Friday, August 16, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-16 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Thankfulness is our common ground

Thankfulness is our common ground

While the first part of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was primarily theological and about the message he preached, there are some practical issues Paul addresses in the second half of his letter.

One of the key issues was the diversity in the church in Rome. There were Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. They'd all come to faith in different ways, some through Paul, some through Peter, some through other faithful preachers.

As you can imagine, there were some nuances in understanding and applying the faith to day to day life. Some for example, clung tightly to the holy days and festivals of the Old Testament, while others felt that every day was a special gift of grace. There were some Christians who didn't feel comfortable eating the meat sold in temple butcheries because they felt this dishonoured God, whereas others felt that because God is king over all, they could simply thank Him as the one who created the world (and their meat) and eating it in thankfulness would glorify Him. There were even some Christians who became vegetarians.

People started looking down on those who worshiped God differently and the potential for division and acrimony was very real.

Paul presents an approach that one might naively label as "tolerant", but when one looks deeply, Paul calls us to live God-centered lives and this starts with thankfulness.

When we take our eyes off God we begin to focus on each other and see the differences. When our eyes are on Christ and we are filled with gratitude for what He has done for us, we are more likely to appreciate the similarities rather than the differences we have with our fellow believers.

A critical spirit is often the symptom of a lack of gratitude.

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.      (Romans14:5-8)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-15 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Where unthankfulness leads...

Where unthankfulness leads...

Paul wanted to do a church planting trip to Spain. He wrote a letter to the church in Rome to garner their support. Rather than send them his CV, Paul gives them a breakdown of the gospel that he preached.His letter has been of great blessing to the church because it provides us with a beautiful systematic overview of the gospel.

Paul begins by making a case for the brokenness of the world. He argues that we are broken and in need of a Saviour. It's a bleak picture: Although God's glory is plain to see in Creation, human beings have suppressed the truth and ignored what is right in front of our eyes. As the human race we have ignored God's call on our lives and plunged into foolish self-worship and idolatry.

In the midst of describing our downfall, Paul makes a profound diagnosis: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened..."

The emphasis is mine, but the thought is challenging. Could an intrinsic lack of gratitude be behind our lostness? Is it possible that when we blunt the edge of our thankfulness we also blunt our perception of God? Is it true that the less thankful I am, the less I will see God? Is our praise-fullness connected to our thank-fullness?

Could the brokenness of society be connected to a lack of gratitude? When I am not thankful for something, a sense of entitlement takes the place of gratitude. Entitlement leads to pride and pride leads me to try and be my own god or to make my own gods.

Selwyn Hughes suggests that gratitude is a vital habit for a Christian and makes the point that he pities the atheist who might, at some point, realise that they have so much to be thankful for and then have no-one to thank!

Maybe one of the best ways to see God is to take stock of what I am grateful for...

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.      (Romans1:17-23)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-14 [A Life of Thanksgiving] A powerful symbol in trouble

A powerful symbol in trouble

Paul was on a ship bound for Rome. They had encountered a severe storm that drove them along for days. By day three they'd had to pass ropes under the ship to hold it together and they'd thrown cargo and tackle overboard. They'd let out the sea anchor and were being dragged along, hoping against hope that they would not be dashed to pieces on some rocky coastline.

Luke describes it like this: "When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved."

Can you imagine "finally giving up all hope"?

On the 14th night, just before dawn, Paul, who has had a vision of deliverance, convinces the sailors, soldiers, prisoners and passengers to gather together and he encourages them to eat and promises them that God will deliver them.

Then he does a beautiful thing: In the dark hour, just before dawn, on a boat that that has been pitched and tossed for 14 days of storm and with waves crashing and wind howling around them, Paul takes bread and gives thanks to God and eats.

This simple act of giving thanks before a meal unleashes hope and peace. We might call giving thanks a "domestic ritual", but it is a powerful symbol of hope and trust. Luke tells us that 276 souls were on board. It would take only one person to cry out "Who wants to eat when we're all going to die?" and panic would resume. But in that moment there is comfort and peace.

We've had moments as a family when we've processed sad news or come through a tough event. Then comes the meal time and, as we join hands, there's a meeting of eyes, maybe even a quiet sigh, and we "give thanks for the food" but we also affirm that the God who gives us food also looks after everything else.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. "For the last fourteen days," he said, "you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food--you haven't eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head." 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.       (Acts27:33-36)

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-13 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Completing the Journey

Completing the Journey

Our reading for today is about 10 men who had Leprosy. It was a horrible, alienating, isolating, stigmatising, debilitating and fatal disease. It killed you socially, emotionally, spiritually and finally physically.

These ten men asked Jesus for help. His act of healing called them to step out in faith - they had to head off to the priest and they were healed on the way. This implies that all of them had responded in faith and trust. They heard Jesus' instruction and acted on it and healing came. All ten had a measure of faith and trust.

Only one had gratitude.

And he was a Samaritan - he was considered only a partial Jew because his ancestors had intermarried with other nations. He hadn't grown up with the Jerusalem temple, but a second-rate sanctuary in Samaria. He hadn't been taught by the Pharisees and Saducees. He didn't have the heritage.

And maybe, because of his lack of heritage and status, he lacked the attitude of entitlement that often afflicts the privileged.

It's very easy to feel that we deserve certain things. That we are entitled to certain privileges. Did the other nine experience healing and feel that maybe they had earned it through their faithful response?

The Samaritan recognises that nothing would have been possible without Jesus. He goes back to demonstrate unrestrained gratitude. Jesus implies that this is part of his whole healing. This man is more whole than the other nine.

How often I've received what God has given me with a level of restraint and - if I'm brave enough to admit it - entitlement. This has robbed me of joy and peace and the sense of being loved.

I think the lessons in the story speak for themselves...

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."      (Luke17:11-19)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-08 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Irony


The book and story of Jonah is one that has many scratching their heads - and I'm not even talking about the big fish!

(For the record - I have no difficulty whatsoever in believing that the God who created the Universe could provide a fish-submarine to transport a stubborn prophet to where he needed to be.)

But the story of Jonah has many layers. One of the key layers is that while God used Jonah to reach the hearts of the people of Nineveh, the other layer is that his attitudes and actions are a reflection of the hard hearts and attitudes of the Israelites.

In chapters 1 and 4 we see an angry and rebellious Jonah who has no love at all for other nations and who pouts and rebels against God at the slightest provocation. In chapter 3 he is the chastened prophet who preaches God's message out a sense of duty. But it's in chapter 2 that things get weird, because in the belly of the fish Jonah sprouts (or is it spouts?!?) the most pious prayer. If we didn't know better we'd think we were in David's school of Psalmody: the imagery, the passion, the eloquence!

