Friday, June 14, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-14 [Keeping Going...] Bringing it all together


Bringing it all together

Today we look at one of Paul's prayers for one of the churches under his care. In this prayer he prays for two really important things: Encouraged Hearts and Strengthened Lives.

An encouraged heart is full to the brim with the deep conviction that God, out of staggering, amazing and gracious generosity, gave us His Son. This act of grace gives us eternal encouragement and good hope. Encouraged hearts become the engines to lives that are strengthened for good deeds and words.

In theory it seems unthinkable that just thinking about an "old old story" can encourage us, but in practice we have all seen that when people receive and understand the Gospel message either for the first time or afresh, it can transform their lives.
How is this possible?
Through the work of the One who is implied but not mentioned - the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit makes the truth of the Gospel so real to us that our hearts are encouraged.
But more than encouraging our hearts, the Holy Spirit strengthens us to "fight the good fight."

So, if we're to keep going, we don't need a pep talk or pep vitamins.
To keep going we need to keep a strong and clear focus on the gift of God's Son.

This is what Paul did throughout his ministry:

  • I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.. (Rom1:16)
  • When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom... I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1Cor2:1-2)
  • The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal2:20)

So if Paul was kept going by being focussed on the simple Gospel Truth of the "Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" then so can you and I!

This brings us to the end of the series, so now it is up to you:
Read Paul's prayer for you and keep going!

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,
encourage your hearts
and strengthen you in every good deed and word.      (2Thessalonians2:16-17)


EmmDevs will take a break over the school hols and return on Tuesday 9 July.
God bless and love,
Theo


Thursday, June 13, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-13 [Keeping Going...] Strength


Strength

When things are tough, we can lose hope.

When we lose hope, we lose sight of God.

This happened to the Israelites while they were dragged off to exile in Babylon: Their world had changed, their leaders had fallen, their symbols of faith (temple, priesthood, worship) had been destroyed or pushed aside but the onslaught of a pagan society. They felt God-forsaken and God-abandoned.

It is easy for us to succumb to a similar sense of being overwhelmed. Our world is changing fast, traditional values are being questioned and often replaced, and our faith portrayed as irrelevant and unnecessary.

But the prophet Isaiah has good news: Our society may change. Our circumstances may change. But God will give us strength!

In his beautiful poem, Isaiah reminds us that human strength has its limits. Even youths get tired and even young legs stumble and fall.
But God does not get tired - After all, He created a universe that scientists tell us is still expanding!!

So Isaiah invites us to hope.
Hope is not a vague emotion based on circumstances, it is a choice.
The choice is not so much the act of hope, but the Object of our hope. We choose to put our hope, not in circumstances, but in God. It is not the vague longing that 'alles sal regkom' (everything will be alright) but the decision to hope in God.

And, if we choose to hope in the LORD, we will be given strength.

Just read Isaiah's powerful challenge and promise below...

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
28 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.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 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)


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-12 [Keeping Going...] The God who keeps me going


The God who keeps me going

We've reached the end of Psalm 18 today. This has been like a series-within-a-series.
Our series is "Keeping Going" and this Psalm is ultimately about the God who keeps us going.
  • We started with David's declaration of love and devotion:
    "I love you, O LORD, my strength."
  • Then we saw the descriptors that he used for God:
    "God my Strength, Rock Fortress, Deliverer, Rock Mountain, Shield, Horn, Salvation and Stronghold...
  • And in spite of the magnitude of David's trouble,
    the Lord "delighted" in him and came "roaring" to his rescue
  • The Lord is just and righteous
    "To the faithful you show yourself faithful..."
  • The Lord strengthens us
    "You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me"
  • He gives us victory over evil
    "You have delivered me from the attacks of the people..."
    (Yesterday we struggled with the "blood-thirstyness" of this section, but let's remember that God's ultimate victory over evil was achieved by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross - violence and hatred defeated by love.)

