Wednesday, December 18, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-18 [Advent2019] Donkey

Donkey (End of Series)

It would not be wrong for us to say that Jesus was an unexpected Messiah to the Jews. They had expected a political figure who would chase the Romans into the sea and establish an earthly throne in Jerusalem and set up a political kingdom that the likes of David would only have dreamed about. When Jesus came and established a heavenly kingdom - a kingdom of the heart - many expectations were disappointed.

But this was not a completely unexpected development... There are Old Testament prophecies that portray this aspect of Jesus coming. We have already looked at Isaiah's images of the suffering servant and here in Zechariah we have another example...

What animal would one expect a coming Messiah to ride? Our imaginations swing to a great white stallion - a symbol of power, strength, and victory. What connotations come from riding a donkey's foal? The foal of the donkey was the mode of transport for the elderly or children. It would be the mount chosen by a soothsaying prophet or a wise hermit.

Riding a donkey is not the declaration of war, but a statement of the intent of peace. This was Jesus' mode of transport on Palm Sunday as He entered Jerusalem. It was a week before Passover, Jerusalem was full of pilgrims, they were remembering the miraculous Exodus from Egypt and so nationalistic fervour ran high. Jesus sent a crystal clear message on that day: His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom. He was not willing to go to war to obtain peace. He came not as a Victor, but a Victim, and He would grant salvation by giving Himself.

Usually we consider this prophecy at Easter, but it is appropriate for Christmas too as one of the favourite titles for Jesus at Christmas time is "Prince of Peace".

Jesus was born into a world where a petty regional governor (Herod) wouldn't hesitate to commit (horrific) infanticide to protect his power-base. Jesus was born into a world where his parents could only afford to offer pigeons as a thanksgiving for His birth. He was born into a world of oppression, uncertainty and danger - and He was called "Prince of Peace".

These risks and pains continued to be part of His life and when He rode into Jerusalem 33 years later, facing betrayal, trumped up charges, mistreatment and death, He rode the predicted but unexpected donkey-foal because He is able to bring peace to you and me.

This ends our series on Advent Prophecies. I haven't handled all of the general Messianic Prophecies but I've also done a few that aren't normally associated with Advent/Christmas. My hope has been to paint a broad picture of what Jesus came to to do and what His mission was.

All that remains to do is wish you and your loved ones a blessed Christ-mass. (While "mass" is usually associated with communion, it also denotes thanksgiving.) I pray that you will rest, renew, celebrate and worship during this wonderful time.
May you know Christ as your
   Wonderful Counsellor,
       Mighty God,
          Everlasting Father and
              Prince of Peace.

Rejoice greatly O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See, Your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.      (Zechariah9:9)

EmmDevs while resume when schools start in the new year.
Thank you for journeying with me this year and for the kind and constructive feedback I have received from so many of you...
God bless and Love,

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-17 [Advent2019] Pierced


The prophet Zechariah foresaw the tragedy of Jesus' death on the cross. It was John (19:37) who recognised that this prophecy had been fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus.

It is a difficult prophecy: On the one hand, there was a response to Jesus' message, people's lives were changed and there were those who stood at the cross and grieved His death. On the other hand, we were the ones who "pierced" Him.

Let's consider the "piercing":

  • The crowds cried out Crucify Him!
  • Herod washed his hands of Jesus
  • The Roman soldiers were only interested in what they would gain from Him and gambled for His clothes.
  • The High Priests and the Sadducees and Pharisees mocked Him
  • On the whole the crowds simply observed His agony.
  • The disciples rand away because they were afraid that they might be next and so it was really only John and Mary and the women who were there.

The One who truly mourned for an only child and grieved for a firstborn son was God the Father. The sky turned black and the earth grew still. Then, in the midst of bitter grief, God the Father turned His face from His sin-bearing Son, whose cry "Why have You forsaken me?" went unheard and unanswered.

This grief describes the cost of John 3:16 ("for God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son....")
Christmas must lead to Easter.

Today we recognise what it cost Jesus. Today we mourn too. Some of our beautiful Easter hymns like "O Sacred head once wounded" and "When I survey" recognise His pain and agony and we mourn that it 'was our sin that bruised and wounded Him'. More than that though, we recognise that it 'was for us He hung and suffered there'. It is with a mixture of awe and sorrow that we realise that 'we were there' when they crucified our Lord.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.      (Zechariah12:10)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-12 [Advent2019] In one single day

In one single day

This Advent Promise is in a symbol rich chapter. Zechariah has had a vision of the high priest Joshua (The name "Joshua" is a variant "Jesus") who appeared before the throne in scruffy dirty clothes. Satan was there to accuse him for his sin, but God re-clothed him in clean clothes, taking care of sin and the accuser.

As you read the prophecy below, you will note the following features:

The vision continues with the promise that the Branch is coming. This is the same word as the word we translated "shoot" yesterday. Then the imagery changes to another Messianic image - The stone. (The Old Testament also describes the Messiah as a stone in Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16). Peter also declared that Christ is both cornerstone (the stone that is the orientation and foundation of the building) and He is the capstone (the purpose and glory of the building.)

The seven eyes on the stone are in all likelihood symbolic of God's omniscience - that He sees all our sin and brokenness. It means that God sees us as we are and doesn't give up on us.

We don't know what the inscription on the stone is, but the result is forgiveness in one single day! It is a breathtakingly accurate and to-the-point Advent Promise: It comes right down to why He came and what it means for us.

The image of the stone takes us straight to the rocky outcrop of Golgotha. I have often thought that the inscription on the stone will be "It is finished!"

Thank you Lord that you were so passionate about us!

