Friday, February 26, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-26 [Lent 2016] The Heart of the Chapter

It seems that Friday's EmmDev didn't go out - I've sent it now - it really needs to be read between the second "To whom will you compare me" and the second "Do you not know." I am sorry this didn't go out - it really sets the stage for the culmination of the chapter.

The Heart of the Chapter

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
      (Isaiah40:27 )
We've all been through the dark night of the soul at some point.
We've all struggled with the feeling that God has "left the building."
We've all been at those moments when, in spite of all our theology and experience of God's faithfulness in the past, we're still stuck and feeling like we can't find God anywhere. The Israelites felt like that:
- Their beloved Jerusalem - demolished
- Their magnificent temple - desecrated and destroyed
- Their proud nation - decimated
- Their small remnant - depressed and discouraged.
This amazing chapter has already offered us a lot of reassurance:

  • The comfort and rejuvenation announced in vv.1-2,
  • The voices calling us to repent (vv.3-5), humble ourselves (vv.6-8) and meet God who is both mighty and our shepherd (vv.9-11),
  • The Perspectives of God as Sovereign (vv.12-14) and the world as temporary (vv.15-17),
  • The comparisons between God and Idols (vv.18-20) and God and Astrology (vv.25-26)
  • The question whether we know the God who humbles the proud (vv.21-24)
And yet Isaiah still brings God's question to us:
"Why do you feel like I've abandoned you?"
It's reminiscent of the question the Psalmist asks in Ps.42:
"Why are you downcast oh my soul?"
It's God patiently journeying with the pouting Jonah
"Do you have any right to be angry?"
It's like God asking the burnt out Elijah:
"What are you doing here Elijah?"
It's like Jesus asking the two on the Emmaus road
"What are you discussing [and what things have happened in Jerusalem?]"
It's God walking in the Garden asking
"Adam, where are you?"
It's God coming to us - acknowledging our pain, heartache, fear and loss. It's God meeting us at our point of brokenness and God finding us in our pain.
And, as we will see on Tuesday, this questioning God offers incredible comfort in the final "Do you not know?"

CHALLENGE: Are you hiding at the moment? Do you hear God's question calling you out of your sadness, pain, fear and loss? He loves us so much that He comes to us and asks the question that shines His light into our darkness.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-25 [Lent 2016] Comparisons (2)

Comparisons (2)

"To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
26 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.      (Isaiah40:25-26)
Astrology (Not astronomy) had its origins in ancient Mesopotamia (Babylon). Astrology is the attempt to divine hidden knowledge and the future from the movement of celestial bodies. It's where modern day horoscopes etc come from.

Not only had the Israelites been tempted by Babylonian idols (we saw this two days ago), but now they were also tempted by Babylonian astrology - interpreting portents and signs from the movement of the stars.

Isaiah puts it all in perspective: God controls the stars! He calls them all out by name! Don't look to the movement of the stars to try and predict the future - rather trust in the One who controls the stars!

It's very dangerous when one adopts a deterministic world view - that the movement of the stars influences one's destiny - because then it simply becomes a matter of "figuring out the system" so that one can "beat the odds" - Astrology isn't worship - It's an attempt to be in control.

Isaiah calls the Israelites away from mechanistic religion where those who "read the signs better" become all powerful and invites them into something new....

We can look into the heavens and see a bunch of signs and portents take move around in a fixed fashion and coldly dictate our future - or we can look at the heavens with awe, wonder and worship and see them as the handiwork of an awesome loving God who knows each of the billions of stars by name...

(As an aside - God uses the Bethlehem star to guide the magi from the East to Christ. This does not mean that God endorses astrology - He simply uses it to accomplish His purpose!)

CHALLENGE: While I may not consult a horoscope, am I obsessed with trying to know and control the future or am I willing to trust the One who holds all the stars?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-24 [Lent 2016] Do you not know? (1)

Do you not know? (1)

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.      (Isaiah40:21-24)
"Do you not know????"

If Isaiah was writing in our modern context I think he might have added a "Duh!!!" in front of that.
Isaiah is incredulous at how the Israelites have allowed their picture of God to shrink.

Although they were given a big picture of God at the start, (think of the creation accounts and the Red Sea rescue of the Israelites), they quickly forgot God's great power. Instead of remembering that all people are grasshoppers compared to God, they saw themselves as grasshoppers compared to the Canaanites (Num13:33). And it got worse and worse after that...

