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)


Friday, November 16, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-16 [Encouragement] How to encourage Paul


How to encourage Paul

How do you encourage a person of the calibre of the Apostle Paul?
What does it take to "fill up his tank?"

In his letter to Philemon, we get an amazing insight to Paul's heart:
You see, Paul was encouraged when he saw the people of God encouraging and caring for one-another...

Here's something I wrote in 2004:
...Our congregation has taken a beating in the last few months. We have been through some tragedies and very sad losses. There are not easy answers and there are no trite sayings that can be band-aid plasters to the deep wounds we feel. God Himself has to be our Comforter and our Strength.

But there is a great deal of help that comes from good community. In the midst of the sadness and sorrow, our congregation community has shown tender loving care in all sorts of amazing ways. People have prayed for those who have been ill and bereaved. People have sent thoughtful sms's and cooked meals for those who have struggled. People have come to serve tea, have baked cake, fetched and carried, and taken a load of practical things off the shoulders of those who had very heavy loads. They have pitched in and lifted the hands of the weary and supported those who have felt so weak.

It has been an amazing experience for me. These experiences of love and kindness have inspired me and lifted me. As I have witnessed these simple acts of love, devotion, and care - this refreshing of hearts of the saints - I have been amazingly comforted...

Now, fourteen years later I am still seeing the same things!

While I can't claim any kin-ship with Paul beyond the "chief of sinners" thing, I do feel like Paul did - encouraged and filled with joy because I have seen the saints (that's you!) refreshing the hearts of the broken-hearted and those being squeezed and stretched.

No, I don't have all the answers to the "why?" questions. And I haven't figured out exactly why life can be so hard. (I have some ideas, but not the specifics) But I have seen a God who loves us and transforms the hearts of His children so that they are His hands, feet, and voices saying "I am still with you and I still love you!"

And I am ENCOURAGED.

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.      (Philemon1:7)


Thursday, November 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-15 [Encouragement] Weighed down???


Weighed down???

As stress levels are on the increase, our support structures are on the decrease. Longer hours means we spend less time with our families who strengthen us. When both spouses work it is harder for them to support each other. With people's increasing desire for privacy, they are not letting people get close to them, and people are not willing to intrude.

We are getting lonelier and lonelier and with the loneliness comes discouragement.

Stress can break us. Encouragement reverses the effects of stress. To speak a kind word costs us very little and to encourage someone only takes a bit of time. Can you think of someone who has really encouraged you? Can you remember how much it meant?

We've already talked about the kind of things we can say like:
"Good job", "I've got your back" and so on.

But let's talk about the ways we can do it...
- A post-it note on a desk or pillow or under a windscreen wiper
- A brief sms or whatsapp
- A phone call
- An anonymous card with an inspirational Bible verse
- A little gift (PS Bars with their little sayings are fun)
- A voucher for a coffee
- A flower or biltong or chocolate or jelly babies

The bottom line is. There are many weighed-down hearts around us.
Be creative.....
It will make a difference!
Don't hesitate.... JUST DO IT!

An anxious heart weighs a man down
but a kind word cheers him up       (Proverbs12:25)


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-14 [Encouragement] Strengthening


Strengthening

A few days ago we saw Job confronting his "comforters" for their failure to care for him and encourage him. Job claimed that, if he were in their place, his mouth would encourage them and comfort from his lips would bring relief.

Today we're going to test the truth of Job's claim.

When Job was initially struck down with disaster and tragedy, his comforters came to sit around him. They start really well: they're just there for him. They sit with him and keep him company through his pain. (In Jewish Culture this is called "Sitting Shiva")

But after Job's first outcry and complaint, his friend Eliphaz begins to speak. (Unfortunately the speech is not helpful because, it ultimately boils down to saying "You must have done something to deserve this Job, so confess your sins and get your head out of the dust.")

But the start of Eliphaz's speech is perfect confirmation of Job's later claim. Eliphaz starts by acknowledging Job as an encourager. He recognises Job as one who has given wise guidance, who has offered timely support and who has strengthened others.

This is so significant.

The first thing that Job's friends say about him is that he is an Encourager.

And what does encouragement look like?

  • His instructions have strengthened feeble hands: when people didn't know what they were doing, Job empowered them. "Let me help you, let me show you." "Do you need a hand?" "How can I assist?" "Try it this way..." "This is what my dad taught me..."
  • His supportive words supported those who stumbled. "Don't worry, we can try again." "We'll get it sorted out..." "You'll bounce back..." "I've got your back..."
  • When knees faltered he offered strength. "Lean on me." "I'm with you." "You're not alone."

The key thought in our verses to day is "strengthening".
Encouragement is about strengthening others.
- We share our knowledge/experience/wisdom and empower people.
- We offer forgiveness and a second chance to those who stumble.
- We come alongside and lend our strength to those who falter.

May it be that verses below become a description of us...

Think how you have instructed many,
how you have strengthened feeble hands.
4 Your words have supported those who stumbled;
you have strengthened faltering knees.
      (Job4:3-4)


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-13 [Encouragement] Where does encouragement come from?


Where does encouragement come from?

In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he urges the Christians to live a Christ-like life of love, unity and humility. But what is fascinating is that Paul starts off, not with the request or instruction, but a reminder of what they already have. (It's useful to know what is already in the tank when you're planning a trip...)

