Tuesday, August 31, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-31 [Keeping going] Corinth Lessons #3 Limits

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2Corinthians1:8-9

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!

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Friday, August 27, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-27 [Keeping going] Corinth Lessons #2 SUBVERSIVE!

5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

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.

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Thursday, August 26, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-26 [Keeping going] Sharing lessons with Corinth #1

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 2Corinthians1:3-4

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!

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-25 [Keeping going] Asking the right question

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
"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.

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-24 [Keeping going] Focus in the Frenzy

1 The LORD is my light and my salvation--
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life--
of whom shall I be afraid?
4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
8 My heart says of you, "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.
13 I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. Psalms27:1-14

In Psalm 27 David faces treacherous enemies. He finds himself in "a day of trouble." He describes it as "enemies trying to devour him" and "an army besieging him."

There's a lovely cartoon of Garfield where he's looking all bedraggled and over-run and the caption says: "I normally deal with one day at a time, but a couple have jumped on me at once!"

Sometimes we find ourselves in the kind of place where there is chaos on every side and it seems like trouble will never end. David had his fair share of those and in this psalm he formulates the way through it.

Here are the key thoughts:
1. I will only get through with God's help. "The Lord is my light, my stronghold, my salvation"

2. David doesn't want to lose his sense of connection with God in times of trouble. This is what he means about the temple of the Lord. (Elsewhere he uses other words like house / dwelling / tabernacle.) It's about experiencing God's presence at all times.

3. There is the crystal clear hope that brokenness and darkness do not have the final say. He will see God's goodness "in the land of the living" i.e. not pie-in-the-sky-one-day-when-you-die, but real peace that defies circumstances here and now.

4. But patience is needed. We must "be strong and take heart and wait for God." We have to surrender our desire to be in control and courageously hang in there for God's answers. Someone once said: "God isn't always there when I want Him, but He's always right on time."

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Friday, August 20, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-20 [Keeping going] Fertilizing Perseverance

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 2Thessalonians1:3-4

We started the series with Paul bragging about the Thessalonians in his first letter to them. The story is the same in the second letter: Paul is still proud of the "keeping-going", "hanging-in-there" and "sticking-to-it" nature of their Christianity.

What seems to be the key of their perseverance? Paul seems to be indicating that their perseverance is the result of two daily routines that have been established in their lives. These routines fertilize perseverance.

The first of these daily routines is faith. Faith is like a muscle: use it and it toughens up, neglect it and it atrophies. The daily exercise of faith can comprise lots of little activities:
-choosing to pray even when it feels like my prayers bounce of the ceiling
-choosing to place a matter that's out of my control in God's hands instead of stressing out about it.
-choosing to believe in the goodness of God even when my circumstances are tough
-choosing to talk about God even when others scoff

The second daily routine is love for others. When God's love lives in our hearts it is natural for this to overflow to others. And, when we love others, our love for God grows: it is an upward spiral. By increasing their love for others they were staying close to God's heartbeat.

When trouble comes, it is our nature to withdraw and become cynical. The Thessalonians chose a different path: with acts of faith they nullified cynicism and by engaging with each other they grew in love for each other and God.

Are you fertilizing your perseverance and endurance? Because if you do, God will give you another gift that Paul only implies in this passage, but makes clear in others: The gift of hope.

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Thursday, August 19, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-19 [Keeping going] The straw that breaks...

4 while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 1Kings19:4

This old arab proverb is a compelling image: A heavily-laden camel is standing before you and, as you watch, one final straw is added to the load and the camel's eyes roll back, his knees buckle and he collapses. The same image leads us to another well-known idiom: "The Last Straw."
The point is that maximum capacity has been reached and exceeded and it doesn't really matter whether by a lot or a little.

This is what happened to Elijah - he had to be the harbinger of long drought. He had to live through that drought and the suffering that came from it. Then he (single-handedly) had to face down the 450 prophets of Baal at the showdown on Mount Carmel and have them killed.

