Tuesday, November 29, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-29 [Rest for the Weary] Still Standing

Still Standing

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2Corinthians6:4-10)
This beautiful passage reminds me of an advert that used to play in movie theaters in South Africa. It featured a "Parktown Prawn" (African king cricket (Libanasidus vittatus) aka cockroach on steroids.) This "parkie" appeared on screen in a kitchen accompanied by a blood curdling scream (obviously the mother of the house). This was followed with numerous attempts to eradicate the fellow, including poison spray, a hammer, a shotgun, a flame thrower and a hand-grenade. In the end, the cricket emerges through the smoke feelers twitching and Elton John's "I'm still standing" blaring in the background.

This is the scene Paul is depicting. He's been through a lot, he's seen the congregations he serves also going through a lot. The great truth he conveys is this: "We are still here!"

When we're tired from relentless battles and numbing fatigue, Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit will work in us to carry us through. We will receive strength when we're weary, courage when we're afraid, hope when doubts assail us.

When we're weary, here's the good news: God doesn't promise an easy life, but He promises to help us through. We'll receive endurance and the ability to work hard through sleepless nights and hunger. We'll be able to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit like purity, patience and love. We'll receive unexpected weapons of righteousness and even when persecuted and accused we will come through and we'll be rich in the things that matter.

We had a service in October where we had an opportunity to write our thanks to God on a board. I thought about many things that I could write about, but ended up writing "I'm still standing!"

Friday, November 25, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-25 [Rest for the Weary] Marathon Inspiration

Marathon Inspiration

I saw this picture on a t-shirt many years ago.
While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it does make a powerful point.

The Hebrews author describes our Christian journey as a marathon and a battle.
We're to run, to push, to fight.
We're to fight off resistance from the outside ("everything that hinders") and push through the struggles we have on the inside as we deal with our own temptations and weakness ("sin that so easily entangles".) Through all of this there is the danger that we grow weary, and even worse, lose heart.

How do we get through this weariness? How do we keep our hearts beating warmly?
We look to Jesus!
But not gentle Jesus meek and mild with perfect hair and perfect complexion holding cherub-like children.
But sweaty dusty Jesus, faithfully teaching when His voice was tired and scratchy, confronting demons and healing even when it meant that power flowed out of Him leaving Him tired and drained. Not Jesus of the ivory tower comfortably teaching from some temple college, but staggering up the hill of Calvary with a shredded back, a crown of thorns and a heavy cross to bear.

Consider Him.
Him who endured the ultimate injustice and the unbridled ferocity of human cruelty.
Him who while nailed to the cross found the grace to forgive and the power to carry our sin entirely.
Him who was not executed, but gave up His life and while doing that still had the focus to care for his earthly mom and his teenage disciple.
And He'd have done it all if you were the only one...

You can persevere! You can get there!
Just look at Him!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.               (Hebrews12:1-3)

Thursday, November 24, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-24 [Thanksgiving] Today!!!


I'm interrupting our "Rest for the Weary" series to mark today as Thanksgiving. (Sadly in South Africa, we imported "Black Friday" but not "Thanksgiving" - so this is my little revolution... The picture you can see down below was sent to our whole congregation yesterday...)

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalms118:24)

Psalm 118 is a real gem...
It starts out like this:
"Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever."
and follows with calls to various parts of the community to echo the cry "His love endures forever!"

Then the Psalmist recalls victories God has given him over the years:
"The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (v.6)
and "I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me." (v.13)

Interestingly enough the Psalm also contains two passages that are explicitly quoted in the New Testament as prophecies of Jesus:
"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone." (v.22)
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD." (v.26)
Jesus is the ultimate securer of our salvation and deliverance.

The Psalm ends as follows:
You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
His love endures forever.

But it is verse 24 that has grabbed me:
THIS is the day the Lord has made; LET US rejoice...

Each day is a gift to be seized, an opportunity to be enthralled at God's providence.
When troubles loom and boom we can think back of God's faithfulness and move forward in faith and trust.