In our reading Paul draws their attention to what they have 'in the tank' as it were, by asking a rhetorical question: "If you have any encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion..." (And the obvious answer is "Yes we do!")
Encouragement is the first on the list - so let's look more closely...

The Greek word for "encouragement" is 'paraklesis' and it occurs some 28 times in the New Testament. It is most often translated "encouragement", "consolation", "comfort" or "strengthen."

But what is most striking is how similar "encouragement" (paraklesis) is to "Holy Spirit" (parakletos). Both words come from the words "alongside" (para) + "calls/called" (kletos/klesis). In this sense "encouragement" means "the calling (cheering) voice beside us" and "Holy Spirit" means "the One who walks beside us (cheering us on)." That's pretty cool if you think about it... When we're encouraging people, we are doing what the Spirit does!

And Paul goes on to say that our encouragement comes from being united with Christ. Our love for and connection with Jesus is the source of our encouragement. What does that mean? It means that I am so loved that He came to earth for me and died in my place and adopts me as His own!! This amazing Good News gives me a sense of being loved, valued and considered worthy. This encourages, consoles, comforts and strengthens me!

So, when we encourage others, it comes from our connection to Jesus and what He did for us and when we encourage others, we are getting very very very close to the work that the Holy Spirit does!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
      (Philippians2:1-2)


Friday, November 9, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-09 [Encouragement] Be an encourager


Be an encourager

One of the most powerful things we can do for a friend, colleague, child or spouse is to be an Encourager.
In a rather chilling confrontation, Job challenges his friends with these words:
4 I also could speak like you, if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.
5 But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.

We live in a challenging perfectionistic society where we are in a quest for "zero defect." (We call it the "Rat Race") We are surrounded with an overwhelming number of fake and often unrealistic finish lines: "If you drive this car, live at this address or socialise with these people, then you have won the race. (Oh, by the way, congratulations, you are the King Rat!")
In the light of these circumstances it is not unusual for people to feel irrelevant, overwhelmed, discouraged and depressed. But when challenges and setbacks come in people's lives we can be encouragers.
Here are a few kinds of encouragement we can offer:
  • "You're doing a great job even though you think no one notices."
  • "Don't worry, you may have missed it this time, but you can try again"
  • "I really believe you can do it - even if you don't believe in yourself"
  • "Great Job! Thanks for the hard work!"
  • "I know it's a big challenge, but I'm praying for you"
  • "You're not alone - I'll be here for you!"
  • "I will always love you! It doesn't matter if you try and fail."
And you can probably think of more. The secret is to find ways to encourage our loved ones with notes, calls, cards, verses, emails and sms's. A pat on the back, a word of recognition, prayer support and a look that says "I believe in you!" can radically transform people.
In a society where people are quick to criticise and condemn, let's let our mouths speak differently.
But my mouth would encourage you;
comfort from my lips would bring you relief.      (Job16:4-5)


Thursday, November 8, 2018

EmmDev 2018-11-08 [Encouragement] The Importance of Encouragement

Encouragement

Our theme for the last few weeks of the year is going to be "Encouragement". We're going to look at the importance of encouragement, how we encourage others, how discouragement works and how God encourages us. I hope the series will be a great blessing to you.

(You can subscribe for this series at http://eepurl.com/dhGrzL If you were on the Month of Mission devotions list you will not automatically receive this series - you'll need to subscribe...)

The Importance of Encouragement


Hezekiah was one of the Old Testament's last good kings. He lived in a difficult time when the Assyrians were the dominant world power who eventually destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and were threatening Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom.
In the first part of our chapter Hezekiah is busy. When he hears that the Assyrians are coming, he fixes the walls, secures the water supplies and stocks up the armoury.
But over and above all these practical arrangements, Hezekiah does a really important thing: He encourages the people.
Let's watch him:

  1. He gathers the people in an assembly. Sometimes one needs to make an occasion of encouragement.
  2. He calls the virtues of strength and courage out of them. God places these virtues in us. Sometimes these need to be called out of us.
  3. He acknowledges the reality of fear and discouragement and calls them to make a decision about these negative emotions.
  4. He puts the enemy into context: The Assyrian King may have a vast army, but he is only human. With Israel is the "LORD our God" who "is with us" and will "fight our battles". (The "LORD" is in capital letters to indicate that Hezekiah is using the holiest name of God - "Yahweh" - the name revealed to Moses when he led the Israelites out of Egypt.)
  5. The people gained confidence
Today we are pressed, squeezed, challenged, drained, exhausted, intimidated and bullied by many difficulties. We need to be encouraged and we need to be encouragers.
The Christian singer, Jeremy Riddle, tweeted this: "Encouragement is like oxygen to the human spirit. Don't forget you're carrying someone else's air. Encourage them - help them to breathe."
You can be like Hezekiah - you can give someone else some air.
Take a moment to pray, asking God to show you the "air" (more on that cool thought next week!) and then share it with someone.


He appointed military officers over the people and assembled them before him in the square at the city gate and encouraged them with these words: 7 "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. 8 With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.       (2Chronicles32:6-8)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-31 [Wherever I am...] Set apart for an exciting mission today

Week 5: How can I be more in-tune?

