Wednesday, October 16, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-16 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] `Weak` Paul's role as one who builds up the Body of Christ

`Weak` Paul's role as one who builds up the Body of Christ

It is interesting to read Paul's second letter to the congregation in Corinth. It is vivid that Paul had experienced some kind of tribulations, challenges and criticisms from the faithful in Corinth. In spite of all, Paul still shows his deep longing for reconciliation, peace, love and expresses his great joy even when this dissatisfactory situation was brought forth. Paul reassures them that he lives by God's power in his weaknesses.

Paul appears to be a confessional, humble, simple and unequivocal person to his brothers and sisters in Corinth. He boasts in his weakness and inabilities. In other words he places himself vulnerable before the faithful. Perhaps Paul boasting in his weaknesses was also a sign of wrestling with a thorn in his flesh to always realise the grace of God... (2Cor12:7). "We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored" (2Cor13:9). In nutshell Paul's aim is the restoration, reconciliation and completeness of the faithful in their first love with Christ Jesus. Paul would find cause for joy in all these, if only the disciples whom he loves are strong with the strength of God. In the context of Paul we learn the mission of the church through God's grace and the participation of the believers in building up the body of Christ.

What is contrary in Paul's mission in relation to our context especially that Paul's mission starts by vindicating himself before God and His people? "When I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority -- the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down." (2Cor13:10). Here Paul is spiritually driven for the mission of the church and he does not divert from his purposes. We may introspect ourselves in our context as to where we are in exploring the mission of the Church. The mission of the Church is to edify and restore rather than inflicting pain to the body of Christ.

We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. 10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority--the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.      (2Corinthians13:9-10)

(Wonke Buqa is married to Bongeka and blessed with a son Bukho (8) and two lovely dogs Chopper and Beyoncé. He loves academic research in theology and psychology, he enjoys aerobics, weight lifting and spiritual contemplation.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-15 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Paul: A Relay Runner


Paul: A Relay Runner

The Christian life is a calling, a calling not because of what we know or what we are, but a calling by God's grace. We are all called in our weaknesses so that His strength can come out. Timothy is here encouraged to be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ.

There was a time when Peter promised rather to die for Christ than to deny him and we all know that he failed because he was strong in his own strength. Had he been strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, he would have kept his promise. Ephesians 6:10 tells us 'Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might...'

We have God's grace which is a free gift from the hand of God and it helps us humans to regenerate and sanctify, to inspire virtuous impulses and to impart strength to endure trials and resist temptations.

When we have God's grace, we acknowledge and appreciate that whatever we are doing is not about us but about God and His kingdom. We are not in a game of competition but in a calling where we complement and mentor one another passing on the baton of faith to other faithful men/women.

The body of Christ suffers when the members serve as loners, unwilling to mentor others or learn from others. Timothy is encouraged to entrust what he heard from Paul to faithful men who will be able to teach others too. This should be our encouragement as well. His grace will give us strength in times of trials and temptations and will also remind us that we are not alone. We are not only surrounded by brothers and sisters in the faith but there also unseen witnesses who are cheering us to move on. Everything we are or have is a gift from God and let us all play our part in spreading the good news of our Lord and Saviour.

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.      (2Timothy2:1-2)

(Jane Moyo Nyirongo, is a mother and grandmother, serving God with Garden congregation. Likes reading fiction stories, walking and gardening. Maybe that's why am in Garden compound!
Shalom shalom!)

Monday, October 14, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-14 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Paul was interested in people and how they served the Lord.

[This week in the Month of Mission we answer the question: "What is the Church for?"]

Paul was interested in people and how they served the Lord.

In today's text (Col 4:10-15) Paul takes time to pass on greetings from his co-workers to the churches in Colossae and Laodicea. There are 2 important things we can note in the way Paul does this. Firstly he mentions his co-workers by name, and secondly says who they are/what they do.

Aristarchus (a fellow prisoner), Mark (cousin of Barnabas) and Jesus (called Justus), are Jews. He acknowledges that these 3 men are a comfort to him. We can only speculate as to why they are a comfort to Paul (possibly shared Jewish traditions and practices?). Paul also mentions 3 of his Gentile co-workers, Epaphras (intercessor), Luke (our dear friend, the doctor), and Demas. He also sends greetings to the brethren at Laodicea and to a woman Nympha (and the church in her house).

In these verses Paul gives us a picture of a richly diverse church. This diversity is found in the individuals with their different roles, talents and abilities, their different ethnicities, and their different genders.

May we today take the time to reflect on the importance of each and every individual member of the church. Each and everyone of us has been called by name, by God into his church. And each individual member has been equipped to serve the church in their own special way. May God help us to celebrate this diversity and not to stifle it. May God help us to embrace this diversity and not to reject it.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) 11 Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. 13 I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. 14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.      (Colossians4:10-15)

(Shingirai Eunice Masunda is a minister of the UPCSA currently pursuing a PhD at the Protestant Theological University in the Netherlands.)

Sunday, October 13, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-13 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] A special bouquet of flowers (gifts) to build the church.

A special bouquet of flowers (gifts) to build the church.

When thinking about a meaningful gift for a special person the giver of the gift will carefully consider what kind of gift is appropriate or will be appreciated. If a bouquet of flowers is chosen as a gift, every flower included in the bouquet most probably will resemble something (favourite flower/s or memory) of the person the gift is given to. Flowers have a pleasant fragrance and add something significant to the environment where they are growing or where they are placed. Different flowers have different meanings and a bouquet of flowers has a blend of scents, like perfume or wine. The purpose of a gift could be multi-fold. The gift in itself carries a message to the person receiving the gift. It could be a message of encouragement, appreciation, motivation or celebrating a special occasion.

In Ephesians 4: 11-12 Christ Himself who is the head of the Church gave gifts to the church. He gave some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some pastors and teachers. The purpose of these gifts to the church is to grow the saints in their walk with God, to build and edify the church for the sake of the Gospel. The church celebrates their victory in Christ by operating in these gifts that Christ so eagerly and willingly gave. Just as Christ loves the Church these gifts are to be shared freely and with this same love. Each and every believer has received a gift that should be exercised to glorify Christ! Just like every flower has its own specific scent and fragrance so every believer has been created to be a gift to the church and operate in their unique gifting as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Every different scent (gift) is placed into a bouquet of flowers (the church), arranged uniquely just as God purposed and destined it to be!

The unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the foundation for Christian unity. Ephesians 4:13-16 emphasises this unity as the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. When the people of God reach out to one another for the purpose of building and growing others in their faith in Christ, the body of Christ is lifted above petty disagreements. The focus is complete devotion towards God and the things on earth become strangely dim in the face of his glory and grace.

A special bouquet of flowers with a unique fragrance and blended scent is compiled with different flowers and different colours and uniquely unites to present itself in purity and with beauty. The body of Christ presents itself similarly uniquely united with different gifts and displays the glory and beauty of Christ!

