Thursday, December 24, 2015

EmmDev 2015-12-24 [Five responses to Christmas] Joseph: Unsung Courage

Joseph: Unsung Courage

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."      (Matthew2:19-23)
The last response to Christmas that I would like to explore is that of Joseph - the step-father of Jesus.

The Scriptures don't tell us much about Joseph and it seems that by the time Jesus began His public ministry, Joseph had already died.

Let's look at what we are told about Joseph:

  • Matthew describes him as a righteous man, who, when he heard that Mary was pregnant, decided to divorce her quietly rather than create a public scandal that could have led to her being stoned.
  • God speaks to him in a dream and he then takes care of Mary and stands by her in the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus.
  • He and Mary fulfill all the purification rituals in the temple, offering the sacrifices of the poorest of the poor.
  • God warns Joseph to flee to Egypt because Herod was planning to kill all the infants in Bethlehem and he undertakes this hazarodous journey.
  • God's angel tells Joseph it is safe to return to Israel.
  • Joseph obeys his instincts about Archelaus the son of Herod and, in so doing, fulfils the prophecy of Jesus being a Nazarene.

There are four lessons Joseph teaches us:

  1. Joseph is an unsung hero. In a culture that was strongly patriarchal, Joseph was the last to hear real truth about Mary's pregnancy. He puts his "manly pride" firmly in his back pocket and his resolve to divorce her quietly speaks of righteousness, maturity and his true love for Mary. He plays a back-seat role and does so solidly and reliably.
  2. All of Joseph's promptings came in the form of angelic dreams. It takes a lot of courage to act on a dream. It would be so easy to disregard a dream as the after-effects of last night's pizza but Joseph is courageous enough to obey.
  3. Joseph is a thoughtful and reflective man. This is revealed in his resolve to divorce Mary quietly and his consideration of the danger represented by Archelaus. This thoughtfulness is used by God.
  4. Jesus was known as a carpenter. This means that He learned this significant craft and trade from His step-father Joseph. It speaks volumes of Joseph's character that he had both the humility and confidence to raise and train the One he knew to be the Son of God.

Maybe, on the brink of Christmas Eve, Joseph is the character we must hold close to our hearts. Like Joseph we must know that it is not about us. We should be open and sensitive to the prompting of the Spirit. We should use our God-given common sense to live simply and cautiously - avoiding danger and temptation - trusting that God can use our decisions. Let's remember that being parents, grand-parents, guides, teachers and mentors can be one of the greatest legacies we can ever leave.
That brings EmmDevs to a close this year. I will resume when the Gauteng schools start. May you be blessed as you celebrate Christ-mass this year. I leave you with a Frederick Beuchner quote that still grabs my attention:
The Word became flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized labouring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God... who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene Creed puts it, "came down from heaven." (Frederick Beuchner)

May your celebration of Christmas be warm and blessed. Take Joseph, Elizabeth, the Magi, the Shepherds and Mary as your guides.
God be with you!
Much love,

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

EmmDev 2015-12-22 [Five responses to Christmas] Elizabeth: Attentive Delight

Elizabeth: Attentive Delight

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" 46 And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour..."      (Luke1:39-46)
Elizabeth was the barren and aged wife of the priest Zechariah. She was six months pregnant as the result of a promise given to her husband by an angel. Mary was a young peasant girl engaged to Joseph the carpenter. She was a relative of Elizabeth and the angel told her that she was supernaturally pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah.

Mary is famous for her faithful response which is especially illustrated by her song of praise which we call the "Magnificat". Most of the time we assume that Mary's response: "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said" was immediately followed by the Magnificat. But it isn't.

Something else happens first...

Put yourself in Mary's shoes: She's pregnant, the only explanation she has is a vision of an angel. Joseph, her fiance, will probably reject her - he could even have her stoned. Society will ostracise her. She must have been pretty terrified and she must have felt quite alone. Her parents don't seem to be in the picture and so she heads off to see her relative, Elizabeth...

There were good reasons NOT to go to Elizabeth:

  • She was a much older woman and her husband had an honourable job
  • She was legitimately pregnant whereas, by human terms, Mary wasn't
  • She was the wife of a priest and should disapprove of Mary's state
But Elizabeth must have been a special person because Mary goes to her and stays for three months.

When Mary arrives, just the sound of her voice causes baby-John-inside-Elizabeth to dance and this causes Elizabeth to recognise what God is doing in Mary.

It is this affirmation and this delight that causes Mary to magnificate!

What can we learn from Elizabeth?

  1. Are we "safe spaces" for others? Do they feel that they can come to us when they're in trouble?
  2. Are we hospitable people, ready to open our lives to others?
  3. When we see God at work are we ready to exclaim and affirm?

Elizabeth's "empathetic enthusiasm" moved Mary from fear, uncertainty and doubt to Magnificat.

May we do the same.

Friday, December 18, 2015

EmmDev 2015-12-18 [Five responses to Christmas] Shepherds: Transformed

Shepherds: Transformed

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
...15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.      (Luke2:8-18)
Scholars are divided about the shepherds: Some identify them as being on the criminal and deviant fringe of society - dishonest, unscrupulous, thieving, cruel, irreverent and undesirable. Other scholars suggest that they were the shepherds in charge of the temple passover lambs and that, as such, they were a special group of shepherds with a holy task. I prefer the first option.
If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, then it is fitting that the Good News of His birth would be extended to those who were far from God. If these were the elite passover-lambs-shepherds then the implication is that the Good News is only for those that are good enough. As nice as the theological connection with Passover Lambs and Jesus-the-Lamb-of-God is, I think the angel's use of "Good News" (the Greek word is where we get "gospel" from) is a clue to the nature of this encounter.
Look at their journey:

  • The angels appear and the shepherds are terrified. The Greek literally says: They feared (with) a mega fear. This is not holy reverence - this is genuine terror. Was it the holy splendour of the angels or their guilty consciences? Maybe a bit of both...
  • The shepherds, after seeing the host of angels, are obedient. One can only imagine that the incredible joy of the angels made the shepherds brave enough and hungry enough to "go" and "see."
  • They see Jesus and it changes their lives! I just imagine these rough tough men holding the new-born Jesus in their arms, maybe caressing a smooth cheek with a rough knuckle with tears coursing down their cheeks - "God has come to us - He has really come!"
  • They start telling others. We should not forget that Bethlehem was full because of the census. One has to imagine that there were some soldiers and representatives of Rome officiating over the census. The disturbance the shepherds cause in the night would cause some ripples - but this does not stop them.
  • Others take them seriously. The shepherds are not dismissed as mischievous, crazy or intoxicated - people are amazed at the message of the shepherds and it is in no small part because it is obvious that something special has happened to these men.

