Friday, December 24, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Jeremiah was left behind in Jerusalem when the Babylonians dragged the "cream" of Israel's leaders off into exile. But God had Jeremiah write to them, encouraging them to make the most their situation at the "rivers of Babylon."
The unthinkable concept in his letter was that God had a plan for them. Could that be possible? Could they come back from exile with a revived and revitalised faith that was not centred on the temple but the Word of God? Between Jeremiah (in Israel) and Ezekiel (with the exiles) God transformed His people and brought them back after 70 years.
Could God have had a plan with an unlikely people?
History says He did.
Does God have a plan for humanity?
Yes He does!
It was revealed in a babe born in Bethlehem.
But Nathanael wasn't sure: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (Try the Saviour of the World!...)
Philip (just NOT getting it) said "Just show us the Father," and Jesus said "If you've seen me, You've seen Him."
God works in unlikely and unusual ways - may your hearts be open to Him this Christmas. For Christmas truly is an "Advent" in that it sneaks up on us with stories of stables, journeys, gifts and the earthy way in which it all takes place. But there is wonder for all who would open their eyes to His great love!
That brings us to the end of the eDevs for this year as I will be on leave next week.
Hope the eDevs have been a great blessing and help to you this year!
Have a blessed CHRISTmas!
God bless and Much love
Thursday, December 2, 2010
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
24 but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,"
declares the LORD. Jeremiah9:23-24
Isn't it interesting how our gifts (wisdom, strength and riches) which are really gifts and blessings from above are the very things that distract us from Him?
Why is this? Did God make a mistake in blessing us with gifts? No! We can't blame God's generosity, but rather our lack of humility and gratitude. Even my talents are from Him!
Jeremiah gives us three measures for boast-worthiness: kindness, justice and righteousness.
Think about it: These are the things that really matter.
Kindness = love, graciousness, compassion
Justice = how we treat others (equality, fairness, protect the weak)
Righteousness = all about internal integrity
All three of the above are needed if we are to be of any substance.
There are two kinds of boasting: The kind where people take credit where it isn't due, and the kind where credit is given to the one to whom it _is_ due. When it comes to the measures of kindness, justice and righteousness there is only God who remains standing.
We do better thinking highly of Him than thinking highly of ourselves!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Sometimes we kick against God's laws and requirements because we suspect He is out to spoil our fun... Jeremiah gives us another perspective:
The Queen of Heaven was Ishtar, a Babylonian idol. As the Hebrews worshipped her, they descended into immorality and decadence. It was an affront to the holiness and glory of the one true God.
But is just that God is dishonoured by idolatry - it is us who are harmed! High on God's agenda is His loving desire to protect us from the consequences of giving in to our sinful nature.
- worship false gods, we take on their values (fear, excess, greed)
- commit adultery, we damage trust, loyalty and self-image and risk health
- abuse substances, we damage our bodies
- refuse to rest, we risk break-down
- don't honour our parents, we become unhealthy members of society
- desire other people's stuff, we become unsatisfy-able.
and so on.
God wants us to grow into all that He created us to be.
Sin deforms and destroys us - it drives God crazy because He loves us.
The last point here is the very sad picture of the whole family being dragged into this: children, fathers and mothers. How many families will go Christmas shopping on a Sunday morning instead of being in church? It breaks God's heart when this happens and He wants to protect us and our families from ourselves.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, `We will not walk in it.' Jeremiah6:16
Some of you will probably cheekily suggest that I am showing my age here, but I think today's topic is well worth considering and I think there are fine-balances and plenty of baby-and-bathwater issues around this subject!
A wise person once told me: "Tradition is a stream we walk beside and not a stagnant pool. Sometimes the stream is shaped by the countryside and sometimes the stream shapes the countryside."
I see a lot of unhealthy revisionism going on today where it is a case of "out with the old and in with the new" simply because people think that "new is better."
Jeremiah had to challenge the people to go back to the ancient paths. Why? Not because they were ancient, but because they were *good*. There are old ways that are not good and we should learn from the mistakes of others.
Isaac Newton said "we have come this far because we have stood on the shoulders of giants." Unfortunately today we are so determined to "do it _our_ way" that we don't want to stand on the shoulders of the wisdom others have already gained in the school of hard knocks.
Proverbs 22:28 offers a similar sentiment: "Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers."
Here are some ancient good paths that are sadly neglected today:
- Loving but firm discipline of children by parents
- Teaching our children to wait and work for what they want instead of just giving them what they want.
- The value of reading
- The importance of marriage, and waiting for marriage
- The importance of living simply and within one's means
- Respect for privacy for loud in-your-face sensuality in our tv shows, newspaper headlines and tabloids.
Most importantly we seem to have forgotten the centrality of the "old old story of Jesus and His love." We seem to have forgotten the value of regular church attendance, Bible reading, prayer and service.
As a nation we are at a cross-road - may it be that we will look for the good ancient paths.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? Jeremiah12:5
Jeremiah had to repeatedly call an unrepentant Israel to "shoev" (repent): it was a tough call and a tough congregation.
In ch.11 he experiences resistance from his own people who plot against him to end his life and silence him permanently. They confront him and threaten him: "Be silent - or else!"
This shakes Jeremiah to the core and he's ready to give up on them. His attitude is "Drag them off like sheep to be slaughtered!"
Surprisingly God does not comfort Jeremiah, but confronts him. Jeremiah had his eyes too closely on the audience. Jeremiah had pinned his hopes on the people's positive response and their readiness to accept his message.
God warns him: "Do you think it's going to get any easier?"
The point of God's question is that Jeremiah can't compete with horses. No man can. And no-one's skin is thick enough for the thorny thickets of Jordan. He will need help.
The only way to survive is to enter the battle with God's help. The only way to manage is to realise that I can't depend on people or my charisma or even my expectations. There will come a time that I have to admit that I need help
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
"Should you not tremble in my presence?
I made the sand a boundary for the sea,
an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.
The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail;
they may roar, but they cannot cross it.
23 But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.
24 They do not say to themselves,
`Let us fear the LORD our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.'
One of the first signs of spiritual decline is that we lose our sense of wonder.
God's people had lost a sense of His divine presence in the world around them.
- Sunsets didn't wow them.
- The ocean's restrained power didn't impress them any more.
- They weren't taken with the wonder of the seasons
- And they weren't deeply grateful for the miracle of harvest.
This loss of wonder meant a loss of perspective.
Their lack of observation led to a loss of spiritual perception.
They were caught up in themselves and what they wanted.
They "turned aside and went away."
We can learn a lot from their mistake....
(So let's be sure not to repeat it!)
Friday, November 19, 2010
and do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
circumcise your hearts" Jeremiah4:3-4
Einstein defined folly as "doing the same things over and over, but expecting different results." Sometimes this is exactly what we do in our spiritual lives. We don't want anything to change, but we want different results.