Listen O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you who are symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,and I will remove the sin of this land in one single day.      (Zechariah3:8-9)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-11 [Advent2019] A Righteous Branch

A Righteous Branch

The scene is Jerusalem - just two years before the Babylonians carry away the first group of exiles. In this chapter Jeremiah is concerned about the leadership in Jerusalem: They are shepherds who have neglected the sheep. In the midst of his frustration, Jeremiah looks forward to the coming of the ultimate Shepherd-King. This is the prophecy of the Righteous Branch.

What is fascinating is that this prophecy also has a double fulfillment: Two years after this prophecy was uttered, the Babylonians occupied Jerusalem for the first time and carried King Jehoiachin into exile. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah as king and changed his name to Zedekiah which means "The Lord is my Righteousness."!!!

After a few years of peace, Zedekiah failed to heed Jeremiah's advice, and against God's will, he rebelled against the Babylonians. This disobedience resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. Zedekiah turned out to be another bad shepherd...

The Hebrew word for Branch can also be translated as shoot. The image then, is of a tree that is cut down, but a shoot emerges from the stump and re-establishes the tree. Five hundred years later, the stump of God's people was still in the ground, but under Roman rule. In a stable in Bethlehem, the stump of David sprouted a shoot.

Jesus is everything that Zedekiah was not. He reigns with wisdom and righteousness. Surrounded by our brokeness and our "Zedekiah legacies" (our insistence on doing things our way) the righteous King went to the cross where He became our righteousness and we are saved.

The days are coming declares the Lord
When I will raise up to David a righteous Branch
A King who will reign wisely and do what is right and just in the land
In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety
This is the name by which the Branch will be called:
The LORD our Righteousness.      (Jeremiah23:5-6)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-10 [Advent2019] House of Bread

House of Bread

Today's Advent Prophecy is the one that alerted Herod to the fact that the child the wise men from the East were visiting could pose a real threat. He had not taken Bethlehem seriously even though the bright star had settled above it. The prophecy clinched the issue. Fortunately Joseph had been warned in a dream before Herod acted on his fears in the most horrific way - the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem means "House of Bread." It is the city where Rachel was buried, where Ruth gleaned in Boaz's field and where David was anointed as King. It is also called the city of David and it is very appropriate that the Messiah who is the seed of David would be born here.

The story of Ruth is ironic because the story begins with a famine which forced Naomi and her family to leave Bethlehem. There was no bread in the house of bread. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is significant too: The house of bread would be the birthplace of the One who fed the 5000 with fish and bread, who called Himself the Bread of Life, and offered His body as the bread of the new covenant and the bread of heaven.

Jesus is the Lord of a kingdom that is not an earthly kingdom. Eugene Peterson calls it a subversive kingdom: Jesus was the King of a kingdom He described as the yeast that spreads throughout the whole batch of dough.

Naomi and her family left Bethlehem because there was no bread. Bread was the staple food they needed to survive. More than a 1000 years later came a king who would be the endless source of spiritual sustenance and provision. Our relationship with Christ is the bread we need.

The prophecy ends with the promise that He will be their shepherd and their peace.

But you Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah
Out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel.
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned
until the time when she who is in labour gives birth
and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock
in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness
will reach to the ends of the earth.
5 And he will be their peace.      (Micah5:2-5)

Friday, December 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-06 [Advent2019] Zealous God

Zealous God

Today's Advent Promise always gives me goosebumps. It's not a classic "Christmassy" prophecy of Christ, but describes the Incarnation in John's Terms - "Light shining into darkness"

Isaiah 59 starts with a description of our human sinfulness:
"For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things."

Our sins separate us from God, justice is driven back, truth is nowhere to be found and those who strive for righteousness are victimised.

But Isaiah reveals a glimpse into God's heart.

When God saw our predicament He was profoundly moved:
- He was appalled at our predicament.
- He set out to work salvation for us.
- His righteousness became the sacrifice that paid for us
- Our salvation was the reason for which He went to the cross.
- He was determined to break Satan's power
- And He wrapped Himself in zeal.

Jesus wasn't resigned to the Incarnation in a "Oh-well-I-suppose-I-had-better-save-these-people" kind of way. No! He was appalled at where our brokenness takes us, and He rolled up His sleeves to get stuck into saving us. He passionately and zealously offered up His very best - even His righteousness (He took on the guilt of our sin) - so that we might be saved.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame."

Take a few moments to read this 400 year promise from a God who was determined to rescue us....

He saw that there was no-one;
He was appalled that there was no one to intervene
So His own arm worked salvation for Him
And His own righteousness sustained Him
He put on righteousness as His breastplace
And the helmet of salvation on His head
He put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.      (Isaiah59:16-17)

Thursday, December 5, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-05 [Advent2019] Bruised


In all likelihood Isaiah saw Israel as the suffering servant of God. Throughout chapters 40-55 there are references to the suffering servant of the Lord who will bring light and hope to all people even through his suffering. In the first instance, these prophecies are indeed fulfilled in the destiny of the Jewish nation which did suffer tremendously at the hands of the Babylonians.

Unfortunately Israel did not turn out to be the light to the nations and the hope for the world. Those who returned from exile became inward-looking and self-centered to the extent that they did not become the light to the nations. The true light of the world would come 400 years later.

As Advent Promises the so called "Servant Songs" of Isaiah (which are found in 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-7 and culminate in 52:13-53:12) shine very brightly even though they are a very sobering account of the substitutionary suffering of the Servant of the Lord. The song in ch.53 is a sensory-overloading foresight of the way in which Jesus would suffer to pay for our sin-debt and transgression-brokenness.

This chapter is brimming with beautiful Hebrew poetry. It uses clever repetition, parallel lines, powerful images, and an economy of words that is breath-taking. It is hard to imagine that a reader cannot be gripped by the accuracy and appropriateness of the prophecies in the light of Jesus' suffering on the cross.