The story of the shepherds is the story of every Christian witness:
We did not expect or deserve the Good News of Jesus' coming, but we heard the news and "went" and "saw" and it changed our lives. Now it's up to us to reflect that glory to the world. In a time where "Seasons Greetings" and "Happy Holidays" are the way in which the world wants us to think about Advent and Christ's birth, it is up to us to "go" and "see". And we should "see" long and hard enough that it once again fills us with joy and peace and wonder that we just can't keep to ourselves!

Friday, December 4, 2015

EmmDev 2015-12-04 [Five responses to Christmas] Magi: Obedient Adventurers

Magi: Obedient Adventurers

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
...10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Ironically, the "east" these star-following wise-men probably came from was the area of Babylon and Persia (which was (in)famous for its astrologers and where horoscoping comes from). It was to the Babylonians that the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing. (Isa.40:26)

These Magi were attentive to the signs that were visible in nature and instead of exploiting nature's signposts for their own ends, they were simply obedient to what they heard and saw.

Imagine packing up and heading off on a long and dangerous journey just to follow a star! (If you haven't read TS Elliot's "Journey of the Magi" you should read it after this...) The Magi were not only obedient to God's prompting, but they were courageous enough to head off on an adventurous journey and gutsy enough to defy Herod's wishes.

What would the modern day Magi look like today? And how could we be like them?
Firstly I think one needs to be sensitive to the "signs of the times" - not astrology per se - but rather a being sensitive to what God might be doing in our world that many others aren't seeing. The writer of Chronicles talks about the men of men of Issachar, "who understood the times and knew what Israel should do..." (1Chron12:32)

Secondly we need to be sensitive and obedient to the promptings and responsive to the signs and needs that God is drawing our attention to. We need to be willing to go and willing to be prompted. The Magi followed the star's guidance, but also listened to the dream they had about Herod. But their greatest sensitivity is shown in the gifts they bring: Gold symbolising Jesus' kingship, Myrrh which anticipated Jesus sacrificial death and Frankinsense which pointed to His role as our priest.

Thirdly, we need a courageous adventurousness that would take us into the unknown and uncharted, just because we believe that we will find what God is doing there and that we would do it with a sense of worshipful extravagance!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

EmmDev 2015-12-03 [Five responses to Christmas] Mary: Thoughtful Wonder

As the school holidays are drawing near, I thought I'd end 2015's EmmDevs with some reflections on the lessons we can learn from some of the main characters in the Christmas story...

Mary: Thoughtful Wonder

19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart...
51 ... But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.      (Luke2:19-51)
Mary sets an amazing example. She responds to God's gracious favour and the announcement of her miraculous pregnancy with significant faith and humility. "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said." (Luk.1:38)

Later, when John the Baptist has done a happy dance in Elizabeth's womb Mary bursts forth with what we now call "the Magnificat" - a hymn which reflects a significant understanding of who God is, what the Messiah came to do, and her part in all of it.

Mary is Mom to the Son of God and is present at the cross where, as Simeon prophesied, a sword would pierce her own soul. She then became an important part of the life of the early church and her son, James would emerge as the head of the church.

Mary was not perfect* but there is a lot we can learn from her faithfulness and devotion.

But what was Mary's secret? I believe it is the attitude of thoughtful wonder. Luke affirms this twice over in Lk.2:19 & 51.

Mary observed the birth, the shepherds, the magi and pondered and treasured them. She reflected on the 12 year old Jesus surrounded by flabbergasted teachers of the law and treasured these thoughts.

We can know the Christmas story. But have we pondered and treasured it?

Maybe we should resolve to enter into this Advent season with an attitude of thoughtful wonder. So what if the the shops are decorating and playing carols already - can we not use this as an opportunity to reflect on the wonder of a Baby's birth that is still impacting the world and prompting acts of kindness and beauty?? Dust off the carols and the nativity scenes, re-read the gospel accounts of Jesus birth, marvel at John's poetic prologue about the "Word made Flesh," immerse yourself in the wonderful celebration of the greatest gift ever given to humankind. See the Christmas story through the eyes of a child. Treasure these thoughts and ponder them.

* (While some consider Mary to be without sin or failure, Scripture reveals her to be fallible and prone to a lack of understanding and mistakes - just as we are:

  • She didn't know that Jesus would be in His Father's house. Lk.2:49
  • At one point during Jesus public ministry she and her sons came to take charge of Jesus for they considered him to be out of his mind. Mk.3:21
So she was not perfect or sinless, but faithful.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

EmmDev 2015-12-02 [Resilient Ruth] Reversals


16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.       (Ruth4:16)
The NIV Study Bible says this about the introduction and conclusion to the book of Ruth:
"The conclusion (4:13-17) of the story balances the introduction (1:1-5):
  1. In the Hebrew both have the same number of words;
  2. both compress much into a short space;
  3. both focus on Naomi;
  4. the introduction emphasizes Naomi's emptiness, and the conclusion portrays her fullness."

The story of Ruth is a powerful portrayal of God's gracious provision in our sadness and sorrow. It illustrates the promise that God can and does work in our lives to restore what sin has broken. Look at these Scripture promises:

  • Joel 2:25 "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten..."
  • Romans 8:28 "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."
  • Genesis 50:20 (Joseph to his brothers) "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

Sometimes God brings about restoration in dramatic and wonderful ways. Not so in the book of Ruth... Here the turnaround takes time and is the result of a number of "God-incidences" where God is working in the little details of life to fill Naomi with blessing and joy in spite of the hardships she has been through.

There are no guarantees that life will be easy. Famine can come, death is a reality we always face. We can find ourselves in a foreign place far away from home and we might even have chapters in our lives where we have to say that our lives are "Mara" (bitter).

But we have a Saviour who ate the bitter herbs of the Passover with His disciples before going to the cross to endure the worst bitterness of sin-brokenness so that we will never be alone in our hardship. And then He rose from the dead so that brokenness will never have the final say.

Healing may take time and may happen slowly, but like Naomi, we will find that God fills us up when life has emptied us out.
This brings us to the end of our series on Ruth - I hope it has been meaningful to you.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

EmmDev 2015-12-01 [Resilient Ruth] High Stakes

High Stakes

Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.      (Ruth4:16-17)
There is a lot at stake in this short book: Ruth becomes the great-granny of David and is included in the genealogy of Christ where she is singled out and honoured both as a foreigner and as a woman.

There are some key ingredients to the happy ending this story has.

  1. Faith:
    Naomi has it. Deep unflinching faith that endures difficulty with honesty and realism. She is secure enough in her relationship with God that she can "tell it like it is." At the same time, her witness is attractive and sincere enough that Ruth wants to be part of it.