Jeremiah challenged God's people to do things differently:
They were trusting the temple (like a talisman or lucky charm) and they put great faith in their circumcision (culture and tradition) but it was getting nowhere.
They were sowing in soil that was full of weeds, they were circumcising their bodies but not their hearts.
Sometimes we have to break new ground for seed to grow.
This might be:
- Joining a Bible Study Group
- Signing up to serve somewhere
- Getting a daily devotional habit up and running
- Letting go of a long-standing grudge
- Breaking an addiction
If you've been planting seeds in the same old way and they keep being choked by the same old weeds, then break new ground.
But remember that it's not change for the sake of change: it's the heart that matters and not the outward ritual.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
return to me,"
declares the LORD.
"If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
and no longer go astray,
2 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
you swear, `As surely as the LORD lives,'
then the nations will be blessed by him
and in him they will glory." Jeremiah4:1-2
What does true repentance look like?
Jeremiah gives us some thoughts:
1. Don't procrastinate. Many of us know that we need to come back to God, but we keep putting it off. "If you're going to come back then don't just say it - _do_ it" says the Lord.
2. Get rid of the idols and stop going astray. Take concrete actions to get distance between you and the things that dragged you away from God.
3. Learn to use God's name properly.
Let's look a little more closely at the third one...
In Old Testament times "as surely as the Lord lives" was a commonly used phrase that people used to lend weight to their promises and to look like an upright kind of person. It could be used insincerely and in a manipulative way.
When we get to a place where we only use God's name when we are sure that we are being _truthful_, _just_ and _righteous_ then that is a sign that our repentance has been real...
It boils down to an understanding that honouring God is not something we can do with empty words if our lives don't match up. When we love God and His name so much that it affects our behaviour, then our repentance is real.
When the tongue, which is a tough thing to tame, is backed up by the way we live, then we have true repentance. And true repentance brings blessing - even to nations.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
`I will frown on you no longer,
for I am merciful,' declares the LORD,
`I will not be angry forever.
3 Only acknowledge your guilt--
you have rebelled against the LORD your God,
you have scattered your favours to foreign gods
under every spreading tree,
and have not obeyed me,' "
declares the LORD. Jeremiah3:12-13
There is a word that is repeated again and again and again in Jeremiah. In Hebrew the word is "Shoev" - it means "return", "come back" and "do-the-prodigal-son-thing."
It is a visceral cry from the heart of the prophet and the heart of God. God longs for us to return to Him. He longs for us to come back from our wilderness wanderings. He is the Father who _runs_ toward the Prodigal Son even while he is still a long way off.
When we come to the place of knowing our need for Him and we have realised the futility of our sin, He will take us back no matter where we have been, no matter what we have done.
But let's not be fooled. Our confessions need to be honest and heart-felt. There is no sense of "cheap grace" here. The Father longs for us, but He longs for relationship that is real.
When we come to Him in sincere repentance we discover that He is merciful, that His righteous anger has been carried by Jesus on the cross and that there is no frown for we are adopted as His children.
"Shoev" - say it out loud (long "shoe" + heavy V sound)
Hear the longing and the passion!
It is repeated again and again in Jeremiah - it is the heartbeat and longing of God:
Because He loves us with a love that is higher, deeper, wider and longer than we can even begin to grasp.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
A cistern was a hole dug in the ground which was plastered with clay to make it waterproof and able to contain water. Rainwater would collect in it and would act as a reservoir for dry spells.
But cistern water was not fresh, and often got contaminated. In the case of this passage, the cisterns were cracked and not even reliable storage.
This is the double whammy:
Israel had access to fresh bubbling spring water (a close dynamic relationship with their God), but rejected this for their own crude imitations of the real thing (idolatry and traditionalism). But not only were their cisterns a shadow of the real thing, but their cisterns were broken and contained no living water at all.
This is the story of humankind again and again.
Israel exchanged the glory of God for idols.
Today we exchange God's glory for materialism, alcohol or self-worship.
The end-result is the same:
The water, if there is any, is stale and contaminated, but most of the time there is no living water at all...
Living water can only be found in one place:
"On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:37)
Friday, November 12, 2010
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:
I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the desert,
through a land not sown.
I don't think we think enough about how much God loves us, and how it hurts Him when we wander away from Him. Jeremiah ch.2 is eloquent in this regard. Here are a few selected verses:
5 This is what the LORD says:
"What fault did your fathers find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.
6 They did not ask, `Where is the LORD,
who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness,
through a land of deserts and rifts,
a land of drought and darkness,
a land where no one travels and no one lives?'
7 I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
8 The priests did not ask,
`Where is the LORD?'
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal,
following worthless idols.
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
(Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their Glory
for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, O heavens,
and shudder with great horror,"
declares the LORD.
When we wander away from God it is an affront to His holiness, a denial of His Glory and a rejection of His incredible love.
Keith Green put it very well in his amazing song:
I don't want to fall away from You
After all the things that you have shown me
I'd be a fool to let them slip away
In doing things I know I shouldn't do
But I don't want to fall away from you
I've only grieved Your spirit
And then I don't know why You stay with me
But every time I fall Your love comes through
And I don't want to fall away from You
When the light is gone
And good times are getting old
There's no one left to count on
And all my friends are cold
When I thirst for love oh Lord
You're a fountain to my soul
In a way my life is full of burdens
But in a way You carry them for me
Cause no one understands the way You do
And you know Lord
I don't want to fall away from You
Well every day I pray to start anew
Cause I don't want to fall away from You
I don't wanna fall away from You
I don't wanna fall away from You
(You can listen to a cover version of this song by Petra, a gospel rock band from the 80s and 90s here
Thursday, November 11, 2010
17 "Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. 18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD. Jeremiah1:17-19
Sometimes God makes the Road easy and sometimes he makes the Traveller tough!
Jeremiah is not promised an easy road.
We know that his story unfolded in ridicule, being thrown into a pit, being locked up in stocks, dark nights of the soul, being disregarded, dragged off into Egypt and many other disappointments and struggles.
There are three things that Jeremiah must do:
1. Prepare: Loins girded (Long flowing robes hitched up)
2. Speak: God's word, not his own.
3. Don't be fearful: If he runs, he will have men and God to contend with
God didn't promise him an easy road, but offered him two other things instead:
- He would make Jeremiah tough.
- He would be with Jeremiah and would rescue him when it got too hard.
Notice the descriptions of Jeremiah's defences: (Fortified city, Iron pillar, Bronze wall) These are the strongest things people of that age knew. And God promises that Jeremiah will be able to "go the distance!"
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Building requires level ground and a good foundation.
Planting requires getting rid of "enemy" plants.
Jeremiah's call involves 6 verbs. Four of them are unpleasant: uproot, tear down, destroy and overthrow. Two are productive: build and plant.
The reality is that sometimes this is how we have to proceed. Before we can begin to build and plant we have to deal with the rubble and weeds in our own lives, in our own environments and in our ministry area.