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...      (Ephesians4:11-12)

(Natalie Angela Barnard serves the congregation at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Cape Town. Mother to Christian, mom in law to Angela and grandmother to Isabella (3 years old), who all live in England, Mother to Natascha and mom in law to Alexander who live in Switzerland. Natalie has a great passion for adventures which includes hiking, anything outdoors, camping, travelling and especially road trips, added new adventure is sailing, spending time with family and friends)

Saturday, October 12, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-12 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Teachers: Solidifying Growth

Teachers: Solidifying Growth

Barnabas was an encourager and a pioneer. Our passage for today shows how he got the church in Antioch on its feet. And it was a vibrant church! There was evidence of God's grace, there was numerical growth and they were a community ready to "remain true to the Lord with all their hearts."

This was the crest of the wave!! We'd expect Barnabas to ride it for as long as possible, but while Barnabas was a good Apostle/Pioneer, he was enough of a Pastor to know that the church needed a good Teacher...

Good Teachers help God's people understand God's word and apply it to their lives. Good teachers inform and equip God's people to live thoughtfully and meaningfully in a way that is consistent with their faith. Teachers lay foundations that people can build lives of service on. They interpret the Bible in a way that helps others to read it for themselves. Good teachers make us eager to learn more about God and about His Word.

Barnabas realised he'd reached his "leadership lid" - he'd taken the church as far as he could. He needed help and so he recruited Saul/Paul to teach the church.

This was a risky move: Paul could have been wolf in sheep's clothing or Barnabas could be "ousted" or "outclassed" by the charismatic Paul.

But this was a risk worth taking - and it bore great fruit:

  • They became a community enthusiastically committed to learning and growing together over a long period of time.
  • They became so Christ-focussed and Christ-centered that they were called Christians ("little Christs") and, while some see the name as a form of mockery from the pagans, others suggest the name meant "you look very much like the One you talk about."
  • This congregation became the mission sending home base that provided support and backup for all of Paul's missionary journeys

Teachers can be preachers but not all preachers are good teachers... Preaching a sermon that people enjoy listening to is not the same as helping people to understand and apply the Bible to their lives.

We need Teachers in our Sunday Schools, Bible Study groups, Sunday Sermons and other places where people are looking for the answers to life's most important questions. We, like the Antioch members, should also be ready (and humble enough) to learn as much as we can... as often as we can...

...they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.      (Acts11:22-26)

Friday, October 11, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-11 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Pastor/Shepherd: How Paul did it...

Pastor/Shepherd: How Paul did it...

Today we're looking at the gift of the Pastor(Shepherd). This role is often seen in combination with the role of the Teacher (a careful reading of the original Greek text certainly implies this) but we'll look at "pastor" today and "teacher" tomorrow.

There are some who might argue that Paul was an Apostle, but sometimes a Prophet, often an Evangelist and frequently a Pastor-Teacher. This is very feasible. Let's remember that these are gifts of the Spirit and not necessarily talents that are linked to our natural abilities and sweet spots. In 1Cor12:7 we read that gifts of the Spirit are given for "for the common good" and so it is very likely that as Paul moved between various congregations and settings, the Spirit empowered him to be whatever that community required.

We should never cling to a specific Spiritual Gift, but be humble and flexible enough to allow God to use us in different ways in different contexts and during different seasons.

The gift of being a Pastor (or Shepherd) is about nurturing communities. It's about finding the lost, healing the injured, building community, identifying dangers, motivating, equipping and motivating.

A Shepherd can fulfill her/his calling as a minister, an elder, a small-group leader, a pastoral carer and even on a one-to-one basis in the community. You don't need a title to care for people.

Paul was a faithful shepherd, he nurtured communities when he was with them and wrote letters when he was away from them. He nurtured Timothy and Titus and grieved over those who fell away. He embodies the key-characteristic of the Pastor/Shepherd: care for others.

In his letter to the Corinthians he lists the difficulties and challenges of ministry. He talks about persecution, shipwrecks, travelling, whippings, imprisonments and so on. But look at what tops his list in the reading below - this is his heart language...

What about you? Has God given you a shepherd heart to care for people? Our world is lonely and hurting and it needs Christ-centered people who will express the love of Christ in their settings. Will you step up and do it?

Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-10 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Evangelists: Looking at Philip

Evangelists: Looking at Philip

For the past three years, God has prompted me to pray for people, sometimes even visit people and this has been difficult for me. Even though I am naturally a "people person", every time God has prompted me to pray for the sick, call the sick and give them a passage, it has been one of my greatest challenges. I am glad, for the many times I have obeyed these instructions. At times I had to call people out of my comfort zone, at odd times, and these incidents have left me appreciating God speaking to me in this way.

The story of the Ethiopian eunuch presents us with a big challenge of how God directed Philip to one man the same way he had directed him to many people in Samaria. This prompting, to such a significant conversion, gives us a life lesson in the importance of personal evangelism. I believe every Christian has a responsibility to talk about Jesus with someone on a personal level.

The two lessons that stand out for me in this passage are Philip's obedience and the zeal the eunuch has for God.

When God commanded Philip to go to the desert road, he obeyed. It is amazing to see that through Philip's obedience, the Lord opened a door for this opportunity to evangelise. Do we often see the opportunities God opens for us? I have not always seen every situation with my prompting as opportunities to serve, however, I have now since thanked God when I received instructions and had to share only to realise that, this is exactly what people needed. In Philip we see "Spirit-led boldness," of course most of us claim we don't have it and so we can't share the Good News about Jesus, my challenge has been to see the, "spirit-led boldness" in the small voice that invites you to share Jesus with the most insignificant people and or the most special people around you.

The second lesson from the Eunuch is how ready he was for God. As we often worry about how people will receive the message of Christ, let us remember that hearts are prepared by God. Often when we share in obedience we will be surprised how people would respond.

Are you on fire for Jesus? Does it sometimes look difficult to make a difference for God? Now what is the point of this story? What stands out in this story is that a very unlikely candidate for conversion, the Eunuch, is found and converted through the supernatural leading of the Lord himself, and not through human planning (John Piper). Therefore today step up and share the good news of Jesus and follow God's prompting.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road--the desert road--that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.
31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."

34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.      (Acts8:26-40)

(Tichaona Nigel Chikanya, husband to Savior and father to Deuel Chikanya, last served at Mowbray Presbyterian Church in South Africa and is currently serving at Eastwood Parish Church in Glasgow, a congregation in the Church of Scotland.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-09 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Prophets: Prayer and Fasting

Our reading today shows how Prophets sent out the Apostles(Pioneers). But what is a prophet? Maybe the best quick description is that a prophet brings God's comment/guidance on current affairs. They need to listen to God. Let's see how this works:

Prophets: Prayer and Fasting

In Mark 9:29 from the King James Version (KJV) We are told that a certain parent brought his son to the disciples so that they could cast out a demon that was torturing his child but the disciples failed lamentably. So, the man brought the child to Jesus Christ and He cast out the demon and the child was set free. Later the disciples asked Jesus why they failed to cast the demon. Jesus answered them: "This kind of demon comes out only by prayer and fasting".