    Ruth has it. A deep commitment to follow God, even in uncertainty and even if it means being teachable enough to follow a mother-in-law's advice. Her actions, especially in her faithfulness to Naomi, portray her faith to those around her.

    Boaz has it. In word, deed and reputation. He is respected and people bless him in terms of the faith they see in him.

  2. Integrity:
    Naomi (which means "Pleasant") is consistent with the meaning of her name.

    Ruth is commended for her sincerity and faithfulness.

    Boaz demonstrates diligent uprightness.

  3. Generosity:
    Naomi's generously urges her daughters-in-law to go home instead of accompanying her to Israel. She put their needs before her own.

    Boaz is generous toward Ruth and Naomi in the gifts he gives them, in having lunch with Ruth in the public eye, and in the speed and righteous efficiency with which he sorts out the legalities.

    Ruth is generous toward her mother-in-law by being willing to start again in a foreign land as a foreigner. But in our text verse we see yet another generosity: Ruth shares her child with Naomi to such and extent that the town's people say: "Naomi has a son." While this was true in terms of the legalities of the Kinsman-Redeemer tradition, it was also functionally true in the way in which Ruth shared her first baby with Naomi who had already had two of her own.

Faith, Integrity and Generosity. Naomi,Ruth and Boaz had these qualities in spades.
When we see these qualities in David we can say "He had it in his genes."
How do you rate?

Friday, November 27, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-27 [Resilient Ruth] Public Opinion

Public Opinion

11 Then the elders and all those at the gate said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah."      (Ruth4:11-12)
Boaz goes to the city gate determined and resolute: His goal is to act as Kinsman-Redeemer to Ruth who he loves.

What is significant is that he goes about this mission in an honourable way - he follows all the traditions involved in negotiating the right to lawfully marry Ruth and dealing with the land that belonged to Ruth's late husband and father-in-law.

The author of the book of Ruth explains the process that Boaz goes through and even provides by-the-way commentary explaining the rituals that would have seemed strange to an audience hearing the story centuries later. The point is that Boaz was thorough and diligent to observe the nuances, traditions, customs and laws of the day.

The result?
A wedding between a Jewish man of standing and a gentile Moabite is given blessing instead of gossip. Boaz is prayed for and people wish him good instead of wishing evil or misfortune. This is the power of a godly life: When we do things properly and correctly people wish us blessing and not ill.

Public opinion about Christians is not particularly good these days. When last have you seen a preacher portrayed well in the movies? While we might argue that this is part of the persecution and trouble that Jesus told us to expect, we also have to admit that Christians, including you and I, have not always lived well.

Boaz lived honourably and respectfully. He treated others well and he did things by the book. He was a good and gracious man. This turned public opinion toward him and we should learn from this.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-26 [Resilient Ruth] Real Manliness

Real Manliness

16 When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, "How did it go, my daughter?"
Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her 17 and added, "He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, 'Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.' "
18 Then Naomi said, "Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today."      (Ruth3:16-18)
There are four aspects to Boaz's behaviour in ch.3 that are good guidelines for authentic masculinity. They are: Empowering Protectiveness, Integrity, Attentive Generosity and Core-Determination.

In the culture of the day, Ruth needed economic and social protection, Boaz is more than willing to provide this, but he does so in a dignifying way. He indicates his willingness to protect Ruth, but affirms her noble character. He does not create stifling dependence but offers empowering protectiveness.

Boaz acts with integrity - he does not take advantage of Ruth before sorting out the key issue: there is a relative who is closer to Ruth and therefore has the first right as a Kinsman Redeemer. He tells her to wait until he has sorted it out. He protects Ruth's reputation sending her home before it is known that she came to the threshing floor.

Boaz sends Ruth back with six measures of barley, pointedly indicating that these were for Naomi. We all know the mother-in-law jokes. In giving the threshed barley Boaz is recognising Naomi's advice to Ruth and showing her gracious generosity. Authentic men are able to be sensitively generous - especially in allowing others into their lives.

Boaz is determined - Naomi comments that he will act quickly and decisively to tackle the issue at hand. Many men are slow to deal with key issues and they procrastinate when it comes to being courageous about core-business. Boaz is a great example of being Core-Determined about making the things that matter happen.

Boaz is a great example of authentic masculinity. Gentlemen, how do you rate? Ladies, do you take time to appreciate these qualities in the men around you?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-25 [Resilient Ruth] Fatalism or Activism

Fatalism or Activism

2 Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.
9 "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am your servant Ruth," she said. "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer."      (Ruth3:2-3)
Naomi had seen God's hand in leading Ruth to Boaz's field. I find it interesting that although she recognised that God was at work, she did not encourage Ruth to sit back and do nothing.

Many people are fatalistic about God's provision. Paul had to confront the Thessalonians who were so convinced that Jesus was coming soon that they gave up their jobs and sat around wondering whether "today was the day" while others had to feed their kids.

Wesley said: "Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God."

Naomi would concur. Boaz was God's man for the situation, but he would need to be asked. Ruth would have to ask him to be her kinsman-redeemer.

There are some who argue that the threshing floor was a place of immorality and that Ruth actually seduced Boaz there. This is conjecture based on Canaanite fertility practices of the time. It is more likely that Ruth impressed Boaz by the opposite behaviour. She was penniless and he was a good catch - some would argue that her only power was the power of ensnaring seduction, but Ruth, through Naomi's guidance makes a noble appeal when others would have expected a seedy entrapment.

So Naomi "gets" it: We don't rest on our laurels in demanding expectation that "God will provide." Rather we give our very best in every situation we find ourselves in without ever compromising on what is right and honourable.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-24 [Resilient Ruth] Spot the connections!

Spot the connections!

"The LORD bless him!" Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. "He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead." She added, "That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers."      (Ruth2:20)
Naomi continues to surprise us. Although she asks folk to call her "Mara" (bitter) this seems to only apply to her history and circumstances and not to her nature.

When Ruth tells the story of her day, it is Naomi who spots the connections and is able to see the golden thread of God's provision and guidance.

Very often God is at work in the commonplace and the mundane. Many people expect God to thunder and write on the wall. They want Him to lead them through parted seas with fiery cloudy pillars, but He is often at work in subtle and day-to-day ways.

Ruth "just so happened" to go to Boaz's field, Boaz "happened" to notice her, and "it turned out" that he was a close relative who would be able to act as the Kinsman-Redeemer.

This is the "modus operandi" of God in the Books of Ruth and Esther and in a number of other Biblical accounts. Naomi is close enough to God and sensitive in her spirit to "spot the connections."

We should also take time to "join the dots" of our circumstances and see the gracious provision of God and the guidance He gives.