Set apart for an exciting mission today

Acts tells the good news of the founding of the Christian church in Jerusalem and how, when oppression and persecution drove Christians from Jerusalem, the disciples scattered and the church spread to Antioch. Their message was that all people could be free: that Jesus Christ, entering the political arena with grace - undeserved love for all who believed, was going to change the world's thinking about how to order a society. Those who could see this new way of having the chains in their life taken off and who could see how collaborating rather than being in competition could radically change their world, were rejoicing.
We are told in Chapter 13:2 how a diverse group of people, including prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria, were singing praises and loving their Lord deeply. The worship service was vibrant. The worshippers adored their Lord, who had turned their life of chains into a life of ultimate freedom. They were singing and proclaiming Christ's salvation, acknowledging Christ's mighty deeds, for they knew their God, their Lord reigns! Acts tells us how absolutely enthralled the gathered community were with their Lord.
Additionally, we read that the worshippers were fasting so that they could be alert to hear what their Lord had to say to them. In this intense loving and holy moment, the Holy Spirit answered: Up until now, the good news of Christ's saving grace was shared with Jews, but now they were called to give the good news to the Gentiles. They were called to broaden their vision and Barnabas and Saul, later called Paul, were called to lead the team to go out and witness to this new way of relating that would change the world.
Are we willing to worship that deeply and intensely?
Are we willing to do what is asked of us?

(If Barnabas and Saul had said: "Noooo way, this mission is impossible!" just imagine what would have happened? It is not nice to contemplate...)
Are you willing to love the Lord deeply in worship? Are you willing to enjoy the delight in being called to serve the Lord abundantly as your Lord has served you? The Holy Spirit came to those who were praising, those who were honouring, those who knew they would be led to do great things. May your worship be lovely, your listening for the Holy Spirit be deep, and your new mission or continued mission be an exciting venture that will matter and bring new life to those around you.
Loving Lord,
Let us hear once more
The greatness of your salvation.
Let us speak boldly of your grace,
And take hold of your mission to our world.
May we honour you now and forever,
Amen


While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."      (Acts13:2)
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Pat Baxter: "I love the passion God gives us to do mission. After 31 years of ordained ministry I am more in love with God than ever. My latest passion is to learn to paint the beauty that God has given us." (Pat serves as the Ministry Secretary of General Assembly)

THIS BRINGS US TO THE END OF THE UPCSA MONTH OF MISSION.
You can download the whole month's devotions by clicking HERE.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-30 [Wherever I am...] Faithful Servants of God

Week 5: How can I be more in-tune?

Faithful Servants of God

There is always the temptation to turn God's mission field into a theatre or playground where you have actors and spectators; with actors trying hard to outdo the others and spectators shouting in support of their preferred actors.

"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants...".
Paul blames the Corinthians for their weakness and non-proficiency. He observes that those who are sanctified are so only in part, because of the way they conducted themselves. They had mutual quarrels and factions among them upon the account if their ministers.

You can tell the relationship of someone to God by looking at how they relate to their fellow beings. If one is always at variance with his fellow men, if he is a quarrelsome, argumentative, trouble making creature; he maybe a diligent church attender, he may even be a church office bearer, but he is not a man of God. But if a man is at one with his fellow men, if his relationship with them is marked by love, unity and concord; then he is on the way to being a man of God.

The glorification of human leaders is folly. We are reminded here that in God's garden, one may plant a seed, the other may water it, but none can claim to have made the seed to grow. That belongs to God and God alone. The man who plants and the man who waters are all on one level; neither can claim any precedence over the other; they are but servants together for one master - God.

God uses human instruments to bring to men the message of His truth and love, but it is He alone who works the hearts of men to new life. He alone created the heart, so He alone can re-create it.

So as as Christians workers, we have different jobs and we see different results, but God is the one who gets the work done. Only God gives the increase. Real faithfulness happens when we're peacefully content with what God has called us to do and thankful for what He has called others to do.

Are you a planter or waterer? Thank God for your calling.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.      (1Corinthians3:5-7)

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My name is Jane Moyo Nyirongo, mother to Precious, Terence and Rachel. I'm serving at Garden congregation in Lusaka.

Monday, October 29, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-29 [Wherever I am...] Saved to do good works

Week 5: How can I be more in-tune?

Saved to do good works

Paul in his prayers for the church of Ephesus soars to the heights in detailed requests for them to grow spiritually.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul made the church to understand that it is God himself that makes us what we are and gave us new lives in Jesus Christ. We are God's masterpiece marvellously made anew in Christ Jesus.

It is God's plan that we must spend these lives in doing good works. It is not by our own choice nor by our wisdom, but it is by his divine plan for humankind's restoration and redemption.

As children of God we must hold our heads high because we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. We must not look down upon ourselves... We are unique in our own way specially made by God. We are unique creatures that cannot be matched to anything else.

As we were saved by God it is that salvation bestowed to us that produces good works. By doing good works we will be acknowledging and showing the worthiness of the love of God to us.

As children of God we know and understand what God wants us to do and it is proper to seek that and live a life worthy of God's calling and live a life that will bring joy to God. And he has already prepared it!

Our lives should be a true reflection of the love God has for us. Whatever we have accomplished in life has been made possible because of the love of God for us. It is only a humble heart that will acknowledge that whoever they are and whatever they have was made possible by God.