He managed all of this, but when Jezebel says "So help me, I'm going to get you." It is the final straw and it breaks his back.
For us standing on the sidelines we are tempted to say: "Elijah, you're making a mountain out of a moleheap - you will anoint Jehu and he will have Jezebel thrown out of her window and it will all work out." (It happened in 2Kings9)

When we read further on in the chapter we see that God does five things for Elijah:
- He makes Elijah rest
- He feeds him
- He lets him go for a long walk to Mount Horeb
- He let's him experience the Still Small Voice of Divine Presence.
- He assures Elijah that he is not alone - there are other believers.

These caring gestures of God show us what Elijah had neglected and why he became one-straw-weak. These are the things that diminish our load carrying capacity:
- Lack of Sleep
- Lack of decent nutrition
- Lack of simple uncomplicated activity (exercise and time to think)
- Lack of experiencing God's presence
- Lack of real friends - Loneliness

Do you score high on more than 3 of the "lacks" above?
You're on your way to being a camel who's afraid of a straw.

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-18 [Keeping going] Yeah right!

11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah29:11-13

These are nice verses to read: God has good plans for us.
You'd imagine hearing them in a country church where all is calm and peaceful and everyone is happy and content.

The actual historical context is a mind-exploder.

These are words that the prophet Jeremiah, sitting under siege conditions in Jerusalem, is writing to the exiles in Babylon. (The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and deported a large number of people and left the Israelites as a puppet-state. The puppet-state rebelled and Babylon would ultimately destroy Jerusalem completely.)

Babylon was the place where the Israelites "sat down and wept as they remembered Zion." (Ps.137) Things were so bad in Babylon that the same psalm has words that indicate their dislike of their circumstances: "Blessed and happy is he who takes the babies of Babylon and dashes their heads on the rocks" (This is how disillusioned God's people were with their circumstances!)

So when God prompts Jeremiah to write these promises to Israelite exiles in Babylon - you can just imagine them saying:
"Yeah right!!!! How could God _possibly_ work in my horrendous circumstances!"

But He did, and He can, and He does!

Israel prospered in Babylon and with the help of Ezekiel the prophet, they came back from exile with a clearer picture of God than they had had in a long time. They were able to rebuild and grow.

Our circumstances may seem grim, but God is greater than our circumstances! He has good plans for us - no matter how grim the present may seem!

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-17 [Keeping going] Hope does not disappoint

5 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. Romans5:5

Someone said: "Hope is what gets us out of bed in the mornings."

In a general sense this is true, but for the Christian hope is more than a vague longing that "today will be better than the bad day I had yesterday."

Hope in a Biblical sense is a powerful force that has enabled believers through the ages to overcome in the worst of circumstances. This hope is not something that we produce in ourselves by the "power of positive thinking" but it is a powerful certainty that is based on the gracious nature and awesome power of God.

On Sunday night we reflected on excerpts from a Max Lucado book on the Lord's Prayer. He points out that when we think of God being in Heaven, we are saying that He is the Creator, Sustainer and mighty God of all the universe. "How vital that we pray, armed with the knowledge that God is in heaven. Pray with any lesser conviction and your prayers are timid, shallow and hollow."

Biblical Hope works in the same way: It's not based on us or our circumstances but on the glorious certainty that we are loved by God and that pain will not have the final say!

Hope is about the extent to which we let the Spirit reign in our hearts. When we experience being "in the Vine," when we are experiencing the prompting and guidance of the Spirit, when we are living with our hearts open to Him, then hope is an awesome force that does NOT disappoint us.

When the drudgery of work turns into the struggle of labour and we cross the dry, featureless desert of thirsty endurance, then hope is the powerful force that sustains us.

And here's why: There was a Friday where all the pain of humanity was thrown onto the shoulders of Christ, but even as He gave up His Spirit and it looked like it was over, there was a whisper in the wind: "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming!"

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Friday, August 13, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-13 [Keeping going] Love powered!

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

In Romans 5:8 Paul writes: "...God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

This is what happens when we are born-again: God pours His Holy Spirit into our lives. And God is love.

