right at the outset God promises Joshua: "As I was with Moses, I will be with you." And after numerous exhortations to Joshua to be strong and courageous, God says: Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

"Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged..."
These two "do nots" need thinking about...

Terror is something that happens in a moment. We experience terror when something unexpected or overwhelming happens. Terror is the emotion that goes with being out of control. It is a moment that pushes rationality into the corner and gets our fight-or-flight endorphins pumping. Terror can cause paralysis, bad decisions and fear-driven behaviour. It swallows trust and hope and in a few moments of terror we can tear down things that took months and years to build. In moments of terror we must think of Jesus asleep in the boat on the stormy sea of Galilee and know and believe that He will calm the storm. (Mark 4:35-41)

Discouragement is a war of attrition. It takes time and is a relentless series of little setbacks, doubts and tough obstacles that tire us physically, deplete us emotionally and diminish our store of faith. Discouragement robs our joy, reduces our rest and fills our mental radar screen with so much noise that we struggle to make sense of the bigger picture. Discouragement is overbearing - it makes us bear too much. We must remember the One who calls us to Him. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt.11:28-30)

God promises Joshua that, when life becomes overwhelming or overbearing, he will not be alone.

He promises us the same!

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."      (Joshua1:5-9)


Friday, November 30, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-30 [Encouragement] Encouragement is other-focussed

(Apologies for the missed devs on Wed-Thu!)

Encouragement is other-focussed

When David's son Absalom rebelled against his father and tried to steal the throne, it split the kingdom and turned into a devastating civil war with terrible losses on both sides. Ultimately Absalom was killed.

David grieved deeply for his son. This grief eclipsed all else, and, as the restored and vindicated king, David did not recognise the price that his people had paid. Had it not been for the loyalty and love of his faithful supporters, he would not have come through this devastating setback.

Not only had Israel been through a devastating civil war, but the violence and damage was caused, not by an external party, but by David's son Absalom. David's failed parenting had cost the nation severely and it is almost as though his grief has become a self-indulgent out-pouring of regret and failure.

The effect is described in v.3 of our reading: "The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle."

But David is the king - and Joab, his commander-in-chief, confronts him.
He urges David to be other-focussed.
Sometimes leadership comes at great cost.
In those moments we have to shelve personal pain and place the needs of those who have served and stood with us above our own struggles.
There will come a time when we do our own grieving and picking up of pieces, but we can never allow ourselves to become self-indulgent.

When we've been through a storm it is often tempting for us to draw to one side and "lick our wounds". It is vitally important for us to recognise that there have been people who have stood with us. It is our task, not only to thank and appreciate them, but to encourage them.

Joab was told, "The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom." 2 And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, "The king is grieving for his son." 3 The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. 4 The king covered his face and cried aloud, "O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!"

Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, "Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. 6 You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. 7 Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don't go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now."      (2Samuel19:1-7)




Tuesday, November 27, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-27 [Encouragement] God the encourager


God the encourager

God encourages us.

How?

Firstly, by being with us.
Can you picture it?
Imagine the Holy Spirit, our coach, whispering to our hearts "I'm with you - you are loved, you are Mine and I will not leave you or forsake you!"

Paul talks about this in detail when he talks about the work of the Spirit in Romans 8 and 2Corinthians 4.

  • The Holy Spirit groaning in us as He prays for us
  • The Holy Spirit working in all things for our good
  • We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
  • Neither height nor depth nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God
  • We have treasure in our earthen vessels. The power is from God and not from us.
  • We are struck down but not destroyed, persecuted but not abandoned...

Secondly, by empowering us.

  • Peter, filled with the Spirit, addresses and confronts the "Religious Mafia" of the day. (Acts 4:8)
  • The fledgling church is filled with boldness when the Spirit filled them (Acts 4:31)
  • Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, confronts the deceiver Elymas. (Acts 13:9)
  • When the Acts Missionaries were harshly expelled from Pisidian Antioch it was being filled with joy from the Spirit that gave them the courage to carry on... (Acts 13:52)

Thirdly, by comforting us.
Paul puts it like this: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2Cor1:3-4)

On top of all of this, we must be very cognisant of the fact that God is especially close to the afflicted. He hears the cries of the fatherless and the oppressed. When bullies attack us, God gives us the courage and the strength to stand up to them. And when God encourages us then the bullies don't frighten us any more.