As children of God are we living, and will we be able to leave a legacy of good works passable to the next generation? We are urged not to fail in what God has called us to do.

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.      (Ephesians2:10)

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Reverend Susan Mumba is serving as a minister at Rugare UPCSA, Harare and a mother to Munyaradzi and Mufaro.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-28 [Wherever I am...] What does the Lord require of us?

Week 4: Dimensions of Mission

What does the Lord require of us?

(For a background and summary of the book of Micah go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFEUEcylwLc )

Micah sums up the situation of the people that he speaks to in these few words: "We are completely ruined" (Micah 2:4)

Widespread corrupt economic practices destroy community and family life. People live in terror, despair, hopelessness and mourning. Secular and religious leaders whose role is to ensure justice and righteousness "eat" the people. "Prophets" market "God's blessings and peace". They threaten disaster for those who cannot or will not bribe them. No one's family or property is safe.

People's faith is shaken by this experience. Maintaining hope is hard for those living under oppression and experiencing unspeakable injustice. In this terrible predicament we join those who in faith and despair cry out: "How long, O Lord?"

God's simple message spoken through the prophet Micah echoes through the ages for those who long for God to act.

"The Lord has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you."

When God seems slow to answer, God is in fact often waiting for us to act.

God has spoken to and shown us what is required of us. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God is already breaking into this world and eradicating evil.

In order to work together with God we are required to:

Do justly.

We all long for justice. But when we have been wronged our longing so easily becomes a hope for revenge.

God's way of justice is not about just us.

As followers of Jesus doing justly happens when we choose not to repay evil with evil, but to replace evil with good.

Love mercy

Justice and mercy together form God's response to human injustice. Justice and mercy work together for good. We who have received mercy, should be abundantly merciful.

To walk humbly WITH YOUR GOD.

Humility (or our lack of humility) is shown in all our relationships.

In humility we adjust our route to follow Jesus. We adjust our pace to keep in step with God and to include others. In humility we discover that we can never walk alone.

Through God's grace, together we can do what God requires. When we obey, we will experience the power of good over evil. When we do what God requires we will see and will witness to God's saving grace in the world.

With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.      (Micah6:6-8)

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Shona van der Lingen ministers in the Presbytery of East Griqualand and is called to the Saint Columba's Kokstad congregation. She strives to keep growing in all dimensions (except in girth) and is grateful for her two grown daughters, Megan and Tanya.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-27 [Wherever I am...] Wake up call

Week 4: Dimensions of Mission

Wake up call

Malachi is inspired to prophesy about the coming of two messengers. John the Baptist is the one sent to prepare the way and Jesus Christ is the Covenant Messenger. In an ancient royal procession the messenger went before the King to announce his arrival, to indicate the route, and to remove any obstacles in the road. John the Baptist fulfilled this exact ministry for Jesus (Matt11:10). The same idea is indicated in Isa40:3-5. God's purpose for bringing this specific prophecy through Malachi in his day was probably because Israel complained that the Messianic promises of Haggai and Zechariah were not fulfilled. Here Malachi shows that the way for the Messiah must be prepared, and they aren't ready yet.

At the end of Malachi 2, Israel complained that God seemed to reward the wicked and did not exercise His justice in the world. God responds to their complaint by saying, "I will set things right with My Messiah, and before Him will come My messenger."

And so The Lord promises that He Himself will come - not merely a new or better prophet, but the Lord Himself - the second Messenger- Jesus Christ coming to institute a new covenant as the fulfillment of the old covenant and as a judge with the purpose of purifying judgement. This will be a fearful coming. He will be a swift witness (who saw every sin) against sorcerers, which was a sin the Jews became familiar with sorcery and other magical arts during their captivity in Babylon. Jews of Christ's time practiced sorcery (Acts8:9; 13:6; Gal5:20). He is coming to judge against the practices of injustices which defraud labourers of their wages and oppression against orphans and widows which also deprive the foreigners justice by not fearing the Lord God Almighty. This injustice is a characteristic of the last Anti-Christian confederacy, about to be consumed by the brightness of Christ's second coming (Rev13:13, 2Thes2:9).

Dear friends, this is a warning and a wake up call even in today's time about the second coming of Christ. He will come to judge the world full of hate against our fellow brothers and sisters, a world full of political, social and economic injustices against the less privileged in the society as well as within our churches. The judgement shall be fair for everyone shall be judged according to his/her deeds.

God's ultimate purpose is to cleanse the society and to change the hearts of people. When Jesus returns in glory and rules on this earth, evil will be quickly punished.

"Then I will approach you for judgement, and I will be a swift a witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, and against the oppressors of the hired worker with his wages, the widow and the orphan and the abusers of the alien, and yet do not fear me", says Yahweh of hosts.      (Malachia3:5)

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Zacchaeus Chilembo is a minister in the UPCSA Synod of Zambia, serving at Chipata Congregation. He is a husband to Angela M Chilembo and together they have three sons Emmanuel, Isaac and Zacchaeus Junior. Zacchaeus likes playing guitar during his free time.