But there must be a word of caution here: We can go too far in interpreting circumstances and spotting connections. There has to be a healthy balance as far as understanding that we live in a broken world where chaos and sin are predominate.
Not every set of circumstances are a message from God...

Our interpretation of life's "open and closed doors" needs to be balanced by deep roots in Scriptural Truth, a healthy prayer life, and a wise panel of trusted common-sense God-fearing spiritual advisors.

Friday, November 20, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-20 [Resilient Ruth] Tough and Tender

Tough and Tender

Boaz replied, "I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband--how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."
Real men can't be sensitive or tender - and cowboys don't cry. Or so the saying goes...
What absolute rubbish!
Insensitivity isn't a manly trait - plain and simply it's a cowardly and lazy lack of thoughtful connection!

Boaz isn't merely chatting up a pretty girl - his words are thoughtfully chosen on the basis of conclusions he has reached by considering the facts and putting himself in her shoes. He has reflected on the challenges she has faced and thoughtfully articulates the sacrifices she has made and the risks she has taken and commends her and pronounces blessing on her.

Was it effective?
Listen to her response: "You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant..."

Men have a reputation for being insensitive - the truth is that most insensitivity has very little to do with gender and everything to do with laziness. Being sensitive to the needs of others requires that we put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand where they are and how they feel and to connect to them and offer encouraging words of solidarity and comfort.

Boaz is a successful man - a farmer, a boss and a respected clansman. In the culture of the day he could have treated Ruth like chattel - she needed him much more than he needed her. Instead, he treats her with dignity and respect and with thoughtful sensitivity. In these actions he reflects the nature of the One who doesn't break bent reeds and snuff out smouldering wicks.

Go figure...!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-19 [Resilient Ruth] A Godly Boss

A Godly Boss

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, "The LORD be with you!"
"The LORD bless you!" they called back.      (Ruth2:4)
Boaz is a good man - a Godly man. He acts with integrity towards Ruth, he deals honestly at the city gates, he is highly regarded by Naomi and the towns-people and he is great-grandfather to the King David.

But even more importantly, he is a Godly boss. The book of Ruth portrays Boaz as a man who is loved and admired by his staff. He greets them with blessing and they eagerly respond back.

One might argue that his workers are just doing what the culture required. One could argue that Boaz was a fake, loudly calling out blessings on his workers just for show, and, because they knew what was good for them, the workers reciprocated by blessing him back.

There are a number of clues from the text that contradict this view. Here are just three:

  • Boaz enjoys a good "chatting relationship" with his workers. (See v5-7 below) When he asks his foreman about the new "young woman" on the field, the foreman gives him more information than what is necessary. One might even argue that the foreman is match-making, bragging about how hard Ruth has worked all morning.
  • Naomi is convinced that Ruth will be safe on Boaz's fields. There is a level of morality and control in the way they do things and this speaks of the example that has been set for them.
  • Boaz "flirts" with Ruth and then invites her to share his lunch with him in the presence of his harvesters. He does not consider himself better than them or exclude them from the beginning of his romance with Ruth.

The author of Ruth portrays Boaz as a man of integrity and Godliness - qualities which extend to those who work for him. May it be that we are people who sincerely wish God's blessings on those who work for us and may it be that our integrity and care shines through in such a way that those who work for us sincerely wish God's blessing on us.
5 Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, "Whose young woman is that?"
6 The foreman replied, "She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.' She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-18 [Resilient Ruth] Co-incidence?


3 So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.      (Ruth2:3)
The last verse of chapter 1 reads: "So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning."

This verse marks the glimmer of hope that will develop through the rest of the story. Ruth and Naomi have nothing and have to start from scratch. Barley was seen as the "poor man's wheat" and Ruth makes the decision to go gleaning in the fields. It was part of Old Testament custom that those who harvested crops were not allowed to rake up any ears of wheat/barley that fell to the ground while they were harvesting. This was a provision for the poor and destitute who were allowed to follow behind the harvesters and glean what had dropped on the ground. This gives us an indication of how dire Ruth and Naomi's circumstances were.

Ruth decides to go and glean. It was a risky business for an attractive young woman - labourers could be abusive - especially because she was a foreigner.

But "as it turned out" Ruth found herself working on Boaz's fields. There are three reasons why this is significant:

  1. Boaz's workers are not the kind to take advantage
  2. Boaz is a near relative - this provided Ruth with an additional layer of protection.
  3. We know that Boaz will see her and fall in love with her.

Sometimes God works in mysterious (one of my colleagues says "mischievous") ways His wonders to perform.

There are times that we "just happen" to be at the right place at the right time to meet the right people. We look back on our lives and see that God has graciously been ordering our steps...
(A co-incidence is when God decides to perform a miracle but remain anonymous.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-17 [Resilient Ruth] Throwing our toys

Throwing our toys

"Don't call me Naomi, " she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."      (Ruth1:20-21)
("Mara" means "bitter")
The rest of the book of Ruth contradicts Naomi's statements. She is not bitter in nature or character. She is not cynical and she has not given up on God. In fact, she praises Him, sees His fingerprints in the "co-incidents" of Ruth's life and she (Mara?!?), with her new grandson, is the delight of the women of Bethlehem. 

So what do we do with the tough statements of vv20-21? How do we explain the bitterness and cynicism that the words convey??
I think returning to Bethlehem brought back the full impact of the losses that Naomi had been through. In that moment of loss and in the light of the theological framework of the time, Naomi - who believes that God is always in control - has to conclude that God is behind her pain and sorrow.
And so she tells it like it is - she "spits it out" - all the heartache and pain. She "throws her toys" and does not get struck by lightning.
With a clearer theology we understand that the free will we were given creates a space in which our brokenness affects us and the world around us. We understand that God is not the author of pain: Rather, pain is the result of humanity's bad choices. We also understand that God is still in control and while He is not the source of pain, He allows (and often limits) the effects of pain in our lives.
But there are times that we do not understand the pain that He has allowed in our lives. We struggle to wrap our minds and hearts around our pain, and as we struggle, we can pretend, disconnect or engage.
To pretend is to put on a fake face and pretend to be ok with what has happened. To disconnect is to avoid God and try to avoid the pain. To engage is to do what Naomi does, she blurts out her pain, she's telling God that she's not happy. She doesn't get struck by lightning and somehow in the venting she discovers that that God has not abandoned her and has not forgotten her.
Over the years I have struggled with pastoral situations I have faced - I have come to God pretty angry at times and I've thrown my fair share of toys - I've come to God disappointed and angry and sad, blurting out "I'm not happy and this is NOT cool Lord - in fact, I'm pretty mad at You right now!!!" And like a little child hammering his fists against his daddy's chest, my anger has turned to tears and my Father comforts me.

