Friday, January 29, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-29 [Reality Bytes] Steam

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans12:11-12
A lot of church-leadership authors advise pastors to use new believers to do outreach, launch initiatives and take the church forward because people who have been Christians for a long time seem to be "stuck in the mud" and "have run out of steam."
What an indictment!!!
Unfortunately it seems to be a true trend.
When we are new believers, we are blown away with a sense of God's love and God's forgiveness. It brings tears to our eyes to think that Jesus died on the cross for us and we are motivated to take risks for Him because, after all, He came all the way from heaven to earth just for us.
And then, like the weeds in Jesus' parable about the sower and the seed, life chokes our enthusiasm, blunts our passion and takes the edge off our devotion. We drift into mediocre, un-prioritised living.
In verse 11-12 Paul urges us to be resolutely passionate. We must _choose_ to prevent the weeds of the cares and busy-ness of life from choking our fervour and passion. We need to do what it takes to maintain spiritual momentum.
If you think of a steam train, it is easier to keep the steam going than to rebuild the fire to re-heat the water when we've run out of steam.
There are some practical steps to keeping up a head of steam:
- Keep up the fervour
- Serve the Lord
- Joyful hope
- Patient in affliction
- Faithful in prayer
I'll deal with these next week.
Are you in danger of running out of steam, or has it already happened? It's time to make a decision.
Why not bow your head right now and ask God to light the fire in you again. And then stir yourself up to be on fire for Him!
Theo Groeneveld

Thursday, January 28, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-28 [Reality Bytes] Perspective

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James4:7
There are four forces at work in the world:
- God, His angels and His people as individuals and the church
- My own sinful nature (Paul calls this the "flesh")
- The broken world system
- Satan and the fallen angels (demons) with him.
The problem is that we tend to focus on the devil. We see him behind every bush and some people start to play "spiritual cowboys and crooks" believing that _they_ can vanquish the powers of darkness.
James makes it clear:
If we want to overcome evil and brokenness we must:
- Draw near to God
- Resist Satan
Drawing near to God as James describes it in the verses 4-10 involves humility, submission, confession and sincere repentance. He concludes with verse 10: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up."
When it comes to resisting Satan, the sad thing for me is that even Christians do not properly understand that Scripture clearly teaches us that there was a war in heaven and that Satan and ONE third of the angels were thrown out. (Therefore there are two angels for every one demon) Let alone the fact that Christ overcame sin, death and satan on the cross!!!
It is not our job to defeat Satan or even to take the fight to him. We must simply stand our ground (Paul makes this very clear when he talks about the armour of God: "After you have done everything, to stand" (Eph6:13)
So, let's get our perspective right! I need to make some clear decisions with regard to the four forces in the world:
1. God: Submit to Him, humbly trusting Him to save me
2. My Flesh: Confess and Repent sincerely and God will lift me up
3. The World: "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." (Eph5:11)
4. Satan: Wear the full armour of God and stand firm, resisting satan.
There is no point in tackling 2,3,4 without doing 1.
Theo Groeneveld

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-27 [Reality Bytes] Accompanied

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.
Romans 8 is a very needed and very important chapter in the New Testament. It makes a number of very important points:
Here are a couple from the first half of ch.8:
* It is by the Holy Spirit that we become spiritually alive
* It is by the same Spirit that we are adopted as God's children
* It is the Holy Spirit who helps us when we pray.
But Paul is not only talking about our spiritual lives in ch.8 - He is also realistic about the pain and heartache that our world is subject to.
Paul is no slick tele-evangelist promising us a victorious-and-pain-free life ("Just send me $100 so that God can bless you") Absolutely not! Paul recognises that pain is part of our world:
* He describes the earth groaning as if with labour pains. ("22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.")
* He links human frailty with the vulnerability of sheep going to the abattoir. ("36 For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.")
But Paul is not threatened by the presence of trouble. His faith is not shaken by visits from adversity. He does not shrink back from hardship and he does not try escapism in the midst of frustrating setbacks.
Paul is a realist - he faces trouble fearlessly. Why?
#1 He is convinced He is loved by God - and that Christ was God's best, given up for him: ("31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all --how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?")
#2 The presence of trouble does NOT mean that God is absent or impotent. Rhetorically and expectantly Paul asks: "35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?"
#3 God is at work with a long-term plan that is His best for me. ("28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.")
#4 We are not alone and in this is our victory - Christ loved us so that He went to the Cross - so that He could be with us and forgive us and that we will never ever be alone! ("38 For I am convinced...)