Peter, writing about trials being like gold refined in fire, also writes about this miracle: We can't see God, but as we receive His love for us, we begin to love Him.

Think about it: We can't see God, but we love Him.
- Because we were created that way - to be in relationship with Him
- Because He has relentlessly loved us in every sunrise AND in sending Jesus
- Because His Holy Spirit breathes life into our once-dead souls and LIFE is bubbling up inside us.

So, when we begin to feel love for God, it is because His LIFE is stirring in us. Adam and Eve, left to themselves after the fall, hid from God, and that's our story too.

But when we begin to feel love for God, its because He is bringing us back to life - a miracle is taking place. And the logical next step is what Peter talks about in our text: "inexpressible and glorious joy."

That's why, when work turns into labour, we look to the love for God and others that is bubbling up inside of us and recognise that it is the sure sign of the "goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls."

And labour gets a bit easier.

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Thursday, August 12, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-12 [Keeping going] The nature of faith

And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2Kings6:17

I love this Old Testament account of the Prophet Elisha. The Arameans were conducting regular raids into Israel but were being frustrated because God would tell Elisha where they were going to attack and then Elisha would warn the king who would have his troops ready wherever the Arameans where trying to sneak in.

The Aramean King heard that Elisha was Israel's secret weapon and sent his troops to arrest him. (Like Elisha wouldn't know they were coming!!!)

The Arameans surrounded Elisha's home in the early hours. When Elisha's "butler" went outside, he saw the Aramean army and he was terrified. But Elisha prayed that the servant could see beyond the physical boundaries of his sight - that he could see more than the present circumstances. The Lord opened the servants eyes to the spiritual reality of His powerful presence.

This is the nature of faith - seeing the unseen. In the NT Paul says: "We walk by faith and not by sight." (2Cor5:7)
And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Heb11:1)

Faith has the courage to say: "In spite of my circumstances, I know, I believe, I trust, that God is God and God is good!"

Sometimes, when times are tough, we are tempted to think that God is asking too much faith of us, but think about that moment of faith when you realised that Jesus died for you - when you embraced that personal relationship that you can have with God as His child. That is the biggest leap of faith ever and the Holy Spirit helped you make that jump.

It's just a matter of time 'til your eyes are opened and you see the chariots!

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-08-11 [Keeping going] Degrees of work and motivation

My apologies for the gap in edevs - I had a tummy bug and then Brenda got very serious bronchitis - I put her to bed and took over getting Caleb to school and all the rest... We're all much better now.

Our next series is about keeping going: In the world cup "hangover" and winter dragging on, many folk are discouraged and demotivated. How do we keep going?
2 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1Thessalonians1:2-3

Paul loves triplets - his most famous one is in 1Cor13 - "Now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Love and the greatest is Love"

The Thessalonian congregation had experienced resistance, suffering and hardship but Paul was proud of them. They had kept going. In his intro he unpacks the degrees of their work and motivation.

The degrees of work are: work, labour and endurance. The Greek for these words is interesting: The word for "WORK" is the common Greek word much like the English "work." The word for "LABOUR" can also mean "beating the breast with grief" and "trouble" and the word for ENDURANCE implies a "long suffering", a "steadfast patience" and a "marathon event."

"But I thought being a Christian guaranteed an easy life!"
I have news for you! Paul makes it clear that the Thessalonians experienced their faith journey as common work (which can be drudgery), heartbreaking labour and marathon endurance. This is part and parcel of the journey and we should not dig our heels in.

The good news is that there is Grace at each phase of the journey. There are gifts that God pours into our hearts by the working of His Spirit. These gifts motivate us and keep us going.

Firstly we are motivated by FAITH - we work for things we cannot always see (until we look back...) It is our belief in the goodness of God that spurs us on. But when things get tougher we are constrained by the LOVE of Christ, we think of how He went to the cross for us and our love for Him keeps us going. Finally, when things get really tough, it is the HOPE that this world does not have the final say that keeps us going.

If keeping going is a struggle for you, draw on Faith, Love and Hope.

Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/