Friday, October 26, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-26 [Wherever I am...] Ritual faith needs to become in-ward and other-ward

Week 4: Dimensions of Mission

Ritual faith needs to become in-ward and other-ward

I once read a story about a rich young prince who gave a basket full of rotten food to a poor beggar. The poor man received the basket with a smile and left the palace, emptied the basket of its content and cleaned it. He put beautiful flowers in it, returned it to the palace and gave it to the prince.

The young prince was surprised and asks the beggar "I gave you a basket full of rotten things and you bring it back filled with beautiful flowers. Why?"

The poor man replied with a smile "Every human being gives what is in his heart"

As we take part in God's mission in 2018, it is critical to pause and introspect our in-ward faith. Jesus used an imagery of a cup or a dish to demonstrate the importance of man and rituals in His mission. We are cups or dishes (more like vessels) that God created to use for His mission. He uses vessels to demonstrate His love to the world. Cleaning (as ritual) the vessels is good but it must be done both inside and outside, to serve its purpose well. Cleaning outside only would not make the vessel eligible for its work. The problem that the Pharisees had was to concentrate on some rituals or laws which according to Jesus were less important. The law of tithe is an out-ward ritual which is important but it must be completed with the in-ward ritual faith of love, justice, merciful and compassionate to the poor and the needy.

If we concentrate on the out-ward rituals, it will be like cleaning the cup or the dish outside only. How useless is it, to wash the outside of a cup while leaving the inside dirty! If the inside is dirty, whatever is in the cup will be dirty too and unfit to drink. God who has created the cup, he needs it clean both in and outside to use it well.

It is not only stretching out your hand (in giving) which is important. Jesus is saying your heart is involved and it determines what you are giving. The rich young prince offered what was in his heart despite the riches he had.

Friends, let us have God's love in our hearts as we take part in His mission. Amen!

Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. 42 "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.      (Luke11:39-42)

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Faresy Sakala, wife to Misheck, mother to Robson, Rose and Ronald and a minister at Trinity -- Gweru Presbyterian Church. Overwhelmed with duties, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!"


Thursday, October 25, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-25 [Wherever I am...] God cares about the Land.

Week 4: Dimensions of Mission

God cares about the Land.

God's mission is cosmic, starting with creation (Gen 1 & 2) and concluding with everything made new (Rev 21:5). Paul implies that salvation and our adoption are intertwined with that of creation (Ro 8:22-23).

While God's mission is cosmic in reach and impact, it's local and contextual in implementation, starting by transforming individual lives. It's a ministry of presence with deep listening to people's needs, pains, joys and frustrations in daily life. Land is a crucial aspect of life, providing a means of accommodation, food and work, as well as belonging and identity. Land is integral to creation; so it features in both the cosmic and local dimensions of God's mission. God says, "The land is mine." (Lev 25:23).

Land is an emotive issue in our current economic and political climate. Many Christians have mixed feelings, acknowledging past injustices while suffering anxiety about land redistribution. We must ensure productivity for ongoing sustainability and food security, as well as ecological justice for future generations. So how does the land feature in our faith and spirituality?

Stewardship, covenant, justice, salvation, and the sacraments all relate to the land. Deut 11:12 says God cares for the land. Lev 25:1-7 talks about a sabbatical for the land to rest from cultivation. Lev 25:8-55 specifies a Jubilee for land redistribution. Isa 5:8 warns against accumulation of land; Jer 2:7 condemns defiling the land; Mic 2:1-2 condemns coveting and seizing the land, defrauding people of their homes and inheritance. Mark 16:15 records Jesus telling his disciples to "preach the gospel to all creation" and 2 Cor 5:17 says, in Christ "the new creation has come."

The central tenets of our Christian faith mentioned above are inextricably linked to the land. God's first calling to humankind was to care for creation, including the land. When he established his covenant with Abraham, he promised land and descendants. Both the sabbatical and Jubilee years relate to land. The sacramental elements of water, bread and wine are products of the land. And salvation is extended to all creation, groaning as in the pangs of childbirth as we wait to be acclaimed as God's adopted sons/daughters.

Can there be any doubt that we're called to care about the land as God does, to exercise responsible stewardship, and to respect the land as an integral part of our divine inheritance? Land is crucial to God's cosmic mission in our local context. How does land feature in your lifestyle and Christian calling?

But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.      (Deuteronomy11:11-12)

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Glynis Goyns is a minister serving at St Francis, Waterkloof. She represented the UPCSA on the Board of SAFCEI, a faith-based environment NGO from 2005 to 2018 and is deeply committed to ecological justice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-24 [Wherever I am...] Wed 24,Isaiah 58:6-7,True Fasting

Week 4: Dimensions of Mission

Wed 24,Isaiah 58:6-7,True Fasting

Do you regularly fast as a Christian? When was the last time you fasted? Why did you fast? Is fasting the forgotten discipline in the Church today? Is fasting the forgotten discipline in the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa? Fasting is one of the forgotten disciplines for children of God in our day and age. Because many Catholics fast especially during lent and Charismatics fast regularly, many Presbyterians have gone to the other extreme, they don't fast at all. When it comes to fasting, there is the right way and the wrong manner of fasting. This devotion is there to help us fast in the right way.