Keeping going is not a matter of a stiff upper lip or sheer determination. It is a matter of looking up to the One who keeps us going and, when we arrive safe at our destination, we won't be saying "Look how far I have come" we'll be saying (or maybe singing) "Thank You Lord for getting me here."

As you read today's reading you will be reminded that, in the midst of our troubles, our Lord lives and that we can turn our eyes to the One who is exalted above our troubles and saves us. He deals with evil and rescues us from our enemies. As you read you'll be able to throw your head back and praise the One who has shown you His unfailing kindness.

The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Saviour!
47 He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,
48 who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from violent men you rescued me.
49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD;
I will sing praises to your name.
50 He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.      (Psalms18:46-50)


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-11 [Keeping Going...] Defeating Giants


Defeating Giants

Our journey through Psalm 18 has been a great blessing so far...
  • We started with David looking back so that he could look forward. His looking back caused him to acknowledge who God is and what God has done. When David was entangled and strangled God heard him and rescued him.
  • Then we saw how God charged in to rescue David and we likened it to a lioness or mama bear and her cubs and recognised that God delights in us.
  • But we also saw that even when we are upright and good, trouble comes our way and David wrestled with this. We were reminded that even when darkness comes God turns it to light.
  • But God is gracious and God delivers and so David celebrates God's goodness and uprightness and he celebrates the strength that God gave Him. We inserted our own names as we saw how God strengthens our arms and gives us feet like a deer.

Today's section continues David's "victory dance", but, if you're anything like me, you might struggle with the sense of "total annihilation" that David rejoices in. He uses phrases like "I did not turn back until they were destroyed", "I crushed them so they could not rise" and "I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind."

We can't deny the fact that David was dealing with spiritual enemies and human ones. This opens up a significant issue that many have with the Old Testament: the "blood-thirsty" approach toward human enemies.

  • God ordering King Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites
  • David rejoicing in crushing his enemies
  • Joshua cleansing the Promised Land of foreign nations
  • And there are other examples...

This is a complex issue, but it is vital to understand that the whole of the Old Testament is a growth curve toward Jesus' command to love our [human] enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Even in Old Testament stories like Elisha feeding the blinded Arameans instead of killing them we see the shift away from the apparent blood-thirstiness. Back in the New Testament Paul very helpfully reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but the powers and principalities of evil behind them and while we don't make war against people, we must fight evil.

So, what do we take out of this part of David's Psalm?
Evil is a reality. There is evil in people and in systems. We need to tackle the Giants of abuse, greed, violence, arrogance, pride and hatred that come to steal, kill and destroy.

Read this next section bearing in mind that God gives us victory over the forces of darkness and establishes His Church when we walk in His paths and in His steps.

I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
38 I crushed them so that they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
39 You armed me with strength for battle;
you made my adversaries bow at my feet.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them--
to the LORD, but he did not answer.
42 I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind;
I poured them out like mud in the streets.

43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
you have made me the head of nations;
people I did not know are subject to me.
44 As soon as they hear me, they obey me;
foreigners cringe before me.
45 They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.      (Psalms18:37-45)



Friday, June 7, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-07 [Keeping Going...] My God strengthens me


My God strengthens me

(Today's message is short, but focusses on the text which makes it profound....)

As we strive to "Keep Going" we come to the section where David celebrates the way God strengthens him.

In the midst of evil, betrayal and failure God is perfect and flawless. He is a shield and a refuge and if we let Him, He will strengthen us. He will give us what we need to overcome.

Read the passage below and every time you read "me" or "my", insert your name.

Have a blessed weekend!

As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield
for all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God besides the LORD?
And who is the Rock except our God?
32 It is God who arms me with strength
and makes my way perfect.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You give me your shield of victory,
and your right hand sustains me;
you stoop down to make me great.
36 You broaden the path beneath me,
so that my ankles do not turn.      (Psalms18:30-36)


Thursday, June 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-06 [Keeping Going...] When Good People Suffer


When Good People Suffer

We're continuing our journey through Psalm 18 while we think about "Keeping Going."