Look at the reasons for the suffering:
- He took up our infirmities
- carried our sorrows
- He was pierced for our transgressions
- crushed of our iniquities
- Our punishment to obtain peace was upon Him
- He carried the wounds that obtained our healing.
- Our iniquity (which leads us astray and turns us away) was upon Him.

It is quite easy for me to dwell on my own brokenness:
- I am infirm: Deficient in direction, purpose, and value
- I am filled with sorrow: I struggle with my brokenness and sin
- I am aware of my guilt and the consequences of my sin are obvious to me
- I know that I really deserve punishment for my selfish self-centeredness
- I am lost and confused

But God is concerned with my healing!!
What is amazing is that Jesus was so committed to healing me of this brokenness that He had Isaiah detail it 400 years in advance! With breath-taking accuracy Isaiah details the reality of what it would take to make us new. Is God anxious to heal my brokenness?

(Just read the promise He made!)

Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows
Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him
and by His wounds we are healed
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned his own way
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.      (Isaiah53:1-12)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-04 [Advent2019] A Four-Titled King

A Four-Titled King

Today's Advent Promise is one of the most well-known and well-loved.

I want to look at it from the perspective of its fulfilment in John's Gospel:

First we look at Isaiah's idea that "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light..."
In his prologue to the the fourth gospel John identifies Jesus as the light that shines into the darkness:

  • In Jesus was life and that life was the light of humankind.
  • The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it or fully understand it.
  • Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyone and He came into the world
  • We have seen the light of His glory which is full of grace and truth

We often forget that Jesus came to establish a Kingdom. It is not an earthly kingdom and He is not an earthly king. This is a point that Pontius Pilate found hard to understand.

Secondly we look at how Jesus carries four titles as the founder and ruler of God's kingdom (John also picks these points up in his prologue:)

  • He is our Wonderful Counsellor: When other people left because Jesus' teaching was too hard, the disciples decided to stay because they recognised that Jesus had the words of life. But Jesus is also the one who sends the Holy Spirit who is our Counsellor and Comforter. (John: "No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten who is at the Father's side has made Him known.")

  • Jesus is our Mighty God, who through His miracles and especially His resurrection has revealed Himself as the One who will come again in glory and before whom every knee will bow. (John, quoting John the Baptist: "He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me." In the prologue he also says "We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father full of grace and truth.")

  • Because He is one with the Everlasting Father, Jesus gives us the privilege of becoming God's children. John says: "To all who received Him and believed in His name He gave the right to become children of God."

  • Because of His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus is our Prince of Peace. John says: "From the fullness of His grace we have received one blessing after another."

What a stunning picture of Jesus as our coming King and Saviour!

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned ... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given And the government will be on his shoulders And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.      (Isaiah9:2-7)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it...

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
14 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.
15 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.      (John1:1-18)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

EmmDev 2019-12-03 [Advent2019] A son named Emmanuel

A son named Emmanuel

The historical background to this passage is about 730BC when the Assyrians were starting to move in on Palestine. King Ahab of Judah (the Southern Kingdom) was fearful of an alliance of Rezin and Aram, two local kings in Palestine. Isaiah goes to assure the king that these kings are but smouldering firewood, but Ahab is doubtful.

God then promises Ahab a sign: A child - a son - will be born and before the child is two years old, these two kings will have been destroyed.
The Hebrew word for "virgin" can also mean "a young woman about to be married."

The first fulfillment of the prophecy takes place in the next chapter: Isaiah takes a young wife and she gives birth to a son, who is given the name "Quick-to-the-plunder" and is a foreshadowing of the invasion of the Assyrians who overthrow all the nations in Palestine except Jerusalem and, as prophesied, Rezin and Aram are thwarted. As Isaiah describes the power of the Assyrian attack he still affirms that God is with His people (Isaiah 8:8) and so the birth of the child is associated to the presence of the Lord in the midst of trouble.

But New Testament also recognises this as a prophecy of the coming of Jesus. So it is a double prophecy: Isaiah, Ahab, Rezin, and Aram were long gone by the time Christ was born, but He came to deliver us from a far greater enemy...
700 years later (after it had had its "dress-rehearsal" in the form of Isaiah's son) the prophecy was ultimately and finally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus who was more than just a sign of God's presence with His people, but was truly God with us. Christ was also born in the midst of the threat of a foreign power (Rome) and so we discover that even when we are in trouble and experiencing hardship God is with us.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel.      (Isaiah7:14)

Friday, November 29, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-29 [Advent2019] The Lion

The Lion

Yesterday our Advent Promise portrayed Jesus as the Lamb.

Today's promise portrays Him as a Lion.

The scene is Jacob (now called Israel - the Father of nations) blessing his twelve sons. Each blessing is connected with the character and nature of the son he is blessing, but at a much deeper level the blessing has prophetic implications for the tribes emerging from each of the sons. There is, in the blessing of Judah, a very distinct messianic aspect which is highlighted in today's passage...

In the earlier part of the blessing on Judah, he is described as a lion and a conqueror. From history we know that the Kings of Israel came from the tribe of Judah and that the line of monarchy narrowed down even more to the line of David who was from the tribe of Judah. The tribe of Judah was the dominant ruling tribe in Israel's history.

The sceptre mentioned in the passage can also be translated as the commander's staff and the promise was that Judah's tribe would be supreme and the commander's staff will "remain in the family" until it came to whom it belongs. Although Jesus came as a lowly king and as the Lamb of God, He is also the Lion of Judah. Through His obedience to the Father (even unto death) and through His resounding victory over the grave, He is victorious and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father as Lord of the Church. Paul says:
"Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.
And gave Him the name that is above every name." (Philippians 2:9)

When He comes again, it will be as Lord of all, and then what Paul wrote will be fulfilled:
"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:10-11)

And in Revelation John portrays Him as a Lion: "Then one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.'"

