Wednesday, December 7, 2016

EmmDev 2016-12-06 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (9): Consequences of #2

Hi Everyone
I sent this one out yesterday, but it seems to have got lost, here it is again.

Generosity (9): Consequences of #2

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!      (2Corinthians9:12-15)
In the previous eDev we started looking at the consequences of generosity and saw that God makes His grace abound in and through us. that He increases our seed store and that He is glorified.

Today's reading takes this a bit further:
Firstly, good generosity doesn't only meet needs but brings glory to God. There are ways of giving that make the giver look good and there are ways of giving that make God look good. We should strive for the latter.

Secondly, good giving should come from obedience to God's prompting and not from guilt or peer-pressure. When it comes from obedience to God's prompting, people can sense the "right-ness" of the decision and will recognise God's hand in the giving and praise Him for it.

Thirdly, when people see Godly giving at work in the heart of His people, they are moved to prayer (rather than showy displays of gratitude) because they see the kindness of God, who gave His Son, being lived out in His people. Again, this points towards God's glory and not human glory.

And so we complete a marathon session on generosity...
We've seen that:
1. Generosity shown to anyone is actually generosity to God.
2. We do it because of what Jesus did for us.
3. Our thoughts and attitudes are more important than the gift.
4. There is a justice issue of equality around giving.
5. All giving should be done decently and in order.
6. Giving transforms brokenness and so Paul pushes generosity.
7. Understanding that "our stuff belongs to God" will help us give cheerfully.
8. Giving bears good fruit like grace abounding in our lives
9. Giving also transforms the giver and brings glory to God.

I hope you've enjoyed the journey.
Christmas can be a time of generosity - may I challenge you to read through the last few EmmDevs and think through your generosity?
Having reached the end of this section, I'm going to end the edevs for this year. I pray for God's blessing over you and your loved ones over this Christ-mass season and I pray that you may have time to rest, reflect and revive.
I will re-commence when the government schools start up again.
God bless.

Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church Cell: 082-5510752

Friday, December 2, 2016

EmmDev 2016-12-02 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (8): Consequences of #1

Generosity (8): Consequences of (#1)

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
"He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever."
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.      (2Corinthians9:8-11)
When God's people are genuinely generous, then God does beautiful things in our midst. Let's look at a few:
  1. Grace abounds, so that we abound in good works. What does this mean? Grace is the understanding that all the goodness and forgiveness that we receive from God is undeserved and unearned by us who receive it. GRACE is God's Riches At Christ's Expense.
    When we properly grasp and understand this kind of generosity, goodness and grace it transforms us - We become kind and generous people who "abound in every good work" which increases our understanding of grace and makes use do more good work which increases our understanding of grace, which... (and so the cycle continues...)
  2. He increases our store of seed. We become rich in every way (not just money) so that we can be generous on every occasion. When we cultivate generous hearts we begin to see life differently we realise that there is more than money that we can give. We can give time. We can give encouragement. We can give some of our knowledge away. We can give a friendly smile or a kind word. We can share a meal, offer a safe space, lend a listening ear. The more we do it, the more God will work in us and the better we will become.
  3. God gets the Glory. When our generosity is God directed and not self-serving, people see it and God gets glorified.

Have you grasped Grace? Has Grace grasped you?
Take a moment to reflect on God's Gifts of Life(Creation), His Son (Christmas and Easter), the Holy Spirit and Providence from day to day. Count your abundant blessings.

Now go into the day and use your time and your talents, your smile, and your kindness of heart to share this grace with others. Don't give money today. Give of yourself.

When we give away of what God has given us, it doesn't become less, it becomes more!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

EmmDev 2016-12-01 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (7): Seeing it differently.

Generosity (7): Seeing it differently.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.      (2Corinthians9:6-7)
There is a little cartoon that I enjoy: It's a family of three shaking hands with the minister at the door. The baby and the husband have tear-stained faces. The wife says: "I'm sorry about my baby crying pastor - he's teething." "I understand," replies the pastor, "but why is your husband also crying?" "Oh" she replies, "He's tithing."

For many of people, being generous is hard. They see generosity as sacrificing their time, talent and treasure. They see their income as something that has been hard-earned, their time as an exclusive commodity and only want to use their talents if there is adequate recognition.

But Paul doesn't see our possessions, opportunities and abilities as finite commodities to be hung on to - he sees them as seeds. When a seed is put into the ground, watered and kept weed-free it produces a plant that produces more seed - and so there is multiplication.

Now while we don't buy into the claims of the so-called "prosperity gospel" that implies that the blessing for financial generosity is financial prosperity, we cannot ignore the clear indications from Scripture that the attitude of generosity bears good fruit. The good fruit can take many forms: undeserved good health, amazing opportunities, strength in weakness, love in families, the blessings of simplicity and the reward of seeing the our seed grow in the lives of others.

God loves the cheerful giver.

If tithing is like teething to us then we are missing the point.

A cheerful giver realises that:
- everything they have comes from God
- God is good and there are many good things in our lives
- we have much that we can offer to serve God and others

It's not only treasure, it's our time, and it's our talent.
But we can give away all three with a bad attitude... Then our heart's soil is dry and weedy and very little good will grow.

But if we recognise that time, talent and treasure aren't actually ours, that seed is best put in the ground rather than hoarded and that great good can come from generous cheerful hearts, then great blessing awaits.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-30 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (6): Strong-arm tactics?

Generosity (6): Strong-arm tactics?

In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ. 24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.
2CO 9:1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we--not to say anything about you--would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.      (2Corinthians8:22-9:5)
There is a funny inconsistency in this passage. In the middle of these seven verses Paul says: "There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints"... But then he does!