1.Prayer and Fasting played a very important role in the life of Jesus
At every pivotal moment in the life of Christ, He found time to pray. In Mark 1:35, we are told that "very early in the morning before daybreak, Jesus went into a solitary place to pray." Praying was His lifestyle. Jesus prayed and fasted just before He started His public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). He prayed before choosing His disciples (Luke 6:12). He prayed just before He was crucified (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus prayed at the cross of Calvary (Luke 23:34).

2.The Church was born out of Prayer and Fasting
Before the Church was born, the disciples gathered in the upper room to pray and then in response God poured Out His Holy Spirit upon them in (Acts 2:1-13). Hence forth the Church was born.

3.The Church was sustained by Prayer and Fasting
The early Christians were in danger from the word go, but God sustained them in and through prayer and fasting.

4.Prayer and Fasting played an important part in the Early Church
"While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said: Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them". So. after they had fasted, they placed their hands on them and sent them off'' (Acts 13:2-3).

Do you pray and fast? When is the last time you prayed and fasted? Is prayer and fasting the forgotten discipline in the UPCSA? Jesus started with prayer and ended with prayer. So, Child of God, pray and fast.

In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.      (Acts13:1-3)

(Rev Allan Mchulu is a Minister at Kabwata Presbyterian Church based in Lusaka Zambia. He is married to Jessy Mwanda Mchulu and together have two daughters Deborah and Natasha. In his spare time he loves to read and to watch soccer.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-08 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Apostles: Barnabas

Apostles: Barnabas

For the next few devotions we're going to be looking at Paul's list of Spirit-empowered roles in the life and work of the church. He names Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Pastor-Teachers. (Eph4:11)

Today we'll be thinking about Apostles. Another description for an Apostle could be "Pioneer" or "Founder" or "Starter" or "Establisher." Some suggest that missionaries are basically Apostles, especially when they're initiating a new work.

An apostle goes where "no-one has gone before". They are entrepreneurial and can work well in new/unknown territory. They are creative and think outside the box.

In our reading there are two sets of pioneers. The first example is the men from Cyprus and Cyrene who crossed racial and cultural boundaries to reach out and establish a new group of believers. (We might also call them Evangelists.)

The other example is Barnabas who come to turn a group of converts into a church that would eventually become the sending church of the New Testament.

Look at Barnabas' attributes:
- Spiritually attuned: he could see God was at work
- Found his joy in the growth of the church
- Was an encourager who helped people to persevere
- A good man - ethical, consistent, reliable
- Full of the Holy Spirit (i.e. he was led and guided by the Spirit)
- Full of Faith: willing to trust God

An addition Barnabas was remarkable for his ability to think outside the box - when he needed help teaching the church, he found Saul/Paul (who no-one else was willing to take a risk on) and involved him in the discipleship of the church. This also showcases his humility.

In summing up: An Apostle or Pioneer joins up with what God is already doing and just helps to give it shape. We're here today because of Apostles who started churches and planted the communities that nurtured us.

Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Monday, October 7, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-07 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Before we start on the gifts, remember we are just co-workers with God.

Before we start on the gifts, remember we are just co-workers with God.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in this chapter, he wanted to clarify something which was unclear to them. Knowing that they were not spiritually mature, he addressed them about the kind of audience they were and referred to them as plants. He further explained that each and every one played his own role without interfering with one another. Three characters were mentioned, Paul, Apollos and God, the main character.

For the plants to exist, there must be someone to prepare the soil. That was done by Paul who said that the Corinthians were washed, sanctified in the name of Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit (1Cor6:11). They were well prepared.

After that, they were supposed to be doing things differently from the way they were. This is a common problem which we have in the church today: People still live the life of this world. Some of the things done by Corinthians were those that happened weeks ago because among people who were involved in xenophobia attacks, killing of women and children and rape, were Christians.

After Paul did the basic job of planting, he left Apollos to do the watering, which means good news had never stopped being proclaimed. He was a means carrying on the building up the souls in faith and holiness and making them fruitful in every good work.

But, above all, there is someone whom they cannot do anything without, hence a "but" has been used. The involvement of God is always necessary. Paul used a strange conjunction "but" instead of "and." To use "but" he showed that the work done was not going to be complete without God. If he used "and" it would mean God is any other ordinary person among them but the fact that this "but" is used, he's not like any ordinary person.

Though each of them had his own duties according to the passage, we must remember that we are just co-workers with God. Co-workers means working closely with God. But God gives the increase. There is nothing we can do on our own. Whatever we do, we partner with God as Christians. He is the one who completes us. In this case, Paul and Apollos were not able to make the plants to spring up or increase the perfection. Our duty is to plant and water, cast the seed of the word, preach the Gospel, but all the success is from the Man above. It is He who only causes what we've done, to spring up and grow. It is he who gives it its increase, spreading, fructifying virtue and efficacy, because we are just co-workers with him.

I planted the seed, Apollo's watered it, but God made it grow.      (1Corinthians3:6 )

(I am Bongiwe Ngebulana. I'm single, a mother of one beautiful daughter and a granny to a handsome boy. I also have 2 adoptees, both girls. I like walking every morning, playing netball, cooking and to be around kids or elderly people. I am currently not charged, but an interim Moderator at St Paul, Alberton in Highveld.)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-06 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] An unexpected descent.

An unexpected descent.

The two events, Christ's "descension" and ascension are the two bookends of Christ's life. While we are very familiar with and celebrate the ascension, we don't talk about His "decension"! There are three interesting facets to His descent.

Firstly, we think of His descent in that He came from heaven to earth and went from earth to heaven. He came from glory to humility, and from humility back to glory. Paul describes this in Philippians 2: "He... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself..."

Secondly, when the Bible says that Christ "descended into the lower parts of the earth", it actually means that He really tasted death and went directly into the presence of God. Jesus said to the thief on the Cross. "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). As Jesus died, He said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Jesus also said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Jesus would have not said these words if He was going to hell.

Thirdly, this refers to His descent into hell (the spirit's prison) to proclaim victory over the demonic (1 Peter 3:18-19). Some have suggested that this is Jesus' public ministry, casting out demons and proclaiming the kingdom. Others suggest that this happened at the time of Jesus' resurrection as He showed His power over spiritual and physical death. Either way the point is that Christ went to proclaim victory on the Cross. It is a message of victory.

Then Christ ascended so that He could fill all things. In John14:20, Jesus made it clear that unless He went away, the Holy Spirit could not come. Because He went back to Heaven, each one of us has the Holy Spirit.

When Christ was here, He had the ability to teach, preach, show mercy, serve, lead etc. When He left, He took all of these abilities and passed them out among Christians. When He ascended, He gave gifts to men.

He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things".      (Ephesians4:10)

(Vusi Mkhungo is the Clerk of Assembly. He is married to Malindi and together they have been blessed with two sons, Siyabonga and Langelihle.)

Saturday, October 5, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-05 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Kenotic love (kenosis) is self-emptying love. Jesus did it...

Kenotic love (kenosis) is self-emptying love. Jesus did it...