We make a serious mistake if we see Him only as the Lamb!

"Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father's sons will bow down to you.
9 You are a lion's cub, O Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.

11 He will tether his donkey to a vine,
his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine,
his teeth whiter than milk.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-28 [Advent2019] The Lamb

The Lamb

Today's fulfilled advent promise comes from the account of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Many people struggle with this passage. Why would God ask Abraham to do such a difficult thing? I think there are two significant reasons:
  1. The surrounding nations practised child-sacrifice. This is evident in the fact that Abraham was not surprised by the request and goes through all the steps to carry out the command. The incredible outcome of the story is that Abraham, knife in hand, discovers that the God of Israel does not require this.

  2. Abraham's journey prefigures what God would do for us. Abraham and Isaac found a ram caught by its horns but centuries later God would provide a Lamb. John identifies Jesus as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John1:29) 
    Paul reminds us that "He did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom8:32)

In verses 17 and 18 God talks about Abraham's descendants (plural) then He speaks about Abraham's seed or offspring (singular) Through the coming of the Lamb all nations are blessed.

Some would argue that God is then guilty of child-sacrifice, but the Scriptures are clear: Jesus chose to do the Father's will. He was not a helpless victim but a willing sacrifice.

Abraham's story plunges us directly into the reality of human brokenness - we think that our guilt can be cancelled by our sacrifices. Other religious systems demanded child sacrifices. Child sacrifice was a macabre cycle of darkness and violence that cheapened life and those who participated in it were sucked into a spiral of cheapened life and devalued humanity.

God's emphatic answer is: "No more killing! I will pay the price" and in the gift of His one and only Son, God the Father pays the price that we were not required to pay. What the story of Abraham illustrates is just how much it cost the Father and what the obedience of Abraham and the Lamb achieved.

Abraham answered, "God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." ...
12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."...
17 [The Lord declared] "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore... and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me."      (Genesis22:8-18)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-27 [Advent2019] Protoevangelium


In the movie, the Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson portrays Jesus praying in the Garden - and Satan, in the form of a serpent, is trying to talk Him out of going to the cross. The scene culminates in Jesus praying "Not my will, but Yours be done." As Jesus gets up to meet Judas and the soldiers coming to arrest Him, He stomps His heel on the head of the serpent who is tempting Him.

This scene points back to another garden, the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, they ate the fruit, and they hid from God when He came to fellowship with them in the Garden. Having ascertained that the serpent was the instigator of the trouble, God pronounces the start of a war and the final outcome. The prophecy speaks of a battle and an outcome.

Human beings are generally revolted by snakes. This is symbolic of the struggle between human beings and the powers of darkness. One should not read too much into the symbolism because in reality snakes do not dislike people as much as what the Satan is opposed to humanity. There is a struggle between good and evil that has begun in the garden and it is a struggle in which evil often catches us by surprise just as a snake in the grass catches us by surprise.

Scholars see this passage as a "protoevangelium" (a first gospel) because it points to the crucifixion (strike at the heel) of Jesus, and His resurrection, ascension, and second coming (the crushing of the serpent's head.)

The exciting thing about this first prophecy of Jesus is that it is not simply pious hopefulness. It is starkly rooted in the reality of the struggle of life. There is a battle on the go and it is a battle in which humankind faces a bitter enemy. With New Testament eyes we know that there is a certain Offspring of Eve who was struck by the serpent but who crushed its head.

This victory will be passed on to us and so Romans 16:20 says "And the God of peace will soon crush Satan underneath your feet."

What is also significant is that this prophecy comes in the midst of God's discovery of their sin. God is not caught by surprise. There is no sense of Him saying: "Oh dear! What do I do now?" He knew what the implications of their disobedience would be - and He had a plan.

This Protoevangelium is our hope and peace.
Christmas reminds us that Eve's Offspring, Mary's Son, is our Serpent Defeater.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.      (Genesis3:15)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-26 [Advent2019] A shoot from a Stump

My apologies for the gap in devotions - I took some leave to attend a funeral of a family friend.

For the next couple of days I'll be looking at some of the Old Testament prophecies that point to the coming of Christ at Christmas. The Liturgical Season of Advent is all about the expectation of the Birth of Christ and His life in our world. But it is not only about His historical coming into the world... Jesus is still coming into our world by His Spirit in you and me and one day He will return in full glory.

I pray Advent2019 will be a special journey for you...

A shoot from a Stump

Imagine a forest of trees that has been hacked down to the ground...
Once it was a quiet and serene haven: cool and calm with magnificent trees, beautiful greenery highlighted by mottled sunlight, the sound of birds and the wind rustling through the foliage - a place to sooth the soul.

Now it is a hot dry graveyard of stumps.
As one stands in the midst of the destruction, one feels alone, helpless, exposed and defeated.

The time is about 700BC, the place is Palestine and the author-poet-singer, the prophet Isaiah, contemplates the chaos and destruction wrought by Assyria which is the current dominant world power. They have destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and repeatedly besieged the Southern Kingdom. Nations have struggled against them. There have been alliances, betrayals and intrigue. This war of attrition has meant that trust, faith and hope have been destroyed.

Isaiah has prophesied that even mighty Assyria will fall.
He imagines a mighty forest cut down to the ground.
The felled forest is the ultimate image of the legacy of war and violence.
It represents the human condition.

But there is hope!
Out of the pain and destruction, a shoot will grow out of one of stumps.
A mighty tree will grow - the Messiah will come.

Jesus fulfills this prophecy:

  • He is a descendant of David, the son of Jesse.
  • He was specifically filled with the Spirit at His baptism
  • In His earthly ministry He manifested the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
  • He saw beyond externals and right down to the heart
  • He demonstrated His understanding of God and of humanity
  • He even demonstrated moments of righteous judgement and power

As you read this prophecy made 700 years before Christ and contemplate its beautiful fulfilment, I invite you to let your heart be set on fire with hope - for Advent isn't only about the first coming of Christ, but also how He comes into our world through His Spirit in us, and also that He will come again.