This passage gives the clear sense that Paul is strong-arming the congregation -

  • He's sending two guys with big reputations along with Titus.
  • He's challenging them to show "proof of your love" so that the "churches can see it."
  • He reminds them that he has boasted about their enthusiasm.
  • He warns them that they must be ready as they had said they would be.
  • He tells them that they could embarrass him.
  • He sends the Titus-team to make sure the arrangements are finalised and to prepare them so that the giving is not haphazard and by-the-way, but deliberate and focussed.

For many of us, our first response would be: "This is not cool! Paul is using every trick in the book (guilt, peer-pressure, shame and authority) to cajole them into being generous!!!

But we have to remember where the congregation has been. There has been gross immorality in the congregation, they've been divided into camps, they have been taking each other to court, they have been fighting over spiritual gifts and they have been abusing Holy Communion and some, according to Paul, have died (struck dead) because of the severity of their sin and divisiveness.

Where strife has been generosity fades. When we're licking our wounds from brokenness and discipline, we tend to be self-centred rather than other-centred.

Generosity matters. It is the antidote for crippling self-centredness and narcissism. It's what is needed when our egos are bruised and diminished.
Paul knows this. He is shamelessly pushing the congregation. He is pushing the congregation - pushing very hard - to get them to health again. He is challenging them to be better than they were. Pride, Arrogance and Selfishness got them into trouble - generosity will get them out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-29 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (5): Decently and in Order

Generosity (5): Decently and in Order

I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. 17 For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. 18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. 20 We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. 21 For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.      (2Corinthians8:16-21)
Paul is now making practical arrangements for the Corinthians to offer the gift they had promised to assist the suffering Church in Jerusalem. From the book of Acts we know that this was quite a significant and unifying gesture in the broader church and in Paul's careful arrangements here, we see some good clues around handling money:
  • Paul sends Titus who is known, trusted and loved by the congregation.
  • He then indicates that Titus will be accompanied by a brother (we think it is Barnabas) who:
    - is highly regarded
    - is specially chosen by the wider church for this task.
  • Paul also makes the motive clear: to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.
  • He indicates a desire to "avoid any criticism" and "do what is right" in the eyes of God and the people.

Handling money in the church is an area that can often go wrong and often very badly so. Paul very deliberately walks a high road in working with other people's generosity.

  • Work with trusted people who are recognised by the wider community
  • Be clear as to why we are doing this
  • Do things transparently and responsibly

This should always be true when we handle other people's money.

Giving is something that we should take seriously.

  • We must take the giver seriously. We should be clear about the need and the reason we are asking them to give.
  • We should have a good process with checks and balances and high credibility to protect both the giver and the recipient.
  • We should take the receiver seriously too:
    - We should not create dependence.
    - It's good to give through an intermediary to reduce the sense of indebtedness.
    - We should make the glory of God the clear motive rather than pity.

During this Christmas Season we will be confronted with many needs. We can be generous in a haphazard fashion or we can be focussed and deliberate like Paul was.

Friday, November 25, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-25 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (4): The Principle of Equality

Generosity (4): The Principle of Equality

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15 as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."      (2Corinthians8:13-15)
This is a difficult aspect of generosity.
The gaps between the "have's" and the "have not's" can be complicated. They can have historical and political roots. They can be based on culture, class, language, gender, race, and geography. There are compelling studies in some big cities where two children growing up 1km away from each other can have vastly different futures simply because of their family of origin or the schools they attend.

In our own country there is talk of compensation, land distribution and restitution. I am not smart enough or wise enough to weigh in on these difficult and complex challenges from an economic or political angle. I can only approach these challenges from the truth of Scripture and Paul helps me by placing the quest for equality in the context of generosity.

He draws on the Old Testament story of the distribution of manna when he quotes "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little" from Ex16:18. The NIV Study Bible explains that often the elderly weren't able to gather enough, but that the young often energetically gathered more than was needed and would share (this was helped by the fact that stockpiled manna went mouldy!) Generosity would balance the scales.

When we have been blessed we should be generous.
Although it doesn't go mouldy overnight, earthly wealth is still temporary - it doesn't last into eternity.

For those of use who have been blessed with health, energy, education and wealth we should always remember, to whom much is given, much is required. Biblically speaking the challenges of inequality are best dealt with when the "have's" are generous.

Because who knows? Maybe one day the roles are reversed...

Thursday, November 24, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-24 [Treasure Cupboard] Gratitude

Dear EmmDev friends.
I apologise for the gap in the edevs - it has been incredibly hectic over the last ten days.

Today's dev is a re-work of something I wrote in 2012 and it springs out of the Thanksgiving Holiday in the USA. By way of introduction here's something I wrote to the congregation yesterday:

Thursday is "Thanksgiving" in the USA. My friend George has commented that it is quite a thought that an attitude of gratitude has been "instituted" through a public holiday, but that it is actually good thing.  If we adopt the attitude and not the holiday, then we don't have to worry about Turkey and cranberry sauce and can focus on simply being thankful. May I offer you challenge?

Take some time to make a list of 10 things that you are very grateful for and then take a moment to thank God in prayer. Then also list 5 people you want to personally thank (eye-to-eye or in writing) and then thank them.

It will do your soul a lot of good!!!


14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."      (Luke17:14-19)
Ten lepers came to Jesus as a group. Leprosy made them outcasts. So much so that they banded together to come to Jesus. They found their courage in numbers. One of them was a Samaritan and Jews usually hated them, but their leprosy even overcame their racial bigotry.

