Friday, June 24, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-24 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Glorious Hope

Glorious Hope

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!      (2Corinthians3:7-11)
The "Letter of the Law" got Paul digressing...
His thoughts go to the Old Testament account where Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Law (including the Ten Commandments) in the presence of the Lord. When he came down has face shone with the glorious holy presence of the Lord although it faded over time.

Moses' "glow of glory" ("Shekinah" in Hebrew) got Paul thinking: If this was how glorious the giving of the Law was, then how glorious is the news of God's salvation in Christ and the coming of the Spirit into our hearts?

Technically speaking, the law brought death and condemnation because, although it revealed the glorious nature of our holy God, it also revealed our utter lack of holiness and righteousness. The law, by its very goodness, revealed our complete brokenness. The law, though good in the sense that it revealed God and could regulate and guide society, couldn't save us.

The gospel doesn't only show us what righteousness is, but imputes it to us. The coming of the gospel was therefore much more glorious than the coming of the law.

Paul picks up a nice image - Moses face glowed with the glory of the Lord - people could not look at it steadily because it revealed the holiness and righteousness of God. But this glory faded from Moses' face over time, (according to Ex.34 Moses would go into the "Holy of Holies" and his face would once again shine). It faded because hearing the law and seeing God's glory couldn't change the fact of Moses' basic sinfulness, eventually his brokenness would drive the glow of divine glory from his face.

But with the gospel we are pronounced forgiven!
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit takes away our heart of stone and gives us flesh hearts - we can shine "like a city on a hill" because Jesus-in-us is the "Light of the world." This light doesn't have to fade because it doesn't depend on us.

It's a glorious hope!!!

I'll be taking a break from writing the EmmDevs over the holidays and will resume at the start of term 3.
Hope you've found them helpful!
God bless!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-23 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] (In)Competent


Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.      (2Corinthians3:4-6)
The church in Corinth had been inundated with itinerant preachers - each bearing letters of recommendation and claiming their competence against Paul's alleged incompetence.

Paul's argument started with his assertion that he needed no letter of recommendation because the results of his ministry (the founding of the Corinth congregation) spoke for itself. But now he goes even further by trashing the idea of competence completely....

Our competence, according to Paul's argument, is found in our relationship with Jesus. Our own competence is not relevant - and if you want to explore that idea further, go to Philippians 3 where Paul makes an extensive list of his achievements and qualifications and then declares that they are "a pile of smelly refuse" (to properly render the Greek word) in comparison to knowing Christ.

The secret to competence is not found in the "letter" (and here Paul is jumping from "letters of reference" to the "letter of the law"...) but in the powerful working of the Spirit.

We are incompetent when it comes to the things of God, but with the Holy Spirit working in us we have competence. So we are (in)competent - competent when we let the Spirit work in us.

When we face difficult circumstances where we didn't think we would get through - but we do - it is because we have been (in)competent!

Paul said a similar thing in Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

I am (in)competent!
It's a very cool thought and a very great comfort.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-21 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Letters and Fingerprints

Letters and Fingerprints

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.      (2Corinthians3:1-3)
I get to write many letters of recommendation for people. It's a job I take seriously and I take trouble with them.

But Paul has a surprising take on the idea of letters of recommendation - he says "who needs a letter when you have fingerprints? In other words, you(the church community) are our letter." If you want to see what someone is like, look at the fingerprints they have left on the lives of others.

Paul argues that his 18 month stay with the Corinthians left a church community that reflected the integrity of Paul's character. His argument is valid. If he had been a fake, 18 months would have revealed it and any church would have died a death by dearth of integrity. But there was a church and although it had some issues, it was a significant church under tough circumstances.

The significant point is that the community has become a message - a letter from Christ. Their identity as a faith community was a message from Jesus to the world and this is further reinforced by the idea that this letter is written on hearts by the Spirit and not with ink or on tablets of stone.

The Corinthians were not a perfect church (And, by the way, if you find a perfect church - don't join it - you'll spoil it!) But in spite of the problems they had, they were still a redeemed, Christ-filled community and their lives were making a difference.

What are the fingerprints you are leaving on the lives of others? Are they the fingerprints of Christ? Let's take a moment to pray that God would move in us by His Spirit so that the lives of those we touch may reflect the beauty of Christ.

Friday, June 17, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-17 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Fragrance


For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
In the last devotion I spoke about the Roman victory procession and its fragrance and how we as Christians are also a fragrance proclaiming the victory of the Salvation Campaign of our Lord Jesus - His Life, Cross and Resurrection.