Sometimes we do the right thing, we live well and we do our best and yet trouble still comes our way.

David has been in trouble - he's been surrounded by enemies - he's felt hemmed in - he's been drowning in trouble. But God delivered him and brought him into a 'spacious' place.

In today's section it appears as though David is claiming that he earned the right to be saved because of his own righteousness. He talks about how God has dealt with him according to the cleanness of his hands. David isn't claiming to be perfect... but he is contrasting himself to his enemies.

While he talks about general principle that God is good to the faithful, blameless, pure and humble there's no denying the obvious:
David the one who claims to be righteous and clean, has had to be delivered from trouble.
Why? Was David not righteous enough? No, although David was righteous, there were still evil people whose evil also impacted the righteous. But God rescues.

And so David concludes this section with the strong affirmation:
- God saves the humble and brings down the haughty
- God keeps our lamps burning
- And even if darkness comes, He will turn it to light
- And so we can face the troops and walls in our way...

In a nutshell, this section is an encouragement for those of us who, although we're doing good, are experiencing trouble from arrogant people. It is reminder to persist in doing good and not to sink to their level and to know that God sees and God delivers.

Enjoy reading the passage below:

The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD;
I have not done evil by turning from my God.
22 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
23 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
24 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
26 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
27 You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
28 You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
29 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.      (Psalms18:20-29)



Wednesday, June 5, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-05 [Keeping Going...] Absolute Assurance: A God who rescues


Absolute Assurance: A God who rescues

We're continuing our journey through Psalm 18.
Yesterday we saw how David found himself in a desperate situation:
  • He was entangled by the cords of death and the grave.
  • Torrents of destruction and snares of death overwhelmed and ensnared him
  • He was in distress and called for help"

And God heard him!

Today our passage describes how God not only heard, but came to his rescue. This idea of God coming from heaven and majestically, powerfully moving toward those in need is a thought that is frequently used in the Old Testament. These descriptions of Almighty God rising up and coming to the rescue are often described using the natural phenomena (storms, wind, thunder etc) that are the "horses and chariots" of His oncoming presence. (The scholars call this a "theophany".)

We often joke about not getting between a mama bear and her cubs... When Brenda was a teen, she was on a walking trip in Timbavati and their party got between a lioness and her cubs. The lioness responded with the kind of roaring that ripped the air and gave them goosebumps. It even had the game-ranger getting his rifle ready - but thankfully they were able to get out of the way.

Today's section of Psalm 18 is a beautiful description of God roaring as He rises up to rescue His child. Then it moves into the actual rescue which is described as a rescue from drowning, a deliverance from enemies and a being brought into a spacious place.

And why?
"...because He delighted in me."

As you read this section, try to use your imagination and as much expression as you can when you read it. (Be brave enough to read it aloud to yourself and read it as expressively as possible!) Understand that it reflects how God feels about us and how He 'roars' as He comes to our rescue.

The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
8 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
9 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him--
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The LORD thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies,
great bolts of lightning and routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, O LORD,
at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.      (Psalms18:7-19)



Tuesday, June 4, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-04 [Keeping Going...] Absolute Assurance: Looking back to look forward


Absolute Assurance: Looking back to look forward

We're going to spend this week looking at Psalm 18. Today we look at the inscription and the first section

It's a song that is also quoted in 2 Samuel 22. The inscription reads: "For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul..."

When we're struggling to keep going, it can be helpful to look back before we look forward. When we reflect on how God has been with us in the past, it helps us to look forward. It's no surprise, however, to discover that looking back in this way leads to love and praise.

This psalm is an epic expression of faith, praise and love. As we read, it the depth of passion and the richness of the imagery is gripping:

  • David is drawn in love and devotion to the God who has saved him
  • David is in awe of what God has done
  • David is expressive in his thanksgiving and praise.
    This expressiveness is a crystal clear sign of his deep appreciation and love.