When one paints a house, the surface prep is almost more important than the painting. When one builds a wall the foundation is almost more important than the wall itself. The weeds may be small now, but when your plants have grown, the weeds will also be bigger...
Good work requires good preparation.
In our own spiritual lives the same is true.
We need to clear the junk:
- otherwise the wall may wobble
- or the plants will be choked by the weeds
Prep and junk-clearing isn't glamorous or stimulating. It requires sweat and determination. One often encounters resistance. But it is the pathway to solid buildings and healthy plants.
Friday, November 5, 2010
It is an awesome comfort that our loving omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God will help us to speak His words.
In James we read that the tongue is a fire and an untameable beast. We have all had the experience of wishing we could grab our words out of the air and stuff them back into our mouths! Many of us have had days where it's a case of "open mouth, insert foot."
What a comfort it is that God will give us His Words to speak!
Many of us have an idea that speaking God's Words means that we go into some kind of trance and God uses us like a megaphone. If this were the case, then Matthew would sound the same as Luke, Peter and Paul! And yet when we read the writings of these Biblical Authors, we see aspects of their personalities coming through.
God doesn't invade us like a body-snatcher. He whispers His words in us and they grow and become part of us. They become so real, so true, so exciting that we _want_ to speak them and they come out with passion and joy.
While we do acknowledge that the Biblical Authors received a special gift of inspiration when they wrote the scriptures and that our "words from the Lord" will never carry the same authority as Scripture, we _must_ be open to the idea that if we spend time in God's presence and if we place our hearts next to His, there is a good chance that our words and speaking will begin to contain truth from Him...
And this is not only true for preachers!
Have a great weekend and pray for your pastor that he will speak God's words on Sunday and that you will have the ears to hear!
Thursday, November 4, 2010
5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
6 "Ah, Sovereign LORD," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child."
7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, `I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD. Jeremiah1:4-8
I can well identify with Jeremiah. In the face of the tasks that my life and calling place in front of me, I often want to run away and hide behind feelings of fear and inadequacy. Jeremiah's self-description is both cause and cure of his insecurity.
God is incensed at Jeremiah's self-degrading reply. There are a couple of reasons why Jeremiah is wrong:
1. Jeremiah is purpose-made for His life - God thought hard before He even picked up the clay. Jeremiah and you and I are not accidental and our gifts and talents are not incidental. There is no-one as well-suited to my life task as I am.
2. God has _called_ us to our life's task. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet to the nations. We are called by God to be who we are (accountants, business-people, pastors, teachers, parents, spouses.) Our lives have meaning and significance in the light of this calling.
3. Children who are happy and a blessing are children who are secure and comfortable in their parents' love. Jeremiah must learn to be a secure child who will branch out into his Father's will for him. He can be bold, courageous, and safe in the love of his heavenly Father. The good thing about children is that they know who their Father is. There is no reason for us to be insecure! I do not have to be afraid!!!
There are therefore two options:
- Childishness which embodies all the insecurities and weakness of youth and concentrates on me.
- Child-likeness which embraces my creation-purpose and value and concentrates on the provision of my Father.
(Adapted from a dev I sent out in 2004 - and it's still true!)
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
2 The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, 3 and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. Jeremiah1:2-3
If we unpack the historical clues, Jeremiah was God's spokesman from 626BC-570BC. A ministry of 56 years.
These 56 years were tough. Jeremiah started his ministry with the last of the good kings of Israel and saw only weak kings that followed. He had a tough ministry.
Jeremiah warned Israel that they would be brought to judgement for centuries of idolatry, disobedience and oppression of the weak - unless they returned to the Lord their God in true repentance. If they did not, Jeremiah warned that God would use the Babylonians as agents of judgement to cause Israel to reap what it had sowed.
The Israelites did not listen. They had turned the temple into an idol and believed that the temple was a guarantee of their safety. It had become their "lucky rabbits foot." The Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and dragged the leaders and cream of society off into exile in Babylon.
In many ways Jeremiah is similar to Winston Churchill who warned of the danger in Germany and no-one listened. The difference is that when war did break out, Churchill was recognised whereas Jeremiah was not.
When Jeremiah (who remained in Jerusalem) dared to suggest that God was going to use the exiles rather than those who remained behind his popularity decreased further. When he tried to persuade those who had remained behind not to rebel against Babylonian rule, he was branded a traitor. When the people did rebel and Babylon crushed their rebellion, Jeremiah was dragged off to Egypt with some fleeing rebels where he died in obscurity.
The point of today's eDev is that in this series we going to hear from someone who served God in the long haul, experienced the "dark night of the soul", dealt with seeming failure, stuck to his principles and was unpopular and opposed.
But God used Jeremiah in a powerful way!
Are you willing to serve God in the long haul?
Thursday, October 28, 2010
There is nothing that I can add to these incredible words that Paul has written here.
Not only are these verses powerful on their own, but they are the concluding "Hallelujah Chorus" of a chapter that shows us how our Loving Father has demolished every barrier that came between us and Him:
v1-4: When we were condemned by the law of sin and death (we sinned and therefore had to die) God sent Jesus to be our sin offering. Condemnation can't separate!
v5-8: When our sinful nature led us away from God, He sent His Spirit into our hearts so that we would move toward Him. Our sinful nature can't separate!
v9-11: Not only does the Spirit make our spirits alive, but the Spirit's presence in us means that we will be raised from death. Death cannot separate!
v12-17: We were far from God because we were slaves to sin and fear but now, through Christ's sacrifice and the "Spirit of sonship" we can call God "Daddy"! Slavery to fear can't separate!
v18-21: Even this world which is broken by sin will be liberated from its "bondage to decay." The broken world can't separate!
v22-25 When the brokenness around us threatens make us feel far from God, the Spirit puts a "hope-full groan" into our hearts. It helps us persevere! Despair can't separate!
v26-27 When our lack of prayer know-how puts a gap between us and God, the Spirit helps us pray! Lack of prayer skills can't separate!
v28-30 When the events of history seem out of control and chaotic, God transforms our circumstances to His purpose of bringing us back to Him. The events of history can't separate!
v31-34 No accuser can ever drive a wedge between us and God because Jesus intercedes for us! Accusers can't separate!
And so, this brings us to the end of an incredible chapter that triumphantly proclaims: "NOTHING can separate us from the LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST!"
Do I hear an "Amen!"?
Hope you have enjoyed this series!
What was your favourite section of this chapter?
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." Romans8:35-36
Trouble can be overcome or avoided.
Thanks to the powerful love of God, we can overcome trouble.
Paul tells us that the love of God is robust enough to sustain us through all the angles and aspects of trouble's reach into our lives.
Even when it seems as though trouble has reduced us to feeling like cattle in the abattoir queue, we are assured that the final say does not belong to pain, abandonment and heartache.
And Paul does not write from an ivory tower. Listen to his own life experiences recorded in his second letter to the Corinthians:
"[I have] been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked."