But there are two more things to highlight about Paul's image:

The first is that the aroma of Christ that we offer the world is not for us or even for the world primarily. The primary reason we bear the fragrance of Christ to the world is for God's glory and renown. "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing..." God is glorified and delighted when people hear of His name and are saved and even when people reject the free offer of salvation and perish, God's justice is revealed.

This is hard to wrap our heads and hearts around, but it is paramount to understand although God does not intend for anyone to be lost, justice is as much part of God's nature as love is. When we are the fragrance of Christ to the world, we reveal that the decision we make about God is the most important decision that there is. There is no other decision as important as this. This decision has absolute priority and cannot be ignored - this glorifies God.

The second important aspect is highlighted in v.17 where Paul makes it clear that this important message should not be proclaimed with ulterior motives - whether for the sake of profit or ego we cannot and dare not take the gospel of Jesus to the world for our own sake - it needs to be about God. It needs to be for His glory.

The false teachers and trouble stirrers had made the Corinthians doubt Paul's sincerity and for much of the remainder of this letter, he (Paul) will go about defending his sincerity in a very self-effacing way.

So here's the bottom-line:
Anything we do for God is for God. It's not about others primarily: while we are concerned about the eternal decision that they must take - we are even more concerned about showing God's love and justice to the world. And it's definitely not about us....

Bach signed all his compositions JSB and SDG. The JSB was his own initials and the SDG stood for SOLI DEO GLORIA. We're the fragrance - He's the one we do it for!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-15 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Victory


But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.      (2Corinthians2:14-16)
This is the start of Paul's 5 chapter long digression.

He has been mentally re-living the hardships he had endured in his missionary activity along with the concern that his relationship with the Corinthians had broken down. The happy ending to the story was that he found Titus in Macedonia and that Titus had good news for him...

This is a fist-pump victory salute moment for Paul. It makes him think of the Roman victory procession... When the Romans defeated a city, they would lead a procession through the streets with the chief officers leading and the VIP captives would be with them in humiliation. They would burn incense and spices in honour of Caesar and the gods of war. The smell was victory for the Romans and defeat for the enemies.

Paul smells great victory in the healing of a relationship. It makes him think of Christ's great victory over sin and death. But he takes it further - he argues that our lives can become a fragrance.

As we experience God's resurrection, healing and grace in our lives, we can become a fragrance. This fragrance will be a blessing to many, but to Satan and his agents of destruction it is a fragrance of death and we can expect resistance.

But I want to come back to the fact that Paul sees a healed relationship as victory - it makes it clear how important the relationship was to him and how seriously he took his relationships. It's not the number of cities that he has preached the gospel in, not the number of people he has baptised, nor the number of leaders he has trained that gets Paul doing a victory dance. It is a healed relationship that gets him celebrating.

And, if you think about it, nothing gives off a defeat-aroma more strongly than bad relationships...

Friday, June 10, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-10 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Conflicts #6 Healing

Conflicts #6 Healing...

Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.

...(Huge 5 chapter long digression on God's power in our weakness)....

7:5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn--conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.      (2Corinthians2:12-13)

Today's passage has a five chapter long(!) digression in it. Paul is telling about how, when his itinerary had changed, he was hoping to meet Titus who Paul trusted and loved who would give him news of the situation in Corinth.

Paul was anxious about the congregation and was upset when he couldn't find Titus in Troas and so he headed for Macedonia where he hoped to meet up with Titus. There were many hardships Paul experienced during this time and so the eventual arrival of Titus was a great relief to him.

This process of searching, longing, struggling, waiting and then hearing good news obviously had a very big impact on Paul. As he writes about it, he is like a good novelist who keeps his readers in suspense by spending five chapters talking about how God gives victory and works in our weaknesses before giving us the happy ending to the story.

As we'll see in these five chapters, Paul portrays a very human side to himself as he reveals his struggles and weaknesses. We'll spend the next few weeks on this digression.

But the good news at the end of the digression is that the relationship has already started healing. Titus was well-received and well-treated by the Corinthians even though he was closely associated to Paul. Titus also expressed their longing, their remorse and their concern for Paul.

This is the start of healing. Longing, Remorse and Concern. It reveals their understanding of what they could lose (longing), what went wrong (remorse) and what they truly wanted (concern). Maybe these are the foundations of healing...

And, in the case of Paul and the Corinthians, it had already started! There was still more to do and this letter is the next step. But it had started...