Every time I read this passage of scripture, I cannot help but ask the question: What more shall I do to serve my Lord? I am constantly overwhelmed by the idea of kenosis (self-emptying). This was the mindset that Jesus had, the same mind that should be in every believer.

Paul articulates this narrative of incarnation in the same manner as John's narrative of the Word becoming flesh, dwelling among us, so that we could behold his glory (John: 1:14). God the Son, out of love for humanity, dwelt among us, emptied Godself for us to be saved, redeemed and liberated. The Son shunned royalty and divine nature to take human nature - humility, in order to accomplish God's plan for humanity -- salvation/liberation. God, thus made it possible for humanity to learn right attitude, right behaviour, and right mentality, as we emulate Jesus Christ. This love was lavished on all without discrimination that all should enjoy without fear and prejudice.

This kenotic love is a call for us to love one another the same way Jesus loved us. We are called to share the same DNA as Jesus, be able to forgive, to love, to express sympathy and be ready to put our lives at stake so that others may live. The Rev Dr Cowan, preaching at the closing of the UPCSA 20th anniversary celebrations said, "Live simply so that other may simply live".

The self-emptying was done in space and time. God had been concerned about the situation that humanity was in. God had been concerned about hamartiological (sin) manifestations, as human beings were effaced and abused. This happened in all the dimensions of life - spiritual, political social, economic and others. God was concerned about skewed relations among human beings, as some used others to achieve their own ends.

Christians ought to conduct social analysis from time to time and empty themselves, so that the "emptied" of society - the nonpersons may realise their human dignity and live as free beings. Salvation is about all of humanity being liberated. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone, the new is here" (NIV). Through self-emptying, newness of life is realised. Love divine - love excelling is experienced fully when we are prepared to empty ourselves (including sharing of resources) for the impoverished and marginalised to feel fully human. Let us be grafted in Christ, so that we are emptied of the old. The new world order is a necessity -- a reconciled community. What more shall I do to serve my Lord?

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.      (Philippians2:5-11 )

(Lungile Mpetsheni is the General Secretary of the UPCSA. A husband to Thandiswa, a father and a grandfather. Saved by the grace of God.)

Friday, October 4, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-04 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] How can we see the Father?

How can we see the Father?

The One who descended came to reveal the Most High.

There is a poignant sadness to this conversation between Philip and Jesus. They've been together for three years and Philip still hasn't recognised that he's been experiencing the loving nature of the Father through the presence of the Son.

Yes, the Father is Mighty and Majestic. Yes, the Father is Holy and Awesome. And yes, the Father is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. But this power and majesty emanate from a central core. And what is that core?

A peep at an "Old Testament Philip", aka Moses, gives us a clue...
Moses asked to see God's glory, but God made it clear that he would be utterly overloaded by glory, so instead, Moses got to see God's Goodness - and got to hear about the core of God's magnificent being: "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness..." (Ex.34:6)

Philip was thinking glory, but Jesus had revealed God's core:
- Touching Lepers
- Cuddling children
- Freeing the possessed
- Liberating people from shame and pain
- Living day to day among the poor
- Sharing in our humanity and the "normality" of life
- Living His life for us

In a nutshell Jesus was saying: The Father's core and essence is what you have seen in me... That core is giving, caring, sharing, courageous, attentive, self-sacrificing LOVE."

May we look at Jesus and see more than Philip saw...

Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?      (John14:8-9)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-03 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Unexpected advice... and an unexpected example.

Unexpected advice... and an unexpected example.

Leadership is a pretty difficult thing to define if we look at the New Testament(NT). While the NT doesn't say much about the definitions, functions or tasks of leadership, it has a lot to say about the character of leaders. By and large, starting with Jesus and working right through the NT, whenever the subject of leadership is addressed, it is almost always the character of the leader that is highlighted. The NT seems to take the view that if you have the right character, the definitions, functions and tasks fall into their proper place.

Nowhere is this truer than in this interaction in Mark's Gospel. Mark's Gospel presents Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God and, as we read through the Gospel, we see this demonstrated again and again. So, although the words Jesus speaks here are recorded in other places, this a typically Markan phrase.

The disciples are, yet again, arguing about status and position and Jesus sees an opportunity for a teaching moment to give them a lesson about what leadership is like in God's Kingdom. In the world, if you are the leader, then you leverage your authority to your own best advantage. But, Jesus turns the whole system on its head: "This is not how you should behave. If you say that you will follow me you must lead like I lead. Every time you find yourself in a position of authority must lead like this."

Some of you are sniggering quietly now because you're sure it won't work. You're thinking maybe this works in the rarified atmosphere of the church, but this doesn't work in the real world. But if we are followers of Jesus, then we are bound to follow Jesus not only on Sunday, but also where we live and work, as well as where we worship. Learning to lead like Jesus means learning to serve. Jesus is not arguing against leadership; nor is he arguing for passivity, but what Jesus is saying is that if you have authority, if you exercise leadership in any sphere, then you must choose to leverage the authority you have for the benefit of those who are under our authority. This works at home, in church or in your work situation.

Jim Collins, in his book "Good to Great" identifies great leaders as distinguished by their humility. Great leaders have a tremendous drive to get things done combined with a humility that draws people in their direction.

What a difference it would make in our homes, churches and workplaces if we listened to Jesus's advice... and followed it.

When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served---and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."      (Mark10:43-45)

(Peter Langerman is the currently serving Moderator of the UPCSA. He is a husband to Sally, father to Jaimee (and father-in-law to Tim), Natasha, Emma and Gabby, loves to walk, cook, read, shout at the TV when the Boks are playing and serves the saints at Durbanville.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-02 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] God's Gift: One who came from heaven...

God's Gift: One who came from heaven...

It might surprise you to hear this, but not every person is a gift person. It has taken me time to learn how to open a present in an appreciative way. If one is not a present person, one may offend the giver by not expressing enough excitement and appreciation. I'm not talking about being false but rather showing gratitude. In the same way, it is important to pay attention to the gifts of God, to focus, to give thanks and to use them wisely.

One of the few verses I can remember learning in the Sunday School and probably the only one that took a hold of my heart was John 3:16. It begins as an expression of the character of God ("For God so loved...") Later when studying theology, I discovered that "Love" is a good place to start if we want to explore the character of God. In his first letter, John describes God's very nature as "love" (4: 16). In fact the very inner life of God, the Trinity, is a continuous and perfect expression of love.

The teaching of this verse does not stop there. It goes on to provide the focus, for this instance of God's love "For God so loved the world". Its hard to preach the truth of this verse among a people (the Church) who naturally think of themselves as the focus of God's love. The truth is, as the prophet Jonah discovered, God's love is much broader than we'd hoped. It extends to all who bear God's image and likeness. In addition, God's love is self sacrificing ("that he sent his only Son") and salvific ("so that whoever believes in him shall not perish"). Ultimately, God's love is reconciling ("but have eternal life"), restoring the home-life we share with God eternally.

This verse has been a gift to me and to many others.