They ask Jesus for healing and He sends them to the priest who would certify them cleansed. On the way they are healed - Jesus honours their faithful obedience to His command.

Maybe the other nine (who we presume to be Jewish) simply regarded healing as their right. Maybe they saw Jesus simply as an instrument of God's blessing that was their right as children of Abraham. Maybe they would have made the appropriate thank offerings at the temple. They aren't necessarily "bad" men.

But the Samaritan sees deeper. He recognises that the healing is undeserved and that the Healer is more than an instrument in God's hand. He senses that there is something special about Jesus and, in an act of worship, throws himself at Jesus' feet.

One can sense Jesus' disappointment. He had hoped to do more than simply heal ten broken bodies - he had hoped to reach ten souls. Nine of them were healed in their bodies, but it seems clear that they did not understand undeserved grace.

Only one of ten realised that what he had received was not a right, but a gift. He alone realised that the Giver was even greater than the gift. He alone was healed in body and soul.

Gratitude reminds us that we are not God and that we have no "rights" to "demand." Gratitude connects us to the Giver!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-16 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (3): It IS the thought that counts

Generosity (3): It IS the thought that counts

And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.      (2Corinthians8:10-12)
Every Christmas, almost every parent finds some way of telling their children "It's not the size of the gift, but the thought that matters."

Paul is doing the same...

The Corinthians started well, not only by starting to give, but having the desire to give.

But one of the challenges with giving is that it is easy to start the process of giving, but much harder to see it through. There are many challenges to "finishing":

  • We get compassion fatigue.
  • The initial warm fuzzy we get from giving has faded
  • We lose the rose-coloured spectacles we first looked at the recipients with - we begin to see their mistakes and failures (their humanity)
  • The giving costs us more toward the end than it did at the beginning
  • It feels like what we're giving is so little and we wonder if it is effectual
  • Others give more than we do
  • We feel people are not grateful

Reading between the lines, the Corinthians were having trouble "finishing" and it seems they were discouraged by the fact that they had very little to give.

But Paul puts this into good perspective when he says: "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have."

It really is the thought (willing attitude) and the finishing that counts!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-15 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (2): Because of Jesus

Generosity (2): Because of Jesus

So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7 But just as you excel in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us--see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.      (2Corinthians8:6-9)
This chapter and the next one are all about giving and generosity. The practical situation is a famine that left the church in Jerusalem in great need. Verses 1-5 looked at generosity as something that was prompted by grace, spontaneous and directed toward God.

The section we are looking at today highlights two key aspects around this important passage about generosity...

Firstly, generosity is best accompanied by the attitude of sincere love. Although Paul could be accused of "nagging" them (he spends two whole chapters on this issue of giving) he repeatedly makes it clear that giving will be their decision.

Paul walks a fine line - he's reminding them and not commanding them. He's coaching them in the discipline of kindness and generosity.

Sometimes we don't give because we are distracted by all sorts of things - this is an attention deficit problem. Sometimes we don't give because our love for others has grown cold - this is a heart problem and it is a much more serious one.

Paul is saying: "I think you have an attention deficit problem, make sure it's not heart trouble."

Secondly, Paul reminds us that we learn generosity from Jesus who, "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor..."
Take a moment to consider just a few facets of His generosity:

  • A cattle trough in place of a throne
  • A feeble, finite, and fragile human body in place of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence.
  • The confines of time, space, hunger, thirst, fatigue and dependence in place of the glory at God's right hand
  • The cruelty of the cross compared to the worship of the angels

And Hebrews 12 tells us that He paid this price because it gave Him joy to do so because it would secure our salvation.

How do these two views impact your perspective on generosity?

Friday, November 11, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-11 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Generosity (1): Giving to God

Generosity (1): Giving to God

And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will.      (2Corinthians8:1-5)
This whole chapter has to do with a specific situation which serves to illustrate the principle of generosity. The specific situation was that there had been a severe famine and the church in Jerusalem was in great need. Paul had appealed to all the churches he was involved in collect funds to assist the church in Jerusalem.

From the clues we have, scholars have deduced that Paul had previously asked the Corinthians to collect funds to help with this need, and that they had made a good start. Unfortunately when the tensions began and the relationship came under strain, the generosity faded.

Paul now renews his request to them, and this chapter becomes a very helpful guideline to generosity and giving.

The Macedonian Churches were the churches in the northern part of Greece. These were the congregations at Philippi and Thessalonica. Paul had experienced major opposition in these cities, but the gospel had taken firm root and the believers, although persecuted, were devoted, faithful and generous.

We note three things about their giving:

  1. They gave generously in spite of their persecution and poverty. Paul attributes this to the grace and joy that they had received from the gospel. They were so grateful for God's abundant goodness and grace that they were super generous.
  2. They did not need to be nagged or pressurised - they gave spontaneously ("Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us...") They saw giving as a privilege and a form of service.
  3. They weren't giving to impress Paul but God.

Paul argues that the Macedonian generosity flowed from God's grace. If we want to learn how to be generous, the best place to start is God's generosity and grace. God's amazing grace grabbed the hearts of the Macedonians and transformed them - they became generous because they experienced God as generous.

The lessons of the Macedonians become three important questions for us:

  1. Have I let God's super generosity to me impact my wallet and my diary?
  2. Do I regard service as a duty or a privilege?
  3. Am I doing this for God or for others

These are important questions...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-10 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Good Reproof.... (2)

Good Reproof.... (2)

So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.      (2Corinthians7:12-16)
It seems that Paul's "letter of tears" (which we don't have) had to deal with a very specific situation - one that involved a perpetrator and a victim.