1. True fasting involves setting free those who are bound by the chains of injustice
When you look around what is happening in our nations today, wherever you look, you will see people who are treated unjustly. It is the job of every Christian to help out people who are treated unjustly. We are call called upon to make life much easier for those who are for instance living in abject poverty, people who cannot access justice from our Courts and many such places (Isaiah 9:4; Joel 2:12-14; Nehemiah 5:10-11; Jeremiah 34:9).

2. True fasting gets you an opportunity to share what you have with others.
There are several ways one can fast. For instance, one can fast from certain foods and the money saved from there can be used to help someone who is vulnerable or struggling in one area or the other. One can simply cut down on some of the luxuries and the resources saved from there can be used to assist those in need (Ezekiel 16:4; Luke 3:11; Micah 6:8).

3. True fasting helps you to practically love God and other people
We are required to show our love both vertically and horizontally (1John 4:19-21). Our love for God and other people must be sincere. (Genesis 29:14; Isaiah 16:4; Hebrews Ezekiel 18:16; Job 31:18-20; Matthew 25:36; Luke 10:31-32; James 1:27; Proverbs 19:17).

CONCLUSION
How has your fasting been? Do you fast in the manner it is expected of you? If you have not been fasting, I encourage you to fast. Fasting has many spiritual benefits.

Amen

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?       (Isaiah58:6-7)

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The Reverend Allan Mchulu husband to Jessie and father of two daughters: Deborah and Natasha from Kabwata Uniting Presbyterian Church in Lusaka Zambia. Munali Presbytery.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-23 [Wherever I am...] Spiritual and Practical.

Week 4: Dimensions of Mission

Spiritual and Practical.

James poses two rhetorical questions about faith without deeds which are;
  1. "What good is it?"
  2. "Can it save?"
The first question implies a general lack of any usefulness for a faith without actions. The second question specifies a particular use that is lacking: salvation itself. The combined impact is to declare a thorough uselessness of faith without deeds and, also to declare its particular uselessness in regard to salvation.

James consistently speaks of deeds as actions that are taken because of one's faith and those therefore demonstrate and authenticate one's faith. The primary, earnest and repeated point he makes is "not that works must be added to faith but that genuine faith includes works".
James raises the following points about deeds:

  1. His illustration calls for the active giving of material help for people lacking clothing and food.
  2. Deeds are not simply keeping of religious ritual but acts of love commanded in Christ's "royal law"
  3. A conviction that Christians are responsible to care for each other. He pictures needy fellow believers in his example. As Christians too often we speak the good wishes without taking practical actions.
For James, faith begins with a word - the Word of God that gives us the new life. And if that Word from God gives people life, then those who live out that Word extend life to others. Faith is what is active in a person's life, actively giving life to you and to those around you. If it is not active it is not faith. The worst thing James puts across here is the scenario of ignoring the needy, the poorest of the poor.

This is what exactly Jesus was saying in Matthew 19:24 that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Paul echoes the same words and says that no man can inherit the kingdom of God without such work. (Gal 5:2) James says "Do not fool yourself by just listening to his Word" instead put it into practice. People around the world meditate on God's word, some have memorized verses. They spend most; if not all their time praying and undertaking the church's work. But they are kidding and fooling themselves if works are not integrated with that.

James' message to the believer is that we are saved for the purpose of doing good works, but if we fail to pursue good works, our faith is useless to God and to us. He clearly spoke the good news as the generous gifts of God. James wants the good news to be experienced by each believer and through each believer to the many others who need tangible expression of grace.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.      (James2:14-17)

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Gleness M. Magovere, Minister at Chitungwiza UPCSA, married to Remigio, mother of Rufaro A., Anesu and Artwell Kupakwashe.


Monday, October 22, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-22 [Wherever I am...] A Prayer for the King -- became a Messianic expectation

Week 4: Dimensions of Mission

A Prayer for the King -- became a Messianic expectation

What one gets from reading the first verses in this passage are two things which frame our meditation, the God of justice and righteousness and the preferential option of the poor.

First, God is presented as the embodiment of justice and righteousness. The God of justice and righteousness. A king therefore must be endowed with both justice and righteousness, hence the prayer by David for Solomon who was to be his successor.

Second, as one reads the entire passage, one sees the close affinities between justice, righteousness and the preferential option for the poor. The afflicted among the people, the weak and the children of the needy seem to have a great significance in how we ought to understand God. It must be stated that they are not afflicted, weak and needy because God desires for them to be like that. On the contrary God provides all things for humanity in abundance but there are people and systems that rob people of these. Also important to note is that for the afflicted and the needy to exist there must be an oppressor. Oppression and violence are key for the oppressor. In order for the poor to be saved, helped or rescued, the oppressor must be crushed. But often we see the collapse of justice and righteousness and the focus on the spiritual aspects. The collapse is intended to dissuade the exploited from resisting exploitation and the focus on the spiritual aspect is meant to direct them to find solace in the fact that even in their poverty or affliction, amongst other things, God loves them and that should be enough. Systems and structures that impoverish people and make them to set their minds on things above, i.e. heaven, spirit and not material, are equally evil and must be debunked!

The king that embodies justice, righteousness and has the poor at the heart of his reign will deliver the needy, the weak and the afflicted, save them from death and rescue them from oppression and violence. This message comes out strongly in Jesus' manifesto and thus speaks to our mission as church. We are called to disrupt the systems that impoverish God's people. If we are to understand God, our starting point will certainly be the poor, the afflicted, weak and the needy, "for precious is their blood in his sight".