But the contents of the prayer don't match the behaviour of the prophet and the text itself provides the answer: "And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land."

Jonah's prayer may have been eloquent - but it wasn't real. In verse 8 he even takes time to take a potshot at other nations and portray himself as holier. There is a disconnect between his words and his actions and the actions of the fish are an even more eloquent response to the value of Jonah's empty eloquence. ("Uggh" says the fish "I can't stand this belly-aching in my belly any more!")

There is a warning for us. I have attended events where someone has been asked to thank a speaker or presenter and turned the act of thanksgiving into a show all by itself. Or what about extravagant thank you gifts that imply payment instead of gratitude? Or what about prayers of thanks prayed in public but sulky ingratitude that's revealed in private. We should be sure that our thanks are sincere.

The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD."
10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.      (Jonah2:9-10)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-07 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Even under pressure

Even under pressure

Daniel was an Israelite in exile. Employed for service in a foreign government he had risen in the ranks through diligence and faithfulness. This made him a target and an object of jealousy among his fellow civil servants and they hatched a plot to frame him...
They had King Darius issue a decree that people were not allowed to pray to any god or man, but himself. This was a perfect ambush because it was well-known that Daniel prayed three times a day.

What would you have done in Daniel's shoes? You could pray in your heart like Hannah the mother of Samuel did ("Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. (1Sam1:13)) and God answered her prayer! Or you could close the windows so that they couldn't see you. (It was Daniel's habit to pray with the window open facing Jerusalem.)

Daniel chooses to pray as usual with the windows open. This is courageous and admirable. But the thing that strikes me the most is the agenda of his prayers!
It is the agenda of thanks-giving.

To be brutally honest, if I were in Daniel's shoes, my agenda may have been slightly different:

  • "Lord I've worked so hard - and now they're ganging up on me."
  • "Lord you know this is a trap - why are you letting them get away with this?"
  • "Lord! It's not fair!
  • "Lord, I'm scared - I don't know what to do."
  • ... and numerous variations on these themes!

But Daniel has an ingrained gratitude-attitude: Through repetition and practice he has learned how to count his blessings and recognise grace-in-the-midst-of-trouble. Even as he anticipates the springing of the trap, he finds reasons to give thanks.

I think the key words in today's reading are: "just as he had done before."
I think expressions of thanks, when sincere and heart-felt are, incremental and cumulative - Each act of thanksgiving stands on the shoulders of the previous expression of thanks and, as we practice acts of thanksgiving, these accumulate to create a deep well of thank-FULL-ness inside us.

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.       (Daniel6:10 )

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-06 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Thanks-giving is a sign of Health

Thanks-giving is a sign of Health

For many people the phrase "As the deer pants for the water..." brings warm recollections of a beautiful song of praise based on Psalm 42. But although the Psalm is much loved, it is actually a psalm that addresses a "dark night of the soul", a "desert time", "a spiritual winter", a "bout of depression" or whatever we want to call it.

The whole psalm is an internal conversation the psalmist is having with his soul that is struggling with feeling far from God. There is great beauty and wisdom in the Psalm which helps us in a number of ways. There's not time today to look at the whole of the Psalm or to dig too deep in the amazing guidance it offers, but here's a quick overview:

  1. Acknowledge your struggle
  2. Pour out your sadness to God
  3. Put yourself in a place where you can see God's beauty
  4. Learn to talk to your soul and point it toward God again
  5. Keep doing it
  6. Trust that God can help your soul!

For today I want to highlight one key thought:
When we are in a depressed state, we often look back to the "good old days" - days when we were happy, when the world felt right and we felt whole.

For the Psalmist that "good old" moment was a moment of praise, thanks and adoration. That got me thinking...
The times I've been happiest, healthiest, content and vibrant in my soul have been times where there has been a deep well of thanks-giving in my soul. I was focused on what I had, not what I didn't have. I had counted my blessings and not only did I know what I was thank-full for, I also knew Who I was grateful to.

I really do believe that when our lives are full of thankfulness, we are healthier, happier and more at peace. As you read our passage below, notice how gratitude is a vital part of the ideal healthy life the Psalmist remembers...

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"
4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.      (Psalms42:1-4)

Friday, August 2, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-02 [A Life of Thanksgiving] At Mealtimes

At Mealtimes

Many of us call it "saying grace" - the gospel writers call it "giving thanks". All four gospels faithfully record that Jesus "gave thanks" when He fed the 5000 and the 4000 and at the Last Supper. In addition, Luke tells us that Jesus "gave thanks" when he ate with the two Emmaus road walkers.

The phrase "saying grace" is interesting - it's the one I use more often to describe what we do before meals... In a sense we are "pronouncing grace" - we are declaring that every meal is a gift of grace. "Saying Grace" also had to do with praying a blessing on the food and this comes from the fact that in New Testament times meat was sacrificed to idols and then sold in temple butcheries and so Christians felt the need to "claim the food back". But on careful reflection I think I'll be trying to shift the emphasis to "giving thanks".

We had a friend who playfully suggested that instead of "giving thanks", "saying grace" or "blessing the food" at every meal, he would just pray over the boot full of groceries when they came back from their monthly shopping. This would just be more efficient!

But of course this is missing the point...

It's about "giving thanks" and realising that even our day to day basics are a gift and a blessing from God. "Giving Thanks" before a meal is an opportunity to quieten our souls, to recognise God's goodness, and to thank God, not only for food, but those around the table with us and for life itself.

We can't live without food and we can't live without God.
Giving thanks at mealtimes helps us remember this.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.      (Luke24:30)

Thursday, August 1, 2019

EmmDev 2019-08-01 [A Life of Thanksgiving] When?


Today we look at another passage that explains the duties of the Levites who were appointed to serve the Lord at the temple, offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. One of the specific duties they were given was to give thanks in the morning, in the evening and whenever offerings were presented.

Having people specifically giving thanks to God when offerings were being presented piqued my interest... Surely an offering is already an expression of love, devotion and thanks? Why is it necessary to have a group of people that bathe an offering in a shower of thanksgiving?

Maybe the answer lies in something that Paul wrote to the Corinthians - that God loves a cheerful giver. In the denominational setting I am from, we don't take a collection, we take an offering. But sometimes an offering is costly... I remember once seeing a cartoon of a wife, baby and husband at the church door. The baby and husband are crying. The wife says: "I'm sorry that my baby is crying pastor, she's teething." The pastor replies "No problem, but why is your husband crying?" The wife replies "Oh he's tithing."