Who knew what the effect of this simple memory verse would have on my life? Who knew what a gift it would be to me? I wish God's Spirit will continue to use it to shape me so that nothing, in the end, will be able to separate me from God's love. And for those of us who read over the gift of John 3:16 too quickly, there is a speed bump in verse 17. It turns out that God's motives were never to condemn but always to save. It turns out that this gift is for "re-gifting". I need to pass it on to someone else.

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.      (John3:13-17)

(George Marchinkowski is the minister at Somerset West United Church. He is married to Sascha and together they have two daughters, Leah & Zoë. He is the a past convener of Mission and Discipleship and is now the researcher and inspirer of the Missional Congregations Project.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-01 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Pitched His Tent

Welcome to our e-devotions for the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa's Month of Mission 2019!
This year we are looking at chapter 4 from Paul's letter to the Ephesians in which he describes the church, its mission, how it is provided for and how it functions.

As you read Ephesians 4 you will see that before Paul talks about the church, he speaks about the Founder of the Church: Jesus Christ who he describes as the "One who ascended and must therefore have descended."

It is this "descending" that we will consider in this first week of our e-devotions...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Pitched His Tent

John 1 is like the Overture at the start of a theatrical musical. An overture is the introduction and sets the stage and mood, but it also gives one some sense of the main moments of the story.

John's prologue in ch.1 does this magnificently.
Here are some highlights from the chapter as a whole:

  • He opens with "In the beginning was the Word..." and we are taken all the way back to Genesis 1.
  • We are reminded of John the Baptist who is Jesus' forerunner and gives the gospel story historical credibility. John the Baptist is also the one who reveals God's agenda for us - to be witnesses of the light.
  • Jesus is introduced as the Light of the world, the God-revealer and the very life of humankind.
  • He is the "un-understood" and "unrecognised" Messiah who was rejected by a corrupt and blind religious system.
  • He transforms people bringing them from death to life - to being born of God.

But I want to concentrate on our verses for the day:
John has already told us that Jesus is the Word who is with God and is God. He has told us that Jesus is the light and life of humanity. But there's a twist to this majestic tale: The Son of God, magnificent and mighty, humbles Himself to become flesh - to enter Mary's womb, to be a "holy embryo", to dwell among us.

Eugene Peterson translates this thought as "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood." The Greek Word used for "made His dwelling" is the word that was used to describe the building of shelters during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. It could be translated as "pitched His tent" or "set up camp" in our immediate vicinity.

One would think that moving into the neighbourhood would lower Him to our standards - that'd He'd be cheapened by His connection with us. But this is not the case: John declares that the "divine self-lowering" of Jesus actually exalts Him.
And here's why: Where Adam and Eve grabbed for more power, Jesus chose to obey God even if it meant humbling Himself and having less power. Jesus obeyed His Father and, for our sake, He gave His life.
Jesus deity is recognised by John, not only because of His divine identity, but also because of His sacrifice.

But don't take my word for it... Read it as John said it! And then give thanks to our God and Saviour who moved into your neighbourhood and mine. (You can also read the Ephesians passage that is our basis for the whole month...)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known. (John 1:14-18)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."
9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:7-16)

(Theo Groeneveld is married to Brenda, is dad to Caleb (19) and foster father to a long list of abandoned kittens that they have re-homed over the years. He has served Emmanuel Presby Church in Garsfontein Pretoria since 1997 and is the convener of the General Assembly Mission and Discipleship Committee. He enjoys cycling and tech stuff.)

Monday, September 30, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-30 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah#6 - Prayer and God's promises

Nehemiah#6 - Prayer and God's promises

We can claim God's promises from Scripture. Nehemiah is not the only person in Scripture who does so. The real question is whether it is God or us who needs reminding of His promises. I am convinced, once again that the "claiming" of this promise has more to do with Nehemiah's reassurance than it does with the "twisting" of God's arm.

By remembering God's promises we recapture a clear picture of His nature, character, and plan. When things look like God is not in control, these promises remind us of His ultimate control. If prayer is a dialogue, then these remembered promises (although they are in our mouths) are God's reassurance to us that our prayer will be heard.

But there's more... There is a clear note in the tone of the prayer that indicates that Nehemiah is completely comfortable "haggling" with God. This also has precedent in Scripture. At one point when God is considering the harshest possible judgement for the wandering Israelites who had worshiped the golden calf, Moses prays that God would "relent" (the original Hebrew has overtones of "repent"!!!) from this course of action. Abraham "negotiates" with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. ("If I find 50, no make that 40, no make that 20, no make that 10 righteous people will You still destroy the city?")

In the army a junior officer has to ask for "permission to speak freely." With God, our permission is granted.

The last point is that the promise Nehemiah claims here is conditional. Nehemiah would have clearly understood that his "claiming" of this promised place a burden on him and the people too. A relationship is a two way street....

Remember the instruction You gave Your servant Moses, saying, "If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me and obey My commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for My name."      (Nehemiah1:8-9)

We'll take a break from our series of prayer for the Month of Mission Series which starts tomorrow!!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-29 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah #5 Confession

Nehemiah #5 Confession

Confession: This is a word that has had "bad press." Today we are encouraged to see ourselves as beings that are basically good ("filled with light") and so we don't like to think of ourselves in need of forgiveness. The reality is that, if we have done the praising part of our prayer right, we will know that there is a qualitative difference between God and me. He is righteous - I am not. He is pure - I am not. He is faithful - I am not.

Nehemiah confesses his sinfulness. But here he goes a step further: He confesses the sin of the nation. He is very careful to show that he is not standing in judgement of the nation - he includes himself and his father's house.

But why do we confess? Does God need our confession before He can forgive us? Absolutely not! Confession has more to do with our being able to receive forgiveness than it has to do with God's willingness to forgive us. We don't confess because God needs our confession. We confess because we need to be set free of the blockages of sin and guilt in us. Every time we confess, we are opening ourselves to God so that He can do heart surgery on us, removing our stony hearts and putting hearts of flesh in place instead.

And why should we confess the sins of the nation? Nehemiah understood that the change of a nation lies with change in the people of the nation. As Nehemiah confesses the sin of the nation and his part in it, he puts in place a chain of events that will lead to the transformation of society.

Individual sin leads to corporate sin. Confession and the transformation that comes from forgiveness must also begin on an individual level. In Nehemiah 8 we can see how Nehemiah's private remorse becomes the nation's remorse as they weep while God's law is being read to them.

I confess the sins we Israelites including myself and my father's house, have committed against You. We have acted very wickedly toward You. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees, and laws you gave your servant Moses.      (Nehemiah1:6-7)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-28 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah#4 - Petition

Nehemiah#4 - Petition

We continue our journey through Nehemiah's heartfelt prayer for his country and people. After praise he offers petition...

The word petition is derived from the language used in the presence of a ruler or a king. He hasn't really come to the content of what he is asking for yet - at this point he is simply asking that God would hear him out.

There are two aspects here:
Firstly, the language of petition reminds us that God doesn't owe us anything. God does not have to listen to us. He does not have to answer our prayers. Petition draws clear lines of identity. We are the ones in need and God is the One who can meet them. We need to come in great humility, understanding that although God wants to answer our prayers and although He longs to be gracious to us, this our privilege and not our right.