Are you surrounded by stumps?
Jesus is the shoot who springs from the stump.
We can put our trust in Him

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

Friday, November 15, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-15 [Prayer like breathing] CONCLUSION : Ultimate Breath Prayer

Ultimate Breath Prayer

When I am on my way to a tough pastoral situation, my wife Brenda does a wonderful thing. As I drive off she'll catch my eye and say "I'm praying for you." It's something that really comforts me because she really knows me, genuinely cares about me, and clearly understands my strengths and weaknesses.

Martin Lund started a week long series on prayer at our church in Grahamstown with this passage and these words: "Did you know that 24/7 you are a prayed-for, prayed-in, and prayed-through person?"

It is an incredible thought that God would live in us by His Holy Spirit. It is even more amazing that He would pray for us. Paul implies that it is a passionate prayer, He will groan with concern and care as He searches our hearts and brings us to God.

Our prayers are really a kind of piggybacking on a constant stream of prayer that God the Spirit prays in us. He knows my needs. He knows my successes and failures and He prays anyway! His intercession means that we are sympathetically represented to God in order to obtain assistance and favour.

This gem on the Spirit's intercession comes to us in the context of Paul talking about present suffering, the world in labour pains, and the call to hopeful patience. In the midst of these challenges there is this stunning assurance: Even when we don't know what to pray for, there is SomeOne who prays for us!

I also love the fact that the Hebrew and Greek words for "Spirit" can also mean "wind" or "breath".

This gives us the ultimate conclusion for our series on "Prayer like Breathing" - The Spirit - the "breath" of God - prays in us, through us, for us. If we are attentive, prayer can be for us to unfurl our sails and to be carried along by what He's already started!

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.       (Romans8:26-27)

I hope you've enjoyed this series on prayer, and that, most importantly, you grown more comfortable and confident in the beautiful gift of prayer. Much love, Theo

Thursday, November 14, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-14 [Prayer like breathing] Prayed for

Prayed for

To be able to pray "like breathing" there needs to be a great degree of confidence and certainty that our prayers are "OK", that we are able and allowed to pray and that our prayers will "get through".

Something that helps us greatly in this regard is a beautiful truth portrayed in the letter to the Hebrews where we are reminded that Jesus is our Great High Priest. Now, one of the roles of a priest is to act as an intermediary - to be the bridge between God and us. The Priest's function is to speak to God on our behalf and to bring our requests and needs to God.

The Good News that Hebrews gives us is this:

  • Our Intermediary, the One who speaks on our behalf and bridges us to God, is none other than our Lord Jesus. We don't need a Saint or a Mary or an earthly priest - we can go to Jesus.

  • Jesus is fully human and so has complete understanding of our struggles and temptations - He knows exhaustion, betrayal, pain, shame, abandonment and all the brokenness of humanity.

  • He is also fully God and is therefore unbiased, un-corrupt and free from impurity, greed or sin. We can trust Him completely!

  • And he prays (intercedes or stands in the gap) for us. What an incredible thought - the Son of God who created us, came down for us and died in our place, now sits at God's right hand and prays for us!

When next you pray and think that your prayers may be bouncing off the ceiling, just remember this: Jesus is taking your prayers to the Father and He is praying for you!

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.         (Hebrews 4:15-16)

... because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.      (Hebrews7:24-25)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-13 [Prayer like breathing] Prayer and Community

Prayer and Community

Close community enhances our experience of prayer.

Paul was coaching the Corinthian congregation in the art of giving to others. He had asked them to take up a collection for the church in Jerusalem whose members were going through a tough time due to a severe famine. As it turned out, the Corinthians were eager to help and had pledged to give generously. (There are, however, subtle hints in the text that their initial enthusiasm had waned and Paul had to cajole them a little when the time came to turn words into action!!)

While making arrangements for their donation to be collected, Paul observed that their generosity would build a bridge of fellowship and that this sense of fellowship would deepen their prayers. He indicated that the church in Jerusalem, having experienced such generosity would have "their hearts go out" to the Corinthians in prayer and that they would recognise God's grace working in them.

This, in turn, would remind them of the "indescribable gift" of God's Son.

So, generosity and community enhances a sense of connection and prayer. I know what a comfort it is be prayed for by people who know me well. I also know how I am propelled into prayer when people I know are going through a difficult time. When we experience this kind of generosity and grace in community and in prayer for one another, it reminds us of God's gift of His Son.

And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!      (2Corinthians9:14-15)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-12 [Prayer like breathing] Invited


We don't like imposing on people and we don't like being a burden. While that can be about being considerate, it is often also about our pride because we want to appear strong and self-sufficient. There was a stage in my spiritual journey where I felt guilty about coming to God with too many prayers about my needs. (I called them "gimmee" prayers). I would happily pray for others, but I found it hard to pray about my own needs.

There is a fine balance here. On one side there is always the risk of treating God like a vending machine, praying only when we need something. But the other side is that we have lost sight of the immensity of God's love and generosity.

There's the comical, but hard-hitting story, of the guy with a very heavy backpack who was walking along the road when a flatbed truck driver stopped to offer him a lift. Once the man had climbed onto the flatbed and they started travelling, the truck-driver looked in his rear-view mirror and saw that the man was standing there with the pack on still on his back. So he stopped the truck and asked the man why he didn't take the backpack off. The man replied "You offered me a lift, but I didn't want to burden you with my load so I thought I would keep carrying it."

We laugh at the twisted logic of this argument, but it is so true of many of us. We've become children of the King but we forget that when He carries us, He can carry our burdens too... We're standing on the flatbed of grace, still carrying our backpacks!