  • They started to trust in earthly kings and idols
  • The rich and powerful became more and more arrogant.
  • Society degenerated for lack of a credible authority figure

God is Lord of the Heavens.
He is Lord over the Nations.
He is Lord over princes and rulers.

The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it succinctly:
"...God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few." Ecc.5:2

He is Lord over all and He will bring the proud and arrogant to naught. Society loses its head when there is no clear conception of God's authority. And, if we continue to ignore God's powerful sovereignty, our societies, empires and Babel-Towers will crumble.

CHALLENGE: Before we point fingers at our leaders, let's ask ourselves:

  1. Do i recognise God as sovereign and mighty in my life?
  2. What symptoms of arrogance might God need to bring to naught or whirlwind away in my life?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-23 [Lent 2016] Comparisons (1)

Comparisons (1)

We're moving to the last part of the magnificent poem-song of Isaiah 40. The structure for the last section is interesting - it has a ABAcB pattern:

  • A - To whom will you compare God? To idols?
  • B - Do you not know? He brings down the mighty!
  • A - To whom will you compare God? To astrology?
  • c - (Bridge - the key to the whole chapter)
  • B - Do you not know? He lifts up the weak!!!

We'll look at each of these this week...

To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?
19 As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A man too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot.
He looks for a skilled craftsman
to set up an idol that will not topple.      (Isaiah40:18-20)

Idolatry was an ongoing problem in Israel. We find idols in Israel's history from Jacob's wife Rachael who stole her father's house-god and then sat on it to hide it from her angry dad (seriously! See Gen31:33-35) to the golden calf in Exodus that Moses grinds to dust and the Baal statue that Gideon pulled over with his father's prize bull in Judges 6.

Again and again idols were revealed to be powerless before God's might - my favourite example of this is when the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant and place it before their statue of their god, Dagon, and the statue collapses before the Ark in the night! (1Sam5:1-5). But the Israelites continued to worship idols.

Here Isaiah is at his candid best - "Just think about it," he says...
"How can you possibly compare God to some dumb statue?
An idol is made by human hands and is budget dependent.
It's got to have a firm base in case the kids knock it over when they run around the house...!
Is this your god? SERIOUSLY???"

Look at some of the idols we worship today:
Wealth - doesn't satisfy.
Fame - can turn around so easily.
Power - corrupts
Beauty - is only skin deep
Possessions - are temporary

But the sad thing is that we worship at the shrines of these idols.

CHALLENGE: Stop and think about the things that you are chasing.
If someone with Isaiah's candour and honesty had to look at us might they also be tempted to ask: "Seriously??"

Friday, February 19, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-19 [Lent 2016] Perspective (2)

Perspective (2)

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.      (Isaiah40:15-17)
The second God-perspective that Isaiah leaves us with has to do with the world around us. In Isaiah's case this is best typified by the nations. The Israelites had survived the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Amalekites, Hittites and Perrizites. When the Assyrians became a dominant world power they barely survived with God driving them off when they were encamped outside Jerusalem. Then came the Babylonians and Israel succumbed to their might and power.

The thinking of the day was that if my nation conquered yours, then my god is greater than your god. For Israel the devastation of Jerusalem and the temple was a national blow, a political hit and a religious wrecking ball.

But Isaiah would beg to differ.

The ebb and flow of nations and power is not in the same league as the might and permanence of God. God's majestic power and might over creation also extends over the nations. Look at how Isaiah repeats the imagery of God measuring: drops in buckets, dust on scales, islands weighed, wood for the altar fires and animals for offerings.

Nations come and nations go.
Let's say that again: nations come and nations go.
Even the dictator in our northern neighbour will come to the end of his reign and he will have to face the levelling power of death.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the apparent power of nations, philosophies and systems - we read, hear and see the news and we feel oppressed, intimidated and disempowered by it all - but God is eternal and He holds time itself in His hands.

CHALLENGE: Sometimes we can't see the wood for the trees. Zoom out a bit and see how God's love and faithfulness is bigger than all the crises that shout in our ears... Worshipping Him with other believers on Sunday will help too.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-18 [Lent 2016] Perspective (1)

Perspective (1)

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?      (Isaiah40:12-14)
Isaiah has introduced God as the bringer of Justice and the Gentle Shepherd. The next two strophes provide valuable perspectives on our views of God. We'll look at the first today.

Have you read the last part of the book of Job? Where Job, who was innocent but suffered greatly lashes out and demands His day in court with God? It's a beautiful section where God takes Job and a tour of the wonders of creation and asks Job what his contribution was... Isaiah does a similar thing here....

