Thursday, July 31, 2014

EMMDEV 2014-07-31 [Random Musings] Trouble

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James1:2

It would be a lot better if the second word in James 1:2 was _if_ and not _when_!

Sometimes we get fooled into thinking that allegiance to Christ is a guarantee of the absence of trouble. James knocks that notion out of the ballpark!

Jesus warned His followers that His peace was not like the peace of the world. The world considers peace to be the absence of trouble. Jesus and James' arithmetic is different: trouble + grace = peace.

One might even define James' attitude as masochistic: His attitude to trouble and hardship is joyful acceptance - "bring it on!" But is he really masochistic? A masochist likes to be hurt. James does not concentrate on the hurt or hardship, but on the results: perseverance, maturity, and completeness. James is not interested in the beginning of the process as the end.

To _this_ end, it would be better to define James as an opportunist. Trouble is an opportunity to grow. Like a muscle that can only be developed through load-bearing, our faith must be pulled, stretched, loaded and burdened before we can really grow. As far as my faith is concerned, I want to have depth, insight, wisdom, stickability, and courage. The road to that destination sometimes leads through the badlands and wastelands of life.

Trouble is not to be sought or enjoyed, but when trouble comes knocking, there is a sure and deep certainty (joy) that while God is not the author of trouble, He _will_ be with me and can use this experience to help me grow as long as I sidestep the temptation to become bitter and cynical.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

EMMDEV 2014-07-30 [Random Musings] Seeing life through God's eyes

12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. Philippians2:12-14

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. It would be easy for Paul to be down in the dumps and miserable, but instead we find that he is upbeat and positive. Paul could have chosen a number of emotions:
- Depression: After my faithful service, look what God does to me!
- Anger: This is just not fair! How could God drop me like this?
- Martyr complex: Woe is me, look at how bad my situation is!
- Resentment: Is this how God rewards those who are faithful?
- Faith: I still believe God is still in control and still at work

Fortunately Paul chose to go with the last option - trusting God and choosing to see how God could work through the situation.
There are a number of aspects to Paul's positive attitude:
1. Paul focussed on the spread of the gospel and not on his personal comfort.
2. Paul understood that bad things happen. He does not blame God or try to figure out what he had done wrong.
3. He saw the positive outcomes of his situation.

Paul himself had written those amazing words in Romans 8:28 ("And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.") We know that Paul believed that God could turn negative situations around and here we see Paul putting that belief into practice:
Firstly he realised his imprisonment was an opportunity to spread the gospel - every guard who was assigned to Paul heard the gospel and so it permeated the palace guard. And secondly he saw that because people could no longer rely on him to do the work, many had begun to take responsibility to do God's work.

We can be problem-centred of opportunity-centred.
Which will you choose?

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Friday, July 25, 2014

EMMDEV 2014-07-25 [Random Musings] Did you really?

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"
29 He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer. " Mark9:28-29

The back-story to this discussion is that Jesus had come down from the Transfiguration to find his disciples trying (unsuccessfully) to cast an evil spirit from a boy whose father in desperation cried out "Lord I believe, help my unbelief."

Jesus makes short work of the evil spirit but He is unusually angry at the unbelief that has been exhibited in the situation.

I've always wondered about this. The father is humble enough to admit his mixture of belief and doubt and Jesus does not seem to be irritated with him.

It's in the conversation afterwards that we get an inkling of the real issue...

Mark tells us that the disciples were asking what was wrong with their exorcism technique. Did they need more anointing oil? Did they need to shout louder? Did they need to find out the evil spirit's name?

Jesus answers enigmatically:
"This kind only comes out with prayer."*

The problem was that the disciples had turned the exorcism into a ritual - a recipe - a routine. Jesus' answer reveals the simple truth: - They had not prayed. They were doing this by themselves, they weren't trusting God, they were the healers instead of asking God to be the healer. It was their faith and trust that was lacking.