There are times that we bring our gifts to God and they are an offering - a sacrifice that comes at cost. It's then that we need to bathe our offering in thanks-giving.

But I am also challenged by the idea of formally appointing a group of people to give thanks in the morning and thanks at night. This makes it clear to me that this is important and shouldn't be neglected.

Just imagine the transformative power of bracketing your days with thanksgiving!!

So here's the challenge I've set for myself. For the month of August I am going to consciously start and end each day by thinking of 3 things that I am grateful for. To help me do this I'm going to stick a poster next to my bed to remind me. `Will you take the challenge?` (I will send you the poster by a separate email...)

When should we give thanks? Read the passage below for some good guidance...

They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. They were to do the same in the evening 31 and whenever burnt offerings were presented to the LORD on Sabbaths and at New Moon festivals and at appointed feasts.      (1Chronicles23:30-31)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-31 [A Life of Thanksgiving] The #1 Reason to Give Thanks

The #1 Reason to Give Thanks

What is the number one reason for us to give thanks to the Lord?
- Is it because He is our Rock and Refuge?
- or because He is our Creator and Sustainer?
- or because He has been our Shield and Strength?
- or because He is our Shepherd and we are His Sheep?

The Old Testament has a repeating refrain:
"Give thanks to the Lord for He is good:
His love endures forever"

This phrase appears 41 times in the NIV translation of the Old Testament. The first time is in David's "thank you" song which we looked at yesterday. In the same section we're told that certain people were "chosen and designated to give thanks to the Lord because His Love endures forever. (1Chron 16:34+41)

The phrase occurs three times at the consecration of Solomon's temple and is the theme song of the choir Jehoshaphat puts in front of His army. It comes up again in the Psalms (100, 106, 107, 118 (5x), 136(26x)) and in Jeremiah (33:11) where it is the theme-song of the restored community.

Psalm 136 is a call and response psalm where the worship leader offers a phrase that calls the community to worship or to notice one of God's qualities. After each call, the worshiping community responds: "His Love endures forever!"

You might think that it would be tedious to repeat that one phrase over and over - but, if you think about it, God's enduring love really is the #1 reason for us to give thanks.

Try going through the day and every time you have/need a moment to be thank-full, just whisper to yourself "His love endures forever." You will see that 26 times isn't too much!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
5 who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
6 who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
7 who made the great lights--
His love endures forever.
8 the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
9 the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-30 [A Life of Thanksgiving] An early Thank You song

An early Thank You song

When David was building up Jerusalem,long before there was a temple, he decided to bring the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle to his new capital city. On this occasion David danced and leapt for joy, earning the scorn and ridicule of his wife, but the pleasure of his Heavenly Father.
It was during this time that David appointed a group of Levites to be responsible for giving thanks and he also wrote a special song of thanks giving. This song is our reading today.
It is a long reading, but here are some thoughts and highlights:

  1. This song has elements found in a variety of the Psalms and in many ways serves as a "overture", precursor or prototype of the Psalms.
  2. There is a clear sense that our thanks to God should also be shared with the nations - People need to hear how good God is.
  3. Songs, Rejoicing, and consciously Remembering what He has done are the ways in which we draw near to Him.
  4. Then David remembers his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and recalls how God watched over them and over Israel as they wandered through the wilderness.
  5. Then he considers some of God's attributes (Saviour, glorious, great, majestic, strength, joy, and many more) and suggests some of our postures and attitudes (Sing, declare, bring an offering, ascribe, awe, come before and worship)
  6. Then all of creation gets in on the act: Heavens, earth, sea, fields and trees. Look at the verbs used: Tremble, rejoice, be glad, resound, be jubilant and sing.
  7. David brings it all together in the final stanza:
    Give thanks to God for He is good - His love endures forever
  8. And then surprisingly he goes straight from thanksgiving to a request: "Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to Your holy name, that we may glory in Your praise." But for David this is a logical consequence of his theology: When we ask God to do what only He can do, we are bringing Him praise - we're admitting our need for and dependence on Him.
  9. And thanksgiving happens best when a crowd can say "Amen!"
Now read this beautiful song and give thanks!
That day David first committed to Asaph and his associates this psalm of thanks to the LORD:
8 Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
9 Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
10 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
11 Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.
12 Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
13 O descendants of Israel his servant,
O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.
14 He is the LORD our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
15 He remembers his covenant forever,
the word he commanded, for a thousand generations,
16 the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac.
17 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
18 "To you I will give the land of Canaan
as the portion you will inherit."
19 When they were but few in number,
few indeed, and strangers in it,
20 they wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
21 He allowed no man to oppress them;
for their sake he rebuked kings:
22 "Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm."
23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
24 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
26 For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
27 Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and joy in his dwelling place.
28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength,
29 ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.
Bring an offering and come before him;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
30 Tremble before him, all the earth!
The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.
31 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
32 Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
33 Then the trees of the forest will sing,
they will sing for joy before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
35 Cry out, "Save us, O God our Savior;
gather us and deliver us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name,
that we may glory in your praise."
36 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Then all the people said "Amen" and "Praise the LORD."      (1Chronicles16:7-36)

Friday, July 26, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-26 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Organised Thanksgiving

Organised Thanksgiving

We tend to think about giving thanks as something spontaneous and unscripted and, to be sure, sincere thanks does express itself spontaneously and "as it happens".

But there is also the need for "organised" thanks. A quick examination of the Old Testament shows that:

  • David appointed people to give thanks when the tabernacle came to Jerusalem. (1Chr16:4ff) (He even wrote them a "thank You" song)
  • Solomon had a choir of singers and trumpeters to inaugurate the temple (2Chr5:13)
  • Jehoshaphat put the choir in front of the his army (2Chr20:21)
  • Hezekiah cleansed the temple and appointed the newly consecrated Levites to offer praise to the Lord. (2Chr29:31 & 31:2)

But one of the loveliest examples is when Nehemiah rebuilds the city walls and they celebrate by praising God. He sets up two choirs and processions that start at the same place, but go around the city on top of the walls in opposite directions, singing and giving thanks and then meeting up at the temple in a culmination of praise and adoration.