What a beautiful picture of magnitude of God!!
Watch as He measures the world with His hands!!
Gasp as He weighs mountains and quantifies the earth!!!
He doesn't need our advice or input and there's no-one who can teach Him!

It's in our nature to try to domesticate God.
We like to bring Him down to our size and make Him in our image.
But Israel's God is not like the gods of the nations.
He doesn't need us, but He loves us and we need Him.

Sometimes we allow our picture of God to shrink.
When this happens in the church, we tend to become a moralistic do-gooder's club, but when we remember His majesty and greatness then we start to tune into what He is doing instead of what we think He needs to do or what we want Him to do.

This changes everything.
In the powerful story of the New Testament Church, we read this in Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

Amazing things happen when we let God be God!

CHALLENGE: Is your view of God too small? Have you lost your sense of wonder? Maybe part of faith rejuvenation is to see His might in nature and history and to right-size our worship again!

Friday, February 12, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-12 [Lent 2016] Three Voices (1)

Three Voices (1)

A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."      (Isaiah40:3-5)
From vv.3-10 there are three voices, we'll look at each in turn...

The first voice is very appropriate at the start of Lent: It is the voice that calls to us in the wilderness. Israel found itself in the wilderness of exile - but God lovingly offered them hope - He would come to them.

The right thing to do when preparing for the Lord's coming is to make a highway for the Lord to come to us. Righteousness and repentance were the straight paths that God could use.

But Isaiah's call for straight paths takes on epic proportions: entire valleys are raised up and mountains and valleys are made low and rugged places become a plain. What started out as being in the realms of what people can do (straight paths) has become something that more appropriately fits in the realms of what only God can do.

This is a good picture for Lent.
There is always the danger that Lent becomes legalism and salvation by works - that we're out to impress God by our hard work. But as with the little boy's loaves and fish (trying to make straight paths) God is able to take the little we give and turn it into more.

Lent is not so much that we resolve to return to God, and then work hard at it so that we earn His favour. Lent is about hearing God's voice and then seeing what He does when we respond.

It is significant that Matthew sees this passage as fulfilled by John the Baptist. John baptised people who were repentant. He also baptised Jesus who had no need to repent, but Jesus' baptism put Him on our road and He turned it into a highway.

CHALLENGE: Are you doing well with your Lent commitments? Remind yourself that these are just small acts of grateful devotion, we couldn't build the highway - Jesus did.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-11 [Lent 2016] Rejuvenation


Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins.      (Isaiah40:1-2)
My friend, Andries Combrink, called Lent "a season of simple rejuvenation..." This accurately captures my longing for this Lent in my heart and yours...

Isaiah 40 is a much beloved chapter. Thematically it marks the transition where the prophecy moves from rebuke for rebellion and idolatry to a pronouncement of hope and restoration. Historically it describes Israel's exile in Babylon (and why it happened) and moves to the promise of a return. Spiritually it describes the human predicament and exile in brokenness and offers us a God-given restoration!

This magnificent chapter describes hope, it describes God and invites us to a place of intimacy with God. We're going to plumb its depths for the first few days of our "season of simple rejuvenation."

And so the chapter begins with assurance of Comfort.
Historically it addresses the consequence of their rebellion.
Israel had ceased to rely on God and this led to a moral and spiritual breakdown that allowed a another nation to defeat them.
But God has seen their brokenness. (They have received "double" for their sins - in Hebrew idiom this simply means "enough".)

God's love and consequences for sin are difficult concepts to hold in tension until we factor in the dynamic of free will. Free will allows for wrong choices and wrong choices have consequences (that's what makes them wrong choices!) And God, who gives free will, also allows the consequences of wrong choices.

But God sees our pain - He wants to comfort and heal us.
And so begins the journey of restoration - anticipated by Isaiah, inaugurated by Jesus and fulfilled at Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

Join with me over the next few days as we unpack the nature of restoration and the God who brings it.

CHALLENGE: Yesterday we confessed our sins. As you think through the consequences of our brokenness, ask God to comfort and restore you. Invite Him to begin a process of restoration in you over the season of Lent. Know that God wants to Comfort you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-10 [Lent 2016] Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. 3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, "If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.
5 Then Samuel said, "Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you." 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, "We have sinned against the LORD."      (1Samuel7:2-6)
The Israelites had used the Ark of the Covenant as a good luck charm and it had fallen into the hands of the Philistines, but the Philistine's idols kept falling down whenever the Ark was near and so they returned it to Israel.