This verse has become my battle-cry.
Today is not the day of the criminals, load-shedding or the bad-news headlines.
Today is not the day of Satan and his cronies.
Today is not the day of negativity, depression and cynicism.

TODAY is the day that the LORD has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it!!!!

Hope many of you will be celebrating some form of thanksgiving tonight or this weekend and that your day is blessed.
Apart from its content, here are some fun stats about Psalm 118...
- It is sandwiched between the shortest (117) and longest (119) psalms.
- It contains the so-called "middle verse" of the Bible. Yep, someone went and counted all the verses in the Bible and worked out that the middle ones are Ps.118:8-9 "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes."
(Now we know that verse numbers were only added to the text later on so we don't build a theology from this, but it is a fun stat!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-23 [Rest for the Weary] The art of the Pause

The art of the Pause

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah (Psalms46:1-11)

The word Selah occurs in a number of Psalms. It is a puzzle to commentators and scholars because there are no indications as to what this word actually means. We only find it in Psalms and in Habakkuk's song of praise and not in any other literature.

The best guess that scholars have as to what the word means is that it may indicate a "rest" for the singers while the musicians play a musical interlude. Many have suggested that "Selah" means "stop and think" or "reflect."

When we find it in the psalms it is almost always in the right spot for the "stop and think" interpretation to be correct...

Here in Psalm 46 "Selah" helps us understand the Psalm better as it divides the Psalm into three parts:

  1. God is our refuge in trouble of all kinds....
    (Stop and think about that!)
  2. God has a city with a river (the Holy Spirit) for us and He will defend us
    (Stop and think about that!)
  3. God is more powerful than the agents of chaos and we have to turn from them and trust in Him.
    (Stop and think about that!)

But the "Selah" word also draws our attention to the refrain that is uttered, refined and repeated:

  • "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble"
  • The LORD Almighty is with us;the God of Jacob is our fortress.
  • The LORD Almighty is with us;the God of Jacob is our fortress.
When it rumbles Ps 46 calls us to "stop.... and think":
The LORD Almighty is with us;the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Very often, when we are weary then setbacks trip us up and our immediate reactions are: "Not again!" or "I can't take this any more!" But before we go into "panic mechanic mode," we need to learn the "art of the pause": That we "Selah" for a moment and say "God is my refuge and my strength an ever-present help in trouble..."

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-22 [Rest for the Weary] Unloading and Reloading

Unloading and Reloading

Weariness is always more than tiredness of the body. Weariness is when our souls and emotions are depleted of goodness and often overloaded with sadness and brokenness. We are often overloaded and overwrought by the darkness of our broken worlds, and, when we're brave enough to admit it, the brokenness of our own selfish, stubborn and arrogant sinfulness.

Paul gives the Philippians some good life advice for living in a broken world. This advice is especially significant if we recognise that the advice comes just after Paul had to deal with the conflict between two prominent people in the church. It's a good reminder that the church is not perfect.

So what do we do?

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always. Take stock of the good things and celebrate them as gifts from above. Rejoice not only in the blessings, but the Blesser.
  2. Be gentle. I have found it incredibly helpful and effective to do whatever I can to de-escalate interactions. Tired people tend to escalate the moment a situation becomes tense. When we gently work toward de-escalating tired-tense situations, we can be great blessing to all in the situation.
  3. Take anxiety to God. Be real with Him, tell Him how you are feeling and bring fear and frustration to Him. He will unleash peace - deep resilient peace - in your soul.
  4. Take time to fill your heart, soul and mind with good and not junk.

I could speak about each of the above in lots of detail, but actually the basics are there and clear. We can unload the tension, guilt and brokenness of our crazy lives in God's presence and He can give us peace. But we also need to reload our hearts and souls with the goodness of God's working in our lives.

What do you need to unload today?
What do you need to reload?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians4:4-8)

Friday, November 18, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-18 [Rest for the Weary] It's just a Broken World

It's just a Broken World

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1Peter4:12-13)
There's a meme I love: It pictures a battered and droopy person and the caption reads "I normally try to take one day at a time but recently a couple of days all attacked me at once!"

