Tuesday, July 20, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-20 [God's help in Tough Times] STAY strong and courageous

STAY strong and courageous

 (I wrote this three years ago - seems even more relevant now...)

The Hebrew word used for God's Word implies a road or a pathway. When we face big challenges and have big shoes to fill, our strength and courage is greatest when we are on the right path. As God gives Joshua his marching orders, He refers him to a safe pathway - God's Law.

But what was "the Law"?
Joshua didn't have a full Bible. He only had the laws given to the people on Mount Sinai and in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. His "Bible" didn't have Psalms, prophets, or New Testament.

So how does a bunch of ceremonial and moral laws give courage, strength and success in a dangerous mission?
These laws reveal the character and nature God and provide the ethics of a just and caring society. A quick glance at the Ten Commandments reveals this:
  1. No other Gods - this is obvious - when we take our eyes off the one true God we will sink in the brokenness of the world.
  2. No idols/graven images - The minute we try to draw God or make a statue of Him, we begin to limit Him and shape Him according to our own desires.
  3. Don't misuse God's name: when we use God's name for our purposes instead of in worship we shipwreck ourselves.
  4. Remember the Sabbath: Take time to slow down and remember that everything comes from God.
  5. Honour your parents: It is easy to discard the elderly and when we do this society crumbles.
  6. Don't murder: Life isn't cheap
  7. Don't commit adultery: Marriage is a stabilising force for society
  8. Don't steal: Taking without earning creates a downward spiral that devalues work and human dignity.
  9. Don't lie: Truth holds society together
  10. Don't covet: Unbridled ambition and greed destabilises society
Joshua is called to create a Godly, just and caring society. This society needs to be under-girded by values and principles. These values are the worship of God, the valuing of life and property and the reining in of the vices of greed and ambition.

Joshua isn't being asked to have the kind for quiet time that involves an over-spiritualised reading of a 'comfortable' psalm or proverb each day. He is not being invited to stay hidden in an ivory tower. He is being asked to relentlessly engage with the commandments and guidelines that will help him build a society on values and principles that reveal God's righteousness and create a just society.

This is the path to walk on if we want to be strong and courageous.

And before we point the finger at others, we should check our own hearts...

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 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. 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. 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. (Joshua1:6-9)

Thursday, July 15, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-15 [God's help in Tough Times] Fear vs Courage

Fear vs Courage

Courage and Fear are quite different.

Fear is something that happens to us. It is caused by circumstances and pressure. It is often involuntary and irrational. Things happen and we feel fear - often at a very basic instinctive level. When the door slams shut, when the lion roars or when something goes "bump" in the night, our adrenal systems kick into high gear preparing us for fight or flight.

Courage on the other hand, is more of a choice than an instinct. We don't feel courage like we feel fear. We choose courage. We make a decision to face our fears. Courage does not cancel out or dilute fear. Being strong means that we push through fear. We work around fear and in spite of fear.

Forty years previously fear and a grass-hopper mentality caused the nation to listen to the ten fearful spies instead of Joshua and Caleb. This resulted in forty years of wandering in the desert... Now Joshua and the people find themselves at the border again. Nothing has changed on the other side of the Jordan. It's still the same cities, the same topography and the same enemies.

But God calls Joshua to be strong and courageous...
Be strong and courageous. Choose to face your fears. Choose to endure your circumstances. Choose to keep going and not quit or run. Step up and report for duty. Do what it takes, but keep moving.

Courage is not the absence of fear or even the opposite of it.
Courage and Strength are decisions we make in spite of our fears.
In just three verses God tells Joshua three times over: "Be Strong and Courageous."

Joshua had to choose and so must we.

"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." (Joshua1:6-9)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-14 [God's help in Tough Times] Strong Tower

Strong Tower

These are unsettled times. 

Right now in South Africa, we are on level 4 lockdown and we're experiencing mob violence and looting to the extent that the army has been called out. Many of us have loved ones in hospital and we know of people whose lives and livelihoods are being impacted by a bleeding economy. 

What do we do? 

There is much to be done. 
We will all need to be people who bring peace - who make a difference where they can - who turn the tide. Already there are movements of people who are volunteering to help with cleanup and rebuild. We can pray, we can encourage, we can comfort and we can give.

But before all that, we need to RUN. 
We need to RUN to the Strong Tower. 
We need to RUN to the Lord.

When fear, doubt and cynicism assail us - when we feel unsafe -  we need, not only to turn, but to run to the LORD.

In Old Testament times, a person's name embodied all the qualities of the person.
The Proverb writer uses the name of the LORD (Yahweh - the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush when Israel was being cruelly oppressed in Egypt). 
He's saying: "When you feel unsafe, run to God - the One who rescues and delivers, who guides and provides."

Trusting in God is like putting our hearts and minds in a strong tower.
This doesn't mean that our problems disappear. The storms may rage and the armies of doubt and fear may besiege. But our job is to RUN.
Run, run, run to God.
Let your hope and trust be in Him. 
He is the Strong Tower for our hearts and minds. 
From there we can heal. 
From there we can see. (A tower gives perspective and an overview)
From there we can rally. 