But for twenty years the Israelites did nothing about this. Eventually true repentance entered their hearts and they sought the Lord again.

Notice how Samuel checks their hearts, asks them to take concrete action and then leads them in an act of repentance.

We have more than the Ark of the Covenant. We have the Gospel: Jesus came, died and rose again and the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. But so often we are like the Israelites, we live as though He isn't there.

Ash Wednesday is an act of repentance, return and renewal.

It calls us to:

  • Come with all our hearts.
  • To rid ourselves of foreign gods
  • To re-commit ourselves to Him

The Israelites poured out water before the Lord (a symbol of dedication) and they fasted and confessed.

Ash Wednesday uses different symbolism but the purpose is the same.

We come to God recognising how far we have drifted from Him. We put things aside, fast and confess because we know we need Him more than anything.

In Samuel's account the Philistines attack Israel while the nation is busy with this act of repentance and we read that God routed them. The beauty of Ash Wednesday is that we anticipate Easter where Jesus defeats sin, death and Satan.

Here's our challenge:
Are you ready to return to the Lord with all your heart?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-09 [Lent 2016] Getting the focus right

Getting the focus right

For physical training is of some value, but Godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.      (1Timothy4:8)
Today is Shrove Tuesday. It marks the start of Lent. Lent is an age-old tradition leading up to Easter. It remembers the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert preparing for His ministry.

In many people's minds Lent has become synonymous with fasting and the observance of Lent has dwindled to "so what are you giving up for Lent?" People seem to think that God wants us to suffer discomfort for 40 days and then we've earned some brownie-points in heaven.

But the original thinking behind Lent was the deepening of our faith and spirituality, not just making people jump through some uncomfortable hoops for six weeks. The basis of Lent was and always should be that we grow in our faith and our relationship with God and others.

Paul puts it all in perspective as he writes to Timothy who is a young man being mentored for the ministry.

While the giving up of coffee, sugar, or chocolate has become a key focus, we must understand that physical disciplines are not an end in themselves. The idea is that we grow spiritually through the period of Lent disciplines.

And discipline is the key word - the Greek word Paul uses for "Godliness" implies discipline, moderation, frugality, charity, meditation, prayer, and study. Godliness is an attractive God-ward lifestyle.

The idea around Lent is that we add and subtract to our lives so that we don't just move forward but God-ward. Our Lent additions need to do justice to:
- God (through prayer, reflection and action)
- Ourselves (through the creation of good habits or breaking bad ones)
- Others (through charity and kindness)

Over the next few weeks I'll explore some of these themes. Tomorrow I'll reflect on Ash-Wednesday.

Each day there will be a challenge. Today's is this:
"What, if anything, are you going to consciously do to move you Godward as you prepare for Easter this year?"
(This additional intro to Lent is here for your interest)

Preparing for Lent

What is Lent?
It is based on the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness at the beginning of His public ministry. (Sundays are not counted, so Lent is actually 46 days long)

During the second century it became customary to baptise all converts on Easter Sunday. During those ages of persecution and martyrdom, they had to be thoroughly prepared for the confession of their faith and for their challenging walk with the Lord.

These preparations lasted 40 days – not counting Sundays. Fasting and Prayer played an important role alongside the teaching the converts would receive during this time.

After a while, other Church members felt the need to repeat the course. This season, always during the European Spring, became the Lenten Season of the Church as Lent is Latin for Spring. Lent reaches its climax on Good Friday and ends with the Celebration of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

There are two important aspects to Lent:

  • Penitence: We realise our own brokenness and our need for Christ.
  • Preparation: We strive to open our hearts wider for the celebration of Easter.

During Lent there are three tasks: Pray, Fast and Give.

  1. Prayer is about Preparing our Hearts, becoming more aware of God's love and goodness. It's not just about rituals but relationship.
  2. Fasting doesn't only have to be about food. It's any kind of addition or subtraction from our lives that sharpens our focus on God.
  3. Giving is about making a difference in the lives of others.

Just a bit more about the fasting side of Lent.... During this time people add to or subtract from their daily routines with the goal of drawing closer to God.