There is great value in organised and structured praise. When we read the passage in Nehemiah we'll see that:

  1. Great effort was made to arrange and organise this thanksgiving service. There is music, choreography, interaction and planning. It is dramatic, exciting inspiring.
  2. There are a lot of names in the whole account. (Even in the selective reading below, you'll see just some of the names mentioned.) All these names indicate that people matter and that their presence was noted.
  3. Special mention is made of women and children (who, in the culture of the day, were taken for granted). This indicates the family nature of worship.
  4. There is a clear indication that as they gave thanks, God gave them great joy.
  5. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

Has God been good to you (even in the midst of trouble)?
As you read the passage below, imagine Nehemiah and the two choirs, moving towards one another in a celebration of praise and thanks to God - as a nation they still have a long way to go, but they're pausing to give thanks.

Sunday gives you a chance to come to an organised time of thanks and praise. Will your name be mentioned as one of those who was there?

I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate...
38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people--past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall...
40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests--Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets-- 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.      (Nehemiah12:31-43)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-25 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Changing Perspective


Changing Perspective

Is the current wave of bad news, corruption and crime getting you down? Yesterday on the radio, the talk-show host invited people to phone in and talk about what they wanted a vacation from, because, (and she said this many times) "We are so depressed, discouraged and really really tired". People phoned in wanting a vacation from traffic, tough jobs, job-searching, crime, corruption, politicians, high costs, tiredness and discouragement.

In Psalm 28 David also expressed his need for a vacation: He felt he was like those going to the pit. He needed to cry for mercy and call for help. He was exhausted by wicked people who "speak cordially, but harbour malice in their hearts and show no regard for the works of the Lord." David longed for them to reap the rewards of what they sowed, and you sense his frustration at the injustice of their ongoing evil.

The turning point of the Psalm is not the moment that evil is dealt with, but the relief of knowing that God had heard him. The seventh verse contains this beautiful parallelism:
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.

In these four lines we have a fact, a decision, a consequence and another decision.
The fact is that the LORD is our strength and shield. This truth is greater than the evil and pain in our lives. The decision David makes is to trust in the Lord. The consequence is that David is helped to the extent that his "heart leaps for joy". This leads to his second decision - to offer praise in song.

To give thanks is to shift our perspective. To give thanks in tough times only happens when we have turned our heads away from the realities that vex us and turn our faces to One who is greater. And then our need to sing crowds out the need to whine.

If you need a vacation from the "stuff" that's vexing you, take a read below...

To you I call, O LORD my Rock;
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.
2 Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.3 Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbors
but harbor malice in their hearts.
4 Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back upon them what they deserve.
5 Since they show no regard for the works of the LORD
and what his hands have done,
he will tear them down
and never build them up again.
6 Praise be to the LORD,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.

8 The LORD is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
9 Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.      (Psalms28:6-7)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-24 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Thanksgiving is our PURPOSE!

Thanksgiving is our PURPOSE!

Some people think that thanks-giving is merely an "attitude of gratitude" that makes life better or more bearable. They could not be more wrong! Giving thanks isn't the icing on the cake of life - it is one of the fundamental reasons of our existence.
Today's reading demonstrates this powerfully:

Paul is praying for the Colossians. He prays that :
  • they would know God's will
    (through wisdom and understanding)
  • in order to life lives that please God by:
    - bearing fruit in good works
    - growing in their knowledge of God
    - being strengthened by God to patiently endure
    - joyfully giving thanks!
For Paul, giving thanks was the outcome (the cherry on the top) of bearing fruit, growing and enduring.
In his prayer, Paul also describes who we thank:
  • We thank the Father who has qualified us and rescued us
    (It is not us who have qualified!)
  • We thank the beloved Son in whom we have redemption and forgiveness. You can feel Paul echoing John 3:16 here...
Finally, Paul tells us what the Father and Jesus did for us:
- He rescued us from the dominion of darkness
- He brought us into the Kingdom of the Beloved Son

Read the passage below and notice:
- how God equips us
- what God did
- how He rescued us
- And how that all comes together in "joyfully giving thanks"

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-23 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Saved and Called

Saved and Called

If I were ever to have an argument with the great Apostle Paul, it would be about a statement he makes in our passage for today...
Paul is full of thanks to the God who saved him and appointed him to His service. In his explanation of this, Paul calls himself "the worst of sinners."
I think many of us would argue that maybe we ourselves are worthy of this title!

But Paul doesn't dwell on his sin, he dwells on the Saviour:
Look at how He explains it:
  • "He has given me strength" (in other words, I did not have enough!)
  • "He considered me faithful" (Paul did not prove himself) God imputed (planted/drew out) faithfulness in Paul.
  • "Even though was I a terrible person" (Blasphemer, Persecutor and Violent)
  • "I was shown mercy" (The passive voice implies that Paul was a recipient - in spite of ignorance and unbelief - of mercy that he did not earn.)
  • "Grace was poured out abundantly" (Along with faith and love.)
In the second part Paul is saying "You can bank on the fact that:
  • Jesus saves sinners
  • I'm a big sinner
  • and so this proves that Jesus is patient
  • and generous in giving eternal life
  • to us if we believe"
If I really were to have that argument with Paul, I think he'd say: "It doesn't really matter who the bigger sinner is, what matters most is that God's forgiveness is even bigger than all our sins." The last verse in our reading is a doxology (an outpouring of praise and thanks).

Read our passage below and allow yourself to be caught up in the great joy of His forgiveness and love!
And give thanks!

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.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.      (1Timothy1:12-17)

Friday, July 19, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-19 [A Life of Thanksgiving] You turned my wailing into dancing

You turned my wailing into dancing

Yesterday we reflected on the fact that God has rescued us. The Psalmist reflected on the times that God rescued people from trouble, but we also recognised the ultimate rescue that He performed through the Cross.

Today the Psalmist gives us another perspective:
Not only has God rescued us, but His love transforms us:
- Wailing becomes Dancing
- Sackcloth (mourning) becomes Joy
- Silence becomes Singing
And so we give thanks!

Not only does God forgive our sin and save us from death, but He also transforms our lives by filling us with His Spirit, giving us inexpressible joy, irrepressible hope and unconquerable love.

Paul puts it like this: If anyone is in Christ, they are a new Creation. (2Cor5:17)

Sadly, we can resist this transformation, and one of the best ways to resist this transformation is to lack gratitude - to fail to be thankful - to be empty of thanks.

The psalmist recognises the change that God has brought to his life and cements this transformation with the decision to give thanks.
Your levels of thank-full-ness will aid or hinder God's transforming work in you...

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.      (Psalms30:11-12)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-18 [A Life of Thanksgiving] Because He saved us

Because He saved us

We started our journey of thanks-giving with Psalm 100 which is aptly titled "A Psalm for Giving Thanks". We started our gratitude expressions by giving thanks that there is a God (and it is not us) and that He is Creator, Sovereign and Loving.