When we don't bring our deepest needs to God it's for two reasons:
1. We underestimate the generosity of God.
2. We're too proud to let Him help us

Jesus gives us a beautiful invitation...

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.       (Matthew11:28-30)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-08 [Prayer like breathing] Pugnacious Prayer

Pugnacious Prayer

How do you picture the typical pray-er? I think most of us think of quiet sensitive people engaged in quiet dignified prayer. We think of grannies in rocking chairs, sensitive monks in cathedrals and patient dignified saints kneeling at their beds.

Paul gives us another picture: Epaphras wrestling in prayer.

Epaphras was from Colosse. Elsewhere Paul calls him a "fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf" and "a fellow prisoner." Epaphras was a strong, courageous and gutsy person who shared in Paul's suffering for the gospel (and survived!) and is now imprisoned with Paul.

What is his attitude? Is he asking the Colossians to pray for his release? Is he bemoaning his fate? Is he feeling sorry for himself? Not a chance! He is wrestling in prayer.

In those times wrestling wasn't the media circus it is now. Olympic Wrestlers were all about tenacity, strength and skill. Prayer wrestling was disciplined strenuous work. There was spiritual grunting and groaning as Epaphras struggled in prayer because of his love for his home congregation.

I can imagine a burly Epaphras pacing up and down in the cell, crying out to God for his congregation - passionate and compassionate. I imagine him thinking about the false teaching that threatened them and grinding his teeth with longing to be with them. Longing is translated into action and Epaphras prays!

What does he pray for? Firmness of purpose that will lead to maturity and sureness of faith.

You might say: "This isn't prayer like breathing - This is prayer like gasping - it's hard work - it's exercise!" But in the case of Epaphras, he's praying like a wrestler because he cared a lot about his church family.

When you pray about the people you care about, you will pray like a lion... or maybe like a wrestler...

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.      (Colossians4:12)

EmmDev 2019-11-07 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah #9 - Continuing Prayer

Nehemiah #9 - Continuing Prayer

Just to recap: Nehemiah has been through a process of prayer: He had fasted, humbled himself, and mourned over his people's brokenness and God gave him a plan. It was a plan that was both daring and terrifying. Nehemiah was the cup-bearer of the king - he had earned the king's trust and favour, but he was still a slave and it was the job of the cup-bearer to keep the king in good spirits (literally and figuratively :-D ;-) ).

When Nehemiah went into the king's presence with a sad face, he took a huge risk. When the king enquired, Nehemiah answered that he was sad because of the sad state of his home city. When the king did the unthinkable by asking "What is it that you want?", Nehemiah sent up an arrow prayer before he answered.

Having sent up the arrow prayer, Nehemiah then boldly requested permission to take leave, to rebuild the city, and to get supplies of timber from the king's stores. And the king agreed!!! Nehemiah knew why: "And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests."

There is one more aspect: When we bring things to God in prayer and He gives us a plan, the plan often means that we have an active part to play in the answer of the prayer. Nehemiah had to take a risk - he had to open his mouth - he had to stick his neck out. This is part of how God includes us in His work, and there are some prayers we should not even bother praying unless we are willing to be part of the answer...

So, looking at Nehemiah's prayer life, we see four kinds of prayer:

  1. Prevailing prayer: Praying, Fasting, and Listening until one has idea of God's plan
  2. The Prayer of commitment/surrender in which one buys into God's plan commits it all to Him
  3. Lived out prayers where our actions of obedience, courage and love are the prayers that speak louder than words
  4. Prayers in the midst of the process so that every step of the plan is executed with God's help and the awareness of our need for His help.
The King said to me, What is it that you want? Then I prayed to the God of heaven and I answered "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it."      (Nehemiah2:4)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-06 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah #8 - A listened for request

Nehemiah #8 - A listened for request

When Nehemiah heard the bad news about Jerusalem and spent time fasting and praying, he had obviously been listening to God too. In this prayer that we have been working through (which is really a culmination of this process of prayer,) Nehemiah comes now to the ultimate focus of the prayer: There's a plan and Nehemiah needs help.

Nehemiah ends with a very specific request that springs from the listening process that he embarked on with fasting and tears. As he spent those couple of days in God's presence, a Divine Plan was revealed to him. How do you rebuild the city walls? - Ask your boss (a pagan king who you work for as a cupbearer) to give you leave and pay for all the materials! Such a plan is almost too ridiculous to consider and yet this is what God revealed to Nehemiah and this is why he prays for the king's favour.

This is the razor-sharp focus of Nehemiah's prayer - a very specific request. The plan is so daring, so outrageous, that it could only have come from God's heart, and yet Nehemiah must pray for its success. This is the mystery of prayer: Very often we must pray for things that we know God wants to give us, but it is because God includes us in His work. There is a sense in which He limits Himself, giving us a key role to play.

When my son Caleb was younger, there were many things that I could do in the garden or workshop that would go quicker if I did them myself. If I asked a three year old Caleb to help me, the job took much longer, but for the quality of the relationship and his growth as a person, I shared my work with him.

God does the same for us. Prayer, therefore, is an act of praise, confession, and request. When we ask God for things in prayer, it is like Caleb passing me another nail for my woodwork project (The project can't continue until I got another nail) - we have become God's helpers.

And God loves to answer the prayers of His helpers.

...O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of this Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who delight in revering Your name. Give Your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man. (I was the cupbearer for the king.)      (Nehemiah1:11)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-05 [Prayer like breathing] Nehemiah#7: Reminding

After our very stimulating month of Mission, we're back to our Tue-Fri eDevs.
Prior to October we were busy with a theme entitled "Prayer like breathing" reflecting on the idea that prayer is a conversation. We've been working through Nehemiah's beautiful prayer in ch. 1...