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.      (Psalms72:12-14)

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Fundiswa Kobo, Lecturer at UNISA. Serves as the Chaplain for Sedibeng House, and a member of the following committees of the General Assembly: Doctrine and Ecumenical Relations



Sunday, October 21, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-21 [Wherever I am...] Provision for the Visitors

Week 3: Seeing what God is already doing.

Provision for the Visitors

It was the time of Pentecost when the Apostles were entirely under the Holy Spirit's influence and power. They were filled by the Holy Spirit: whatever they did was under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit influenced Apostles to the level where they started doing the unusual; they started speaking in other languages than their native tongue. The languages that the Apostles were able to speak were as the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. They were able to speak because the Holy Spirit was already working as an enabler. As the Apostles were speaking strange languages, the crowd that was present at that time had different people who the Bible describes as Jews, devout men. The term devout ("God fearing") was applied to men who were cautious about offending God; they were keeping commandments. The Jews at that time were scattered into almost all nations, but still they would obviously desire to be present as often as possible at the great feasts of the nation in Jerusalem. Many who came up to the Feast of the Passover would remain to the Feast of the Pentecost. This made the city of Jerusalem to have a lot of strangers during festivals.

From this portion of scripture, we learn that we need to be under the power of the Holy Spirit in order that we can do what God wants us to do in His mission. If we are on our own it is difficult to connect with God in what He is already doing. It is also important to know that in mission God sets the agenda and people need only to follow what is on the agenda. The Holy Spirit made the Apostles to begin speaking in different tongues because He knew that the audience had people who would understand such tongues.

Whatever audience that can be presented to us in the process of sharing the word of God, we must have it in mind that the Holy Spirit is already working and convicting the people. The convicted people will be able to respond because God is already working ahead of us. There are times where as the church we think mission can only be done by some people (e.g. ministers, Evangelists, elders), but it should be understood that whatever different gifts and talents God has given in the church are there for a purpose. As devout men were coming from all nations and they were able to identify the languages that were spoken by the Apostles, so the people from all walks of life who God has already touched are able to identify and respond to the word of God.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"       (Acts2:4-11)

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Kennedy M'hone is a minister at Misisi Presbyterian Church in Lusaka, Zambia and is a husband to Sharon C. M'hone.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-20 [Wherever I am...] He goes ahead of us

Week 3: Seeing what God is already doing.

He goes ahead of us

Jesus is preparing for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He sent his disciples to go and fetch a donkey from a village ahead. He wanted a donkey that has never been used before: a pure donkey for sacred use. He has been in Jerusalem before, but this time around Jesus comes to Jerusalem as a King. This fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah: "... see your king comes to you, righteous, victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).

Jesus rode on a donkey signifying that he was a man of peace. A horse would have portrayed Him as a man of war. Horses were mostly used for war in Roman times. Jesus' mission was not war but peace.

The passage shows that Jesus goes ahead of us in his mission. The mission is not ours but God's. Ours is not a complete new mission but we are continuing from where Jesus left off. God has called us to go for him, therefore let us cooperate with God in what He is already doing in his mission. We serve under the Lordship and authority of Christ. Paul reminds us that we are God's fellow workers (2Cor6:1).

Is there any situation that will hinder us from participating in God's mission? Sometimes life can be tough. The cost of living can go up beyond our reach. Inflation can erode all our monthly earnings but we are expected to fulfill our mandate in God's mission. Christ experienced the same suffering. It was not only physical but mental suffering also. He was a man of sorrows and familiar with pain yet at the end He says, "It is finished".

Friends, when we are troubled by gender issues, let us remember that Christ was ahead of us in addressing gender when He came to commune and fellowship with both men and women. When we are persecuted by the political system of the day, Christ went through the same and God is in our midst calling for justice. Wherever I am, let me recognize God's heart for the world and take part in calling for a just society. When are faced with hunger, civil strife and diseases, God is already on the ground showing his unfailing love for the people. How about us joining God in what he is already doing?
We are in the dispensation of the Spirit who empowers and comforts us as we carry out God's mission in the world.

Beloved, let us recognize God's heart for the world and co-operate with Him in his mission. He has called us to His mission. It is not about us, but about God's purpose. Therefore, let us lead purpose-driven lives as we proclaim God's Word and serve him with all humility.

Go to the village ahead of you enter it; you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anymore asks you, "Why are you untying it?'' Say, "The Lord needs it" 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, 'Why are you untying the colt?' 34 they replied, 'the Lord needs it".      (Luke19:30-34)

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Biggie Mususa, husband to Tsitsi, serving at Mkoba Presbyterian Church, in City of Gweru. Zimbabwe.

Friday, October 19, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-19 [Wherever I am...] God works in all things...

Week 3: Seeing what God is already doing.

God works in all things...


Deep in the psyche of western minds is a subconscious picture of a God who is apart - even remote - from us. He is 'up there' or 'out there' somewhere, watching what goes on and occasionally intervening on our behalf. At its heart this view sees God more as a Spectator than one who is involved in what is going on in the world and in our lives.

That is a broken view of God.