But Paul is astute in relationships - he argues that his letters and calls to repentance were not because of this specific situation, but rather a test of the congregation's devotion to Paul and ultimately to Christ. (He says "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." 1Cor11:1)

Paul was delighted to discover that his reproof had been received well by the Corinthians. They had treated Titus well when he visited on Paul's behalf and this convinced Paul that they were sincere in their devotion.

This brings out one of the clear principles of leadership in the church: We have authority when we are under authority.

The bad teachers that had infiltrated Corinth were encouraging the congregation to follow them and discard Paul who had founded the church and built it on the solid foundation of Christ. They depicted him as a letter-bully (we'll see more of this later) and urged the congregation to ignore him.

But Paul's credibility won the day with the Corinthians and they showed great hospitality to Titus and paid respectful attention to Paul's rebuke.

This is often the acid test of leaders: are they willing to submit to the authority of godly leaders placed over them? And are they humble enough and willing to accept correction?

At this point the Corinthians have proven faithful...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

EmmDev 2016-11-09 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Good Reproof....

After a break for the month of mission, we return to our journey through 2 Corinthians.

Good Reproof....

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while-- 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.      (2Corinthians7:8-11)
It's hard to confront people when they are doing wrong. It's hard to challenge people even when it's for their own good. It's hard to tell someone that their pride is excessive, that their ways are too harsh or that they have dropped the ball. We call this a rebuke or a reproof and it's never easy to give one.

Just to recap: Paul worked in Corinth for a long time and then moved on to plant more churches. Some things went wrong in the congregation at Corinth and he had to write two tough letters to them (1Corinthians and a "letter of tears"). These reproofs were not easy - they're not easy to receive and they're not easy to give...

Paul indicates his own internal struggle: First he says "I do not regret it (causing sorrow by my letter)" and then he says "Though I did regret it -- I see my letter hurt you..."

A good rebuke or reproof brings Godly sorrow. It shows people how far they have wandered from God and brings them back to Him. A good rebuke doesn't harm the person but addresses the behaviour without devaluing the person. But even Paul's reproof was misunderstood although only for a while.

Paul makes it clear that a good correction brings "Godly sorrow" which brings "repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret." This is completely opposite to "worldly sorrow" which brings death.

I love Paul's description of the effects of truthful, loving correction:

  • It brings earnestness: We become truthful, not only in word but in action.
  • It brings eagerness to clear ourselves: we're motivated to do better - not just collapse in a heap of guilt and depression.
  • It brings alarm, longing and concern: We're more vigilant about the pitfalls, we long to be better and we're even more concerned about the things of God.
  • It brings readiness to see justice done. We become more concerned with what is right than about our comfort or what others think.

Paul argues that their gracious and Godly response to his reproof means that they have learned from their mistakes and are free of systemic repeating sin - thus proving themselves innocent in that they have been forgiven and "will go and sin no more."

This, surely, is the purpose of a good reproof.
(We'll pick this up again tomorrow...)

Friday, November 4, 2016

2016-11-04 [Month of Mission 2016] Being winsome to win some.

Being winsome to win some.

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.      (1Corinthians9:19-22)
To be "winsome" means "to attractive or appealing in appearance or character."

In this beautiful passage Paul talks about the price he is willing to pay in order that people may be reached with the gospel.

He talks about being willing to sacrifice status, comfort, simplicity and strength and being willing to embrace service, complexity, humility and weakness. He is willing to do all of this in order to reach others.

Paul is not the first to do this...
He walks in the footsteps of Jesus who sacrificed the glory of heaven and embraced the brokenness of humanity so that He could reach us and save us. And Jesus did this at the behest of the Father who gave His one and only Son...

Paul is not the last to do this...
Centuries of Christianity have been made possible by those who have given up status, privilege, and rights and have made sacrifices of time, talent and treasure to reach others.
They became winsome to win some.

And so must we...
Over the last month we have been served by the time and talents of those who have written our Month of Mission Devotions. They have inspired and provoked us. They have captured our emotions and engaged our minds.

And so we express a very big THANK YOU to our dev writers for 2016: Christopher Judelsohn, George Marchinkowski, Abraham Nkhata, Lentikile Mashoko, Lita Madaka, Matarofa Mutonganavo, Thembinkosi Nopapaza, Victor Letuka, Lungile Mpetsheni, Jackie Barker, Peter Langerman, Alan Cameron, Paul Neshangwe, Mukondi Ramulondi, Armando Sontange, Ruth Armstrong, Brian Smith, Christopher Mkandawire, Andries Combrink, James Gray, Eddie Germiquet, Lydia Neshangwe, Jerry Pillay, Douglas Bower, Glen Craig, Melanie Cook, and Dennis van der Spuy. I drove you crazy by limiting you to 450 words but you have been winsome. You have been faithful in serving God into the mission field with your time and gifts and we pray His blessing on you. May we all do the same!

This formally concludes the Month of Mission which is an initiative of the UPCSA Mission and Discipleship Committee.
PS: Theo Groeneveld writes a daily devotion Tues-Fri during school terms. If you would like to subscribe you can sign up at or you can reply to this email and ask to be subscribed.

Monday, October 31, 2016

2016-10-31 [Month of Mission 2016] 31. Helping a doubter

31. Helping a doubter

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."       (John20:24-29)
I was reading some reviews on a commentary and one particular reviewer said that the commentary in question stretches the mind and anchors the soul. The telling the story of doubting Thomas does exactly that.

Thomas was not with the other disciples when they met on that first Sunday evening of Resurrection Day? The indication is that he was devastated, discouraged, distraught and disappointed. That led to his distance from the disciples and the events surrounding the death of one he had followed.

