Wednesday, August 31, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-31 [Ephesians] Seven Blessings - Intro

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ephesians1:3

As I mentioned last week, Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek. In this long sentence Paul describes the past, the present and the future hope that we as Christians have in Jesus Christ. As we work our way through these seven blessings, we will see that they are Trinitarian: the blessings of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul describes these as our "Spiritual Blessings" in the "Heavenly Realms." I believe Paul's implications are that these blessings are significant and eternal. They are not simply the blessings of physical comfort and they are not only for this life.

Does this mean that they are "pie-in-sky-one-day-when-we-die?"
I don't think so!
I think these blessings are vital for us to hold on to for our day to day inspiration as we "fight the good fight."

Sometimes we get caught up in the gruntwork of life. The daily hustle and bustle wears down our excitement and joy. Paul wastes no time in this letter - he plunges straight into "counting our blessings!" He wants to wow his reader's hearts with an awesome sense of God's goodness and the "big-ness" of His purpose for our lives.

He invites us to have a sense of blessedness in our lives again!
Will you "count your blessings" with me over the next few days?

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, August 26, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-26 [Ephesians] Seven Blessings - Overview

Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek! It spells out our seven spiritual blessings in Christ.

Today there is no devotional thought from me... just Eugene Peterson's translation of the passage. Read it through slowly once or twice or thrice. Next week we'll unpack it.
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free peopleâ€"free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home freeâ€"signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life. Ephesians1:3-14

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, August 25, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-25 [Ephesians] Grace and Peace

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians1:2

In Ephesians Paul uses the word "Grace" 12 times and the word "Peace" 7 times.
We'll delve into the theological meanings of these two words as we work our way through the letter.

For now, just the simple thought that Paul starts the letter with this wish: that his readers would experience grace and peace.

Paul is in prison!
Yet he can wish grace and peace to his readers.
It seems that having grace and peace is not dependent on circumstances, but it is something that transcends our circumstances. Grace and peace do not require the absence of trouble and hardship, but rather they can be our experience in spite of adversity.

But Paul goes further - grace and peace come from a _relationship_ with God. There is part of me that wishes that he had used a Trinitarian formula here: "from God our father, the Lord Jesus Christ AND the Holy Spirit." But Paul takes the work and presence of the Spirit as a given - he understands that we only experience the Father and the Son through the mediation of the Spirit. The nature of our relationship with God is that we have a relationship _with_ the Father and Son _through_ the Spirit.

So here's the basic definition:
Grace: I have received unmerited favour through God's goodness.
Peace: My soul is at rest because I depend on God and not myself.

At the very outset Paul wishes this for his readers and this is the one of the most powerful features of Christianity: Christians experience and manifest grace and peace - and if we don't, there is something wrong with our relationship to God.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-24 [Ephesians] Salutation

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus Ephesians1:1

Most scholars agree that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians while he was a prisoner in Rome in about 60AD. From the background introductions we have done over the last two weeks, we know that Paul was known, loved and respected by the congregation.

In fact, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem and knew that he was going to be arrested and dragged off to Rome, he summoned the Ephesian elders to Miletus - a journey of more than 60km. They came very willingly and Paul gave them this commission:
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood."

Paul reminds them of his calling as an apostle. This word literally means "sent-out" and carries the implication of missionary, pioneer, church-planter, new-work-starter and boundary-breaker. Paul was all of these things in all his missionary work.

He also affirms that his life and calling has been according to God's will - this is a courageous statement because Paul is writing from prison! But Paul knew that God's purposes are greater than our temporary troubles and that trouble could be transformed into victory.

He calls the Ephesian Christians "Saints." This is a difficult word: Today "being a saint" is an _achievement_ but in Paul's time it was a _calling._ It wasn't that the Ephesians had "arrived" and were exceptionally pious, holy and respected it was that they were being called to live differently, to march to the beat of a different drum, to walk in obedience to God. They were being called to be holy and faithful and Paul saw them as "works in progress."

His greeting (salutation) is brief, but powerfully indicates that it is Christ Jesus who has called Paul (through thick and thin) and it is Christ Jesus who is at the centre of the Ephesian congregation.
It is all about Christ!

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-23 [Ephesians] Intro 9: Impact

AC 19:23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. Acts19:23-26

Ephesus was the host city of the temple of Artemis. Paul's preaching and teaching was starting to have an economic impact - at the start of the chapter there were 12 men who were filled with the Spirit. Now Demetrius is bemoaning the fact that "large numbers of people in Ephesus and practically the whole province of Asia" had heard Paul's message.