Stop and reflect on that for a moment...
What would your world be like if you had no concept of a loving God? Personally I can't bear to contemplate the idea that everything is random and purposeless. Knowing that there is a God who is personal, sovereign and loving makes sense of the world for me.

And so my first thanks-giving is simply "God I am so grateful that you are..."

Today we move to the second priority of thanks-giving and that is that we are grateful that God has rescued us and saved us.

Psalm 107 is a beautiful psalm that describes how Israel had wandered away from God and how He rescued them. The psalmist describes various scenarios:

  • Some wandered in desert wastelands... (v.4)
  • Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains... (v.10)
  • Some became fools through their rebellious ways... (v.17)
  • Others went out on the sea in ships... (v.23)

In each case, the psalmist describes how God rescued them with mighty acts of rescue and love.
His prologue (our reading for today) says it all:
Give thanks:
- God is good - His love endures forever
- And He rescues us.

And so, with our New Testament eyes, we read this Psalm and understand how all these rescues culminate in Jesus' cross and empty tomb...

So, we are "thanks-full" that there is a God.
And we give-thanks that He is a God who saves and rescues us.
Read the Psalm and then take a moment to say or sing "Thank You for the Cross, Thank You for the Cross!"

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say this--
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.      (Psalms107:1-3)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

EmmDev 2019-07-17 [A Life of Thanksgiving] The Really Good News

The Really Good News

[Apologies for the delay in the restarting of devotions...]

For the next while I want to spend some time on Thanks-giving. I was tempted to call the series "An Attitude of Gratitude" but there is something about the idea of Giving Thanks that appeals to me. Gratitude and Thankfulness are not limited to emotions that we experience from time to time, but are choices we make and gifts that we give. But we'll unpack this as we go along...

John Ortberg, in a preface he gives to a talk about stress, priorities and self-care, says: "I have good news and bad news: The good news is that there is a God. The bad news is that you are not God!"

While I know and understand what Ortberg is driving at, the more I think about his quip, the more I realise that it is not good news and bad news, but actually good news and really good news! If the only god (lower case intentional) in my world was me, then I need to be pitied above all!!!

Psalm 100 or the "Hundredth" as many call it, is a mainstay of Christian Liturgy. It is a beloved Psalm, a call to worship and the inspiration for countless hymns and worship songs. It helps us start our journey of thanksgiving in the right place:
First and foremost we are thankful that there is a God!
And He is a God who is above all, has made all and is our shepherd. This God is good, loving and faithful.

Read this beautiful Psalm and let your heart overflow with praise and thanksgiving. In this topsy-turvy world of ours we don't have to try to be our own gods or try to create a god. There is a God and like sheep with a shepherd we can be in relationship with Him. We can go into His gates and enter His courts. We can offer Him praise and experience His goodness, love and faithfulness.

We are not random creatures in a random universe with no real purpose. We are created and loved to know our Shepherd God. That makes me want to give thanks!

1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.      (Psalms100:1-5)

Friday, June 14, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-14 [Keeping Going...] Bringing it all together

Bringing it all together

Today we look at one of Paul's prayers for one of the churches under his care. In this prayer he prays for two really important things: Encouraged Hearts and Strengthened Lives.

An encouraged heart is full to the brim with the deep conviction that God, out of staggering, amazing and gracious generosity, gave us His Son. This act of grace gives us eternal encouragement and good hope. Encouraged hearts become the engines to lives that are strengthened for good deeds and words.

In theory it seems unthinkable that just thinking about an "old old story" can encourage us, but in practice we have all seen that when people receive and understand the Gospel message either for the first time or afresh, it can transform their lives.
How is this possible?
Through the work of the One who is implied but not mentioned - the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit makes the truth of the Gospel so real to us that our hearts are encouraged.
But more than encouraging our hearts, the Holy Spirit strengthens us to "fight the good fight."

So, if we're to keep going, we don't need a pep talk or pep vitamins.
To keep going we need to keep a strong and clear focus on the gift of God's Son.

This is what Paul did throughout his ministry:

  • I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.. (Rom1:16)
  • When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom... I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1Cor2:1-2)
  • The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal2:20)

So if Paul was kept going by being focussed on the simple Gospel Truth of the "Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" then so can you and I!

This brings us to the end of the series, so now it is up to you:
Read Paul's prayer for you and keep going!

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,
encourage your hearts
and strengthen you in every good deed and word.      (2Thessalonians2:16-17)

EmmDevs will take a break over the school hols and return on Tuesday 9 July.
God bless and love,

Thursday, June 13, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-13 [Keeping Going...] Strength


When things are tough, we can lose hope.

When we lose hope, we lose sight of God.

This happened to the Israelites while they were dragged off to exile in Babylon: Their world had changed, their leaders had fallen, their symbols of faith (temple, priesthood, worship) had been destroyed or pushed aside but the onslaught of a pagan society. They felt God-forsaken and God-abandoned.

It is easy for us to succumb to a similar sense of being overwhelmed. Our world is changing fast, traditional values are being questioned and often replaced, and our faith portrayed as irrelevant and unnecessary.

But the prophet Isaiah has good news: Our society may change. Our circumstances may change. But God will give us strength!

In his beautiful poem, Isaiah reminds us that human strength has its limits. Even youths get tired and even young legs stumble and fall.
But God does not get tired - After all, He created a universe that scientists tell us is still expanding!!

So Isaiah invites us to hope.
Hope is not a vague emotion based on circumstances, it is a choice.
The choice is not so much the act of hope, but the Object of our hope. We choose to put our hope, not in circumstances, but in God. It is not the vague longing that 'alles sal regkom' (everything will be alright) but the decision to hope in God.

And, if we choose to hope in the LORD, we will be given strength.

Just read Isaiah's powerful challenge and promise below...

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.      (Isaiah40:27-31)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-12 [Keeping Going...] The God who keeps me going

The God who keeps me going

We've reached the end of Psalm 18 today. This has been like a series-within-a-series.
Our series is "Keeping Going" and this Psalm is ultimately about the God who keeps us going.
  • We started with David's declaration of love and devotion:
    "I love you, O LORD, my strength."
  • Then we saw the descriptors that he used for God:
    "God my Strength, Rock Fortress, Deliverer, Rock Mountain, Shield, Horn, Salvation and Stronghold...
  • And in spite of the magnitude of David's trouble,
    the Lord "delighted" in him and came "roaring" to his rescue
  • The Lord is just and righteous
    "To the faithful you show yourself faithful..."
  • The Lord strengthens us
    "You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me"
  • He gives us victory over evil
    "You have delivered me from the attacks of the people..."
    (Yesterday we struggled with the "blood-thirstyness" of this section, but let's remember that God's ultimate victory over evil was achieved by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross - violence and hatred defeated by love.)