Thomas is not one depicted negatively in the NT except in this instance. John 11:16 depicts him as a courageous man, willing to go to Judea and die with the Lord!

The verb said in John 20:25 means that the disciples "kept saying to him" that they had seen the Lord Jesus Christ alive. He cannot get his head around a deceased man rising from the dead and he wants absolute proof.

He is only asking for a repeat of the previous Sunday. I believe the Holy Spirit is allowing the situation to develop for our benefit. What comes out of the second Sunday meeting stretches the mind and anchors the soul.

Jesus had heard Thomas' words; nobody had to report them to Him. So, the next Lord's Day, Jesus appears in the room and stands among them. Here is the graciousness of the Son. Not aloof, not a mystery, but revealing himself to the disciples and Thomas. Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Here Jesus stands in their midst, giving full proof of his resurrection body. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the great revealers. He meets Thomas, the realist, at the point of his own need. There is no record that Thomas ever accepted the Lord's invitation to touch and feel. John 20:29 indicates that Thomas' testimony did not come from touching Jesus, but from his seeing Jesus. Jesus does not want his precious disciple hanging in the limbo of doubt. "Do not be unbelieving, but believing." Neither does he want you and I to be hamstrung by doubt and limited by indecision. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

My Lord and my God!" is the last of the testimonies that John records to the deity of Jesus Christ. So it is that the most outrageous doubter of the resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of the Lord who rose from the dead. Then comes an additional beatitude written just for you and I: "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Thomas quit his doubt and the rest is history as they say.
Submitted by Dennis van der Spuy, husband to Pauline, now retired and living in Centurion

Sunday, October 30, 2016

2016-10-30 [Month of Mission 2016] 30. Crumbs & Exclusion

30. Crumbs & Exclusion

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.
26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
28 Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.      (Matthew15:21-28)
When I thought of poverty, I imagined people at traffic lights begging for money or people destitute living under bridges. My theory on poverty as a minister and as the church was that we are called to work with the poor but also with the understanding that this problem would never go away. Verses where Jesus and the woman who poured perfume on his feet came to mind, when the disciples say to Jesus that perfume could have been sold and the money used to help the poor, Jesus replies and says you will always have the poor. 2 years ago I was asked to represent the denomination on a journey with CWM, which was looking at the eradication of poverty. Note it didn't say the "reduction" or "elevation" of poverty, implying that there would be less, but rather CWM was talking about eradication. I was convinced that was impossible... after three colloquia meetings in various parts of Africa, I was transformed. My mind was changed...
Is it possible for Jesus' mind to be changed? Is it possible for Jesus to be challenged?
These questions raise probably more theological questions than it answers. Although if we are to believe in the incarnational God, fully divine and fully human, then we have no choice but to entertain the idea.
If you read the chapter in its entirety, Jesus has a conversation with the Pharisees about them using the laws to do or get what they want. The perception is that the Pharisees use the law to benefit themselves and don't use the law to bless others, which is what the law is suppose to do.

Then enter the Canaanite Woman asking Jesus to heal her daughter.
Interesting things to note: The woman addresses Jesus as the 'Son of David'. Jesus ignores the woman. Only after the disciples ask Jesus to tell her to go away, does he react. The words Jesus uses are shocking, calling the woman a dog.
Jesus engages this woman and He seems to have all the answers (perhaps laws); perhaps He didn't bank on this woman having her own answers. The woman speaks to Jesus 'heart (v18). Jesus is changed somehow...

Are we open to being challenged, as we do God's mission in the world? Do we assume we have all the answers? Can our minds be changed or challenged to bless people who we don't expect God to be working for/with??
Melanie Cook is a wife to Gordon, and mother to Joshua and Rebecca. Currently serving at St Giles in Johannesburg. She is a self confessed coffee fanatic, who dreams of living in Knysna one day.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

2016-10-29 [Month of Mission 2016] 29. A Last-minute Man

29. A Last-minute Man

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."
43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."      (Luke23:38-42)
According to a commentator: "There is only one death-bed conversion in the Bible, that all may have hope; there is only one that none may presume."

There is something fittingly appropriate that Jesus, who had shared in a baptism of sinners, had lived among sinners, should die between sinners.

Isaiah prophesised that He would be numbered with the transgressors (Is 53:12) and the measure of His Love and His identification with us in our sin is this: that He died with the flotsam and jetsam of the world. The hypocritical religious leaders, not content with engineering His crucifixion, in their hatred, maliciously taunted and tormented Jesus, aggravating His pain. "He saved others, let Him save Himself". "If You are the King of the Jews, come down from the Cross." Jesus' reaction to this calculated insult and injury, was "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do".

It was then that one of the criminals felt himself smitten in conscience by the example of Jesus. The condemned criminal was convinced by the bearing and behaviour of Jesus that He was innocent, and he felt convicted by Jesus' goodness and by his own guilt. This criminal on the cross became aware that he was in the presence of a goodness that was as regal as it was divine. Turning to his companion-in-crime and punishment, he reminded him of the imminence of death and the certainty of judgement to come. "Do you not fear God, even though you are justifiably under the same condemnation?"

There is hope for a person who begins to understand that it is God with whom we have to do. This criminal on the cross was such, and his new understanding was immediately reflected in an intense and anxious concern for the welfare of his companion – this is GRACE in action – God's love already working in this convicted criminal as he responded to Jesus' prayer "Father, forgive them ….." then after expressing his concern for his companion he turns to Jesus: "Lord, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom. This is what happens when we make contact with the CROSS. When we lose contact with the CROSS our Christian life becomes flabby and frothy.
Jesus said: "If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me".