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.      (Psalms10:17-18)


Friday, November 23, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-23 [Encouragement] Encourage-MEET


Encourage-MEET

We're not sure who the author of the NT letter to the Hebrews is... One of the likely options is a man named Apollos who was "a learned man with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24)

In this section of his letter, the author is urging his readers to maintain some key practices. (This section is often called the "lettuce patch" because it has so many "let us" phrases in it!)

The first two of the five "let us" phrases have to do with personal faith - "Draw near to God" and "Hold on to the hope we profess".

But the remaining three "let us" phrases are about encouragement.

  1. Consider how we SPUR each other on to love and good deeds.
  2. Keep meeting together
  3. Encourage one another as we see the day of His return approaching

The first and third ones are the what, the middle one is the how...

What is encouragement?
Sometimes it is a spurring on - a push, a prod, a discomforting nudge - (I know I need a kick in the pants from time to time...)
Sometimes it is a tender cheering on. "Hang in there, the day is coming when pain, heartache, darkness and evil are no more."

Where, when and how does this happen?
When we meet together!
When we worship together at church.
When we join our home fellowship group.
When we have a meaningful talk with a fellow believer.
When we pray with a prayer partner.
When we bring our burdens to a trusted counsellor.
This is when encouragement happens and that's how it happens.

There is no real substitute. You need contact with another believer to be encouraged. The more real the encounter the more real the encouragement! (I can be encouraged by a book (It's written by a person), but so much more by a face to face...)

Sunday worship is a special moment - it combines worship with fellowship. It is very telling to me that discouragement tries to keep me away from Sunday worship.

You want encouragement?
Go to the encourage-meet.
(Who knows? Not only will you be encouraged, but you might encourage someone else!)

Therefore, sisters and brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.      (Hebrews10:19-25)


Thursday, November 22, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-22 [Encouragement] Do... not... be... DIScouraged


Do... not... be... DIScouraged

In English encouragement is all about giving, boosting and nurturing courage in ("en") people. Discouragement is about stealing, removing and negating courage in people.

A quick Bible search reveals that, when it comes to discouragement, it is used most often as a negative instruction - "Do NOT be discouraged!"

Even more interestingly, it is most often addressed to fledgling Israel and her greatest leaders. Joshua, David, Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah are the ones who are told: "Do not be discouraged!"

Discouragement's greatest ally is fear.
In almost all the passages talking about discouragement, the other phrase found is "do not be afraid."

Fear leeches courage from us.
Fear paralyses us.
Fear makes us doubt God's promises.
Fear causes us to see the worst scenarios.
Fear blinds us to the possibility of what courage could achieve.

So what does it mean when we're told "Do not be afraid or discouraged"?
On the one hand we're being asked to stand up to the bullying of fear. On the other we are being asked to make sure that there are no "disses" to our encouragements. In other words, we're being asked to hold on to the experiences, promises, dreams, visions and hopes that once encouraged us.

Today's teenagers talk about being "dissed"... When someone "disses" you, they stomp all over your character, reputation, hopes and dreams. This is what Goliath did to David. He tried to "diss" David by mocking and reviling him. He needed to - because David's sling was a more accurate and ranged weapon than Goliath's spear. Goliath had to rattle David's cage. He had to "diss"courage him. David held on to God's faithfulness... and he didn't miss.

In the same way, Jehoshaphat faced a vast army.
He overcame fear and "diss"couragement by trusting God.
The passage later tells us that he trusted God so much that he put the singers and praisers in front of the army. Their praises disempowered their fear and encouraged the people.
And a mighty victory was won.

The enemy was not the vast army but "disencouragement."
And it was defeated!!

How are you at facing fear and discouragement in your life?