Theo Groeneveld

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-26 [Reality Bytes] Fuel

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I have always wondered about Paul's list.
I can understand him wanting to reduce the basics of life to 3 things. Three reminds us of the Trinity, three is easy to remember and many things come in lists of threes (e.g. sun, moon and stars; body, soul and spirit; yesterday, today and tomorrow)
I'm also happy with faith and love - I can understand how they made it to the top of the pile with regard to a life with God. It makes sense that faith is how we relate to God and that love is crucial in our vertical and horizontal relationships. And I understand that love is the greatest.
But hope? I've wondered whether peace wouldn't have been better? Surely we need peace more than hope? Or what about humility? Wouldn't it be more desirable to have humble people than hopeful people? Or what about courage? Surely one needs to be courageous in our exercise of faith and love?
And what is hope anyway? We say "I hope it rains tomorrow, I hope I pass the test, I hope the bulls win." Is this what hope is - a vague sense of the power of positive thinking?
Nope... hope is more than this. Hope is the fuel of those who live in today's broken realities. Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning. And lost hope is the primary cause of depression and anxiety today.
Hope is the key to a living reality that we can take hold of. Hope is a sense, a conviction, a stirring within that assures us that God is there, that He is good and that He has a plan.
Hope is God's gift to us - we can't do much to _generate_ it, but we CAN do a lot to _stifle_ it. We overwhelm hope with cynicism and negativity, we ignore hope when we are obsessed with past hurts, we poison hope when we try to medicate life's pain with drugs, alcohol or hedonism, we choke hope when we place our security in the proliferation of possessions and we sabotage hope when we place our feelings at the center of the universe.
Sometimes we are out of love and don't have the strength for faith. Hope gets us up and hope causes us to reach for God. Hope is planted deep in us by a God who specializes in making us indomitable through His power at work in us.
Elsewhere (Rom5:5) Paul writes: "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
Hope is our reality fuel - God gives it to us: don't choke it, stifle it, or ignore it. Deep inside there is a conviction bubbling that we are not alone and that we are loved. When you grab on to that hope, then faith and love will follow.
Theo Groeneveld

Friday, January 22, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-22 [Reality Bytes] Realization

24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?"
They replied, "Certainly, O king."
25 He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Daniel3:24-25
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in Exile in Babylon. The king, Nebuchadnezzar - the known world's most powerful man, had decreed that people should bow down to his statue when the band played... or else! ...And the else was the fiery furnace!
Pragmatic people said: "Well, this is the real world. We'll cross our fingers and bow down." But in the crowd were three men who refused.
Were they crazy? Didn't they realise that they could cause trouble for the rest of the Jewish exiles? Surely they were intelligent enough to realise that the ultimate reality was Nebuchadnezzar's oven-on-steroids?
Even Nebuchadnezzar was dumbfounded: "What were these guys thinking? Do they really think they can defy my oven?"
But there's a shock in store for old Neb...
The realization hits the biggest faker first...
As Nebuchadnezzar, thinking he has proven his power, looks expectantly into the furnace, he comes to a dramatic realization - he has to synchronise his expectations with what is really real -There are no three heaps of ash in the furnace, no screams, no triumph of the "real world" over childish religious zeal. There's a new person in the fire - and he looks like he's God incarnate - God-with-us!
This last weekend I sat on a hospital bed with a new mom of twins who'd been told she had developed an irreversible heart condition which would mean she would never be able to do normal things like carry her babies or climb a flight of stairs. We looked each other in the eyes and I said "We are now at the end of what medicine can do and in the realms of what God can do." And the church prayed...
On Sunday night they took a sonar of her heart and discovered that there had been a 90% improvement. On Monday she left ICU and on Thursday she went home. Hallelujah!
There is a REALITY that supercedes our "real" world. We need to realise and re-align to this!
Theo Groeneveld

Thursday, January 21, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-21 [Reality Bytes] Nothing