When we renew contact with the Cross, like the criminal, we see ourselves as we really are; our concern for others grows and the Hope that is within us flourishes so that we reach out to others in their need. The Cross becomes the Empty Cross – the Cross of Victory and Resurrection.
It is never too late.
Glen Craig is a retired UPCSA Minister, still active and living at Kenton-on-Sea. Jeanette is his wife and they have 4 surviving children and 10 grandchildren.

Friday, October 28, 2016

2016-10-28 [Month of Mission 2016] 28. A Man Tragically Trapped

28. A Man Tragically Trapped

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' "
20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.      (Mark10:17-22)
There are many things that can stop us from coming to Jesus and committing our lives to Him. This passage is just one example of how a person can be trapped and either unable or unwilling to give everything over to Christ. The story of the rich young ruler is told in three of the four gospels. Though Mark does not call him rich, it is implied in the text.

Our story opens with this man running and kneeling before Jesus, calling Him "good" and asking how he can inherit eternal life. On the surface, it may look like this man is earnestly seeking eternal life. But Jesus goes deeper and gets to the heart of the matter. To begin with, he tells the man, no person can be good enough to obtain eternal life. For if God is the standard for goodness, then without a doubt, all of us fall short. But our Lord, like a master surgeon, doesn't stop there, he goes deeper still, by challenging the man's religiosity. When Jesus questions him about the commandments, the young man is confident that he has kept the whole law. Again, this is a false route to eternal life, since none of us can work our way into heaven. It does not matter how religious we are, the Bible says that all our good works are like filthy rags before the Lord. There is an old saying, just because you spend a lot of time in a garage, doesn't necessarily make you a car. We can go to church every Sunday, be an elder, serve on various church committees, we can lead Bible Studies, be part of prayer groups, and do many other religious things. But if the Lord does not change our hearts, no amount of law keeping, will get us into his good books.

Finally, the truth is revealed. Jesus tells the rich young man to give up his earthly wealthy life, that he may inherit eternal life. This is just too high a price to pay for eternal life, so the young man walks away.

As I said earlier, many things keep us from truly following Christ. It may be our jobs, our peers, family expectations, or simply just the pull of the world. What are we holding onto today, which is trapping us and stopping us from following Him? Do not become tragically trapped by things that will pass away, rot, rust, or become worthless. Jesus must have all of us or none of us. Like the famous hymn says: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full into his wonderful face, and the things of the world, will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

Douglas Bower is richly blessed to be married to Caitlin and will soon to be a father. He is also the Minister of St Columba's Presbyterian Church in Hatfield, Pretoria. His favourite saying is: "God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him alone."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

2016-10-27 [Month of Mission 2016] How Jesus treats those who fail

How Jesus treats those who fail

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
29 "Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."      (Matthew14:28-33)
One of my favourite Biblical characters is Peter because I can identify so much with his journey of faith and experience. Here when we meet him in verses 28-33 he is simply overwhelmed when he sees Jesus walking on water. So much so that he shouts out, "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." Fear turns into faith and courage because Peter realises that with Jesus he is safe. Jesus tells him to "come!" Peter got out of the boat without hesitation and headed for Christ.

However, we are told in the story that when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and began to sink. Peter did three things here: 1) He took his eyes off Jesus when he saw the wind. It happens to most of us. We fix our eyes on Jesus in trust and hope but then when the wind of suffering, death, bereavement, broken relationships, sickness and turmoil catches our eyes, we lose focus. We seem to settle on the wind rather than on Jesus. 2) Peter started to sink. That's precisely what happens to us when fear takes control. Fear and faith cannot live in the same heart, for fear always blinds the eyes to the presence of the Lord. 3) Peter knew that he was sinking but he also knew that he could cry out to Jesus: "Lord, save me!" Peter came back to his senses and realised that he needed to turn back to Jesus.

Note what Jesus does to help Peter. This is an indication of how Jesus treats those who fail. Firstly, Jesus immediately reached out and caught him. This is what Jesus does for us. He gives us the assurance of His presence and instils faith and hope in our hearts. We may not be immediately taken out of our situation but we are certainly given a new perspective about what is happening. Jesus comes to us in our storms of life and helps us to see things differently. Secondly, Jesus offered Peter a gentle rebuke: "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" Sometimes we also need this when we are confronted with failure. The question to Peter could be put like this: "Why did you take your eyes off me?" We probably do this a lot as well. But Jesus gently, and sometimes strongly, reminds us that we should not lose faith in Him. Thirdly, Jesus took Peter through the storm and placed him on the boat again. Isn't that remarkable? This is how Jesus journeys with you through failure giving you hope and restoration.
Jerry Pillay is married to Sandra and they are blessed with three children, currently teaches Church History at the University of Pretoria and serves as President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

2016-10-26 [Month of Mission 2016] Not all were grateful (but did they need to be?)

Not all were grateful (but did they need to be?)

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well.      (Luke17:11-19 )
When I was in primary school I got into trouble with my British schoolteacher for not saying "thank you" when she handed me a book. She said I had no manners. But if my mother were present she would have been proud of me. The reason is that in my culture a child may say thank you, not with words, but with the action of clapping hands and curtsying before taking a gift. These two gestures communicate both the gratitude and humility of the receiver. Unfortunately for me, my teacher did not know this.

Of the ten lepers that Jesus healed, only one came back to show gratitude. My mind is shocked at the audacity of the nine who didn't come back to give thanks! They didn't have the cultural excuse that I had in primary school. In fact, they had no excuse at all after being healed of the most incurable, stigmatizing and ostracizing disease of their time!
God sends us to go and minister to the world around us in some meaningful ways.
But -

  • Not all whom you serve are grateful.
  • Not all in your own family or community say the simple words thank you.
  • Not all in your congregation recognize you for what you do.
  • Not all your fellow workers ever acknowledge the gifts you share with them.