Sometimes it feels like the world is overwhelming and we feel singled out, picked on and victimised. Inevitably we cry "Why me?" and our frustration and inability to understand or make sense of our struggle can be just as exhausting as the trouble itself.
But Peter gives us some good advice: "Don't be surprised by a broken world."

Jesus did the same thing for His disciples when He prepared them for life after His ascension when He said: "In this world you will have trouble..."

Hardship is exhausting by itself, but when we begin to have a victim mentality and frantically search for explanations for our trouble, then we can exhaust ourselves even more. Yes, sometimes we can explain our troubles: We did something stupid and are reaping the fruit thereof or someone else was stupid or mean and this caused our trouble.

But sometimes our pain is inexplicable. It's simply the result of being in a broken world. We can wear ourselves out trying to bend our brains around it, or we can take Peter's advice: "Trouble comes, but you are not alone! Your trouble is but a subset of what Jesus carried on the cross for us - He is able to restore and renew.

You see, when things seem meaningless, it depletes us even more. So Peter invites us to make peace with brokenness so that we can discover an even greater and more permanent reality...
That reality is the healing power of a Saviour who carried it all.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-17 [Rest for the Weary] Weary X4

Weary X4

Why do you say O Jacob and complain O Israel:
'My way is hidden from the Lord
- My cause is disregarded by my God?'
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God
- the Creator of the ends of the earth
He will not grow tired or weary
and His understanding no-one can fathom
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak
Even youths grow tired and weary
and young men stumble and fall
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength
They will soar on wings like eagles
They will run and not grow weary
They will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah40:27-31)
Hebrew (which is the language Isaiah wrote in) is a very expressive language. For an ancient language, Hebrew has a huge dictionary and many many words to choose from. In the light of this, it is interesting that the Hebrew word for "weary" appears four times in our passage. The root of this word means "weary, tired, exhausted." And in the light of the context of this passage it is significant to see this word repeated.

Isaiah is speaking to the exiled community who find themselves in the desert lands of Babylon, dislocated and devastated. They are convinced that God has forgotten them. They are depressed, broken, and tired. They have focused on the experience of exile - on the frustration of their circumstances. Their vision is dominated by their situation - and they are weary: Dog-dead-tired.

Isaiah's advice is vital:
- God is not subject to the same numbing tiredness of heart and soul.
- God sees the weary and the tired and gives them strength
- Even the young and the strong can get tired - it's ok!
- There is inspiration, courage, and strength available for those who hope in Him.

This did not mean that they came out of the exile immediately - but rather that there would be a song of hope and courage in their hearts that brought them through their situations and helped them cope.

What does this mean for us?

  • Our weariness does not define us
  • God is greater than our spiritual, moral, and emotional lethargy.
  • I can't look into myself for strength.
  • I can look up to Him for strength.
The eagle soars by concentrating on finding the thermals that will lift him up. When we concentrate on God's provision and not our circumstances or our tiredness then we can soar.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-16 [Rest for the Weary] When the tank is empty

When the tank is empty

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalms73:26)
The author of Psalm 73 is struggling with injustice and the prosperity of the wicked while he himself has suffered for doing what is right.

If one reads the whole Psalm, there is the clear impression that the Psalmist has experienced a significant faith-crisis. This has probably been accompanied by physical exhaustion, mental overload and spiritual depletion.

One gets to understand the extent of his ordeal in verse 16. He says: "When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me!"
We've all been there to one extent or another... He's reached breaking point - he's had enough!

But then the turning point comes: "till I entered the sanctuary of God..."

It's in worship, in contemplating God and seeing the bigger picture that the Psalmist finds peace, strength and hope. This leads him to the significant and beautiful conclusion: "Even if my own strength and courage fails, God will sustain and nourish me."