Paul had a doctorate from Life's Practical University of Trouble and yet he was able to declare with absolute and utter conviction:
The love of God is tougher than the trouble I am in!
Does the presence of trouble make you feel unloved?
This is the mistake many of us make: We work according to a mathematical formula that goes like this: "Trouble = Absence of God"
BUT Paul understands it like this:
"Trouble + Love of God = Victory over Brokenness."
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I continue to be amazed at the number of Christians who tell me: "I hope St Peter will let me in at the gate."
They understand quite well that that Jesus died to forgive their sins, but they struggle with the fact that they haven't become perfect overnight.
They feel like failures and they feel accused and condemned. There are two reasons why this is not surprising:
- "Satan" means "Accuser"
- Our sinful nature wants us to hide from God like Adam and Eve did.
BUT Paul says: "Who dares accuse? ... Who then will condemn?"
Oh they can _try_ but:
- God gave us a right standing with Him. Our righteousness is received not earned.
- Jesus died, rose and ascended for us. And from His ascended position He pleads (represents, intercedes) for us.
We literally have a "Friend in High Places!"
Theo Groeneveld firstname.lastname@example.org
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/
Friday, October 22, 2010
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: 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?"
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Human beings live broken lives in a broken world.
We are far from God in our sinfulness and selfishness.
It is a pretty hopeless picture...
BUT Paul describes a God who has been busy with us from the start. He foreknew us (and this doesn't just mean that He knew who was going to believe and who wouldn't) while we are in the womb, He "knits us together" and "ordains days for us in His book" (Ps139). He had plans for broken Jeremiah and He has plans for broken you and broken me. He has a destiny in store for us, and it is centred around becoming more and more like Jesus there is a life of good works prepared for us (Eph2).
And He calls us. And even in our response to that call we are assisted by the Holy Spirit. And what a call it is! Instead of being able to choose between shades of darkness, His call means we can step into the light.
Once we have responded to the call, God still keeps working: He justifies us (deals judiciously with our sin guilt) and He glorifies us. This does not only mean that we have eternal life when we die, but His Spirit of Life is at work in us, so that our lives don't only produce deadness but produce life. He predestined us to become like Jesus and in glorifying us, He unleashes His Spirit in us so that we can look a little more like Jesus every day...
Here's my simple analogy: Imagine that cake is delicious, nutritious and vital to our existence. (and non-fattening!!) Humanity didn't have cake, couldn't make cake and in fact we didn't even know what cake was. God created us and longed for us to have cake and benefit from it.
Not only did God make the cake for us, but He gave us the senses to see it and smell it. He gave us the taste-buds that we could "taste and see that the Lord is good." And He gave us the digestive systems that helps us get maximum benefit from the cake.
No wonder Paul says: "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord."
(Words like "Predestination" often raise hackles. I have deliberately avoided the complex debate that tries to deal with meeting point of Divine Sovereignty and human free will, and have tried to celebrate the simple truths conveyed in these verses.)
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
There is an upward spiral here:
foreknew -> predestined -> called -> justified -> glorified.
For today, lets simply look at some key passages in relation to each of these words:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9)
"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23-24)
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)
We'll unpack some of the nuances tomorrow...
Friday, October 15, 2010
This has to be one of the most quoted verses in Scripture!
In Article 4 of the 24 Articles of the Faith we read:
"Working in nature and in history through the Holy Spirit, God governs all events, ultimately conforming them to a just and loving design. Always and everywhere God acts with a sovereign liberty that has no bounds. Yet God is never in any way the author of sin and never approves of sin; God does not take away the freedom and responsibility of human beings."
This puts it very accurately and succinctly. I'd like to ask you to draw a mental picture with me.
- Draw a big circle
- Draw a smaller circle inside it
- Draw a cross (not an X) that has it's centre in the small circle and its long base extending to the bottom of the big circle and its horizontal arms reaching out into the bigger circle..
The outside circle is what God allows in this world. If anything falls outside of that circle, God would have no ultimate control over it and He would no longer be God. The outside circle is what God allows-but-does-not-necessarily-like. This includes the side-effects of our free-will-sinful behaviour and the broken world we live in.
The inside circle is what God wills-and-likes.
Because of the brokenness of the outside circle, God sent Jesus to bear the guilt and pain of that brokenness. Because of the cross which reaches out into the brokenness, God is able to transform pain into triumph, sorrow into hope, loss into comfort and disappointment into victory. (And the inside circle expands outward!)
This happens as we love Him and co-operate with His purpose.
THIS IS AN AWESOME COMFORT AND VICTORY.
Have an wonderful weekend.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
A colleague I respect a lot, Martin Lund, did a retreat on prayer at our congregation in Grahamstown. He started the retreat with these words: "Do you know that you are a prayed-in, prayed-through, prayed-for people?"
He then went on to read the same verses we are looking at today.
The Holy Spirit lives in each of us and He exercises an ongoing ministry of prayer in us, through us and for us.
What a wonderful comfort!
When the earth groans with the pain of brokenness and we struggle, the Spirit groans in us, for us and with us! We don't know what to pray, but the Spirit is praying for us. We don't have the words but He is connecting our neediness to God with "groans that words cannot express."
Some people interpret these "groans" as praying in tongues and I think it is quite feasible that when a person is given the gift of praying in tongues in a non-public setting (where there must be interpretation) it is likely that that tongue is God's Spirit praying through me because I don't know what to pray. I think that is _a_ possible explanation, but I don't think we should limit the "groans" to being tongues.
I believe the "groans" cover a broader space. I believe that by this repetition of "groaning" with regard to suffering and now prayer, Paul is showing us that when we suffer, the Holy Spirit brings our suffering to God.
He helps us to pray, He connects our needs to God. He prays in us, through us and for us.
Thank You Holy Spirit!
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Yesterday we looked at how creation "groans" - the ticks and tocks that remind us that the broken state of the world will not last forever.
In today's text, Paul raises a similar issue concerning believers.
When we become believers the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us. His presence in our lives does two powerful things:
1. We groan inwardly at the brokenness of this world.
2. We wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies (the end of brokenness)
How do we understand these two things?
Firstly, when Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit, we see the world and its brokenness more clearly. This clarity should not lead to self-righteous condemnation and withdrawal from the world, but rather it should move us to compassion and determined action. William Wilberforce's faith caused him to be horrified at slavery and he spent his life fixing the brokenness. Mother Theresa groaned at the horror of poverty and spent her life making a difference.
Secondly, we have the hope of heaven (the "redemption of our bodies") this is the "not yet" that reminds us that spending ourselves in the "now" will make the "not yet" even sweeter.
Groaning should not be an arms-crossed, condemnatory withdrawal from the world, but rather it is a sleeves-rolled-up determination to fight the brokenness with everything we have so that others may come where we are going.
Jim Elliot (Martyred in South America) said "He is no fool who gives what he can't keep to gain what he cannot lose."