Keeping going is not a matter of a stiff upper lip or sheer determination. It is a matter of looking up to the One who keeps us going and, when we arrive safe at our destination, we won't be saying "Look how far I have come" we'll be saying (or maybe singing) "Thank You Lord for getting me here."

As you read today's reading you will be reminded that, in the midst of our troubles, our Lord lives and that we can turn our eyes to the One who is exalted above our troubles and saves us. He deals with evil and rescues us from our enemies. As you read you'll be able to throw your head back and praise the One who has shown you His unfailing kindness.

The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Saviour!
47 He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,
48 who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from violent men you rescued me.
49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD;
I will sing praises to your name.
50 He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.      (Psalms18:46-50)

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-11 [Keeping Going...] Defeating Giants

Defeating Giants

Our journey through Psalm 18 has been a great blessing so far...
  • We started with David looking back so that he could look forward. His looking back caused him to acknowledge who God is and what God has done. When David was entangled and strangled God heard him and rescued him.
  • Then we saw how God charged in to rescue David and we likened it to a lioness or mama bear and her cubs and recognised that God delights in us.
  • But we also saw that even when we are upright and good, trouble comes our way and David wrestled with this. We were reminded that even when darkness comes God turns it to light.
  • But God is gracious and God delivers and so David celebrates God's goodness and uprightness and he celebrates the strength that God gave Him. We inserted our own names as we saw how God strengthens our arms and gives us feet like a deer.

Today's section continues David's "victory dance", but, if you're anything like me, you might struggle with the sense of "total annihilation" that David rejoices in. He uses phrases like "I did not turn back until they were destroyed", "I crushed them so they could not rise" and "I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind."

We can't deny the fact that David was dealing with spiritual enemies and human ones. This opens up a significant issue that many have with the Old Testament: the "blood-thirsty" approach toward human enemies.

  • God ordering King Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites
  • David rejoicing in crushing his enemies
  • Joshua cleansing the Promised Land of foreign nations
  • And there are other examples...

This is a complex issue, but it is vital to understand that the whole of the Old Testament is a growth curve toward Jesus' command to love our [human] enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Even in Old Testament stories like Elisha feeding the blinded Arameans instead of killing them we see the shift away from the apparent blood-thirstiness. Back in the New Testament Paul very helpfully reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but the powers and principalities of evil behind them and while we don't make war against people, we must fight evil.

So, what do we take out of this part of David's Psalm?
Evil is a reality. There is evil in people and in systems. We need to tackle the Giants of abuse, greed, violence, arrogance, pride and hatred that come to steal, kill and destroy.

Read this next section bearing in mind that God gives us victory over the forces of darkness and establishes His Church when we walk in His paths and in His steps.

I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
38 I crushed them so that they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
39 You armed me with strength for battle;
you made my adversaries bow at my feet.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them--
to the LORD, but he did not answer.
42 I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind;
I poured them out like mud in the streets.

43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
you have made me the head of nations;
people I did not know are subject to me.
44 As soon as they hear me, they obey me;
foreigners cringe before me.
45 They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds.      (Psalms18:37-45)

Friday, June 7, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-07 [Keeping Going...] My God strengthens me

My God strengthens me

(Today's message is short, but focusses on the text which makes it profound....)

As we strive to "Keep Going" we come to the section where David celebrates the way God strengthens him.

In the midst of evil, betrayal and failure God is perfect and flawless. He is a shield and a refuge and if we let Him, He will strengthen us. He will give us what we need to overcome.

Read the passage below and every time you read "me" or "my", insert your name.

Have a blessed weekend!

As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield
for all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God besides the LORD?
And who is the Rock except our God?
32 It is God who arms me with strength
and makes my way perfect.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You give me your shield of victory,
and your right hand sustains me;
you stoop down to make me great.
36 You broaden the path beneath me,
so that my ankles do not turn.      (Psalms18:30-36)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-06 [Keeping Going...] When Good People Suffer

When Good People Suffer

We're continuing our journey through Psalm 18 while we think about "Keeping Going."

Sometimes we do the right thing, we live well and we do our best and yet trouble still comes our way.

David has been in trouble - he's been surrounded by enemies - he's felt hemmed in - he's been drowning in trouble. But God delivered him and brought him into a 'spacious' place.

In today's section it appears as though David is claiming that he earned the right to be saved because of his own righteousness. He talks about how God has dealt with him according to the cleanness of his hands. David isn't claiming to be perfect... but he is contrasting himself to his enemies.

While he talks about general principle that God is good to the faithful, blameless, pure and humble there's no denying the obvious:
David the one who claims to be righteous and clean, has had to be delivered from trouble.
Why? Was David not righteous enough? No, although David was righteous, there were still evil people whose evil also impacted the righteous. But God rescues.

And so David concludes this section with the strong affirmation:
- God saves the humble and brings down the haughty
- God keeps our lamps burning
- And even if darkness comes, He will turn it to light
- And so we can face the troops and walls in our way...

In a nutshell, this section is an encouragement for those of us who, although we're doing good, are experiencing trouble from arrogant people. It is reminder to persist in doing good and not to sink to their level and to know that God sees and God delivers.

Enjoy reading the passage below:

The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD;
I have not done evil by turning from my God.
22 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
23 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
24 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
26 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
27 You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
28 You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
29 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.      (Psalms18:20-29)

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-05 [Keeping Going...] Absolute Assurance: A God who rescues

Absolute Assurance: A God who rescues

We're continuing our journey through Psalm 18.
Yesterday we saw how David found himself in a desperate situation:
  • He was entangled by the cords of death and the grave.
  • Torrents of destruction and snares of death overwhelmed and ensnared him
  • He was in distress and called for help"

And God heard him!

Today our passage describes how God not only heard, but came to his rescue. This idea of God coming from heaven and majestically, powerfully moving toward those in need is a thought that is frequently used in the Old Testament. These descriptions of Almighty God rising up and coming to the rescue are often described using the natural phenomena (storms, wind, thunder etc) that are the "horses and chariots" of His oncoming presence. (The scholars call this a "theophany".)

We often joke about not getting between a mama bear and her cubs... When Brenda was a teen, she was on a walking trip in Timbavati and their party got between a lioness and her cubs. The lioness responded with the kind of roaring that ripped the air and gave them goosebumps. It even had the game-ranger getting his rifle ready - but thankfully they were able to get out of the way.