Friday, November 13, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-13 [Resilient Ruth] Attractive Faith

Attractive Faith

But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."       (Ruth1:16-17)
The Moabites worshipped other gods. Naomi was living in Moab. Her faith was a little candle in a lot of darkness. And, if we look at her statements in chapter one, it is a candle that has experienced the flickerings of doubt:
  • In v.13 she says: "No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!"
  • In v.:20 "Don't call me Naomi, " she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter."

But in spite of a faith that has struggled through the difficulties of life, there is a depth and attractiveness to Naomi's faith that results in real faith being born in the heart of Ruth.

In spite of the doubts that Naomi has, there is a winsomeness, a depth, and a grace that transcends the pain of circumstances and the shadows of doubt. Ruth has lived with Naomi. She has watched her through thick and thin. She has seen Naomi hang on to her faith, even when it has been very very difficult to believe. She has seen Naomi express her heartache to God and "tell it like it is" but still hang on to her faith.

Ruth sees a faith that is robust, a faith that isn't just "what's in it for me", a faith that reaches, and a faith that endures.

Her conclusion: I want to believe in a God like that!
Just a note on Naomi's statements: The Old Testament is progressive journey that reveals Israel's developing understanding of God. It is a growing theology. Naomi and people of her time believed in the sovereignty of God to the extent that even trouble came from His hand. It would be the wrestling of Job, Ecclesiastes and later prophets that would lead them to understand that trouble came from the brokenness of sin in the world.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-12 [Resilient Ruth] Unselfish


But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?      (Ruth1:11)
Naomi has lost everything. Her home, her husband, her sons and her future. In the male-dominated culture of her day she could not own property and would need an immediate relative to marry her to take control of her late husband's land rights back in Bethlehem.

But she was older - beyond child-bearing and so she had nothing to offer and yet her daughters were willing to stay with her. This would be her only "pension plan" and if she was interested in self-preservation she would hang on to these two daughters who would look after her into old age.

But Naomi does not think of herself. She thinks of what's best for her daughters. So she tells them "Go home and start again among your own people."

This is a very unselfish act. In a book that is short and punchy there are 10 verses devoted to Naomi trying to persuade her daughters-in-law to do the obvious and least risky thing.

This unselfish attitude in the midst of great loss is particularly noteworthy, because great loss often causes us to neglect others and focus exclusively on our own pain and misery and see the people around as pillars that we are entitled to lean on.

Naomi teaches us the one of the key ways to deal with pain is to keep the needs and best-interests of others at the forefront of our minds. We should do all we can to be other-centered - even when times are tough.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-11 [Resilient Ruth] Love who you have

Love who you have

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband."
Then she kissed them and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, "We will go back with you to your people."      (Ruth1:8-10)
If you read to the end of the chapter, you will know that Naomi calls herself "Mara" (bitter) because she feels that her life has become very bitter.

The behaviour of her daughters-in-law tells a very different story...

We all know the infamous mother-in-law jokes. It is therefore surprising to see that the daughters stay with Naomi even after their husbands die. It is even more striking to learn that they are both willing to go back with Naomi to Bethlehem - especially as the Jews and Moabites weren't too fond of each other!

After some very persuasive arguments Orpah decides to stay with her own family and people but Ruth cannot be convinced.

Although Naomi's circumstances are bitter and although she has experienced much hardship, the behaviour of her daughters-in-law tell us that Naomi herself was not bitter and that she had mastered a key skill in the midst of hardship: Love the ones you have with you.

When our circumstances are hard, we are frustrated and disillusioned. Unfortunately we often lash out and take it out on the people close to us. Often they are not the cause of our pain, but we withdraw from them and neglect our relationships with them. Sometimes we even use them as scratching posts!

But God places these people in our lives for a couple of important reasons:

  • They can support us and be our confidants
  • They can pray for us
  • They can be a blessed distraction
  • They can even help us vent out our frustrations - as long as we do it with them and not at them.
  • We can actively choose to pour love and care into them and it can do a lot for us.

Naomi must have done this because there is no other explanation as to why her in-law daughters would choose to stay with a foreign woman and even consider going back to foreign land with her instead of returning to the comfort of their own families and culture.

Are you under the pressure of some adverse circumstances?
Love the ones you have!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

EmmDev 2015-11-10 [Resilient Ruth] Living in chaotic times

Resilient Ruth

For the last few weeks of the year I'm re-visiting a series I did on the book of Ruth. It is a powerful story of faith in the midst of trouble and having solid character during uncertainty. As we push towards the year's finish line, I hope that Ruth, Naomi and Boaz will inspire you to hang on to your faith in God.

Living in chaotic times

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
Even scholars who are not theologians consider Ruth to be a literary gem. It is a beautifully written account of the life of one of a few women whose names feature in the genealogy of Christ.

Today we look at the circumstances that form the background of the story...

  1. It was the time that the judges ruled. It was a chaotic time. Twice in the book of judges we read that "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."
  2. "Bethlehem" meant "House of Bread" but the famine meant that there was no bread.
  3. The Moabites descended from one of the sons Lot had by his daughters and were bitter enemies of the Israelites.
  4. "Elimelech" means "My God is King" but Elimelech had no bread in the House of Bread and went to the land of his enemies where he died and his sons married heathen women.
  5. "Mahlon" means "sickness/unfruitfulness" and "Kilion" means "weakness" and these names became their epitaphs.

So, in the midst of these tough circumstances the question is whether Elimelech's God really is King and whether there is a future for his family line. But the end of the book tells us that King David came from this family line and the gospels tell us that Christ came from this family line!

Often we find ourselves living in chaotic times and it seems as though the promises of God are failing. People are frail and disappoint us and we find ourselves ready to doubt and to give up. But the story of Ruth is a powerful testimony of how God works in situations where hope seems to have left the building. Keep reading...!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-31 [Month of Mission 2015] We need power from on high

We need power from on high

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit      (Zechariah4:6)
The historical background to this Old Testament passage is that the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon. They were a defeated and broken people and it fell upon the king Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua to rebuild the temple. This was a task that was deemed impossible: The people were demotivated, the city was in ruins, and the skilled artisans had remained in Babylon.

God gave Zechariah a vision and a promise that the task could be completed, but it required a change of mindset: they had to put their trust in the powerful working of the Spirit and not in human strength and effort.

The vision: A lampstand with seven wicks, each of the wicks with its own channel to the bowl of olive oil and either side of the bowl were two olive trees.

The implication: The olive trees would supply the bowl endlessly, and perfect light (seven implies perfection) would come from this lamp.