Interestingly enough, in Matthew's Gospel, the reason given for their failure is unbelief and is followed by the promise that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Jesus is implying that they didn't even have the faith of a mustard seed.

When we put these two thoughts together, it becomes clear. Faith is about reaching out to God and trusting Him. The disciples thought they could do it by themselves. Their faith was in their rituals, they had, quite simply, forgotten to pray.

Let's be brave enough to admit that sometimes we go through the motions - our lips say prayers, but our hearts aren't in it. We say the right things, but we're not reaching out to God and asking for His help. Let's ask ourselves: "Did you REALLY pray?"
Maybe we need to learn to pray like the dad did...

* Most Bibles have a footnote indicating that some Greek manuscripts have "prayer _and_ fasting" but I think this simply indicates that the scribes were making the same mistake as the disciples were: this is not about technique but about the fact that the disciples simply had not prayed.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Thursday, July 24, 2014

EMMDEV 2014-07-24 [Random Musings] The value of obedience.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road--the desert road--that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." Acts8:26-29

In these four verses Philip obeys twice and the result of this obedience is that the Gospel, which, so far, has gone to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, now goes to the ends of the earth because this Eunuch from Ethiopia will give his life to Christ.

Philip obeys two kinds of prompting here...

The first is a clear prompting in the form of an angel who appears to him. (It may have been a vision or a dream, but this angel also appears to Peter and liberates him from prison, so it could have been an actual appearance.)

The second prompting is from the Spirit and it is one of those in-the-moment nudges that come as an urging or like a whisper.

Sometimes God speaks to us formally and clearly through a scripture or a sermon. Sometimes He speaks in a prompting or a whisper. Philip was obedient both times.

The formal prompting, "Take the desert road", was specific and Philip had time to consider and weigh up his options. There was some logic to it - Philip had been in Samaria and accomplished good ministry there. Now he knew it was time to move on to the next destination.

The second prompting was quick and required spontaneity. He had to be responsive even though he didn't know what would happen next. If he hesitated, the moment would pass.

We need to learn to be open and ready for the calls and whispers of God. Like Philip, quick obedience could lead to great strides for God's Kingdom.

While you have open ears today?

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

EMMDEV 2014-07-23 [Random Musings] Is despondency a sin?

After a break for the holidays, EmmDevs are back...

My friend and colleague, Andries Combrink, wrote this devotion which I think is very apt for this time of year.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalms73:26

"My flesh and my heart may fail" defines despondency, meaning unhappiness, sadness, hopelessness and misery. There are three parts to this little phrase.

"My flesh" â€" there is a physical component to despondency. The body weakens, there are aches, pains, fatigue and eventually the risk of serious illness as a result of constant misery â€" ulcers, strokes, heart decease â€" and there always is exhaustion.

Secondly, "and my heart" - there is an emotional-spiritual dimension to despondency. We feel discouraged, depressed, gloomy and burned out.

Thirdly, there is this word, "fail." It means to come to your wit's end and be depleted of resources.

Is it a sin to experience despondency?

Under sad and hopeless circumstances it is no sin to feel despondent. Many of the exemplary believers in the Scriptures experienced deep and dark sadness and even hopelessness. Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow in Gethsemane.

But, what is a sin is to yield to despondency. To make it your partner for life, to refuse to fight it and to think that God cannot reach you in that dark space â€" or to believe that God cannot change your broken heart into a source of gladness and joy!

The most important 2 words in this verse are: "But God...Psalm 73:26 contains this truth: "My flesh and my heart may fail": And then comes the counter attack: “but God.”

So here we are, often feeling that the plug has been pulled out of our lives and we are left empty and without plan or joy.

"But God". God is the strength of my life.

God is my portion forever!

Despondency comes from many places.

But faith comes from one place only. It comes from the willingness to say: "but God." But God can fill me with gladness again.

Theo Groeneveld
You can see past EmmDevs at