Nehemiah#7: Reminding

[Nehemiah's whole prayer is below - our key verse is in bold...]

Here is another prayer precedent that we see throughout the Old Testament: Nehemiah reminds God of the fact that these are His people whom He has gone to great lengths to help in the past. By reminding God of Israel's covenant identity, Nehemiah is actually drawing on the history of Israel and God's deliverance of them in the past to give him confidence in prayer.

But again there is more: Through the examples of prayer we find throughout Scripture it is clear that God encourages us to come to Him and 'state our case' before Him. We can approach God with confidence, we can draw on the promises of Scripture, we can remind Him of His faithfulness in the past, and we can even 'threaten' (said with great care) Him with the consequences of not answering our prayer. (In Numbers 14 Moses tells God, "If you wipe out your people and the Egyptians hear about it and will say 'Although He brought them out of Egypt, He couldn't get them to the Promised Land so He wiped them out!'")

When I wanted to propose to Brenda, I went to speak to her folks. I had prepared a long speech, telling them of my love for their daughter, outlining the finances, and sketching the future direction we would take. My preparation and enthusiasm was part of my commitment. What I didn't see clearly was that Bren's folks were actually happy to have me as a son-in-law and that I really only needed to say "Can I marry your daughter?" But Brenda's Dad let me make my whole speech, with me thinking that I had to convince them of what they wanted for their daughter and me anyway.

Should I then simply have said "Can I marry your daughter?" No. The in-laws and I both benefited from the process: I knew clearly how badly I wanted this, and Brenda's folks had some idea of my being ready and responsible to receive the gift they wanted to give me.

As far as prayer is concerned, the dialogue (the process of talking to and even wrestling with God) is as important as the answer.

"O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 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. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
8 "Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 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.'
10 "They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man."      (Nehemiah1:10)

Friday, November 1, 2019

EmmDev 2019-11-01 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Conclusion: Our Missional God: The Call and the Promise

[Our Moderator-Elect, Sipho Mtetwa, provides us with the concluding summation of the Month of Mission - which, most appropriately, puts the spotlight on our Missional God...]

Conclusion: Our Missional God: The Call and the Promise

  • The Call: It is the Lord Yahweh, the God of Israel and the God of Judah, the God of Africa and the God of the UPCSA who calls us in righteousness and who has taken hold of our hand. We are confident that we will not lose the way, as People of the Way, because it is OUR God who has made the Call. Our ministry has been wheel-aligned into God's Call and Will. We are not self-commanding soldiers, pulling in every direction we will for ourselves. We are a people who have been called, who have been led, who have been appropriately aligned.

  • The Promise: It is the Lord Yahweh, who promises to be with us and lead us - the same God who divided the Red Sea for Israel to cross it on dry land; the same God who saved the three Hebrew boys (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) from the furnace; the same God who saved Daniel from the ravage of the lions in the den. It is the same God who expects us to live by the divine Code of Ethics, to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. The God of Promises will lead us on the missional trajectory.

  • The Mission: To become a Covenant People and a Light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, free the captives and get back to light those who are sitting in a dark dungeon. If our God is missional God, our missional direction through the Call and the Promise is sealed. May God bless the UPCSA!
This is what God the LORD says--
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 "I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.      (Isaiah42:5-7)

Rev. Sipho Mtetwa is the Moderator-Designate of the UPCSA, married to Xoli and with three kids and numerous grandkids. He is Minister at St. David's in Pietermaritzburg with the Drakensberg Presbyter. He is a poet and a jazz-fan. 

This brings our Month of Mission to an end. Thank you to all those who have contributed to what has been, I think, one of our most significant series yet.

Thanks and acknowledgments go to our authors: George Marcinkowski, Peter Langerman, Sipho Mthethwa, Lungile Mpetsheni, Vusi Mkhungo, Allan Mchulu, Nigel Chikanya, Natalie Barnard, Shingi Masunda, Jane Nyirongo, Wonke Buqa, Godfrey Misiska, Greg Howse, Austin Dzeka, Melanie Cook, Faresy Sakala, Panji Nkosi, Rod Adamson, Elisha Gobvu, Teddy Zimba, Bonga Bosiki, Pascal Sibanda, Richard Mkandawire, Ruth Armstrong.

Additional thanks go to Richard Mkandawire, Ruth Armstrong and Elias Simango who organised the authors in Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe and to Johan Opperman and Wayne Van Heerden who promoted the Month of Mission on Social Media.

But at the end of the day the Glory, Praise and Honour belongs to our God whose missionality extended to the abundance of Creation, the giving of His Son, the outpouring of His Spirit and His sharing of His Mission with you and me!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-31 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] A Healthy and Vibrant Church

A Healthy and Vibrant Church

What's the first question that anyone asks you when they realise that you are part of a church? "How big is your congregation?" or "How many members does it have?" I was talking to my children's teacher recently about her church, and her first statement to me was that it was a small, family church.

But what are the signs of a healthy church? According to 1Thessalonians1:4-10, a healthy church is faithful, loving, welcoming, hard-working and broadcasting a message. When we think of healthy churches, we think of how many projects we have running, how much money we get in each month, how well the preacher preaches, and one article even suggested, that the sign of a healthy church was in the "plurality of elders"!

But Paul in addressing the people of Thessalonica, is commending them for their example. He tells them how people as far away as Macedonia and Achaia had heard about them (over 200km in an age of limited technology), how the word of their imitation of Christ had gotten around. That it was their actions that were speaking and not their words! Word had gotten out about how they welcomed anyone into their gatherings -- Can we say the same? Do we welcome the "sinners" as Jesus did? Or have we become an exclusive gathering? How the people had abandoned the dead idols to serve the one, true God -- Again, have we abandoned the dead idols around us? Are we only serving the one true God?