Not only was this a message that spread, but it was a message that had an impact!

If you read the rest of the chapter, it's very interesting to watch the events unfold. Demetrius leads a march of the "Silversmithing Union". They claim loyalty to Artemis, but their real issue is economic. The mob gets unruly and grabs some of the Christian leaders, Paul wants to speak to the mob and it looks like the stage is being set for Paul to be stoned again (it happened in Iconium in Acts 14)

But there is an interesting turn of events as some high profile people intervene: They persuade Paul not to speak to the mob and then the city clerk uses his influence to settle the crowd.

This leads us to a few observations:
1. The spread of the gospel has been very effective
2. Paul wasn't afraid to speak straight.
3. Lifestyles were being changed: People weren't buying idols
4. The care and concern that people had for Paul.
5. The gospel had spread through all strata of society.

This brings us to the end of the Introduction to Ephesians - tomorrow we'll start (finally!) the letter to the church in Ephesus.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, August 19, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-19 [Ephesians] Intro 8: Radical 180

(After the sevens sons of Sceva were beaten up...)
17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. Acts19:17-20

It was a pretty expensive bonfire! A drachma was a silver coin equating to about a day's wages. The scrolls burned in the wake of the "Sceva Incident" were valued at 50,000 times a day's wage!

This gives us some idea of the stakes involved for those who Paul wrote his letter to.

Ephesus was the most important city in western Asia Minor (now Turkey). It had a harbor that at that time opened into the Aegean Sea. Because it was also at an intersection of major trade routes, Ephesus became a commercial center. It had a pagan temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana (or Artemis in Greek)
There were many temptations in Ephesus!

The Sceva Incident taught God's people to be whole-hearted in their commitment to God. There was no room for divided loyalties.

The act of repentance is often described as a 180-degree turn.
The Christians in Ephesus were:
1. Filled with a sense of awe before God.
2. They really believed.
3. They confessed their sins
4. They broke with the past in a radical way (their temptations went up in smoke!)

When this happened, God's Message spread even faster. This is counter-intuitive: One would think that the high cost would turn people away, but it seems that people were (and are) longing for the "pearl of great price."

What are you willing to give up in your pursuit of Christ?

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, August 18, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-18 [Ephesians] Intro 7: Faith by proxy

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. Acts19:13-16

While God did healing by proxy through Paul's prayers and the hankies and scarves that were brought to Paul, it is impossible to have a relationship with Jesus by proxy.

The seven sons of Sceva thought that they could reduce Christianity to an incantation or spell - they thought they could go into a hairy situation with second-hand faith. They thought that name-dropping would be enough. They learned (big time!) that it wasn't!

While the story seems comical - seven guys beaten up and deprived of their clothes by one guy - it is a very sobering reminder that we should not tackle the powers of darkness with second-hand faith.

The name of Jesus is not a lucky charm or the way to end a spell - using the name of Jesus requires that we know Him and love Him. We need to have Him as Saviour AND Lord in our lives...

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-17 [Ephesians] Intro 6: Miracles

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. Acts19:11

It's really wonderful to read of the miracles that took place in Ephesus! It is important to notice that the miracles did not take place in isolation. They took place in an environment of regular teaching, worship, dedication and sacrifice.

Paul taught the folk in Ephesus for two whole years. They faced opposition and criticism but remained enthusiastic and faithful. There were sacrifices made - from his other letters we know that Paul worked as a self-supporting missionary in all his church planting endeavours. We will also see a little later in the chapter that the congregation were willing to leave behind their old lives and that there was great awe and respect for God.

From the above observations I think it is safe to say that the folk in Ephesus were on a solid foundation, well-grounded and not caught up in sensation-seeking, focussing only on the miracles (although there were some adherents to the Ephesian church that were doing this - we'll look at them tomorrow...)

The other important thing about the miracles is that we encounter this idea of "praying by proxy" for the first time here - that people could bring an object belonging to the sick or possessed person to Paul for prayer and healing would take place. We also read elsewhere in Acts we read that people were healed when Peter's shadow fell on them (Acts 5:15).

This fulfils a promise Jesus made to the disciples: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn.14:12)

Very often we are tempted to think that the age of miracles is past. But when God's people come together in awe, dedication and commitment for teaching, fellowship and worship, great things happen.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, August 12, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-12 [Ephesians] Intro 5: Persistence

8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Acts19:8-10

If you don't look carefully you'll miss it... Look at verse 10... Paul stuck it out for TWO YEARS. For 3 months in the synagogue and 21 months in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, Paul had daily discipleship sessions with the disciples in Ephesus.