Thursday, June 9, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-09 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Conflicts #5 Restorative Discipline

Conflicts #5 Restorative Discipline

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent--not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven--if there was anything to forgive--I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.      (2Corinthians2:5-11)
It seems that there was one individual in particular who had either fallen into gross sin or had become very rebellious. His actions affected and reflected on Paul particularly but also hurt the congregation significantly.

It would seem that Paul instituted discipline. One would imagine that this would have involved stripping the person of titles and responsibilities and possibly even excluding the person from the Lord's Supper or maybe even from the fellowship.

The purpose of this discipline would have been restorative rather than punitive. It would have been hoped that the individual would recognise what had been lost and would find his way back to the truth.

Paul is concerned that if the congregation acts punitively instead of restoratively, the man will be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow which could devolve into bitterness. And so Paul asks them to take another tough step....

To be sure: Discipline is a tough and courageous step. It's hard to demote someone or exclude them from communion or the fellowship - but this is done to help the person realise the seriousness of what is at stake. The next step is even harder: Forgive. To forgive the collective hurt and sense of betrayal that a community has experienced is not easy. The third difficult step is to reaffirm the love that they have for him - this means that they have to trust again. This also is not easy.

Paul leads by example - he subtly pressurises them: "If you forgive, I will forgive..." He has the most to forgive and he indicates that he will do this easily and so should they.

This process of restorative discipline is important. Satan infiltrates our fellowships in two ways: Firstly by making us too scared to discipline and so evil grows in our communities. And secondly by causing us to withhold forgiveness so that bitterness grows in our communities. Restorative discipline is the answer to both these dangers....

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-08 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Conflicts #4 Emotional Distance

Conflicts #4 Emotional Distance

So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3 I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. 4 For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.      (2Corinthians2:1-4)
Paul was the spiritual father of the congregation in Corinth. He'd seen the synagogue ruler and his family come to faith, he'd had confirmation from the Lord to continue to speak boldly and he ended up spending a year and a half there. (See Acts 18)

Leading someone to faith in Christ is one of most precious relational experiences we can have. The decision to become a Christ follower is the single most important step we will ever take. You can imagine the closeness that Paul felt to those who were converted through his ministry.

Bearing this in mind, I fully understand Paul's reticence about having another painful visit with the Corinthians. They were his spiritual children. He'd dropped in on them and discovered that things had gotten out of hand. (It seems there was one individual in particular who had had to be disciplined... but more on this tomorrow.)

I can just picture the scene: Paul coming in to Corinth looking forward to seeing his spiritual flock and children in the Lord, and discovering, to his horror, that there was a very very serious issue. Can you picture him? Going pale, swallowing hard, and feeling the stabbing pains of deep disappointment, betrayal, anger and disillusionment. Imagine the congregation's emotions: embarrassment, shame, defensiveness and blaming.

And so a sharp confrontation took place. And, in the aftermath, Paul decided to put some distance in place to facilitate healing.

Unfortunately mischievous forces moved in to take advantage of this situation and used Paul's absence to drive in a wedge of doubt and suspicion about Paul's character and intentions.

This is always the risk with conflict. Stepping back can be good if cooling down and healing is needed, but it is also risky and good relationships can be undermined. A careful balance between emotional distance and an affirming the relationship is needed.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-07 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Conflicts #3 Ownership

Conflicts #3 Ownership

I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.      (2Corinthians1:23-24)
There had been a breach in the relationship between Paul and the congregation in Corinth. We can't pinpoint the issue(s) exactly, but it would seem that they were serious issues around doctrine, discipline and their view of Paul as their founder/mentor/father-in-the-Lord.

Paul now explains that when these issues arose he did not rush back to Corinth to "lay down the law" or "take a firm hold of the situation". This is indicative of great maturity on the part of Paul. Every parent knows that there is a time to hold back when there is a temptation to charge in.

Paul is clear - he does not have a "Messiah complex" he did not take too much "ownership" over the congregation in Corinth. He did not take himself too seriously ("not that we lord it over your faith".) To charge in and rescue them from themselves may have caused them to trust in Paul instead of trusting in God. Paul was convinced that "it is by faith you stand firm."

We've all made mistakes in this area (especially as parents) - we hold on too tightly, we think that it all depends on us and when trouble comes, we wade in with a big mop.

Sometimes we have to trust the process.
Sometimes we have to trust the community/the child.
Sometimes we have to trust God.

Sometimes this is the best way to resolve conflict:
Take a step back, let things cool down, trust God.

Friday, June 3, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-03 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Digression: Yes and Amen!

Digression: Yes and Amen!