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John15:5
Many of us tend to have a "God of the gaps" theology. We carry on with our own lives and doing our own thing until we hit a problem we can't solve (a gap) and then we rush to God.
Jesus has a different take: Actually, a branch cannot grow without a life-giving and life-sustaining vine connection. Oh the branch can fake life, it can pretend that the leaves that are drying out or already dry are actually still alive. The branch can put up a good pretense, but it's not really alive and it's not going to produce any fruit.
Today many people put up a good show. They have the signs of life: the houses, cars, salaries and showcase families, but there is often a deep inner void - a God-shaped hole inside - a space that only Christ can fill.
It's quite odd really - most people try to deal with reality by "faking it."
Jesus is refreshingly blunt - you can't do real life without Him.
And this is not about being near the Vine or trying to look and sound like the Vine. It's not about studying the Vine or using Vine terminology. It's about connecting to the Vine.
When all the pretenses are stripped away, what can we do without a real relationship with God? What can we do without getting life-nutrition from the Vine? What can we do apart from Him?
Theo Groeneveld

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-20 [Reality Bytes] Independence

If you have raced with men on foot
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
Independence is a highly-valued trait in modern-society. To be sure, it is good to grow from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood.
We need to learn to "carry the can", "shoulder the responsibility" and "face the music." BUT the reality bite that we must face is that there are a number of life circumstances that can wound us and sometimes even kill us emotionally, spiritually and even physically.
The Biblical Reality is that our problems don't disappear when we become people of faith. Jeremiah was called to a tough ministry and he was called to repeatedly and doggedly call God's people to repentance.
But Jeremiah had had enough - they weren't listening. He was done! Two verses earlier he says: "Drag them off like sheep to be butchered!"
One would imagine that God would come to him and say "Shame Jeremiah, you've done your best and they haven't listened - I bet you're feeling pretty upset...."
But God says: "You've raced with men (and lost) how will you compete with horses?"
There are two parts to this:
1. It's not gonna get any easier.
2. Do you think you'll make it on your own?
Let's be clear: God is _not_ taunting Jeremiah ("Is that the best you can do?") He is pushing him to the place of acknowledging that he needs help.
The reality bite we have to come to terms with is that there are some horses we cannot outrun on our own. The reality-byte we are offered here is that God knows that we have limits and wants us to recognise that we need His help.
Theo Groeneveld

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-01-19 [Reality Bytes] Dawn

Well, the schools have started and so it's time to start the eDevs again! To those I haven't seen yet: Blessings for 2010!
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him." Lamentations3:21-24
I hope you will pardon the pun for this series title. We often say that "reality bites" and most people mean is that there comes a moment when our rose-coloured spectacles of our wishful thinking, sentimental perspectives and idealised hopes crack and the harsh light of the so-called "real world" _bites_ us.
But there is another reality that we often discount. A reality where Jesus enters into our world and even though He assures us that "in this world you will have trouble," He is also quick to remind us to take heart for He has overcome this world and He will never leave us or forsake us.
And so in the midst of a present reality that bites us, there is another greater Truth unfolding. We need to be reminded of it.
In computer-speak a "byte" is cluster of ones and zeroes and is what is usually needed to transmit one alphabet character of information. Over the next couple of days I will be sending you some "Reality-Bytes": A reminder of God's greater truth in the midst of our lives.
If anyone in the OT experienced a Reality-Bite it would have been Jeremiah sitting the smoking ruins of Jerusalem that the Babylonians had decimated after an 18 month siege.
If anyone should have and could have doubted God's love and care - it would've and should've been Jeremiah. In the midst of tragedy and heartache and pain, Jeremiah chose to reach out to a God whose love for us is as certain as the sunrise tomorrow morning.
2010 already has 18 days spent and gone and we are busy with the 19th day. Resolution and Optimism have faded in the hurly burly of tightening our belts after too much eating and spending and as the pace accelerates to a frenzy, many of us are wondering whether we have the strength for it all.
Jeremiah's certainty is our ultimate reality: The night will not last. The failure of others does not have to destroy us. Our own sin-brokenness will not have the last word. There is a cross and a Saviour who gives us a bridge between our dark reality and the dawning of real reality: God's unconquerable love for you and me.
Theo Groeneveld