The application: Zerubbabel may not look like much, but he will be endlessly supplied by the Holy Spirit. Our own strength fades and our best efforts end in the sputtering flame of our limited endurance, but we can have the strength to press on and endure when God's Spirit keeps us going.

The vision has no rush in it, the trees stand firmly, the oil seeps into the channels and the lamps keep burning. When we stay in communion with God, His Spirit will fuel our work for Him.

It's not by OUR might, not by OUR strength, but by HIS Spirit!

There comes a time when we have to admit our inability to manage a task on our own. It is then that we must rely on God's help to accomplish the work He has given us to do. We must be clear here: God does not give us the power of His Spirit for us to accomplish tasks that we want to achieve. He gives us the energising power of His Spirit to help us achieve the things He has called us to.

Paul reminded the Ephesians that the power of the Holy Spirit working in them was the same power (Greek word dunamis which is where we get dynamite, dynamic, and dynamo from) that raised Jesus from the dead.

If we identify something God wants us to do and we choose not to put our faith in our own schemes and plans, then we can expect that God will do even more than we can ask or imagine.

The famous missionary Hudson Taylor said: God's work, done God's way, will not lack God's supply.
We hope that you have enjoyed this series of devotions for the UPCSA month of mission. A very very big "Thank You" to Jackie Barker, Ruth Armstrong, Lungile Mpetsheni, Mukondi Ramulondi, Robert Munthali, Alan Cameron, Chris Makandawire, Brian Smith, Jacob Manda, Chris Judelsohn, Armando Sontange, George Marchinkowski, Matorofa Mutangonavo, Lydia Neshangwe, Brent Russell, Sibusiso Zungu, Andries Combrink, Paul Neshangwe, Jerry Pillay, Melanie Cook, Eddie Germiquet, Jane Nyirongo, Micah Nthali, Jeremy Smith, and James Gray who all wrote devs for us.

If you would like to continue receiving these kind of devotions Tue-Fri during school terms you can subscribe at

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, October 30, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-30 [Month of Mission 2015] We need perseverance

I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. . . I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God through Christ Jesus, is calling us.      (Philippians3:12-14)

"We may be knocked down but we are never knocked out."  (2 Corinthians 4: 9 JB Phillips trans.)

Mental toughness.

A 100 years ago the famous Polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton, was looking for men to join him on a tough expedition to Antarctica. The story goes that he placed an advert in a prominent newspaper:
"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."

5000 men and 4 women applied.

I've never thought of ministry in such Shackletonian terms but when I tell the Shackleton story (as I often do) I sometimes include the St. Paul story and speak about the need for mental toughness and emotional resilience, for the work of ministry needs both - in large quantities!

Writing from the depressing surroundings of a Roman jail Paul tells his friends in Philippi to keep going forward, to "press on". His words were carefully chosen. Ministry was getting tougher and tougher. He had suffered major setbacks that had felt like punches in the solar plexus. "Knocked down", he says. Down he went, his wind gone. What now? Does he lie and wait for the count out or does he rise to fight again?

We've all been there. We know what it is to want to throw in the towel and walk away, but ministry has taught us not only to dwell deep but to dig deep. It was Paul's battle-hardened testimony that though he had been "knocked down" many times, he had never been "knocked out".

So, to those courageous souls who have been knocked down and for whom ministry has been tough going, listen to Paul in the reading above: i. press on, ii. keep your focus, iii. let go of the past, iv. pursue excellence ('perfection') and never lose sight of your Goal.
(James Gray is based at the Hermanus United Church and believes that a day away from Hermanus is a wasted day.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-29 [Month of Mission 2015] Think about the next generation

Think about the next generation

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD,
and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,
6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.      (Psalms78:4-7)
Sometimes we become overwhelmed by the apparent gulf that exists between the generations and we are also swayed by the siren call to be "relevant."

The new generations seem so different; they certainly have a different outlook and approach to life. We are concerned for them and wonder: "What can we tell them that is of value?"
"How can they be empowered in a way that will bring transformation?"
This passage gives us instruction and profound encouragement to this end.

A rich heritage of truth has been faithfully passed on from our fathers. Perhaps, if we were fortunate, our earthly fathers shared this heritage with us but it certainly came from those who are our fathers in the faith. God spoke to these fathers, our forebears, and they received these truths from Him.They inclined their ears and heard, they tasted and discerned and they lived it. We received this testimony from them and now we too know the truth. God established this testimony, it is His, and it is a glorious gospel.

Today this passage urges us to remember this and eschew vain modernisation. This is no time for theological innovation, the teaching of the fathers is God's own and His Word resonates with authority and life. Whatever caused you to want to hide these truths? What are the implied consequences of not passing these truths to the next generation?

God commands us in earnest, and His instruction is prefaced with His love, even for those unborn. Let us faithfully pass on what we have received and train our children for obedience and hope in Christ Jesus. If we humbly communicate to others what we have received according to our Lord's explicit command, a generation will be transformed.

What will it be then?
Let us engage the Lord in faithful obedience today
Jeremy Smith is the minister at Pinetown Presbyterian Church. He loves his family, recreational horticulture and occasionally baking bread.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-28 [Month of Mission 2015] Joshua reminds us of the stakes (costs, risks, price)

Joshua reminds us of the stakes (costs, risks, price)

Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.      (Joshua24:14-15)
Joshua exhorts the people to choose whom to worship between the living God whom they witnessed doing wonderful things for them not once or twice and the gods whom their ancestors worshipped whilst they were still on the other side of the river. In doing so, Joshua was aware of the risk (of rejection) he was taking and the price he might pay for urging these people to make a choice.

The radical question he posed needed a radical response that would transform their lives. The question called the people to do some introspection and repent from their evil ways to experience the constant presence of the living God as they sincerely served Him. Joshua was able to risk because the time ("this day") to do so had come; the moment of truth had arrived. Joshua urged them to choose, fear and serve God with sincerity and in truth.

God always gives us the opportunity to choose the kind of life or way we want to lead. Like Joshua, the Israelites were given liberty to choose which God they were to worship but He also indicated the consequences. If one is called by God, one must be ready to proclaim God's prophetic message which causes change and may call one to die or loose popularity amongst one's people.

I believe that God is asking us to be bold enough to pose questions such as these to all of God's people so that it serves as a yardstick to measure how committed are they in serving God; how ready are they to repent from doing evil things so that they are assured of Him dwelling amongst them.