Today's section of Psalm 18 is a beautiful description of God roaring as He rises up to rescue His child. Then it moves into the actual rescue which is described as a rescue from drowning, a deliverance from enemies and a being brought into a spacious place.

And why?
"...because He delighted in me."

As you read this section, try to use your imagination and as much expression as you can when you read it. (Be brave enough to read it aloud to yourself and read it as expressively as possible!) Understand that it reflects how God feels about us and how He 'roars' as He comes to our rescue.

The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
8 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
9 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him--
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The LORD thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies,
great bolts of lightning and routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, O LORD,
at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.      (Psalms18:7-19)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

EmmDev 2019-06-04 [Keeping Going...] Absolute Assurance: Looking back to look forward

Absolute Assurance: Looking back to look forward

We're going to spend this week looking at Psalm 18. Today we look at the inscription and the first section

It's a song that is also quoted in 2 Samuel 22. The inscription reads: "For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul..."

When we're struggling to keep going, it can be helpful to look back before we look forward. When we reflect on how God has been with us in the past, it helps us to look forward. It's no surprise, however, to discover that looking back in this way leads to love and praise.

This psalm is an epic expression of faith, praise and love. As we read, it the depth of passion and the richness of the imagery is gripping:

  • David is drawn in love and devotion to the God who has saved him
  • David is in awe of what God has done
  • David is expressive in his thanksgiving and praise.
    This expressiveness is a crystal clear sign of his deep appreciation and love.

Look at his descriptors:
God is his strength,
his rock as in fortress,
his deliverer
his rock as in a mountain cave of refuge, unshakeable and secure
his shield and horn (implies strength) of salvation
and stronghold (imagine a fortress on a mountain)

Then he makes the statement that is the heart of the Psalm:
"I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise
     and I am saved from my enemies.

This section ends with a beautiful description of the David's plight and God's rescue:

  • He was entangled by the cords of death and the grave.
  • Torrents of destruction and snares of death overwhelmed and ensnared him
  • He was in distress and called for help
    And God heard him.

Has God rescued you and delivered you?
Read the first part of this psalm and use it as your thanksgiving and praise.

1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
5 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called to the LORD;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.      (Psalms18:1-6)

Friday, May 31, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-31 [Keeping Going...] Good good Father #3

Good good Father #3

For today's devotion, please click to listen to the song while you read the beautiful lyrics below:

Songwriters: Anthony Brown / Pat Barrett

O I've heard a thousand stories of what they think You're like
But I've heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And You tell me that You're pleased
And that I'm never alone

[CHORUS]You're a good good father
It's who You are, it's who You are, it's who You are
And I'm loved by You
It's who I am, it's who I am, it's who I am

I've seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we're all searching
For answers only You provide
'Cause You know just what we need
Before we say a word

Because You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

Oh, it's love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think
As you call me deeper still
As you call me deeper still
As you call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust...      (Psalms103:8-14)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-30 [Keeping Going...] Good good Father #2

Good good Father #2

(This is a "reprint" from a series on the Apostle's Creed...)

Believing in God as Father is difficult for some whose earthly fathers have been absent, abusive or cold-hearted. Others think about Father Christmas when they think about God as Father - a sugar daddy who spoils us with gifts based on our behaviour but is pretty much absent in times of trouble or pain.

Part of the problem is that we think that God needed to reveal Himself to us and so He said "Well, everyone has a father and fathers are generally good guys so I'll reveal myself as father..." (Theologians call this anthropomorphism - God morphing into anthropological terms to help us understand Him)

What if it was the other way around? That God was Father (and Mother^) first and that we, who are His image-bearers, are to reflect these facets of His nature and we either do it well or badly?

Could it be that bad fathers obscure the reflection God's nature in themselves and that good fathers reveal more of Him and less of their own brokenness?
The Father Paul reveals here is awesome:

  • He is the Father of Jesus, And Jesus loved Him and trusted Him so much that He was willing to say "Not my will but yours be done" and went to the cross.
  • He is the God of all comfort. He had to watch His Son carry the weight of our brokenness and His heart was broken over our sin. He understands pain. (As an imperfect earthly father I would rather give my own life than sacrifice my son Caleb's)
  • He comforts us. He sent His Son. He sends His Spirit. He finds sulking Jonah outside Nineveh. He finds Elijah burnt out under the broom tree. He finds Hagar and Ishmael alone in the wilderness. He sees and hears and comes down to the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. When the world was broken and lost He sent His Son.
Take the word Father and embody it with the VERY BEST you have seen of Fatherhood and you have only scraped the surface of what God is like.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God      (2Corinthians1:3-4)

^ The Scriptures also portray God as Mother ("Can a mother forget her children" (Isaiah 49:15) "As a mother comforts her child I will comfort you (Isaiah 66:13)) It think it is important to recognise that God transcends male and female but when human beings reflect the nature of God, they often do it as "mother" or "father" and when they do it well, God's nature is reflected.)

^^ Patriarchal societies have focussed on God as Father almost to the exclusion of the truth that God is also Mother. Some have compromised by talking about God as the "perfect parent" but some of the richness is lost. I believe it is best to just do justice to the concepts as Scripture gives them to us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-29 [Keeping Going...] Good good Father #1

Good good Father #1

Paul endured some tough moments on his missionary journeys. He was flogged, mobbed, arrested and even stoned and left for dead. A veteran of suffering, he now writes to the Corinthians to share some of what he has learned...

When we are struggling to "Keep Going" the starting point is to remember who God is. Our security does not come from our strength or our circumstances, but from our conviction and knowledge that He is God and He is good.
How does Paul describe Him?

  1. He's God. Sovereign and mighty. Although He has given us free will and our exercise of free will can cause heartache and pain, God holds trouble on a leash and promises that we will not go through more than we can bear. (See 1Cor10:13 which we considered last week...)
  2. He's our compassionate and comforting Father. When we go through trouble and pain, His heart is with us. We can receive awesome comfort from God, but we have to get past our indignation that that demands "Why did You let this happen?" and learn to say "I don't understand why this has happened but I know I need Your help."
  3. He's the Father of Jesus. Father and Son suffered incredibly when Jesus died on the cross. But still the Father sent Him and Jesus trusted the Father enough to go to the cross. And at the cross our pain was fully known and carried...
  4. His comfort is so powerful that we can become wounded healers. We can overcome our pain and help others. That is God's transforming comfort.
This is our God!
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.      (2Corinthians1:3-4)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-28 [Keeping Going...] The nature of faith

The nature of faith

Our reading today comes from the Old Testament from one of the many accounts of the prophet Elisha and it is one of my favourite passages!