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans8:19-22
According to Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve sinned there were four relationships broken:
- Between them and God (They were put out of the garden)
- Between each other (They blamed each other)
- With themselves (nakedness was an issue)
- With creation (they would struggle to grow things and bear children)
In a sense their sin was the nuclear explosion that resulted in "fallout" that polluted every facet of the world. Human rebellion means that the world has been placed into a "bondage to decay."
Earthquakes, famine, tsunamis and hurricanes are just some of the ways in which we feel creation "groaning."
But Paul is clear, it is God who chose to make creation groan as a result of our sin. Our sin is the causal factor, but it is God who made the system like that. Why would He do it?
I think there are three reasons for this:
1. The extensive consequences of sin show us how serious it is. Sin has fallout. There is always a knock-on effect.
2. It's not going to stay like this. God will step in at some point and bring an end to the suffering and pain. While the "labour pains" are not pleasant, they do point toward birth and inasmuch as the human soul can be "born again," all of creation is heading toward "re-creation." The "pains of childbirth" remind us that we will be "liberated from bondage to decay" to experience "glorious freedom."
3. The broken world is a megaphone that reminds us that we are not in control, that we are far from God and that we need Him.
So, to summarise, the natural disasters (that we sometimes call "acts of God") are, in fact, the ticks and tocks of an alarm clock that was wound up by our sin, but when the time comes we will be saved and creation will be restored. Every tick and tock takes us closer.
Friday, October 8, 2010
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans8:18
Many times when we read or hear words like those in our Romans 8 verse for today. we are tempted to want to say "Yeah right!" much like disillusioned teenagers do.
It's tempting to say that Paul is resorting to pie-in-sky-one-day-when-we-die theology and that this is a cop out in the face of genuine soul-wrecking pain.
Here are some important points to note:
* Paul is no ivory tower theologian. He suffered more than most of us have. Beatings, imprisonments, stoned, left for dead, shipwrecked, hated, betrayed, persecuted, accused, long term illnesses, unanswered prayers, the burden of leadership, failed protÃ©gÃ©s and wayward congregations were just some of the heartaches he experienced. As far as hardship and suffering go, Paul is a veteran: he knows what he is talking about.
* While the here-and-now dominates our horizon, Paul is correct, the destination will outshine the journey's hardships. Elsewhere he describes the not-yet as "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"(1Cor2:9) While the anticipation of heaven does not remove the pain of the present, it does give us a critical tool for survival: HOPE.
* Finally, we must recognise that the glory revealed in us is not confined to the afterlife. God's glory is at work in our present sufferings in that He gives us the strength to get through and overcome. Our triumph and glory is not in the absence of trouble, but that we overcome trouble. Paul puts it like this:
"8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (2Co4:8-10)
A few years radio 94.7 did a tv spot with a parktown prawn* where you saw the prawn being sprayed with insecticide, swatted with a shoe, thrown into a bucket of water, shot at with a shotgun and chased with deodrant ignited by a lighter to make a flame-thrower. At the end of the spot the insect emerges from his hidey hole to the background music of Elton John's "I'm still standing."
In a sense Paul says "you can jail me, flog me, hate me and betray me but thanks to the power of God I'm still standing and I am not bitter and twisted but filled with hope, love and peace!"
That's the glory of God revealed in us!
* A Parktown Prawn is a cross between a locust, cockroach and your worst insect nightmare!
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The result of sin entering the world was that Adam and Eve hid away from God when He came walking in the Garden. Why? They had come to believe that He was a cruel taskmaster and they were the victim slaves.
A similar attitude is manifested by the servant in the parable of the talents who describes the master in the following terms:"I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow"
Part of our sin-sickness is that our image of God is damaged. We react suspiciously to God, believing that He is out to "get" us. And so when it comes to thinking about God, our default behaviour is resentful fear.
One of the awesome things that the Holy Spirit does is that He transforms our "God and self perspective." Deep within us the Holy Spirit begins to whisper "Oh He is goood! Oh He loves you! You're not a slave, you are His child."
The Aramaic word "Abba" is an affectionate word, better translated "Daddy!" than "Father." It implies intimacy, trust and longing. When the Holy Spirit begins to work in our hearts, the need to hide from the presence of God is replaced by a longing for Him. St Augustine put it like this: "We are restless until we find our rest in Thee."
This is one of the wonderful gifts we receive when we are born again: Deep deep inside, whether we are in the beauty of creation, in the throes of inspiring worship, in the quiet space of prayer and reflection or even in struggle and heartache there is a persistent certainty we are God's kids and His love will carry us through.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
We're picking up where we left off in our series on Romans 8 which has rightfully been regarded as the chapter on "life in the Spirit."
The previous two pieces on our new management explored the following ideas:
- There is an alternative to the management of the unholy trinity of me-myself-and-I.
- The new management is the resurrection power of the Spirit: we can be transformed!
Now onto the last facet on this management:
12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live Romans8:12-13
Our new management can overcome the old management.
We say "to err is human" and this is true. (Paul calls it the "misdeeds of the body.") Unfortunately many of us accept brokenness as a terminal condition that will either get worse or stay the same.
Scripture has a different perspective:
The power of the Holy Spirit can transform us from the inside out.
In his letter to the Philippians (1:6) Paul writes: "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
And later in the same letter (2:13) he says: "it is God who works in you to _will_ and to _act_ according to his good purpose."
What this means, practically speaking, is that every time we listen to the "still small voice of the Spirit" and every time we respond to His prompting, we are putting ourselves in a place where we can receive the power to "put to death the misdeeds of the body."
Our ability to resist the temptations of those "old habits that die so hard" is directly related to the quality of our relationship with God. If we allow ourselves to be loved by Him and put ourselves in spaces and places where we can be reminded of His love and express our love to Him, we will begin to reflect His light.
Imagine a mirror-ball. (those things you see in discos that rotate while spotlights shine on them and give your the pretty patterns on the floor) Our lives are like mirror balls where the mirrors are stuck on with prestik (that putty-like stuff that stays soft) and the little mirrors are all twisted and unaligned. The ball isn't pretty and it doesn't work so well. Living in sensitivity to the Spirit's prompting begins to align each of the little mirrors and when the light shines on us we reflect it in attractive patterns.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Yesterday we saw how Spiritual Rebirth (trusting in Christ as our Saviour and Lord) allows us a new management option. Instead of the "default" management (that Paul calls the "flesh" or "body" (and I call the "unholy trinity")) being the only management available, we are now able to come under the management of the Spirit.
Paul describes the Spirit as the One who raised Jesus from the dead!
When we allow the Spirit to have His way in our lives, He will raise us up from Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and ultimately Physical death.
This means that:
- old habits can change
- temptations that always beat us can be overcome
- short fuses can be lengthened
- stubborn hearts can become pliable
- doubting Thomas can become courageous
- hardened cynics can learn to hope
- cold and prickly can become warm and sincere
- lazy and indifferent can become passionate and caring
The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.
