Tuesday, November 30, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-30 [Jeremiah's Journey] Revisionist?

This is what the LORD says:
"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.

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-25 [Jeremiah's Journey] Looking in the wrong places

"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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-23 [Jeremiah's Journey] Ignoring what is right before them

22 Should you not fear me?" declares the LORD.
"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!)

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-19 [Jeremiah's Journey] Doing things differently

"Break up your unplowed ground
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.

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-18 [Jeremiah's Journey] Repentance: Using God's name truthfully

1 "If you will return, O Israel,
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.

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-17 [Jeremiah's Journey] Shoev

`Return, faithless Israel,' declares the LORD,
`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:
"Come back"

Because He loves us with a love that is higher, deeper, wider and longer than we can even begin to grasp.

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-16 [Jeremiah's Journey] Double Whammy

"My people have committed two sins:
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)

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-12 [Jeremiah's Journey] Divine Sadness

A longer one today... but there's a special treat at the end... :-)
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
From you

After all
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
My soul
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

No Lord
I don't wanna fall away from You
No Lord
I don't wanna fall away from You

From You...Lord

(You can listen to a cover version of this song by Petra, a gospel rock band from the 80s and 90s here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ-BnCIfWD0 )

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-11 [Jeremiah's Journey] Gear up!

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!"

When the road isn't easy God offers Resilience and Rescue.
Theo Groeneveld theo@emmanuel.org.za
You can see past EmmDevs at http://emmdev.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-10 [Jeremiah's Journey] Two thirds destructive

10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant. Jeremiah1:10

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.

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

Friday, November 5, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-05 [Jeremiah's Journey] Being given words

JER 1:9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."

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!

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-04 [Jeremiah's Journey] More than only a child

4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying,
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!)

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

EMMDEV 2010-11-02 [Jeremiah's Journey] Marathon Ministry

Over the next few weeks we're going to mine some of the nuggets in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. This first dev gives some of the background...
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?

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