Two years of patient teaching. Setting the example, answering questions, spreading the word. These sessions then spread by word of mouth from one person to another until Luke, the author of Acts, makes the bold claim that everyone in the province had heard about Christ.

This is persistence. In spite of persecution and resistance, Paul carried on day by day, doing the thing he did best: teaching. And day by day, the word spread from his listener's mouths to the ears of others throughout the province.

"What did you do in Ephesus Paul?"
"I lectured every day for two years."
"Oh... not very exciting.."
"It reached the whole province"
"No way!"
"But it did"

So don't lose heart - do what God has called you to do - whether it is to teach, serve, love, parent, or pray. Persist and watch how God multiplies your efforts!

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, August 11, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-11 [Ephesians] Intro 4: Spiritual Birth

5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all. Acts19:5-7

The small group of Ephesian seekers, who had their curiosity piqued by Paul's first "seed-sowing" visit, then had their "seeds watered" by Apollos' excellent Old Testament preaching. Now, on Paul's return, they have come to a full understanding of the gospel and are baptised. This is their moment of conversion.

With the conversion that has taken place, the Holy Spirit is poured out on them in a powerful way. This is one of a number of significant outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts:
- The first was in Jerusalem on the first disciples.
- The next was among the Samaritans
- Then on the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius
- Now on a group of folk who whose picture of Jesus had been incomplete

The wonderful truth is that the Holy Spirit is poured out on all who put their faith in Jesus. " one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (1Cor12:3)
When we discover and understand God's love for us, it is His Holy Spirit who is at work in us: "because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Rom5:5)

In all likelihood the "tongues" were known languages so that onlookers (who spoke in those languages) would hear the praises of God and recognise that a miracle was taking place. This is what happened in Acts 2

When we come to true faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit is the agent and midwife of our rebirth. In the case of the church is Ephesus, the receiving of the Holy Spirit was accompanied with signs and wonders. This does not mean that these signs and wonders are the norm - not everyone who gives their heart to Jesus bursts forth in prophecy and tongues - but it happens here to cement the start of the church.

It is wonderful to know that whether or not there are "bells and flashes," all who give their lives to Christ receive the Holy Spirit.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-10 [Ephesians] Intro 3 - Getting Clarity

1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."

3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"
"John's baptism," they replied.

4 Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts19:1-3

(Quick Recap:) In the previous chapter, we saw how Paul was travelling through Ephesus and went to preach in the synagogue. He promised to come back because there had not been time to tell the whole story of the gospel.

Then we saw how a Jew named Apollos came after Paul. He spoke a lot about Jesus from the perspective of the Old Testament, but his message was really the message preached by John the Baptist: "Repent and get ready for the coming of the Messiah." (End of recap)

The people in Ephesus were baptised, not in the name of Christ, but with John the Baptist's baptism which was a generic baptism of repentance. (Basically they were saying: "We're sorry that we have sinned." But they did not have a clear picture that Jesus was their saviour.) In a sense we could say that Apollos had brought them to a place where they were "proto-christians" (one step away from Christianity.)

We know that Priscilla and Acquila later explained things more fully to Apollos.

So when Paul returns, he brings them to that final step: Realising that only Jesus can save us and trusting Him as our Lord and Saviour.

These folk were not really Christians before this encounter. They had merely taken on some religious traditions and practices. With Paul's help they came to recognise that it is only and all because of Jesus that we are saved. Their baptism symbolised their wholehearted trust in Him.

Today many people are the same. They think that "being good" or "being sorry for our sins" or "trying to obey the ten commandments" will be enough. We, like Paul, need to bring clarity. We need to introduce them to the full work of Christ.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, August 5, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-05 [Ephesians] Intro 2 - Seeds Watered

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
Acts 18:24

Although Paul only had time to plant the seeds of the gospel before he caught his ship, God ensured that the church in Ephesus would grow. He sent Apollos to water the seeds that Paul planted.

We don't know a huge amount about Apollos:
We know that
- he was Jewish
- he knew the Old Testament very very well
- he was a persuasive speaker
- he was passionate about Christ
- he still had some things to learn
- he became a leading figure in the churches in Asia Minor
- he probably wrote the letter we know as "Hebrews"

We don't know how he came to faith and became passionate about Christ. We don't know how he landed up in Ephesus. Did God prompt him, was he there on business, or was he also just passing through?