We live in the days where in many ways the moral crisis manifests itself in common manifestations such as murder, rape, robbery and theft, women and child abuse, domestic violence, drug trafficking, fraud and embezzlement of public funds, crooked business dealings as well as manifestations that are more subtle such as devaluation of people, racism, the breakdown of family as a fundamental social institution, the gap between the haves and haves-not, laziness, individualism and selfishness, lack of will to resist evil, perverted religious beliefs etc. Like Joshua we are challenged to urge God's people to be decisive in repenting, fearing and serving God in all sincerity and truth because God had seen them through so many hardships and difficulties and they themselves are witnesses to His mighty and wonderful acts. We are all challenged to make a choice between good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death, between a narrow path to heaven and a broad way to hell, and between earthly and heavenly things.
To God be the Glory!!
Micah Nthali, serves St.James-Matsulu as a part time Minister and St.Paul's-Marite as Interim-Moderator. He is husband of Rachel and dad to Mlungisi and Siyabonga. They are a family that loves God.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-27 [Month of Mission 2015] It remains a decision that everyone must make

It remains a decision that everyone must make

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. "
4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."      (John3:3-8)
John paints Nicodemus as a seeker... Nicodemus has been to see Jesus at night in ch.3, he protests that the Pharisees want to condemn Him without a hearing in ch.7 and then comes with an armload of spices (enough spices for a king) to bury Jesus in ch.19.

Jesus gets straight to the point with Nicodemus: "You must be born again!"

We've heard many sermons on being born again...
A couple of years ago Rich Mullins asked a very penetrating question: "Did Jesus, the apostles or Paul ever ask anyone else to be born again???"

The answer is no.

Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell all he had.
He asked the woman at the well to tell the truth about herself.
He asked the man born blind to take a courageous walk across town.
He asked Zacchaeus to host a meal.
He asked Peter to throw out a net.

It would seem that Jesus approaches everyone uniquely.

Let's think about Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling council. His world was law, rules, regulations, stipulations, legalism, self-(earned)-righteousness. In his world there was no such thing as a free lunch. Grace (God's Riches At Christ's Expense) didn't fit into his world. Jesus tells him to be born again: "There's a whole new world for you Nicodemus! A new way of seeing things and doing things. A whole new way of thinking and living. A world that is not self-(earned)-righteousness, but grace. You're going to have to be like a new-born baby - seeing new things and learning new ways..."

Very often the things that have the deepest roots in us are the things that can get in the way of knowing Jesus: The young ruler's money, the well-woman's painful past, the blind man's safety, Zacchaeus' fear of people, Peter's pride in his fishing-competence and Nicodemus' comfortable world of behaviour-and-reward.

Jesus wanted them to let go of these things that they could find Him.

Monday, October 26, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-26 [Month of Mission 2015] We need the boldness and power of the Holy Spirit

We need the boldness and power of the Holy Spirit

7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline...      (2Timothy1:7-9)
Now evidently, Timothy became a little fearful in the exercise of his gifts And I think that FEAR is a tool that Satan often uses to discourage our exercises of the gifts of the Spirit. "I don't know what people are going to think, you know, if I say that to them." And we have his fear that many times restricts us from the exercise of gifts. But "God hasn't given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, love, and a sound mind
" (2Ti 1:7). Spirit of power. Oh, thank God, the spirit of love, how important, and a sound mind.

"So...Do not be ashamed then of the testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but share in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God" (2Ti 1:8)

Now there are a lot of situations where we can just keep our mouths shut and stay out of trouble when we really ought to be opening our mouths and getting into trouble. You know, when people are saying blasphemous things we can just keep our mouth shut and sort of shrug. Or we can say to them, "Do you realize what you are saying? What a filthy mouth you have! Doesn't it bother you to have such a filthy mind and mouth?" Can we be bold enough to say to people when they are using the name of Jesus in a blasphemous way, "Hey, that hurts me. You're talking about a man who I love more than anyone else, who died to save me from my sins, and it hurts me to hear you talk about Him that way." Well, people sometimes get upset and they, look like, "Who do you think you are?" you know, and all that kind of stuff.

But yet Paul tells Timothy that "God has given us the spirit of power, of love and of a sound mind." Therefore, don't be ashamed of our Lord but be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel. "They who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).

Let us overcome the bumps and barriers through boldness and power of the Holy Spirit.
Jane Nyirongo is Minister Garden Presbyterian in Lusaka Mchinga Presbytery. Moderator synod of Zambia. Proud mother of three, and grandmother of four. Served the Lord in full time ministry for 26 years.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-25 [Month of Mission 2015] The clarity of the message is very important

(Our theme for the final week is "Overcoming the Bumps and Barriers")

The clarity of the message is very important

Some men came from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.' This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.      (Acts15:1-2)

In the first verse of the Book of Acts, Luke gives a very clear yet subtle clue as to the main topic of his second volume. The Book of Acts (his second volume) is about the ongoing ministry of Jesus. In Acts 1:1 Luke indicates this by stating that his former book (Luke's Gospel) is only about what Jesus "began" to do and teach. Acts will trace Jesus' ministry onwards and outwards "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). In the light of Jesus' ongoing ministry, the role of the disciples is to be "witnesses" of what they see and hear of Jesus' work and teaching (Acts 1:8).

When a controversy arose over the question of circumcision or non-circumcision of Gentiles, as seen in Acts 15, the way that the Christian leaders handled the situation was to go back and together trace how Jesus had been at work and what pointers the work of the Holy Spirit gave on this issue. As they strove to be faithful witnesses of Jesus' ongoing presence and involvement in the world their attention was drawn to what had taken place when Peter had been invited by Cornelius the Gentile, to visit him in his home and to minister to him, his wider family and Gentile friends. After listening attentively to the discussions and testimonies, James summed up the conclusion that they came to as follows: "Simon (Peter) has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself... It is my judgement that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God." In this way the church collectively identified what God was doing and as a consequence, aligned itself with the ongoing ministry of Jesus.

The end of the Book of Acts is left open ended without giving a clear conclusion to either Paul's ministry or his life. This open ending is a subtle reminder to all of us today that the challenge of being witnesses of Jesus' ongoing ministry still applies. Jesus' work and ministry has never come to an end. Today, the issue of whether to be circumcised or not is resolved but other new and just as pertinent issues face us.