Look at his descriptors:
God is his strength,
his rock as in fortress,
his deliverer
his rock as in a mountain cave of refuge, unshakeable and secure
his shield and horn (implies strength) of salvation
and stronghold (imagine a fortress on a mountain)

Then he makes the statement that is the heart of the Psalm:
"I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise
     and I am saved from my enemies.

This section ends with a beautiful description of the David's plight and God's rescue:

  • He was entangled by the cords of death and the grave.
  • Torrents of destruction and snares of death overwhelmed and ensnared him
  • He was in distress and called for help
    And God heard him.

Has God rescued you and delivered you?
Read the first part of this psalm and use it as your thanksgiving and praise.

1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
5 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called to the LORD;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.      (Psalms18:1-6)


Friday, May 31, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-31 [Keeping Going...] Good good Father #3


Good good Father #3

For today's devotion, please click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gSugruC1jQ to listen to the song while you read the beautiful lyrics below:

GOOD GOOD FATHER
Songwriters: Anthony Brown / Pat Barrett

O I've heard a thousand stories of what they think You're like
But I've heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And You tell me that You're pleased
And that I'm never alone

[CHORUS]You're a good good father
It's who You are, it's who You are, it's who You are
And I'm loved by You
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

I've seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we're all searching
For answers only You provide
'Cause You know just what we need
Before we say a word

Because You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

Oh, it's love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think
As you call me deeper still
As you call me deeper still
As you call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust...      (Psalms103:8-14)


Thursday, May 30, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-30 [Keeping Going...] Good good Father #2


Good good Father #2

(This is a "reprint" from a series on the Apostle's Creed...)

Believing in God as Father is difficult for some whose earthly fathers have been absent, abusive or cold-hearted. Others think about Father Christmas when they think about God as Father - a sugar daddy who spoils us with gifts based on our behaviour but is pretty much absent in times of trouble or pain.

Part of the problem is that we think that God needed to reveal Himself to us and so He said "Well, everyone has a father and fathers are generally good guys so I'll reveal myself as father..." (Theologians call this anthropomorphism - God morphing into anthropological terms to help us understand Him)

What if it was the other way around? That God was Father (and Mother^) first and that we, who are His image-bearers, are to reflect these facets of His nature and we either do it well or badly?

Could it be that bad fathers obscure the reflection God's nature in themselves and that good fathers reveal more of Him and less of their own brokenness?
The Father Paul reveals here is awesome:

  • He is the Father of Jesus, And Jesus loved Him and trusted Him so much that He was willing to say "Not my will but yours be done" and went to the cross.
  • He is the God of all comfort. He had to watch His Son carry the weight of our brokenness and His heart was broken over our sin. He understands pain. (As an imperfect earthly father I would rather give my own life than sacrifice my son Caleb's)
  • He comforts us. He sent His Son. He sends His Spirit. He finds sulking Jonah outside Nineveh. He finds Elijah burnt out under the broom tree. He finds Hagar and Ishmael alone in the wilderness. He sees and hears and comes down to the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. When the world was broken and lost He sent His Son.
Take the word Father and embody it with the VERY BEST you have seen of Fatherhood and you have only scraped the surface of what God is like.


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 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      (2Corinthians1:3-4)

----------------------------------------
^ The Scriptures also portray God as Mother ("Can a mother forget her children" (Isaiah 49:15) "As a mother comforts her child I will comfort you (Isaiah 66:13)) It think it is important to recognise that God transcends male and female but when human beings reflect the nature of God, they often do it as "mother" or "father" and when they do it well, God's nature is reflected.)

^^ Patriarchal societies have focussed on God as Father almost to the exclusion of the truth that God is also Mother. Some have compromised by talking about God as the "perfect parent" but some of the richness is lost. I believe it is best to just do justice to the concepts as Scripture gives them to us.