But do they need to be grateful? One most shocking aspect of the story of the lepers is that Jesus had compassion on them all and healed them, including the nine 'non-thankful ones'! The leper who returned to show gratitude to God was a foreigner. Surely the nine were the right people deserving the healing and therefore didn't need to be grateful? In any case, they had not been commanded to show gratitude to Jesus, but to show themselves to the priest according to the law, which they did.

Like the people we serve and minister to, we have to remember in humility that –

  • Like us, many are too wounded to recognize real love when it comes their way.
  • Like us, many are too poor and oppressed in spirit to show gratitude.
  • Like us, many are too proud to recognize our ministry to them.
  • Like us, many are simply too distracted to appreciate what has been done for them.

It would be so nice if the people we served were grateful. But their gratitude is not a necessity, or a prerequisite, for our doing ministry. Gratitude wasn't a prerequisite for Jesus to die for us and give us liberty.
Lydia (her grandma's name) Cynthia (her mum's name) Neshangwe (her surname from her husband, Paul) is a product of the hands of many; she is a minister in the Presbytery of Zimbabwe.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

2016-10-25 [Month of Mission 2016] Zacchaeus


Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' "
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."      (Luke19:1-10)
The encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus is a spontaneous one. Jesus is passing through Jericho and notices Zacchaeus in a tree. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus if he can lead him through the sinner's prayer but instead asks Zacchaeus if he can be his guest. It is the simple things like the spontaneous fellowship, the compliments about the tasty meal and the freedom to laugh together that touch Zacchaeus.

The moment of change comes when Zacchaeus, the short, stunted man stands up (v.8) and attains his full stature and personality. A comparison of Zacchaeus before standing up and after standing up results in the following contrasts:

  1. Having been stingy rich; he becomes generous, offering half his belongings to the poor.
  2. Having taken advantage of people financially through his position as tax collector; he becomes a source of healing and restoration by offering to pay back up to 4x.
  3. Having been an outcast of society and reduced to climbing trees like a monkey; his human dignity is restored and is welcomed into God's family as a child of Abraham.

This encounter takes place shortly before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem where he is to die and then resurrect (stand up) from the dead. The moment when Zacchaeus "stands up" in the presence of Jesus is a prefiguring of the transforming power of the resurrection which takes that which is worthless and lifeless and liberates it to attain its full stature as intended by God. Zacchaeus can now stand tall and become the person God intended him to be.

May we see in the resurrection not only a singularly great event of 2000 years ago, but may we be part of the resurrection in our daily lives and in simply ways by offering a hand of friendship to people so that they can "stand up" from whatever causes them to be crushed down and unable to attain their God given stature. Stunted, devious and people who feel cast out are all around us. As we pass by, may we notice the Zaccheus that God has put in our path.

"Lord, you commanded us to love; thank you that opportunities to love are all around us every day. Amen"
Eddie Germiquet is Ministry Secretary of the UPCSA and is married to Lauren and together they have 4 grown up children.

Monday, October 24, 2016

2016-10-24 [Month of Mission 2016] Grieving Sisters

Grieving Sisters

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem,19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
27 "Yes, Lord," she replied, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."
28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 "Where have you laid him?" he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
35 Jesus wept.      (John11:17-35)
This is one of those stories that can be read in different ways depending in which character's shoes you are standing.

Step into Mary and Martha's shoes. There is a huge crisis. Lazarus is dying. Jesus is called but He doesn't pitch. Silence. Lazarus dies and Mary and Martha's lives are shattered. They have to face the unexpected and uncomfortable fact of Jesus' absence.

Someone once said to me bitterly: 'Your Jesus promises more than He delivers.' Jesus wasn't there for him when he needed Him most. I suspect Mary and Martha would have understood. Sometimes Jesus' absence can be brutal.

Now step into Jesus' shoes. He knows the urgency of the situation. He knows all things; the end from the beginning. He knows His absence will raise questions but He tarries nevertheless. Though hidden from Mary and Martha's understanding He remains in command. His absence is not His forgetfulness. His delays are not His omissions. His silence is not His apathy.

We know how the story unfolds. Lazarus' life is restored, and among the things we learn is the deep paradox: the absence of the presence of Jesus was in reality His presence in the void of His absence.
Think about that and remember, when Jesus says, 'I am with you", He really means it.
Bio: James Gray serves as minister to the United Church in Hermanus, a storyteller, an amateur historian and a compulsive walker.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

2016-10-23 [Month of Mission 2016] Stones & Victimisation

Stones & Victimisation

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11 "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you,"Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."      (John8:2-11 )
Jesus, God's missionary, his own Word who became flesh to reach out to us and to everyone who acknowledges the need for a relationship with their Creator and Redeemer, once again deals with the reality of human need and pain when he met the "woman caught in adultery".

The circumstances are shockingly cruel and corrupt. The teachers of the law used her as bait to set a trap for Jesus in order to accuse him of being in defiance of the law of Moses.
They have no compassion and have no consideration for the salvation of this woman. The man who was involved, is not even mentioned, as if one could commit adultery on your own. Harsh politicking and complete lack of compassion see a person in spiritual need abused and left with no care or concern by her religious teachers.

Jesus represents the complete opposite of such vindictiveness in this narrative and is clearly revealed as the Pastor of sinners, the Friend of those who suffer as a result of heartless underhanded agendas and the Answer to the ultimate need of the destitute, downtrodden and marginalised.