If we would just let Him, He will bring life into our deadness.
Are you open to His management?
The eDevs will take a break over the school holiday.
If you are travelling, travel safely!
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Before we gave ourselves to Christ, there was only one management option: The unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. Paul calls it the "sinful nature" (After all the middle letter of sin is "i" :-) )
It is not a management structure that can bring true and wholesome life, because it is focussed on self and not on the Author, Architect and Creator of Life. It is the only management structure we have. We might worship fashion, culture, materialism for a while but it all leads back to "what's in it for me?"
- we recognise that we need a Saviour to save us,
- we give ourselves to Christ,
- we confess our sin
- we choose to follow Him,
He performs a miracle in us - He _regenerates_ us by washing away our sin and pouring His Spirit into us.
The presence of His Spirit gives us a new management option. We can choose to be governed by the Spirit. God does not do a "hostile takeover" - we are not forced to accept the guidance of the Spirit, we must give over willingly.
The important truth in this verse is the clarity with which Paul reminds us that we receive the Holy Spirit when we give ourselves to Christ.
There are many who imply that the receiving of the Spirit is a separate experience and that one needs to have a "second blessing." The Scriptures make it clear that the work of the Spirit begins the minute we are born again.
If you are sure that your sins are forgiven and that you will be with God in heaven, then the Holy Spirit lives in you! The only way not to have the Spirit is to not be born again.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Copernicus was the courageous scholar who first who suggested that the sun and not earth was at the centre. This would be proved by Galileo although it was only recognised after his death.
As human beings we tend towards worship. Unfortunately we start off worshipping the "unholy trinity" of "me, myself and I." This is particularly visible in two-year-olds, but is actually true throughout our lives.
Paul reminds us that the unholy trinity is selfish, sensual and desirous of only that which gratifies self. This unbridled pursuit of the enthronement and pleasure of self can only lead to chaos, struggle and pain because what I want for me doesn't fit in with what you want for you. When we are all worshipping our unholy trinity there is no hope for life and peace and no room for the one true God.
The unholy trinity is also not satisfied by God's law, because God's law points us toward Him and towards sacrificial love for community. When we have "self" on the throne, sacrifice is not high on the priority list.
So, this is our predicament, from birth we are geared toward satisfying our needs. Babies cry when they are hungry, toddlers tantrum to get their way, teens pout and rebel when they are given boundaries, and adults connive and manipulate to feather their own nests. This is bad news for society.
When we turn to the Holy Trinity, we connect to pure love and ultimate goodness. When we understand that all is about Him and not about us, we have a Copernican shift: The Son and not the self is at the centre, and we can find life and peace.
It's quite a relief!!
Friday, September 17, 2010
This passage does a nice job of explaining the mechanics of our salvation. Although Paul has alluded to the process in the preceding verses, here he reiterates and unpacks it.
- The Law (which is the standard of righteousness) can only save us if we keep it perfectly.
- Unfortunately we do not keep the Law because we are weakened by our sinful nature.
- When we do not keep the Law, it becomes a double-edged sword because it reveals our lack of righteousness _and_ we are condemned (there's that word again) by it and condemnation means the wrath of God.
- Jesus came as one of us, but did not sin. So He was able to bear your and my condemnation on Himself.
- Now the law is satisfied on both counts: Jesus was fully righteous _and_ our unrighteousness was condemned by His death on the cross.
- Now Jesus imputes His righteousness and His wrath-satisfying death onto us. When God sees us through the lenses of what Christ has done, the requirements (righteousness and wrath-for-unrighteousness) of the law are fully met in us.
- This clean slate means that we have a new start, a new birth and we can live under new management. The law has been satisfied, we can move beyond the Law to the Spirit.
"Hallelujah!" is, I believe, the right response...
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Cape Town has an interesting history - originally a Dutch Colony it came under British rule - then under Dutch rule again ("Die Kaap is weer Hollands!") - then a British Colony again. Each time the ruling country changed, the language changed and the policies shifted.
Paul describes human beings as being under the regime of the "law of sin and death." What he means is that under that regime we need to satisfy the Old Testament Law - and because we can't keep even the ten commandments, we are guilty and under a death sentence.
But not only are we under a death sentence in the sense that the sentence is hanging over us, death is actually already at work in us in the sense that no matter how hard we try, we can't get closer to God and we find that our consciences actually grow duller: i.e. the more we sin, the less it bothers us. It becomes the vicious cycle Paul describes in chapter seven "What I should I don't and what I shouldn't I do."
So we need a new regime. Paul calls it the law of the Spirit of life. When we place ourselves under the regime of the Spirit, we find that life is unleashed in us:
- We begin to recognise tawdriness of sin
- It bothers us when we do what's wrong
- We get better at recognising temptation
- We get stronger to resist temptation
- When we do stumble and fall, we know where to go for healing.
- Our language changes from hate to love
But it requires being under new management - we have to open our hearts to the Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit means we are giving Him control in our lives - we're repeatedly saying "not my will but Yours..."
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus Romans8:1
A word that carries cold-chills with it.
It implies that guilt is proven and punishment is pending.
Unfortunately for many of us the word "God" carries the same set of emotions and vibes as the word "condemnation" does.
But while it is true that God is holy and that He morally hates sin and while it is true that we are guilty of sin, what is not true is that punishment is a foregone conclusion.
The punishment for the sin of every human being has already been paid in full on the cross. Jesus Christ, aka the Son of God, aka the Word made Flesh, aka the Lamb of God died on the cross and completely and utterly dealt with sin and guilt. Put another way, He was condemned in our place.
When we are IN Him, when we are clothed in His grace, when we rely on His forgiveness, when we ask Him to be our Representative, Advocate, Intercessor, Rescuer and King or, to use the classic terminology, when we ask Him to be both Saviour and Lord, we are free of condemnation.
The principle of double jeopardy says it is impossible to be tried twice for the same crime - so why do we come into God's presence with an air of condemnation about us? Jesus was tried for our guilt, the punishment has been served! Sure we need to take sin seriously and we need to strive to be holy, but why behave like the condemned?
Lift up your heads!
Shake off your chains!
Shrug off the darkness and gloom!
In Christ there is no condemnation!
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
There are some chapters of the Bible that are simply brimming with awesome truths and comforts. Romans 8 is one of them for the next little while we'll go through the chapter in "microbyte" style.
My Study Bible has a diagram that explains the structure of Romans as describing a series of concentric cages, each with a "gospel gate" to escape.
The innermost cage is sin-guilt, the simple fact that we have sinned and come before God with a "criminal record" that we can't wipe out. Romans 5:1 (being justified by faith in Christ) is our gateway out.
The second cage is our broken tendencies and our habits. Paul describes this dilemma very effectively in Romans 7 where he laments that the good he should he doesn't and what he shouldn't he does! He ends the chapter asking "Who will rescue me from the wretched man that I am?"