The idea around Lent is that we add and subtract to our lives so that we don't just move forward but God-ward. Traditionally there are three directions for our "fasting" to take:
Our Lent additions need to do justice to:

  • God (through prayer, reflection and action)
  • Ourselves (through the creation of good habits or breaking bad ones)
  • Others (through charity and kindness)

So, here are some examples:

  • Give up sugar or coffee and use the "cravings" as a reminder to think about and devote yourself to God.
  • Set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier for devotions or exercise.
  • Reduce your TV hours and use the time to read a good devotional book or to spend quality time with your family.
  • Volunteer some time to help at a charitable organisation or do something to help the poor and needy.
  • Come to church more regularly or join a fellowship group for the 6 weeks

Where does Shrove Tuesday fit in?
In many Christian traditions people would abstain from rich foods during this fast time. As Wednesday is the start of Lent, Tuesday would be used as a day to use up the "rich" foods (eggs, butter, oil, milk, etc) in the house. Pancakes serve this purpose very well! Also, Jesus reminded His disciples that they should not look mournful when they fasted and so the church found it fitting to start a fast with a feast!

Ash Wednesday
Job 42:5-6. Job says to God: "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."

Ash Wednesday is primarily a day of repentance – of sorrow because of what our sins do to God, His work and those around us.

According to the Bible, repentance consists of:

  • a true sense of one's own guilt and sinfulness;
  • an expectation of God's grace and mercy in Christ
  • an actual hatred of sin
  • turning from sin to God
  • seeking a holy life by persistent effort, obediently walking with God.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation but worldly sorrow brings death. (2Cor7:10)

In the very traditional observation of Ash Wednesday, worshippers come forward to confess and repent of their sin in silent prayer. They are marked with the sign of the cross, using a paste of ash and olive oil. The ash represents the sorrow and contriteness we feel over our sin. The olive oil represents joy, blessing and consecration which is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are marked with the sign of the cross to remind us that it is Christ who saves us.

Often as they are marked, the priest or elder will say "Your sins are forgiven – go and sin no more."

Ash Wednesday starts the "Fasting" of Lent on the right foot – we realise how badly we need God.

Keeping Perspective...

While one tries to observe these "fasts" and observances as well as possible, there must be no legalism about this. We are not trying to impress God. We're trying to prepare our hearts. Don't be guilt-wracked if you don't manage it all the time.

Lent is an opportunity rather than a burden and we pray that yours will be meaningful!

Friday, February 5, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-05 [Faith in Tough Times] Ultimate Comfort

Ultimate Comfort

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."
6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne...      (Revelation5:2-6)
This is one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. It's found in John's Revelation which employs vivid and dramatic imagery to explain God's triumph over evil and suffering.

In this scene there is a scroll that must be opened. The scroll represents the suffering and heartache that is part and parcel of our broken world. When the seals of the scroll are opened we see the horsemen of conquest, conflict, famine and death. We see earthquakes and we hear the cry of the martyrs ("how long?") The scroll represents the enormity and struggle of death, injustice, pain and heartache.

The angel's question is haunting: "Who is worthy to open this scroll?" Who is big enough to carry the pain that the scroll represents? Who can overcome the pain of this world? Who can hold it in their hands?

For a moment it looks as though no-one can hold the pain of the world and this fills John with heartache and despair. The simplicy of the text brings it across so powerfully: "I wept and wept."

And then comes the incredible news - there is someone who is able to open the scroll and hold its pain.
Who is this incredible person?
It is JESUS:
- The Lion of Judah
- who's the Root of David (having become fully human)
- and He has triumphed!

This is wonderful news! When we're in trouble we know we have a Lion who conquers the pain and brokenness of the world.

But as we get ready to see the Lion, we get our next shock:
The Lion is a slain Lamb.
- He conquers pain by become its victim
- He defeats death by dying
- He not only opens the scroll, but carries its pain.

When we are going through a tough time, this is our incredible Good News: We are not without hope: we know that God's Lion - our Lord Jesus Christ - conquers our pain by becoming the slain Lamb. We are never alone because He has entered our pain and carried it.

So when you are faced with a scroll of suffering and you want to weep and weep, know this: There is a Lion who is also a Lamb who will open the scroll and be with you!

Do I hear an "amen" or a "hallelujah"?
That brings this series on "Faith in Tough Times" to an end.
As next week is Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, the next series will be a Lent series to take us to Easter.

Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church Cell: 082-5510752

Thursday, February 4, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-04 [Faith in Tough Times] Overcomers


Those who overcome...      (Revelation2:11)
At the beginning of John's Revelation there are seven letters to seven congregations in Asia Minor. These letters are symbolically written to address the whole of God's Church focussing in on the different circumstances each congregation find itself in.