He does not defy the law of Moses, but he does resist the self-righteous agenda of the religious teachers: "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" he said to them, and when they all left without an answer to this challenge of Jesus, we hear the Saviour's voice setting her free through forgiveness and through positive instruction when he said "neither do I condemn you" and "go now and leave your life of sin."

The Jesus we meet in this narrative reminds me of the word of Paul in 1 Tim 1: 15: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst."

He still uses "the worst" – you and I, to reach out to all, including the scandalised and exploited, to allow the Word of forgiveness and renewal to become flesh in all circumstances.
When reading this story, I simply want to join the hymn writer in exalting such a Saviour when the poet says:
Jesus! My Shepherd, Saviour, Friend,
my Prophet, Priest and King.
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the praise I bring.

Andries Combrink pastors Centurion West Presby Church since 2004, is married to his ultimate support in ministry, Marthie, and has three adult children and a granddaughter, Hannaleen, who is in grade 5.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

2016-10-22 [Month of Mission 2016] Not far...

Not far...

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.      (Mark12:28-34)
Most of Jesus' interactions with the Scribes are hot debates, but here Jesus speaks to the scribe with a tone of affection and he tells him "you are not far away from the kingdom of God".

Let us examine some key elements of this encounter.

1.THE SCRIBE. The scribes combined a scientific and technical knowledge of Hebrew laws and scriptures, skilfully expounding them to the common people. They were the teachers of their countrymen. Holding the key of knowledge, they were charged with the duty of unlocking the written word.

Unfortunately they tended to narrowness, exclusiveness, tradition and the official. But there's something different about this Scribe. We should remember that the other Scribes were looking for opportunities to trap him: when they asked questions it was not for knowledge but to put Jesus in trouble with the authorities or to accuse him of not keeping the law. This Scribe is different. He comes because his last encounter with Jesus was answered well. Unlike the others, he is really searching for answers. Jesus finds this lawyer to be an intellectual who answers wisely. Because of this Jesus declares that he is not far from the kingdom.

2.THE KINGDOM OF GOD. What does it mean? This is the phrase that Jesus uses often in his teachings. The Kingdom is the rule of God, whether in the human heart or in society. It exists now, but it has its full realisation in eternity. Some have to seek and gain it. Those who have gained it have to labour to retain it, and this retaining may be regarded as winning it. It is to be noted that Christ Himself never gave any definition of the Kingdom, and perhaps it is not wise for us to attempt to do so...

3.NOT FAR. What the Lord observed in reference to the man was the intelligence displayed by his answer. It was shown not only in accepting the Lord's judgement as to the two primary commandments, but in detecting the principle on which the judgement rested: the superiority of moral over ritual obligations. Distance from the new Kingdom is measured neither by miles, nor by ceremonial standards, but by spiritual conditions. The man was to some extent intellectually qualified for admission to the Kingdom; certainly he grasped one of its fundamental principles.

What is it that made this man "not far from the kingdom of God"?

  1. A nearness that is brought about by intellectual sincerity.
  2. A nearness to personal godliness that is brought about by moral integrity and conscience.
  3. A nearness to personal godliness that is brought about by ceremonial faithfulness. A true inclination and susceptibility of soul are developed by a right use of the Divinely appointed means and channels of grace.

It's good to have this kind of an attitude but it's not enough to be near and not inside or part of the kingdom.
Christopher Mkandawire is a husband to Rhoda married for 19 years, blessed with three children and minister for David Livingstone Memorial Presbyterian Church for the past 18 years.

Friday, October 21, 2016

2016-10-21 [Month of Mission 2016] Money-changers aka space-invaders

Money-changers aka space-invaders

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves,16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.      (Mark11:15-18 )
Often Christians point to this piece of scripture to backup their disapproval when there is a decision to sell doughnuts after church on a Sunday morning or Christians will refer to this scripture when there is a debate about getting angry and whether righteous anger is acceptable.

Is there more here? How does this account point to Jesus and his missional interaction with people?

As I read over this I am struck again by the passion that Jesus has for what is right. These people had INVADED the SPACE that they should not have been in and Jesus steps up and stands up with a passion for what is right that we do not often see in his ministry. When you think of "gentle Jesus meek and mild" this isn't the first scripture you may be drawn to.

After this display of passion we see Jesus teaching on the importance of prayer. He highlights that this prayer, that takes place in his house, is for the nations. The prayer inside his house is directed to the nations, to the world.

We also see that the chief priests and the teachers of the law felt threatened because the people were amazed. The people were taken by this new teacher and his message. This is still true today. When people are challenged by the power of God and the good news of Jesus Christ they are still amazed.

What can we take away from this? It might be good to ask yourself what are you passionate about in God's kingdom? Are you passionate about things outside the church? (We are often too passionate about things in the church that do not accomplish the mission of Jesus – "To go and make disciples"). You may also need to ask what are the space-invaders that are invading your relationship with Jesus? What space-invaders are distracting you from the mission of Jesus? Do you spend time praying for missions? Praying for the lost in our world?

As we become passionate about Jesus and his mission we must be drawn to our knees in prayer and then we will see people amazed at the message of hope and salvation that comes when the world encounters the cross of Jesus Christ.

If you were wondering – sell the doughnuts and it's fine to get angry just do the right thing with your anger.
Brian Smith, husband to Lana and father to Caleb and Jayden. Minister at Hillcrest Presbyterian Church, KZN.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Best remedy for men's and women's xxx life!

(Viagra&Ciali$ etc)Best remedy for men's and women's xxx life-

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