Romans 8 is the gateway from the second cage as it describes the transforming power of the Spirit. This is what we are going to focus on.
(For those who are curious, don't like loose-ends and prefer to get closure (i'm like that too) the third cage is about the perception that the gospel is only for the Jews and Paul opens that cage door in Romans 10.)
So, Romans 8 starts off by addressing the fact that even though we are forgiven, we still keep doing the wrong things and we don't always do what is right.
It's an awesome chapter because it describes the phenomenal life-giving work of the Spirit of Life who sets us free from the law of our broken human nature.
I'm looking forward to the journey...
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Friday, September 10, 2010
When we struggle we feel all alone. But we are not. The Son of God has walked much further along the road than we will ever have to.
Imagine being born to die. Jesus lived His life on earth with the cross as His focus. He lived with the burden of knowing that the "cup of suffering" that He had to drink was to be separated from the Father as He became the object of Divine Wrath and Justice on behalf of every human being.
He did this for us, and now when we find ourselves on the road of loneliness, betrayal, suffering and abandonment, we are never alone.
The gospel band "Third Day" put it very well in their song
"Carry my Cross"
As long as I remember
I've been walking through the wilderness
Praying to the Father
And waiting for my time
I've come here with a mission
And soon I'll give my life for this world
I'm praying in the garden
And I'm looking for a miracle
I find the journey hard but
It's the reason I was born
Can this cup be passed on
Lord, I pray your will be done
In this world
So I'll carry my cross
And I'll carry the shame
To the end of the road
Through the struggle and pain
And I'll do it for love
No, it won't be in vain
Yes, I'll carry my cross
And I'll carry the shame
I feel like I'm alone here
And I'm treated like a criminal
The time has come for me now
Even though I've done no wrong
Father, please forgive them
They know not what they've done
In this world
Three more days and I'll be coming back again
Three more days and I'll be coming back again
(You can listen to it at
So, when trouble threatens to overwhelm you, "consider Him..."
Thursday, September 9, 2010
We are not alone when we have to "keep going."
Christ tasted the brokenness of our world, experienced the agony of death and endured the separation of wrath.
He did all of this for us.
He rose from the dead - obtaining forgiveness for us.
He ascended into heaven - indicating that His work of redemption was complete
He sits at the right hand of God - where He prays for us.
In the Old Testament it was the priest's job to intercede ("come between" or "connect") God and His people. The priest would bring the needs of the people to the Lord. In times of drought, war, disease and famine the priest sought the face of God. In times of celebration like circumcisions and weddings the priest mediated God's blessing and pleasure. People found it difficult to relate to and appropriate God's interest and presence in their lives but the priest made it easier for them to grasp these truths.
Jesus is our ideal mediator. An Old Testament priest could be corrupt, fallible and frail. Jesus is none of those. He is holy, perfect and eternal.
And He prays for us.
He represents us to God.
And He knows what and how to ask on our behalf because He's been where we are.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Yesterday we looked at the ways in which Jesus connected to humanity and shared the experiences and impacts of brokenness although never succumbing to temptation Himself.
But you might be asking yourself "So He really understands what we are going through... So what? How does that help me?"
1. The throne we approach is a THRONE of grace. The One who sits on it saw our brokenness and died and rose again triumphing over it. He is victorious! He is ultimately in charge - trouble has limits!
2. We can approach CONFIDENTLY. We know where we stand with this God. He is neither too harsh or too soft on our sin. He has dealt with it perfectly and completely. His exposure to the realities of the broken world means that my failures don't shock Him. When I come to Him, He is a complete realist about my sin - He knows it is fatal and He has already died in my place and risen in victory.
3. I receive MERCY and GRACE. (Mercy is not getting what I do deserve and Grace is getting the goodness of Gods presence, forgiveness and love even though I don't deserve it.)
4. His love and understanding compassion are not overcome by the troubles of this world. He knows the troubles of the world and He knows just how to give us HELP in a time of NEED.
When we struggle, we are not alone. He carried the cross to Calvary and it signified the weight and burden of a broken world that He carried in His heart.
But there's another great truth about our Companion and we'll deal with it tomorrow.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
"No-one understands what I am going through!" This is the oft-heard heart-rending cry of a teenager who is convinced that his or her parents just don't get it! While the outcry of the teen can be a bit drama-queenish, there are good grounds to argue that some of us have faced troubles that others don't.
BUT the writer to the Hebrews comes up with an amazing comfort: He argues that Jesus is our High Priest who has experienced *ALL* our weaknesses and temptations. He carried it all on the cross.
It started with the Incarnation: all of God squeezed into the itty-bitty living space of Mary's womb. Jesus knew the frailty of being human. He was hungry, tired, probably had a cold or two and probably had teenage acne. He knew the ache in the muscles after a hard day's work in the carpentry business and had hands that got splinters and blisters until the work created callouses.
At His baptism He furthered His connection with us by figuratively taking on our sin. John's baptism was one of repentance but Jesus was without sin so He didn't need to do it - except to identify Himself with us. (It's like bathing in someone else's dirty bathwater - you pick up their dirt)
The temptations by Satan in the wilderness are symbols of the ongoing temptations He faced throughout His life:
Stones into bread: Give in to your bodily desires
Jump off the temple: Be impressive, manipulate with showmanship
Bow down to Satan to rule the world: Get power by taking shortcuts.
The Hebrews-writer is adamant. Jesus might not have had the internet, but He was tempted to satisfy a body desire - just as many are tempted with porn today. He wasn't an MD of a big company, but He was tempted to take a shortcut.
He was tempted - in every way - just like we are...
He understands us and He can help us... (more tomorrow)
Friday, September 3, 2010
We talk about "the straw that breaks the camel's back" but Paul argues that this is not something that God plans for us. In God's economy trouble is on a leash and we may experience trouble, persecution, hardship or grief, but they should not break us.
When we taste hardship and trouble, it is what is "common to man." But when trouble comes our way we're tempted to think "Woe is me! I'm being singled out! Why me? Why is _this_ happening to _me_?" But we are not being victimised, we're just experiencing the brokenness of the world and I can guarantee that it will not be a long search to find someone who is going through as much or more trouble than I am!
And trouble does not have to break us. Many people think that this is a foregone conclusion. They seem to think that there will be the back-breaking straw and that this is where trouble always leads. But Paul is adamant: while trouble and temptation may tempt us to break, God's plan is for us to endure and overcome.
And God provides a way out - this is not necessarily a "get out of trouble" pass, but a lifeline that we can climb, a rock on which we can stand, a thought or Bible Verse that fortifies or sustains us, or a friend with a listening ear and Godly counsel.
The sad thing is that many people allow their backs to break when it is not necessary. They fear that trouble will get worse and anticipate that things will get much worse than they are. They're actually tougher than they think but they give up when they are three steps from the finish line.