But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.      (2Corinthians1:18-22)
Although Paul is addressing the serious pain of conflict between the Corinthian congregation and himself, he is still so captivated by the amazing good news of the gospel message that he could be distracted in mid-argument to talk about God's great "Yes."

In the previous verses Paul had been talking about how he did not make his plans lightly, saying "Yes-Yes" and then "No-No". His opponents accused him of being fickle, but Paul denies it. "Furthermore," he argues, "God is faithful! Our message is not 'yes/no' but 'YES'!"

All of God's promises are fulfilled in Christ and all of God's goodness is revealed in Him. All the promises of the Old Testament culminate in Christ who gave Himself for us.

We can shout "Amen!" because we stand firm in Christ.
And there are three things in particular that make this true:

  1. He anointed us. (This means we have been set apart)
  2. He set His seal of ownership on us. (This means we belong to Him)
  3. He puts His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit. (This means that it's certain.)

These three points are all made possible by the presence of God's Spirit in our hearts. Our faith is a certain thing because God Himself dwells in our hearts through His Spirit.

We can shout "Amen!" because our God is not fickle.
His "Yes and Yes" are the cross and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We are not without purpose, we belong to Him and our hope is completely certain. Jesus made the down-payment to our eternity when He sent His Spirit into our hearts.

Do I hear an "Amen!"?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-02 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Conflicts #2 Assumptions

Conflicts #2 Assumptions

Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16 I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"?      (2Corinthians1:15-17)
There are two assumptions that were made in the relationship between Paul and the congregation in Corinth.

The first assumption was one that Paul had. He assumed that the 18 month track-record he had with the Corinthians when he stayed with them was a firm foundation. He was "confident of this" - the "this" being the relationship he described in the previous verses.

As it turns out, unfortunately, people quickly forget the best about others and their faith and confidence in them can be shaken by absence, miscommunication and hardship.

This is what happened in this relationship. Paul had made an arrangement with them and when the itinerary changed, the second assumption came into play. The congregation in Corinth assumed that Paul had made this promise lightly and therefore broke it easily.

Paul has to defend himself asking "Do you really think I'm the kind of guy who makes promises he intends to break? Do I say yes-yes and no-no in the same sentence?" It's a rhetorical question and the answer he's expecting is "Of course not."

Unfortunately, with a bit of prompting from malicious outsiders, this second assumption took root in Corinthian hearts and the good relationship that Paul initially assumed to be strong was badly damaged.

Two lessons to learn:

  1. Relationships are fragile. We can't assume that they will remain robust. We have to nurture and strengthen them constantly.
  2. It's very easy to assume the wrong things about a relationship and these assumptions can cause great damage. We have to guard our hearts against assuming too quickly

This is serious food for thought...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

EmmDev 2016-06-01 [Treasure in Clay Pots (2Cor)] Conflicts #1

Conflicts #1

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace. 13 For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.      (2Corinthians1:12-14)
Paul's letter changes gear after his introduction. There is a tension between him and the Corinthians. He had laid out an itinerary that included two visits to the Corinthians. Along the way it seems that Paul had also made a quick unscheduled visit where he came across some problems in the congregation and wrote them a tough letter about this. This had strained the relationship with him and the congregation. Various circumstances and the strain in the relationship caused Paul to revisit his itinerary and postpone his promised visit.

Some of Paul's opponents, Jews who were preaching a legalistic Christianity, used the cancellation to widen the rift between Paul and the Corinthians. They portrayed Paul as unreliable and fickle and sowed seeds of great negativity towards Paul in the congregation.

Paul grabs the bull by the horns as he addresses the accusations, the conflict and the pain.

His starting point is the 18 months that he spent in Corinth when he planted the church. In effect he is saying: "How can you so quickly doubt me? Think back. Think about when we planted the church - how did we behave? What was the fruit of our lives? Were we not holy and sincere? Did we rely on the "gift of the gab" or "tricks of the trade" or did you experience God's grace through us? C'mon guys this isn't rocket science - you know what we were like then, and, when you see us again you'll just see more of the same and you'll want to boast about us instead of doubting us in our absence."

I have seen this scenario play itself out again and again in people's relationships. People have been friends for years and then one misunderstanding, one mistake, one voice sowing doubt and years of faithfulness are cast aside. We are so easily misled by our emotions. We are so easily offended, we are so quick to listen to other voices.

Paul's voice of quiet reason is important:
Slow down. Think! Review...
Understand what is going on...
Put it in perspective!
Be reasonable.

Our relationships would be better if we learned to do this!

Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church Cell: 082-5510752