To be a missional congregation or church is not a question of having new and fancy programmes, but for Ministers and Sessions and each Christian, like the early Apostles, to discern where and how Jesus is at work in one's context and to align one-self and one's congregation with the ministry of Jesus.
Eddie Germiquet is Ministry Secretary of the UPCSA and is closely involved in the selection and training of candidates for the ministry. He was ordained in 1978 and prior to his present position ministered in a number of congregations including St Paul's (East London); Fort Beaufort (Eastern Cape); Meyrin Protestant Church (Geneva) and Durbanville (Western Cape). He is married to Lauren and has four grown up children.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-24 [Month of Mission 2015] We need to promt-able

We need to promt-able

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means "queen of the Ethiopians"). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."      (Acts8:26-29)
Often when I give an instruction for my children to follow, I get a million questions or complaints... I just wish they would just go and do what I am asking, is that too much to ask of them??
I wonder if God has the same experience with us... Today's passage speaks about how the angel of the Lord asked Philip to go South on a desert road. Not once in this encounter does Philip question God or the angel as to where exactly or why. In fact even to this day it is not entirely clear why Philip was asked to do this, why he was asked to speak and expound the Word of the Lord or even baptise the Ethiopian eunuch. Of course I would love to speculate that this eunuch went on and many people were converted also, and maybe even the "Queen of the Ethiopians". But the text does neither confirm or deny this fantasy.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to be like the disciples who left everything to follow Jesus?
How would we react today to such a request? For me it would need something amazing like an angel for me to even consider the request.... what about you?
Often I pray, "use me Lord..." perhaps I need to reconsider this dangerous offer.

Lord, help us to be open and aware of the different ways you call us. Help us to be able, like Philip to do what you ask of us.

Melanie Cook, wife, mother and minister at St Giles Presbyterian Church, Chaplain to the Moderator of General Assembly.

Friday, October 23, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-23 [Month of Mission 2015] The Church should be an attractive signpost to God

The Church should be an attractive signpost to God

In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."      (Isaiah2:2-3)
The above verses capture the prophet's vision of Israel as the place that will draw God's people together. Israel was chosen for God's purpose: to become a light and signpost to the world of God's presence and hope. God walked with her, brought her out of bondage and hopelessness. But Israel seems to have forgotten that so quickly. She wants to give in to her own desires and wants – forsaking God rather than following God.

The church today has become like the people of Israel refusing to follow our Lord. We want to go our own way, seeking our own agenda and attempting to satisfy ourselves. We need to stop and ask: What does the Lord want? How can we fulfil God's purpose? The Christian church is called to proclaim God's grace and saving love in Jesus Christ to the world. When we fail to maintain our purpose then we lose the value of our message and existence.

We stand at the crossroads of a new world order, economic divides between the rich and the poor, immorality, poverty, HIV, a sexual revolution, secularization, religious pluralism, political corruption, abuse of women and children, gender discrimination and the list goes on. How does the church respond to all these? We need to be brought back to our real purpose as church. We need to proclaim the Risen Christ! We do that best when we are led back to the cross. Why? The cross and the resurrection speak of life, hope and victory in the midst of despair, defeat and death. More significantly the cross speaks of suffering love, grace, forgiveness and restoration. It reminds us that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it. So our task as church is to reach out to the suffering, sin-sick and lost world and to bring it into the love, grace and peace of Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of our Lord in suffering-love, humility and grace.

The Church as apostolic tells us that it is a "called out and sent out community". We are called by our Triune God, blessed by his presence and sent out to call and bless others in His name. We come so that we may "go and make disciples". The church does not exist just for believers; it actually exists for the world: A signpost to lead others to Jesus. The apostolic dimension reminds us that we are a missionary church, the people of God constantly on the march for God. In the words of John Calvin, the church is the "theatre of God's glory". Well, are we? May the Church, unlike Israel, be a signpost to the Glory of God!
Jerry Pillay teaches Church History at the University of Pretoria and he is also President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. He is devoted to God, his family, church, students and research.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-22 [Month of Mission 2015] Justice is a powerful gospel tool

Justice is a powerful gospel tool

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food...
"Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them"...
They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.      (Acts6:1-7)
This is an important episode in the life of the early church.

There had been an 'incident' in the church's daily life. And it was a hot potato! There were widows who were being neglected while others were being cared for... and the neglect was on racial grounds - Jewish women received care, Greek women didn't.

The disciples respond quickly and decisively. They recognise the urgency and they delegate the important task of food distribution to seven men: Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas (who all have Greek names) to right the wrong.

Not only do they take the time to entrust this this task to specific people, but they celebrate the spirituality of this practical task: They require that the candidates be filled with the Spirit and and then they pray for them and lay hands on them when they are appointed.

I am fascinated by the outcome of this action. When the injustice was addressed in this thorough and godly way, three things happened:

  1. The word of God spread
  2. The number of disciples increased
  3. A large number of priests came to faith.

All this because an injustice was addressed.

I'm especially interested in the large number of priests who were converted by this. Could it be that they were so disillusioned by the corruption and nationalism of Judaism - just think of the money-changers in the court of the Gentiles - that this example of justice, fairness and swift, practical action really touched them?

The church gains great credibility when it acts practically and with deep-spirituality to injustices. This is not party-politics, but the politics of Jesus: Love one another, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, liberate the captives and bring relief to the oppressed.

Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church Cell: 082-5510752

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

EmmDev 2015-10-21 [Month of Mission 2015] How we have influence.

How we have influence.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.      (1Peter3:15-16)
Our perceptive elders have said, 'when a lizard basks in the sun it knows it has a hiding-place nearby' (Dzvinyu kuzambira zuva kuona mwena). Christians are called upon to be like that lizard that knows its hiding place. A Christian's hiding place should be Christ and that should be the basis of the hope in a Christian's life.

In today's two scripture verses we are told to anchor our hearts on Christ so much so that those who see us will be so astounded by the hope that we get from trusting in Jesus that they ask us for the source of our hope. It is not just about having hope while others do not have it. It is about the quality of the hope that Christians should have. This is a kind of hope that does not avoid adversity but a hope that is based on going through suffering and conquering.

Setting apart Christ as Lord includes acknowledging that the one who was born in oblivion in a crowded town is the one to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess as Lord. It includes acknowledging that the one who was born in poor circumstances is the one worshipped by wealthy people from the east who brought to him expensive gifts. It includes acknowledging that he who has nowhere to lay down his head is the one who owns heaven and earth and all contained there. It includes acknowledging that the one who was wounded transforms wounds into healing instruments. It includes acknowledging that death has no sting anymore because he died to take its sting away and and rose so that death is now effectively dead.

With your heart anchored to such a Lord what can destroy your hope? With a hope that grows from that hiding place, people will want to know what makes you tick, so to speak. With Christ as your Lord you humbly tell the story of this amazing Lord who transforms your wounds and changes, yes, even your death into a germination of something new. Something new that no eye has seen yet. You may be blind to many things in this life but your confidence lies in the one who is Lord in your heart!

So you bask in peace and joy regardless of circumstances because your hiding place is the Rock of ages that was cleft for you!
Paul Neshangwe is a friend who is pastor to Makokoba Uniting Presbyterian Church. He and his wife Lydia are blessed as biological parents to T.C and Melusi and also privileged to be parents to many more!