Listen to our text: "God works in all things. ." Far from being the Distant Spectator, God is the Ultimate Participant. In all things around us, be they good or painful, God is slowly and relentlessly and in the face of constant push back, working to bring His purposes to bear in this beautiful yet fractured world. And He does so not from Combined Operations HQ - wherever that may be - but by immersing Himself in this Universe.

God is in the flow of all things. He is the living and energising God within all reality. He is awesome. He is beyond the measure of our minds, but He is closer to us than breathing, working in all things, enlivening and sustaining the Universe, bringing hope and healing to broken lives.

We need to rediscover God, or re-imagine Him, as the God of the present continuous tense, the God working in all things who, even as you are reading these words, is loving, strengthening, healing, reconciling, restoring, sustaining, blessing, resisting.

God is at work "in all things" and He does so in deep oneness and partnership with His beloved Son who once told us that, "My Father goes on working, and so do I."

If there is one thing God asks of us it is that we participate with Him in what He is doing in the world. Isn't that what mission is about?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.      (Romans8:28)

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James Gray is the minister of the Hermanus United Church. He likes to walk on the beach, hike in the mountains, play golf and tell Bible stories.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-18 [Wherever I am...] God prepares the way for the Israelites

Week 3: Seeing what God is already doing.

God prepares the way for the Israelites

In the 21st century the world faced with many questions: "Does God exist?" "Who is God?" "Is God sovereign?" These questions come about considering the changing world in which we live. There are many challenges which face the world such as war, corruption, injustice and natural disasters. In addition we have media reports of corrupt 'pastors' who mislead and abuse their flocks. These experiences tempt us to doubt God's existence and his sovereignty.

The Israelites, just like us today, were faced with various strange beliefs and practices but had an opportunity to trust and worship one and true God the creator. In Numbers 14:14 we are told that the Israelites had an opportunity not only to see their LORD face to face but also to be led by him in their journey through a pillar of cloud by day as well as a pillar of fire by night.

As this year's mission theme and our reading remind us: God is still present in the 21st century. He is not only present but also sovereign and in control: "The earth is the LORD's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters." (Ps.24:1-2)

The LORD's existence and sovereignty is visible even those who are not yet a part of the church. Moses affirms that other people and nations have 'already heard' how God has been with the Israelites. Our God is at work in every part of the world, even among those nations that aren't at peace, even those that strongly condemn Christian faith and persecute the few that practice it. Therefore, the gospel should be preached beyond the boundaries of our regions. Jesus prayed for everyone in the world when he stated that: "My prayer is not for them (believers) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message" (John 17:20).

It is possible to get distracted by the challenges we face in this world and even begin to think that God is absent and lose our faith and focus. It is important to seek God's grace that he should always open our eyes to see and believe in him despite living in the changing world. In a changing world, God remains the same.

Finally, we are all challenged to recognize the presence of God the Trinity in terms of his plan and purpose for our lives wherever we are and to witness about him to others. We should also not forget that even those who don't yet believe have heard about this same God in some way and they need our witness to them as well as prayers for God's illumination upon their lives.

"And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, LORD, are with these people and that you, LORD have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night."      (Numbers14:14)

My name is James Lungu and I am a husband to Emelly and a Dad to two boys Joel and Walinase-Emanuel. I am serving as a minister at George Presbyterian Church which is a congregation under Muchinga Presbytery in Zambia.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

EmmDev 2018-10-17 [Wherever I am...] God will prompt people to ask us before we tell them... Be prepared!

Week 3: Seeing what God is already doing.

God will prompt people to ask us before we tell them... Be prepared!

Sometime this year, I met up with an old high school classmate and he is a devout Muslim. We discovered a lot of things trying to catch up and it was within the conversation that he asked this very important question, "Tell me as Christian, is the Jesus you preach about all about miracles and money?" Honestly I was not and ready for that very important question. As I pondered on how to respond to him I realized that God sometimes prompts people to ask us before we tell them and then the big question is are we ready to answer those questions based on what we hope in.

In the Epistle Peter has been trying to bring hope and caution to his audience and it seems the audience was on the receiving end of slander and malicious talk according to 1 Peter 2:11-12. They are being persecuted because of their hope and trust in Jesus Christ. Questions are being asked about the one they worship and believe in. Peter encourages them that they must not fear or be troubled when they suffer because of their hope in Christ.

As we find ourselves in an increasingly pluralistic society, people ask and will ask questions that will challenge the core of our Christian belief. In a world of many lords and gods, who is Jesus to the world and to us Christians today? Peter encourages us that our hope is based on God's promises, and is also based on the believer's experience of God's faithfulness. Peter further explains the nature of hope we are in, "It is "a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn't fade away, reserved in Heaven for you" (1:3-4). This is what we must be prepared to defend at any given time or situation. When a question like the one my Muslim friend asked is asked, the reason for my hope on Christ as stated by Peter is the answer. However Peter says we must do it in gentleness and respect.

Let us be ready always to defend our reason for hope in Christ because God prompts people to ask before we tell them as Achteimer rightly says: "In this context, not even fear of further persecution is to deter the Christians from giving a full account of their hope. It is to live its life openly in the midst of the unbelieving world, and just as openly to be prepared to explain the reasons for it."

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...      (1Peter3:15)

Tatenda Garande is Husband to Juliet, Dad to Kyle Tatenda, serving at Budiriro Presbyterian Church in Harare