He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.' "      (2Chronicles20:15-17)


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-21 [Encouragement] Beware!


Beware!

There are two dangers present in our theme of encouragement. The first danger is encouragement's opposite: discouragement. (We'll consider this tomorrow...) The second danger is that we can also be encouraged to do the wrong things.

The sad history of Israel and Judah's kings is that many more of them were evil rather than good. Many of the evil kings were encouraged in their evil by negative influences:

  • Solomon's son Rehoboam listened to his friends rather than his father's advisors - it split the kingdom.
  • Ahab was led into terrible evil by his wife Jezebel. And Solomon was led astray by his many foreign wives and the need to honour their gods in order to preserve the political ties he'd made by marriage.
  • The young man in proverbs is led astray by the bad company.
  • Adam and Eve were beguiled by the serpent who disguised their rebellion as "self-actualisation."

The king in our passage today is Ahaziah who was a king in the Southern Kingdom. He reigned for one year before being put to death by Jehu. He was only 22.

The Chronicle writer (who looks at Israel's history from a spiritual perspective) gives a clear opinion on Ahaziah's short-lived and disastrous reign: His mother Athaliah encouraged him to do wrong.

Athaliah was the grand-daughter of Omri who, from secular history, was one of Judah's most successful kings, but who, from a spiritual perspective, had walked in ways displeasing to the Lord. Athaliah, having learned from a bad example, went on to be a bad example. (If Omri was her grandad, then Ahab was her dad or uncle, another bad example...)

Encouragement is active influence. We can use it for good or for evil. As parents we need to use this power very responsibly. We also need to recognise that some of our "encouragers" should not be listened to - just ask Ahaziah and Adam and Eve!

Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother's name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri. 3 He too walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him in doing wrong.      (2Chronicles22:2-3)


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-20 [Encouragement] Perspective


Perspective

The best encouragement gives us the perspective that God is with us. We can say "You can do it!" or "Keep going!" or "Hang in there!" but that kind of encouragement is based in what we can do. The best encouragement reminds us or helps us to see that God is with us.

Our passage for today is from the story of Elisha and the Arameans. The Arameans discovered that God was telling Elisha where their troops were going to raid so that the Israelites could avoid them. They sent a garrison to grab Elisha at his farm. When Elisha's 'butler' went outside to chop wood etc, he saw the troops on the hill surrounding the house.

Terrified he ran in to tell Elisha. Elisha's enigmatic answer was that there were more with them than with the Arameans. The servant couldn't believe it, so Elisha prayed that the servants eyes would be opened. Then the servant saw the hillsides crowded with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. Then just as the servants eyes where opened, Elisha prayed that the enemies eyes would be closed!

Our enemies often intimidate us. Deadlines vex us, critics surround us, doubts assail us, circumstances tire us, and bullies crowd us. Like the servant we make the mistake of looking at the number of enemies and we let the picture of our enemies define our concepts of God! We assume that because we can see our enemies, God is not there. We assume that because our enemies look powerful, God is not. We assume that because our many enemies are here, God has left!

We assume wrongly!

Sometimes it would be nice to have Elisha's gift, to have our eyes opened to see the heavenly forces that God sends out on our behalf. It would be so nice to see that our enemies will never be able to wipe us out. We have something Elisha did not have. Two things in fact! Firstly : Elisha did not know that only one third of the angels joined in Satan's rebellion against God. For every agent of evil there are two angels! Secondly: When Jesus died on the cross He overcame sin, death, and Satan. The cross is the D-Day of the battle and Jesus' second coming is the V-Day.

While the war has been won, there is a lot of mopping up to do and a lot of prisoners of war to be set free. It is our privilege to participate in this process and when we face enemies who come from the one who came to steal, kill, and destroy, we can know God's presence and we know that His army is great and the Jesus is the champion!

Encouragement is reminding ourselves and others that God is at work in our circumstances regardless of what our eyes can see...

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" the servant asked.
16 "Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
17 And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.      (2Kings6:15-17)