And then we can make a real difference!

The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
    the righteous run to it and are safe.
(Proverbs18:10 )

Friday, July 9, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-09 [God's help in Tough Times] When we feel like we have failed

When we feel like we have failed

Today's passage often gets quoted without its context.

The background makes it even more beautiful...
Nehemiah had led the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and then, in the safety that the walls created, they called a sacred assembly, where God's Law was read aloud to the people who had gathered there.

It was a significant moment: With men, women and children gathered together for hours, listening to God's Law being read and explained. As they listened, they realised the depth of their failure and the beauty and majesty of the God who rescued them, brought them back from Babylon and revealed Himself through His law - and it moved them to tears.

Now remorse can be a good thing, but Nehemiah also knew that genuine remorse could degenerate into paralysing guilt if the focus remained on their failure. And so He shifts their focus: "Go and feast and celebrate - this day is not about your failure, but about the goodness and the forgiveness of God."

"Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Many Christians today can be so caught up in their failures and shortcomings.
Remorse is good, but being mired down in a paralysing sense of failure isn't.
We must always remember that we cannot save ourselves.
Good remorse is always in the light of the Salvation that has already been effected for us. Our strength (to change, to live, to make a difference) comes not from guilt but from God's goodness.

So we focus on Him and not on our efforts and the mistakes and shortcomings that accompany them.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep." For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Thursday, July 8, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-08 [God's help in Tough Times] Contractions


One of my favourite interpretive keys for Revelations and all things eschatalogical (to do with the end, end-times, and God's Plan) is what Jesus Himself said about the "End Times" when He described it like a woman in labour.

Just to recap the key elements of this idea:
  1. The end times began when Jesus ascended. (We've been in the "end-times" for 2000 years).
  2. As in a mother's labour, in the "end-times" there are cycles of contraction and relief... contraction and relief...  Moments of struggle and hardship, moments of relief and growth. History has seen a number of contractions where the saints cry out "Maranatha!" which means "Come Lord Jesus!" and we wonder if this contraction will be the one that brings about the arrival of the Second Coming. 
  3. In these times of contraction we are drawn towards passages like Revelation, the latter half of Daniel and Peter's admonition "the end of all things is near" (1Pet4:7 onwards).

In our passage for today, Peter gives guidance for contractions:
  1. He warns us that evil is rife and tries to suck us in. 
  2. We'll need to stand firm, secure in the knowledge that we are not alone in  our suffering
  3. We must remember that God's Plan is sure and secure - the labour will come to an end.
  4. Even if we should lose our lives, there is Eternal Glory awaiting us.
  5. If we do come through it, we will have endured because He will make us strong, firm and steadfast.
  6. The glory belongs to Him

Let's take comfort in the fact that the church and world have seen contractions before and let's pray that as we "push" through this contraction, we will grow strong, firm and steadfast. 
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-07 [God's help in Tough Times] Bagpipe Heart

Bagpipe Heart

Today a conversation with a friend reminded me of an old EmmDev which I think is relevant today...

Some time ago, I wrote an EmmDev on Soul Care. I quoted Henry Drummond who said that the heart is an "an elastic chamber that expands with God in it, or shrinks without Him." A colleague and mentor, Calvin Cook, who is now in Glory, responded to it. Here's what I wrote in response...

Picking up on Henry Drummond's quote of the heart being an elastic chamber, my friend Calvin suggested that we have the choice between being vuvuzelas or bagpipes. The key difference is not only in the mono-tone of the one compared to the variety of the other, but in the bag, which, when filled, allows the piper to play a much longer note than the human lung can blow the vuvuzela!

Isaiah records God's Word to those who think they can keep going in their own strength. In these very unpredictable and turbulent times we will not last if we try this vuvuzela style. We'll run out of breath...

In repentance, rest, quietness and trust is salvation and strength.

The Afrikaans word  for "bagpipe" is "doedelsak" and it is  so onomatopoeic!
Soul-care means we fill the "sak" (bag) of the "doedel" (tune or ditty) with the breath of God.

The old hymn says it best:

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Breathe on me, breath of God.
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
                               (Edwin Hatch 1878)

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore you will flee! You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.' Therefore your pursuers will be swift!  (Isaiah30:15-16)

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-06 [God's help in Tough Times] How to handle bad news

How to handle bad news

When one starts reading Psalm 112, it feels a bit like something the prosperity preachers would say:
That if we fear the Lord and delight in His commands, then
Our children would be mighty and blessed (v.2)
Wealth and righteousness will endure (v.3) 

But there is a deeper balance than simply promising prosperity.
It also talks about how we should be generous and conduct ourselves justly. (v5)

But what strikes me is the promise of assistance in trouble. 
It doesn't promise a trouble free life.
Even those who fear God and delight in His commands experience trouble.
There's a clear implication that there are times of darkness. 
And there are times that bad news comes around. (Another version translates: "evil tidings") 

All of us can remember a moment we received bad news.
- A phone call out of the blue about a loved one's stroke, accident or heart-attack
- A doctor's serious demeanour and measured words.
- The teacher calling a meeting about your child.
- The slip from the ATM saying "Account Overdrawn."
- An announcement about retrenchments.
- The President calling a family meeting.
- The sms with test results.