Each letter contains the phrase: "Those who overcome..."

  1. Those who overcome will have the right to eat from the tree of life (2:7)
  2. Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death. (2:11)
  3. Those who overcome will receive the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name (2:17)
  4. Those who overcome (and does my will to the end) I will give authority over the nations (2:26)
  5. Those who overcome will be dressed in white and their name will remain in the book of life. (3:5)
  6. Those who overcome will become a permanent pillar in God's temple and have God's name and the name of God's city written on them (3:12)
  7. Those who overcome will have the right to sit with Jesus on His throne (3:21)

There is not time or space here to explore what each of the promised rewards mean (and some are easier to understand than others...) but there are three significant general truths that emerge from these promises:

  1. Overcoming is necessary: The different churches are in different contexts, some poor, some rich, some persecuted, some comfortable, but all will have to overcome the temptations and challenges they face. We are not promised an easy life.
  2. God knows that overcoming is hard. This is why these letters are here - to encourage, guide and correct us so that we can finish the race.
  3. God will reward our overcoming. While we don't necessarily understand what each of the rewards listed above means, the point is clear, God sees and God knows and God will reward and comfort us when the race is run.

During tough times we have to develop the mindset of overcomers. We have to align ourselves with the famous speech of Sir Winston Churchill:
"Never never never never give up!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-03 [Faith in Tough Times] Belligerent


But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.      (2Corinthians4:7-9)
This is a word that can be used of all the heroes of the faith.

We are not guaranteed an easy life - in fact, Jesus promised the opposite. He said: "In this world you will have trouble but take heart: I have overcome the world."

We are people of the resurrection:
Our Saviour took the worst that sin, Satan and brokenness could throw at Him and triumphed. He rose from the dead, proving that you just can't defeat love.

As followers of Jesus, we are clay pots. Fragile. Chipped. Cracked. But there is treasure inside: The power of the Holy Spirit and the resilience of love make us people who can face trouble and heartache and be overcomers.

  • Hard-pressed?
    Yes, but circumstances and criticism. But not crushed!
  • Perplexed?
    Yes, things go wrong and we don't understand. But we don't despair!
  • Persecuted?
    Yes, people resist and mock us, but God never leaves us!
  • Struck down?
    Yes. But physical and spiritual setbacks, but God keeps us from being destroyed.

Ours is a belligerent faith - It faces trouble because our Saviour did and it has courage because our Saviour did. It loves no matter what because that's what our Saviour did.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

EmmDev 2016-02-02 [Faith in Tough Times] How long?

How long?

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
4 my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.      (Psalms13:1-6)
We're not entirely sure what it is that David is going through in the Psalm. It appears that he has fallen ill at a time that is very advantageous to his enemies.

Although we cannot deduce the exact circumstances, we can identify with the emotions David is going through. But we also find ourselves surprised and taken aback at his candour as he laments his situation to God.

Very few of us are comfortable in "telling it like it is" when we pray. We tend to sanitise our prayers, keeping them polite, respectful and restrained. We are comfortable confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness and we will pray for our needs and the needs of others.

But what if it feels as though our prayers are hitting the ceiling? What if nothing improves even though we have prayed and prayed and prayed? What if it seems that our enemies get all the lucky breaks and God has not "brought any light to our eyes"??
Most of us keep praying the same sanitised prayers through the famous stiff-upper-lip...

Not David!
He gets disarmingly real with God. Look at his four "How longs"

  1. How long will You forget me? (You're forgetful)
  2. How long will You hide Your face? (You've neglected me)
  3. How long must I wrestle with thoughts and sorrow? (You don't care)
  4. How long will my enemy triumph over me (You can't seem to protect me)

The beautiful thing is that David does not get struck by lightning when he prays these things. He's effectively accused God of being forgetful, neglectful, uncaring and unprotective. And God lets him "throw his toys out of the cot"!

Why? Because God wants us to trust Him enough to be completely real and honest with Him. This is what David feels and although this isn't what God is really like, the feelings are real for the one in the grip of trouble. For David to vent and sound off like this is an expression of his absolute conviction that he is safe in the hand of God and beloved in His sight.

This is why he can express the confidence and hope that he does in the last two verses. If he can trust God with his tattered emotions, he knows he can trust God with anything. David knows that God won't withhold His love just because David brings his wobbly-faith crisis to the Right Place.

Do you trust God enough to be real with him?