There is a trend among people today to have a "name it and claim it" model of prayer. They claim the promises of Scripture and boldly demand that God honours His promises. While it is true that we can rest on the promises of God (We'll see Nehemiah do it later in the prayer) our attitude should always be one of humble, worshipful, wonder: "Who am I that Thou would listen to me?"

Somebody once told me that they always felt guilty for always asking God for things. My response was to say that sometimes our prayer requests are actually the highest form of praise we can give, because we are admitting our need for God. We have problems that only He can solve and when we give them to Him in prayer, we are admitting our inability and His all sufficiency!

The second aspect of petition is that Nehemiah uses what Bible-Scholars call "anthropomorphisms" (attributing human characteristics to God.) Does God have ears and eyes like ours? No - He can see further than my eyes can, He can hear better than my ears can. When Nehemiah uses these very human images for God, he is expressing a longing for intimacy with God. We all know how much it means to us when a friend takes time to listen to our story or when a friend's eyes glisten with tears of compassion for us.

With New Testament eyes, we see this prayer completely fulfilled in Christ. Because Jesus experienced all our pain, sorrow, and brokenness as a human being, we know that He fully identifies with us.

So, after preparation and praise, Nehemiah comes to petition: A statement of dependance on God and an expression of a longing for intimacy with Him.

... let Your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.      (Nehemiah1:6)

Friday, September 27, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-27 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah #3: Praise Prayers

Nehemiah #3: Praise Prayers

Nehemiah, after days of mourning and fasting is ready to bring all his loving concern for Jerusalem to God in prayer. Unexpectedly his prayer begins with praise! One would expect him to emphasise the plight of Jerusalem and that he would try to twist God's arm with the magnitude of the need, but Nehemiah begins with praise and the praise is both affirmation and theology.

It is affirmation because as one begins to take one's eyes off one's circumstances and onto God, one becomes ready to believe that our prayers will be answered. When he spends time in praise, Nehemiah is reassured about God's character, power, and faithfulness - thus validating the effort of prayer. Prayer is not wasted when we come to such an awesome God.

The prayer is also an act of theologising. The Israelites had been through a crisis: The Babylonians had destroyed their city and their temple and this had two implications: Firstly, the temple had been the centre of their worship and now they felt far away from God. Secondly, the victory of the Babylonians had made them feel as though God had rejected them or forgotten them and that He was a weak God. (In those times, if my nation defeated your nation then my God was bigger than yours.) Nehemiah's praise is an antidote to these two problems. He affirms that God is not stuck in our man-made temple but the God of Heaven and that He is great and awesome. And God's covenant love is always available for those who love and obey Him. So, if one feels far away from God, guess who moved? (We'll see how to move back later in the prayer.)

It may feel awkward to begin a prayer with praise when one is not feeling great or positive, but it does help us get our perspective sorted out. Steve Wiggins says "Take the biggest thing that's got you down and stand it upright next to God - anyone can see who's bigger now."

O Lord, God of Heaven, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands...      (Nehemiah1:5)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-26 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah #2: Breakthrough prayer

Nehemiah #2: Breakthrough prayer

We continue to journey with Nehemiah who has been wrestling with the predicament of Jerusalem after the exiles had returned. His wrestling led to prayer and his prayer continues to the end of the first chapter of the book of Nehemiah. This prayer leads to significant breakthrough and action. What I want to emphasize today is that Nehemiah didn't just get the bad news and pray the prayer we have here in chapter one. The prayer we have here is the culmination of a process of prayer.

There are times that we will pray about things for a long time. In some cases this is because there are issues we have to sort out. As we will see, Nehemiah was going to become the answer to his own prayer. He was going to have to go out on a limb of faith and take a risk. The period of time spent in prayer is not because God is deaf or slow to move, but because, more often than not, prayer involves the transformation of our own hearts. Nehemiah's process of prayer and fasting which stretched over a couple of days was as much a time of reflection and clarification as an act of devotion.

Sometimes God does ask us to prevail in prayer. Daniel had this experience when the answer to his prayer was delayed due to spiritual opposition. There are times that we get to play an important role in persevering in prayer.

It's not always easy to understand why God delays answers, but there is a real possibility that as time goes by that our prayer, like Nehemiah's, will change from : "Lord would you hurry up and do something!" to "Here I am Lord, send me."

Breakthrough prayer is not just endlessly repeating the same prayer day by day, but a real soul-seeking prayerful reflective process in which we try to understand the problem and the possible solutions and what God might be asking us to do. It's all about listening prayerfully even more than we speak in prayer.

As Nehemiah did, we will at some point reach the breakthrough and be able to bring the prayer to a conclusion and act according to what God has revealed to us.

When I heard these things I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said...      (Nehemiah1:4-5)

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-25 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah's Prayer #1: Passion

Nehemiah's Prayer #1: Passion

Some background to our reading today: Nehemiah is in exile in Babylon. After the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, they were defeated by the Persians and after 70 years of exile, the Persians released the Israelites to return to the promised land. Some Jews remained in Babylon in the high ranking positions they had risen to. Nehemiah was one of them - he is the cup-bearer to the Persian king.

But Nehemiah's interest was the welfare of Jerusalem and the reason for his distress in this verse is the bad news that Jerusalem is in a sad state of affairs and defenseless in the absence of a city wall.

Over the next few days we'll look at aspects of his prayer to see what we can learn from it.

The first aspect of meaningful prayer is passionate sincerity. We are left in no doubt that the welfare of Jerusalem is very near to Nehemiah's heart. The bad news he hears leads to reflection, sadness, and fasting. His prayers are not a glib "Please bless the world" but a sharp and targeted arrow that has been released with all the force the archer can muster.

There is much that can be said about fasting. For the moment it is important to say that fasting has much more to do with preparing the heart of the one who prays than it has to do with twisting God's arm.

The passion with which Nehemiah comes to the task of prayer indicates:

  • A clear belief that God will take him seriously
  • There has been time taken to discern a clear outcome for which to pray
  • A sense that Nehemiah is in a place where he prays in accordance with God's will.

Martin Luther said: "The wonder is not that God answers prayer, but that he inspires prayer."
Nehemiah's passionate (his tears) preparation (his fasting) for prayer is a most beautiful example for us...

When I heard these things I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.      (Nehemiah1:4)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-24 [Prayer like breathing] Heritage Prayers for our Land

Heritage Prayers for our Land

In South Africa today is Heritage Day - a public holiday on which we celebrate our country's heritage. Many call it "braai day" and use it have the traditional barbecue that South Africans love so much. This should be accompanied with gratitude for our many blessings and  also with mindfulness that we all have work to do to make our country and our world a better and safer place.

In a harsh and dangerous world, Paul urged Timothy and his congregation to pray for leaders and those in authority.

Our country and world face heartaches and strains (and I'm not going to make a list of these today...) Even our President has requested that faith communities pray for our land.