I see people fall apart at bad news and I see people dig deep and find faith.

We are not promised a trouble-free life. 
We are promised a relationship
A God in Whom we can trust.
He is both Shepherd and Guide
He walks with us in Death Valley.
He serves food on Enmity Plain.
He secures our souls at Eternity's Bridge.

Praise the Lord.
Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.
2 Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.
6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Friday, July 2, 2021

EmmDev 2021-07-02 [God's help in Tough Times] Find Rest

Find Rest

Psalm 62 is a composition of David which comes, either from the early part of his life when he was fleeing from Saul, or possibly from later in life in the wake of the plots of Absolom and others... 

When talking about this Psalm the NIV Study Bible says: "No psalm surpasses it in its expression of simple trust in God."

One gets an inkling of David's pain when he writes:
"How long will you assault a man?
    Would all of you throw him down--
    this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
 They fully intend to topple him from his lofty place;
    they take delight in lies.
  With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse." (Ps.62:3-4)

But in the midst of his own insecurities ("leaning wall", "tottering fence") , the threat of enemies and and the presssure of poisonous words, David chooses to put his faith in God:

Read the verses below and make them your own in these turbulent times...
(I've underlined the verbs...)

My soul finds rest in God alone;
    my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; 
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
    He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honour depend on God;
    He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
    pour out your hearts to Him,
    for God is our refuge.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

EmmDev 2021-06-30 [God's help in Tough Times] Redeemed


Isaiah chapters 40-55 apply to the Exiles in Babylon. They had lost everything. Their land, their temple, and their identity. In the first chapter of Daniel we see that the Babylonians even gave them idol-honouring names instead of their Hebrew God-honouring names. They were surrounded by hardship and the future was bleak...

How would God speak to them?
  1. He affirmed their identity. Their circumstances did not define their identity. Nor did the names the Babylonians gave them. Their identity was wrapped up in the One who made them, claimed them, and called them. They had dignity and purpose because God claimed them as His own. Because He was passionate about them!

  2. He assured them of protection in hardship. He does not promise that there will not be waters, rivers, flames, or fire. He promises that we will not be destroyed. We don't know what purposes the hardships will serve and we don't always understand what we must learn in our struggles, but one truth is as clear as the lighthouse signal on a stormy night: - He is in ultimate control and with His help our problems will not overcome us. 

  3. He assures them of Redemption. He opens the passage with this thought and reinforces it at the end. To be redeemed is to be bought back from slavery. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians and set the Israelites free, they also conquered Cush, Seba, and Egypt. The picture is that God, working in the history of the nations bought Israel back through these conquered nations.
Taken further, this thought leads us to another redemption, where God gave much more than a nation in our stead. He gave His only Son. We are worth very much to Him and even though He allows us to go through hardships, our identity is wrapped up in the designer label that says "Made with loving care by God who created the Universe." And although troubles may surround us, He wants to redeem us - to buy us back from our brokenness. 

He is so committed to us that He sent Jesus to take the brunt of our pain so that it is He and not us who are broken and He turned His face from His Son so that we could be bought back from sin and never be alone! 
But now this is what the Lord says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; The flames will not set you ablaze For I am the Lord your God - the Holy One of Israel I will give Egypt for your ransom; Cush and Seba in your stead." (Isaiah43:1-3)

Friday, June 25, 2021

EmmDev 2021-06-25 [God's help in Tough Times] God my Song

God my Song

People who know me, know that music is a big part of my life. From when I wake until when I go to sleep, I'm listening to music. There are thousands of gospel songs in my playlist and songs of worship and songs that wrestle with living God's life in a complex world are my favourites.

So, I'm fascinated by the idea that God can be our song...

This idea is mentioned three times in the Old Testament. First by Moses and the Israelites after they'd crossed the Red Sea. Then by an unknown Psalmist in Ps 118 who celebrates God's rescue. The third one is Isaiah who celebrates the idea that God saves even those who have failed and fallen short.

We sing when we're happy. We teach children to sing when they're afraid. We sing when our hearts are full. We sing when it is good to be together. Songs make us smile and cry. They calm us and they make us think. They touch our lives and grab our throats.

We have "fight songs", "happy songs", "comfort songs", "memory songs" and songs that "say it better than words can."

Moses, the Psalmist and Isaiah all combine "my song" with "strength" and "salvation". The Lord is my strength, my song and He has become my salvation. 

What a beautiful thought - God's love, presence, strength and deliverance can become our song. What that means for me is that no matter how beautiful a piece of music might be, the God who gave us music and the ability to create it, is even more wonderful and He gives me more fight, more comfort and more happy than a song ever could!

In these hectic and depleting times, let's learn to make God our song.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song;
He has become my salvation.
(Isaiah12:2 )