Whatever his background story and whatever the reasons were for being in Ephesus, God used Apollos to be a blessing to the church in Ephesus. With his passion and skill he galvanised the congregation and in return for his dedication and commitment, God also provided Priscilla and Aquila to mentor and guide him.

Sometimes we worry about God's work and are tempted the think that people (or ourselves) are indispensable. This passage is a good reminder that this is not the case. When Paul could not be there to water the seeds he had planted, God provided Apollos, and when Apollos had some gaps, Priscilla and Aquila were on hand to guide him.

Thank You Lord that you are always providing for your church!

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, August 4, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-04 [Ephesians] Intro 1 - I'll be BACK!

I got a number of suggestions for the next EmmDev theme and liked the idea of doing Ephesians. (Thanks Julie!)
So we'll journey our way through the book picking up key thoughts.
But first, some background...
They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. 21 But as he left, he promised, "I will come back if it is God's will." Then he set sail from Ephesus. Acts18:19-21

Ephesus was a leading commercial city of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), the capital of the province and the warden of the temple of Artemis (Diana).

Ephesus would become a missionary centre or base that Paul worked from. His letter to them contains no rebukes or reprimands and from church history we know that the Apostle John would have a fruitful ministry there.

It's useful to see how this church was started:

Paul was "passing through" when he went through Ephesus for the first time.

Although his first visit was really because he was passing through, it doesn't stop him from sharing his faith and making a difference. He has a ship to catch, but he goes to the synagogue and makes an impression of the Jewish Community.

This is Paul's nature: there's always time to talk about Jesus even when he's just passing through.

His words make an impression and people are hungry for more, but the ship is waiting and he has to say: "I'll be BACK - Deo Volente" (If God wills)

We know that Paul did come back later on and wonderful things happened.

But here's our lesson for today: what if Paul had been in too much of hurry? What if he hadn't taken time to plant some seeds? What if he said to himself "I'm pretty tired, I'm just passing through, I'll share my faith another time...?"

And after, doing a bit of a "hit and run," he kept his promise and came back. (More tomorrow...)

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-03 [Practical QT] From Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael was a famous missionary in India who devoted her life to reaching the children of India. This devotion written by her makes a nice addendum to the series I did on Daily Devotions two years ago.... It is also a nice complement to the stunning sermon Lentikile preached on Sunday.
For she thought, "If I could just touch His garments, I will get well." Mark5:28

Many of us try to have a regular quiet time. As we do so, may each of us touch at least the hem of His garment, and receive wholeness in the matter for which we seek Him.

One knows when this has occurred. It is a day when something happens that is different from just reading our Bible or devotional book, or even just praying and asking for the thing.
We touch Him, and all is changed.

WHAT happens? And who can tell HOW it happens?
We only know that something has passed from Him to us:
Courage to do the difficult task we feared.
Patience to bear with that one particular trying person.
Inner strength to go on when we were sure we could not.
A sweet freshness in our spirit,
complete inner happiness,
deep-flowing peace.

God's way of passing by, of letting His "hem" come near us, is to take some single word in His Book and make it breathe Spirit and life to us. Then relying upon that word - meditating, feeding our soul on it - we find it is suddenly possible to go from strength to strength.
From "His Miracles (Devotions for Every Day of the Year) (Integrity Publishers 2004) pg.174

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

EMMDEV 2011-08-02 [Treasure Cupboard] Ebenezer

Samuel took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer saying, “Up to here the Lord has helped us.” 1Samuel7:12

Today is the Emmanuel Congregation's 19th birthday. There is much to give thanks for and many amazing highlights in our journey thus far. But I don't want to draw too much attention to the congregation, but rather to the true Emmanuel - "God with us!"

Our text passage is part of the saga of the Israelites being reckless with the Ark of the Covenant, treating it like a good luck charm and taking it into battle like a lucky rabbit's foot.

The ark gets captured by the Philistines and is eventually restored to Israel. But the conflict with the Philistines continues and after long desperation the people gather together to humble themselves before the Lord. But as they do this, the Philistines attack!

Samuel continues to make the offerings before the people and God thunders out against the Philistines throwing them into disarray and confusion and the Israelites simply have to pursue their fleeing enemy.

Along the way Samuel erects a stone, "Ebenezer: - Thus far has the Lord delivered us."

It is worth celebrating milestones, victories and birthdays - especially if it allows us the opportunity to acknowledge and praise the God who has brought us "thus far."

Please join me in a prayer of thanks and praise to a God who has brought a congregation through so much in the last 19 years!

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at