God does allow us to taste trouble - this is the consequence of our free will and our sin. But He does not allow trouble and temptation the power to break us. We need to be courageous and hang in until the breakthrough.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
When we face trouble and struggle to keep going, there's an "arrow in our quiver" that many of us forget to make use of and that is the power of prayer.
When we are in trouble we can ask for prayer. The Biblical Truth is that God inspires us to pray for others and that our prayers become a vehicle taking God's grace, peace and strength to those we pray for.
One of the most graphic examples of this is in Exodus 17 when Moses watched the Israelites go into battle against the Amelikites. In vs 11 the passage says: "As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning."
Throughout the Old and New Testament the lifting of hands signifies prayer:
Lamentations 2:19 "Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to Him
for the lives of your children,"
1Tim2:8 "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer..."
When we pray for others, it helps them!
When we are in trouble, the prayers of others help us.
Paul was not shy to ask for prayer, but many of us suffer in secret and in silence. Paul was helped because of the prayers of _many_. We should not be too shy or too proud to ask for prayer.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
There's a lovely practice in the Old Testament that is a good life lesson for us. Throughout the OT we find God's people building rock-cairns as monuments of remembrance.
When they walked through the Jordan river on dry land, they took 12 large stones (one for each tribe) from the river bed and piled them up on the river bank to commemorate God's miracle of opening the river for them.
In 1 Samuel 7:12 we read "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us."
There are many other instances of rock pillars being made or places being named to remember something God had done for Israel.
If we make a habit of remembering those times that God has delivered us, they become a powerful aid when we face trouble again. Some people record their "Ebenezers" in a journal, others rely on their memories, others will keep a memento from a tough time on their desk or in a special box.
The bottom line is that when tough times come, we should have some way of recalling God's Track Record - that He has been good to us in the past and He is not about to stop now.
When facing a giant ahead of us, we need to look back at all the conquered Goliaths on our path and then set our hope on Him "that He will continue to deliver us."
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Once, when I did my friend's newspaper round, I got to a house where I opened the gate and saw a HUGE dog started charging toward me. I was paralysed by fright and saw my life pass before me. Just three metres away from me he was brought to an abrupt halt by the length of chain that connected him to a hook in the wall...
God is not the author of trouble and pain, it is a result of the brokenness of sin. But He does put a chain on trouble - He limits it. This does _not_ mean that we will never have trouble - Paul experienced it to the point of despair in Asia - but it God is able to transform our pain and sorrow.
If we rely on ourselves our heartaches will get the better of us. If we ignore God and try to "stiff upper lip" or "grin and bear it" through our troubles, we will run out of steam.
The lesson we have to learn in trouble is that God is bigger than our trouble and we have the comfort that even death is not final because God raises the dead.
When we learn to rely on God instead of ourselves, then trouble will not have the final say. BUT relying on God does not mean that we are passive and sit back waiting for God to do it all. We work hard, but we know deep down that God has trouble on a leash and we can get through it if we keep our eyes on Him.
God is not the author of trouble - it's us who broke the world - but He transforms our trouble so that even when trouble feels like a "sentence of death" we discover that by His miraculous intervention we receive infusions of courage, peace and love and we overcome our hardships!
Friday, August 27, 2010
Jesus said it most plainly: "In this world you will have trouble." (Jn16:33)
There is no guarantee that the life of the Christian will be easy. But in the midst of the brokenness of our sin and the brokenness of the world, God is working subversively to comfort and restore.
SUBVERSIVE: "a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within" (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
Why do I say that God's work is subversive?
1. God is not the author of brokenness and suffering and so He doesn't need to be at work there. He could quite easily say: "You got yourself into that mess - you'll have to get yourself out." But He doesn't. Instead He gives hope to the hopeless, strength to the weary, faith to the forlorn, comfort to the distressed and healing to the broken.
2. Paul talks about the sufferings of Christ. Think about that for a moment... Did Jesus _have_ to come? Did we _invite_ Him? Would we even be able to _imagine_ that He would do what He did for us? The coming of Christ into the world and dying on the cross to overthrow the power that sin and death held over us is God dismantling brokenness.
By sending Jesus into our sin-sick world to save us, by pouring comfort into our distress and enabling me to comfort you with the comfort I received, God is subverting the world of heartache and pain that we live in.
We didn't invite Him and sometimes we push Him away, but He keeps working - this is subversive love.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Paul endured some tough moments on his missionary journeys. He was flogged, mobbed, arrested and even stoned and left for dead. A veteran of suffering, he now writes to the Corinthians to share some of what he has learned. We'll go through chapter 1 of second Corinthians over the next few devs...
When we are struggling to "Keep Going" the starting point is to remember _who_ God is. Our security does not come from our strength or our circumstances, but from our conviction and knowledge that He is God and He is good.
How does Paul describe Him?
1. He's God. Sovereign and mighty. Although He has given us free will and our exercise of free will can cause heartache and pain, God holds trouble on a leash and promises that we will not go through more than we can bear. (See 1Cor10:13)
2. He's our compassionate and comforting Father. When we go through trouble and pain, His heart is with us. When a son's girlfriend drops him, an earthly father can't take the pain away, but he can compassionately comfort and console his son. We can receive awesome comfort from God if we can get past our indignation that something has gone wrong and instead of saying "Why did You let this happen?" learn to say "I don't understand why this has happened but I know I need Your help."
3. He's the Father of Jesus. Father and Son suffered incredibly when Jesus died on the cross. At the cross our pain was fully known and carried.
4. His comfort is so powerful that we can become wounded healers. We can overcome our pain and help others. That is God's transforming comfort.
This is our God!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When trouble comes we often ask ourselves "What does this trouble say about my belief in a loving God?" But this is the wrong question. It gives trouble too much authority. There's a better question: "What does my belief in a loving God say about my trouble?"
And Paul is ready with an answer:
1. The Love of God is tougher than any trouble that may come our way. Look at the escalation: trouble - persecution - famine - nakedness - sword. Even when our lives are made cheap and it seems like no-one else seems to care and we are like sheep in the abattoir, God continues to love us and His love remains real for us.
The Christians Paul was writing to in Rome experienced this. They were taken to the Colosseum to face the lions and gladiators, they would be covered in tar and set on fire in Nero's gardens, they would hide out in the catacombs fearing persecution. Yet the church grew and the gospel spread.
2. With God's love undergirding us we can overcome our troubles and circumstances. We can "keep the faith", we can remain Christ-like, we can forgive, we can get up and keep going, we can point the way for others.
The problem is that we think our circumstances are an indicator of God's love for us, but this is not the case. If things are going well for someone else but badly for me, it does not mean that God loves them more than me.
This world is broken and we are the ones who broke it. In this broken world trouble is a reality. God's love is bigger than my trouble and with His help and comforted by His love I will get through.
Remember this: At the very centre of all the heartache and trouble in the world there is a cross. On that cross Jesus gave Himself, embracing all our pain so that we will NEVER be alone.