The background is that one of Israel's neighbours, the Arameans, were conducting regular raids into Israel. But they were being frustrated because God would tell Elisha where they were going to attack and then Elisha would warn the king who would have his troops ready wherever the Arameans where trying to sneak in.

The Aramean King heard that Elisha was Israel's secret weapon and sent his troops to arrest him. (Like Elisha wouldn't know they were coming!!! And by all accounts Elisha slept well!)

The Arameans surrounded Elisha's home in the early hours. When Elisha's "butler" went outside, he saw the Aramean army and he was terrified. But Elisha prayed that the servant could see beyond the physical boundaries of his sight - that he could see more than the present circumstances. The Lord opened the servants eyes to the spiritual reality of His powerful presence.

This is the nature of faith - seeing the unseen. In the NT Paul says: "We walk by faith and not by sight." (2Cor5:7)
And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Heb11:1)

Faith has the courage to say: "In spite of my circumstances, I know, I believe, I trust, that God is God and God is good!"

Sometimes, when times are tough, we are tempted to think that God is asking too much faith of us, but think about that moment of faith when you realised that Jesus died for you - when you embraced that personal relationship that you can have with God as His child. That is the biggest leap of faith ever and the Holy Spirit helped you make that jump.

It's just a matter of time 'til your eyes are opened and you see the chariots!

And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.      (2Kings6:17)

Friday, May 24, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-24 [Keeping Going...] When it's really tough...

When it's really tough...

There are times in our lives where we experience resistance. The worst of these times come through a person or persons who cause us pain through accusations, persecutions, criticisms, betrayals and sometimes even vicious attacks.

When these things happen, we lose sleep, we become paranoid and we start to catastrophize everything. We lose confidence in ourselves and make mistakes doing things we usually excel at. We become shadows of ourselves, losing our appetites and our senses of humour.

David experienced this when his own son, Absalom, staged a coup, grabbing power from his father through a horrible series of pre-meditated betrayals...
Now David had to flee. Psalm 3 is David's lament - but it is more than a lament - it is the point at which he chooses to trust in God and to transcend the debilitating effects of the betrayal and disappointment.

The Psalm is broken into 3 parts by the word 'Selah' which was probably a musical term indicating a musical interlude or maybe a crescendo that would give one time to reflect on what has been sung...

In the first part David reflects on the immensity of his challenges. He paints his situation in three very effective strokes:
- His foes are many
- They are active in pursuit of him
- The public polls were saying that God had forsaken him
In the second part David expresses his belief about God and makes a decision. He believes that God is his shield and that God will lift up his head. Based on this He cries out to God who answers him. We're not told what the answer was. Was it a promise? Was it a miracle? Was it a sense of peace? We're left to ponder this as the 'Selah' interupts us.

In the third part we see three things happen for David:
  1. David goes to sleep: Sleep is an incredible act of faith and trust. We surrender control trusting that God will keep us breathing and the earth turning while we are asleep. This is not tossing and turning. This is sleep that has handed the problem to God.
  2. David gains the confidence to ask God to deal with his enemies. Although he prays "Arise O LORD" it is not God who needs to arise, it's just David who now believes that God has not forsaken him and that he can ask for help. It is David's faith that has arisen.
  3. And now David is ready to trust God, not only now but in the future. And, in true kingly fashion, David is not thinking only about himself, but all of God's people.
Have a read through this beautiful psalm.

[A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.]
1 O LORD, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
"God will not deliver him."
3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD;
you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
4 To the LORD I cry aloud,
and he answers me from his holy hill.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.
6 I will not fear the tens of thousands
drawn up against me on every side.
7 Arise, O LORD!
Deliver me, O my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the LORD comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
Selah      (Psalms3:1-8)

Thursday, May 23, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-23 [Keeping Going...] The straw that breaks...

The straw that breaks...

Have you ever thought "This is it! I'm going to crack! I'm going to explode! I'm not going to make it!" and then you make it through?
Although God is not the author of trials and temptations, He does have the final say and His promise is that we will never be burdened beyond what we can bear. He will allow the straw that breaks the camel's back!

Sometimes it feels different. Sometimes it feels like we won't make it. Then we find reserves that we didn't know were there, or we get help, or the problem diminishes. God is faithful. Not only does He know our limits, but He also helps us to stand when the limits are being pushed.

So why do some people have breakdowns and why do some give up?
God does not promise that we will never break. His promise is that the test is never too big. The reality of this is that those who do crack have buckled under something that should not have broken them. The problem is that we will need God's help to stand in spite of the pressures that surround us. If we rely on ourselves, our money, or our friends then our potential is not the same as when we rely on God.

Bruce Wilkinson says "Dependence is another word for strength!"

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it      (1Corinthians10:13)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-22 [Keeping Going...] It's more than OK to ask for prayer

It's more than OK to ask for prayer

I've called our current series "Keeping Going..."

I've sensed that many of us are in that place where we are depleted emotionally, physically and spiritually and that we are constantly facing disappointments from society. The things we had hoped for from the economy, our politicians and so on have been slow in arriving and we experience high levels of anger and cynicism in society.

But we need to keep going.
We need to carry the flame of God's love to the world.
We should be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

So how do we do this?
I've already talked about discouragement and encouragement and yesterday Max Lucado helped us with the choices we must make every day.

Today I want to consider an idea that many people balk at:
Asking people to pray for you in your struggle.

This is something people hesitate to do:
"People are so busy - how can I burden them with prayer requests?"
"With so many people with much bigger needs than mine, how can I ask for prayer?"
"Do I even deserve having people pray for me and God answering those requests?"

But in our reading for today, Paul is adamant about about the power of prayer and fearless in asking for prayer:

  1. He "urges" the congregation in Rome to pray for Him
  2. He emphasises that we are family (brothers and sisters) in Christ
  3. He puts his request in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit. He's really indicating that God is completely behind this idea. (I love the fact that it is in Jesus' name as He is the one who knows our suffering and the "love of the Spirit" implies that the Spirit causes us to pray and that He prays with us.)
  4. He is adamant that when we struggle, praying to God for each other is effective.

So often we try to "go it alone". Sometimes we will sit down and share our burdens with others, but then that's all it is - an unburdening - we don't ask for the most important thing which is prayer. Some of the greatest breakthroughs in my spiritual journey have come when I have contacted a few mature Christian friends and said: "I am going through a struggle - please pray for me."

Not only is this a good thing, not only does it work, but Paul urges us to do it!

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.      (Romans15:30)