In the light of these needs and calls to prayer may I urge you to pray? Please bow your head right now and join me in a moment of prayer for our nation....

"Lord, you see the state of our nation.
You hear the cries of Your people.
We pray for ALL our leaders today
And for Your guidance in facing the critical issues of our time.
We pray for our land which is Your land and for its people.
We pray for leaders in politics, economics, media and social settings.
We pray for the angry and frustrated.
We pray for the desperate and the helpless.
We pray for justice and righteousness to flourish.
And then....
Help me to be part of the solution and not the problem.
Deal with me where my heart is hard.
Show me where I can make a practical difference.
Deal with me where I may be hard-hearted to my fellow human.
Give me Your heart for the afflicted and oppressed.
Help me overcome my fears and excuses.
Show me how I can be the difference in our land.
Lord hear our prayer.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.      (1Timothy2:1-2)

PS: Please note that the reference for yesterday's edev was incorrect (It needs to be 1Kings 19 and not 2Kings)

Monday, September 23, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-23 [Prayer like breathing] From Disillusion to Prayer

From Disillusion to Prayer

Elijah is in a bad place: Having conquered the prophets of Baal on mount Horeb, he is served a determined death-threat by queen Jezebel and flees for his life. Elijah is overwrought, overstrained, and burnt out. We find the prophet who stood up against the prophets of Baal in chapter 18 asking to die in chapter 19. He is in a place we've all been in at one time or another.

God deals very gently with Elijah. First he feeds him a few simple meals and gets him to rest. (This is one of the first things to do for people who suffer from burnout-depression). Then came the long walk to Horeb, just simple mechanical routine, one foot in front of the other - nothing complex or overloading - another important part of healing from burnout.

At Horeb God asks the question. "What are you doing here Elijah?" Elijah's answer is like a knee-jerk reaction - he lists his woes but there is no real sense of relief.

Then God treats Elijah to a show of natural phenomena: Wind, Earthquake, and Fire. (Maybe all of these served as symbols of Elijah's inner turmoil) After these tempestuous occurrences came the still small voice and Elijah now knew (like he knew like he knew) that God was listening. And then came the same question "What are you doing here Elijah?"

God asks the same question twice: - "What are you doing here Elijah?" And Elijah uses the same words both times when he answers. The difference is in the implied tone of voice. The first time the answer comes from a heart that is blown about, shaken up, and burnt out. The second time the answer comes from someone who has seen the wind, earthquake, and fire being stilled by the Significant voice.

Prayer is the certain knowledge that no matter what our circumstances, no matter what chaos may abound, no matter what the uncertainty, no matter how loud the noise of our pain might be, there is a God who speaks with a small still voice and who listens to our prayer.

Prayer is learning to hear that voice in the midst of our circumstances and to give Him our pain and heartache.

After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here Elijah?"      (1Kings19:12-13)

Friday, September 20, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-20 [Prayer like breathing] Prayer: Bringing our needs to God

Prayer: Bringing our needs to God

God has given us prayer so that we can talk to Him, but also for us listen to Him. We sometimes feel guilty bringing our "shopping lists" before God, but we need to understand that God, like a good friend or parent, is interested in whatever may be bugging us.

We are invited, no, instructed to present our requests to God. We are to talk to God about it (prayer), we are to nag God about it (petition), and we are to give thanks for His answers. My good friends are the ones who will listen when I need to get stuff off my chest. Prayer is me trusting God with my baggage because He is my friend.

Prayer is me, dropping my defenses and becoming real with God. As I do that, He begins to work in my heart giving me peace and comfort as I spend time with Him.

- -  -   -    -     -

Do you struggle to pray?     I do...
Part of my problem is that I try too hard to say the right things and even to talk at all! I am learning that one of the best things I can do is simply to be in God's presence. For me watering the garden and occasionally sending up an arrow prayer whilst being very conscious of His presence or riding my bike and looking around at the beauty of the veld and praying for people or situations as they pop into my mind have become special ways of praying.

Do good friends struggle to be together? Sometimes they talk, sometimes they're quiet and sometime one speaks and the other just says "mmmm" or "yah." So don't struggle - just do it!

How about talking and listening to God on the way home today?
You will find that some of that tightness in your chest and some of that being-chased-after feeling in your heart will ease up...

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.       (Philippians4:6-7)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-19 [Prayer like breathing] Prayer: Getting real

Prayer: Getting real

One of my favourite images is that prayer is like an old camera...
The lens is focussed and the shutter opens...
The light shines in and leaves an image on the film negative.

Prayer is very similar to this:
We focus in on God,
we open the shutters of our hearts
and He shines His light in and our hearts (the film) are changed...

Psalm 139 is all about opening up to God. In the first part of the Psalm, the psalmist struggles with the almost relentless knowledge that God has of him. (Even when he tries to escape God he cannot!)
1 O LORD, you have searched me -- and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar...
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Then he begins to realise that God loves Him with the tender love of a Creator, and that he, the Psalmist, is a precious creature.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

His response is to give even more of himself to this tender, merciful, loving God.

And so, where the Psalm began with the Psalmist running away from a God who knew too much, the psalm ends with the author running toward God all the while offering everything he (the Psalmist) has.

Our prayers should involve some of this: that we open our hearts to God - even the scary and ugly bits - that we stop pretending and that we stop hanging on to a false dignity. We need to turn to Him and call for His help, we need to expose ourselves to Him.

When we ask Him to scrutinise our lives like this, He shines His light and love into the whole area of our lives and we can be changed!

Search me O God and know my heart
Test me and know my anxious thoughts
See if there is any offensive way in me
And lead me in the way everlasting      (Psalms139:23-24)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-18 [Prayer like breathing] An introduction to Prayer

Dear e-dev friends
My apologies for the gap in EmmDevs. It has been an exceptionally hectic time which was made more complicated by me being knocked off my bicycle 2 weeks ago and while my trusty iron steed is fine, I have had a bit of "road rash" to deal with and so my short break from EmmDevs ended up being longer than planned. My bumps and grazes are healing well and we have a few days before our annual October Month of Mission and so I'm going to be sharing some thoughts on prayer...
The first of these is below....
God bless and Love,

An introduction to Prayer

In our hectic sprinting from deadline to appointment and the daily fight through traffic jams on the road and in our email inboxes, we are easily convinced that we are too busy to pray.

But if we want to avoid running out of steam, we must "be faithful in prayer." In Paul's mind being "joyful in hope" and being "patient in affliction" go hand in hand with being "faithful in prayer". Think about that for a moment... Finding joyful hope and endurance in tough times is connected to prayer!

I have an over-busy mind and always seem to be over-run with things that must be done.

When it comes to being "faithful in prayer," I am still learning.
Here are some quotes from people who have mastered the truths that I am still learning:

  • Martin Luther said: "I have so much to do today that I need to spend the first hour in prayer."
  • Someone else said: "Seven days without prayer makes one weak!"
  • What about this one? "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had absolutely no other place to go." -- Abraham Lincoln
  • "One can believe intellectually in the efficacy of prayer and never do any praying." --Catherine Marshall
  • "Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?"-- Corrie Ten Boom
  • Fredrik Wisloff said: "You may pray for an hour and still not pray. You may meet God for a moment and then be in touch with Him all day."
  • And this awesome one: "Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan" --John Bunyan
What I'm learning is to stop making excuses about being busy, about not knowing how to pray and just not quite managing to make time to pray, and I am simply grabbing moments to connect deeply and intimately with God.