As many of you know, the last three years have been very challenging for our family and for me as a pastor. There has been a lot of heartache and loss - a lot of strain and stress - and very little opportunity for replenishment in the form of long breaks or holidays. But I have discovered that God gives strength when we are weary. He sustains, He replenishes and He renews.

This doesn't mean that we recklessly empty our tanks and take no responsibility for refilling them, but when our tanks are legitimately empty and we find ourselves stretched thin - God is the strength of our hearts and our portion forever!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

EmmDev 2022-11-15 [Rest for the Weary] In the face of a cruel enemy

In the face of a cruel enemy

After a bit of a break in the devotions, I'm back with a short series which I hope will be appropriate and helpful as we helter-skelter our way to the end of the year.

A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.
1 O LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
"God will not deliver him."

3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
4 To the LORD I cry aloud,
and he answers me from his holy hill.

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
6 I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.

7 Arise, O LORD!
Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
                          (Psalm 3:1-8)

Weariness... When we are beyond tired, when we need more than a nap, when we're exhausted on a cellular level, when our creativity has left town, our brains are on load-shedding and our emotions feel trampled.

I'm pretty sure this is how David felt when his son Absalom betrayed him and staged a coup. Absalom had been setting the stage for this rebellion for four years and I can only imagine that David had been dreading this moment. When we read the story of David's flight from Jerusalem we read about how an angry and bitter man named Shimei pelted him with stones, dirt and bitter accusations, and David, tired as he was, just let Shimei abuse him like this even though the palace guards were poised to kill him with just a word from David.

This heart-breaking picture of a depleted, weary and defeated David is followed by an interesting verse in 1 Samuel 15:14 "The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself."

How did David refresh himself?
Maybe by writing this Psalm...

Now, I need to be clear: We can't pretend that David was "100% OK" after this. We know he struggled tremendously after Absalom's death. But there was a turning point here...

Let's look at the Psalm more closely:
- David vents about his enemies and his own doubt, pain and fear
- It affirms God's goodness and how He delivers
- David chooses to sleep - abdicating the problem to God - this is the moment of trust
- He asks God to deal with his enemies
- He affirms his hope in God's deliverance

Resolving weariness can't be done with a nap, but it can begin with a nap.
The key to the start of David's healing lies in this: He resolves to sleep, knowing that God will work on the problem while David sleeps. He's abdicating. He's not trying to be God. He's giving up the pretense of being in control all the time.

This is the start of handling weariness.
We'll look at more tools in the next three weeks.

Monday, October 31, 2022

EmmDev 2022-10-31 [Month of Mission 2022] Our Missional God

Our Missional God

From one man He made every nation, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts17:26-28)
I love this passage - it reveals the very heart of God.
We are created to know Him and experience His greatness.

All of Creation - roses, lilies, mountains, oceans, suns, moons, nebulas, and DNA - is geared to glorify the Creator and point toward Him.

All of Providence - the way history works, my history and my genes and how things fall together (in spite of the blight of sin) - is geared towards me coming to a place of knowing God.

God is a Missional God:
He longs for us to seek Him and find Him and He is at work in creation and providence to reach us.

And here's the incredible truth: He is not far off
- through His Omniscience and Omnipresence He is aware of all
- through Christ's incarnation He has identified with our humanity
- through the outpouring of His Spirit He is closer than a heartbeat

Eugene Peterson translates these verses as follows:
"Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote, he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!"

This is our God!
A very big "thank you" to our devotions writers: Sipho Mtetwa (Our Moderator), Peter Langerman, Natalie Barnard, Faresi Sakala, James Lunngu, Alain Zibondo, Amon Kasambala, Maria Phiri, Amas Nyirenda, Pat Baxter, Hendry Fortuin, Pascal Sibanda, Lazarus Chirwa, Graham Duncan, Wonke Buqa and Clarence Tungunu. Also to Wayne van Heerden who handled the social media distribution and Brian Mazini, Godfrey Mazanhi and Mathemba Tati who co-ordinated the dev-writers. Soli Deo Gloria!