Thursday, October 28, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-28 [Romans Ch.8] Closing Crescendo

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. Romans8:37-39

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?

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-27 [Romans Ch.8] The Maths of Trouble

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." 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."

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-26 [Romans Ch.8] STILL no Condemnation!

33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one - for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one - for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God's right hand, pleading for us. Romans8:33-34

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
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, October 22, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-22 [Romans Ch.8] Ally

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? Romans8:31-32

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?"

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-20 [Romans Ch.8] Upward Spiral #2

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Romans8:29-30

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.)

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-19 [Romans Ch.8] Upward Spiral #1

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Romans8:29-30

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...

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, October 15, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-15 [Romans Ch.8] Mental Drawing

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. Romans8:28

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.
Have an wonderful weekend.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-14 [Romans Ch.8] Prayed in, through and for

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. Romans8:26-27

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!

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-13 [Romans Ch.8] Now and Not Yet

23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans8:23-25

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."

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-12 [Romans Ch.8] Broken World

19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
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.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, October 8, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-08 [Romans Ch.8] Too triumphalistic?

Sorry it's a bit late today - sometimes a dev comes quickly and other days I have to work at it... (I hope it's worth the wait)
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 protégés 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!

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-06 [Romans Ch.8] Not slave, but beloved child

15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Romans8:15-16

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.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-10-05 [Romans Ch.8] New Management #3

Welcome back after the holidays!
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.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at