And whenever I do, it's like taking a huge breath of fresh oxygen and realising that I've been holding my breath and that I actually want to breathe more often.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.       (Romans12:12)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

EmmDev 2019-09-03 [A Life of Thanksgiving] At the centre...

At the centre...

On the penal colony on the island of Patmos, the Apostle John, who was imprisoned for spreading the gospel, had a vision of heaven. Some think it is a vision of the future, but that reduces and diminishes the incredible message of Revelation. The vision John saw wasn't merely of something that would happen one day far far far in the future. No, his vision is one that applies to the past, the present and future.

It is a vision of how Christ overcomes evil and will ultimately put an end to it forever. The vision he had comforted the early Christians oppressed by the power of Rome. Throughout history, Revelation has comforted Christians who have been persecuted and it comforts those who are being persecuted today.

There are numerous visions in Revelation. The vision of the scroll with seven seals is a picture of suffering from the perspective of the throne-room of heaven. The beautiful moment in this vision is when John is weeping because there seems to be no-one who is able to open the 7 seals on the scroll that deals with the suffering of the church over the ages. Then there is great relief because Jesus appears as the Lamb who was slain who is able to open up the scroll of suffering.

So what does all of this have to do with thanksgiving?
Well, before John describes the scroll and how Jesus opens it, he describes heaven as the control room of history. In this control room we meet four strange creatures (who represent the earth) and 24 elders (who represent the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles - the faithful of the Old and New Testaments)

And what is their job? "To give glory, honour and thanks to God."

As we draw our series on Thanks-giving to an end, let's pause with this image in our minds: In the control room of heaven, where even our suffering is seen, there is ongoing praise and thanks-giving. Why? Because the scroll of our suffering is opened by none less than Jesus, the Lamb of God, who hung on the cross and defeated sin, death and Satan.

For this we GIVE THANKS!

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

"Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come."

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being."      (Revelation4:6-11)

(With this series completed, I'll be taking a small break for a day or two...)

Friday, August 30, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-30 [A Life of Thanksgiving] What Paul is grateful for #4

What Paul is grateful for #4

Paul's cause for thankfulness today is an unusual one. He's thankful for kings and those in authority. Bear in mind that Paul was arrested by Roman soldiers, did prison time in Rome and was ultimately beheaded there.

So why would he be grateful for government?
While government wasn't perfect, Paul saw the need for it. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul urged his readers to obey authorities as far as possible (except where authority diverged from their faith). The role of kings and those in authority is to create and sustain a society where people can live "peaceful and quiet lives." Was Rome perfect? No they were not. But the order and structure they gave to society enabled the spread of the gospel. So Paul urged Timothy and his community to pray for the authorities. And maybe, because he understood how easily we give in to the temptation to whine and complain and focus on the negative, he challenges us to think of things to give thanks for.

This is a very timely message. We live in a time where our leaders' clay feet are very obvious. We are frustrated by the infighting, bickering, arrogance, incompetence and corruptness of our leaders. But in order to give thanks, we have to see what is good. When we find this good, it is reminder that God is still at work. Finding things to be thank-full for will protect us from the cynicism and negativity that keeps us from prayer.

Does this mean that we ignore the failures and mistakes of our leaders? Of course not. We must hold them accountable. But we must also pray for them and our prayers should not be dominated by negativity - we should learn to pray thankfully.

Here's the weekend challenge: As you enjoy your Saturday and Sunday, think about the roads, electricity, water and infrastructure that make it possible for you to shop, watch the sport on TV and enjoy a meal with your loved ones. Take time to give thanks that God gives us all this through imperfect authorities.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.      (1Timothy2:1-2)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-29 [A Life of Thanksgiving] What Paul is grateful for #3

What Paul is grateful for #3

Many of us are involved with service to the Lord (whether in our private lives, in the workplace, in the church or with others in service-based movements. This is good and right. But when we serve, there is a temptation to think that we should be thanked and appreciated.

Paul turns all of this on its head when he expresses thank-fullness for being in the ministry. In our passage for today Paul is looking at his past, present and future.

As far as Paul's past goes, he knows he can't claim a right to be in God's service. He recognises his failure, guilt and brokenness. He is thankful for God's mercy which was poured out over him. He also acknowledges that God's grace was expressed in the love and faith that God poured into him.

When he thinks about the present, Paul is very mindful that God gives him strength. Any work we do is only achievable through God's strength and guidance. I once heard a man say: "I did this by the sweat of my brow." I replied rather cheekily: "And Who gave you a brow that could sweat?" All that we do for God is an outflow of all that He has and is doing for us.

Paul is also thinking about the future, because he recognises that the faith God gave him when he first believed now expresses itself in faithfulness. In so many of his letters, Paul expresses the desire to keep serving and to finish his race. In his later letter to Timothy Paul will write: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Paul is grateful for the chance to express his faithfulness to God.

I have a friend who took an overseas visitor to experience some work they were doing among the poor and homeless. The visitor came with a bag of apples that he handed out to the children. When they were leaving the visitor remarked that the children had not said "thank you." My friend turned around and said: "Did you thank them for allowing you to serve them?"

Paul is filled with thanksgiving for the privilege of serving God in spite of his past and for strength in the present and for future service which will allow Paul to keep being faithful.

It is a privilege and gift to be able to be God's co-workers.
Paul really understands this...

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.      (1Timothy1:12)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-28 [A Life of Thanksgiving] What Paul is grateful for #2

What Paul is grateful for #2

One of my colleagues, Rod Botsis, once commented to me that he felt that every funeral he conducted was an act of spiritual warfare - that we proclaim the resurrection in the face of the doubt, fear and darkness that come with the bullying tactics that death uses to intimidate us...

In Graeco-Roman times life was cheap. The Romans had no hesitation to crucify hundreds of men along the roadside to crush a slave-revolt, life expectancy was low and infants could be abandoned in the street simply for being the wrong gender.

Even today we still use a number of euphemisms when talking about death. Some attempt to be humourous, others try to reduce its seriousness or to soften the blow - We are uncomfortable when it comes to talking about terminal illness, death and pain.

But Paul offers powerful hope in the face of death's bullying.
He takes his cue from the physical resurrection of Christ.

  • Perishable becomes imperishable
  • Mortal becomes immortal
  • Death has been swallowed up in victory (Resurrection Life makes death insignificant)
  • Death's sting has been pulled. The "poison sack" on the "bee sting" of death is sin. Sin makes death a separation from God. When Jesus died on the cross, He took our sin. Now the sting of death can be pulled - the poison is gone.

And so Paul is thank-full - we don't have to fear death.
Death is defeated - its sting is pulled - we have victory.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.      (Romans15:54-57)