Our challenge today is to be like the church in Thessalonica -- that our actions be louder than our words and that we be known as the churches that welcome everyone, no matter their station in life, with open arms and that we serve the only true God, as we wait in joyful expectation of His coming.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.      (1Thessalonians1:4-10)

[Ruth Armstrong, wife to Warren, mother to Lia, Sarah and Noah. Avid crocheter and runner. Serving at St Andrews Germiston.]
This brings us nearly to the end of our Month of Mission, tomorrow our Moderator Elect, Sipho Mthetwa, will conclude the series.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-30 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Timothy embodies the journey of the church

Timothy embodies the journey of the church

I am the third Minister in a family of eight, and one day I and my brothers asked our father whether it shocked him that from one family three brothers are in full time ministry. His response was that it was not strange to him because his grandfather was an evangelist. Through studying the life of Timothy, we will discover God has given us a model of how to pass on our faith to the next generation.

Timothy was a young man when Paul revisited Lystra on his second missionary trip, approximately five years after the first. It may be that Timothy's family became Christians during that first visit. During those five years, Timothy matured in his faith under the spiritual guidance of his mother and grandmother. In Paul's last letter to Timothy, Paul notes the family spiritual environment in his last epistle writing, "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice..." (2 Tim. 1:5).

Children mimic their parents' religious experience: they pray as you have prayed in their presence, they may raise their hands in worship when they see you raise your hands. Timothy was no longer acting a part as the "good" child, he had taken ownership of his faith, as Paul had seen the evidence of this faith in Timothy's actions.

Paul further instructs Timothy to follow the same model of transmitting faith to others as the model for maintaining healthy churches, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Tim. 2:2) When the church stops to invest in the young people, the new converts and to disciple them to maturity, then the church becomes dependent upon those "patriarchs" of the faith and when they pass on, the church struggles to sustain its life and work.

Every church leadership should tirelessly work towards their own redundancy. Passing on the mantle to the next leaders who will become a rich resource when those in charge are indisposed.

Paul speaks of Timothy as a faithful person in this passage, the word describes someone who always does the right thing even when no one else is looking. This person will always be truthful and true. They're filled with integrity and will hold up their end of the deal no matter the sacrifice. In the N.T faithful may also mean one who multiplies their talents and gifting for the greater good. (Mat25:23). We need to multiply ourselves through the lives of others. We are called upon to be faithful in this cause, passing on our faith from one generation to the next through nurture, example, love and care.

For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.      (1Corinthians4:17)

[I am Richard and married to Aretha, and the LORD has blessed us with three kids, two boys Khumbo, Mbawemi and one girl Chimwemwe. I am serving at St. Columba's Presbyterian Church in Kabwe. I enjoy watching soccer and my team is Manchester United.]

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-29 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] We are all part of the body and we are all valued and needed.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians to address the issues that had divided them. The reasons given for the division of the church ranged from resurrection, Eucharist, marriage, baptism and spiritual gifts. In the section we are reflecting on, Paul is addressing the area of spiritual gifts and emphasizes that all are needed and all are important. There is no gift that is better than the other, there is no one who is better than the other hence our theme:

We are all part of the body and we are all valued and needed.

In townships whenever there is a funeral, a red flag is posted by the gate to notify the people on the passing on of their beloved, and whenever there is a wedding a white flag is flown on the gate and all people within the area will come to either comfort or support. Men will be chopping firewood or digging the grave whilst women will be cooking and singing, whilst the elderly sit on their mats sipping coffee, strengthening the bereaved or blessing those who are to get married. All people have a role to play, they are so important such that no one feels left out.

The text for today emphasizes the idea that the church is made up of many parts as the human body which is comprised of many parts. When a part is missing, the body has to work hard to try and compensate for the missing part. Paul emphasizes the idea that all parts of the body are valued and needed because they make the body complete and healthy.

In the book of Ephesians 4:3-4 there is a call to "keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit-just as you were called to one hope..." Yet here we read how Paul reminds the church of Corinth that the foot cannot say "I'm not an eye so I do not belong to the body." This is a problem in the church today because many people have been neglected in the church because they do not belong to a certain race or tribe, class or they don't have critical skills that are spectacular like others.

However, today we are encouraged to remember that as God arranged all parts of the body and so has he arranged for us to have these differences. The reasons for those differences are not clear but what must make us value and need each other is the fact that as the body has many parts, those parts are valued, so must we value each other. As the parts make the body complete, so our differences complete us, because in our differences God makes the church complete and enables us to fulfill our mission.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.      (1Corinthians12:14-20)

[I am Pascal Sibanda, father to Musa, husband to Sandisiwe and a minister at Ntabazinduna UPCSA under the care and guidance of the Presbytery of Zimbabwe.]

Monday, October 28, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-28 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] The Foundation of the Church

[For the last week of the month of mission we look at some key concluding thoughts... Bonga Bosiki writes for us today...]

The Foundation of the Church

The church stands on a solid foundation which is imperishable. It is built on the foundation of God who created heaven and earth. This confession of Peter serves as an affirmation of Jesus as an integral part of Trinity. A church built on the Trinity of God is a place where Christians find the peace of mind, express their joy, increase their love and act passionately in building up the kingdom of God.

Peace of mind.
Through Jesus God brings peace to the world. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The church acts as a representative of the peace amongst humankind. At all times and in all situations, the church must be a champion peace. As a champion, she must sow the seed of joy in the midst of despair, hurts, discomfort and injustices. The Prophet Amos says, "but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream"(Amos 5:24). The church then becomes a cooling place for those who are hurt. The church is like a salt which makes the world a tasty place of hope. A church that spreads hope is a church that brings joy.

The church brings joy
The Prophet Habakkuk says, "yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour" (Habakkuk 3:18) The church that Jesus prayed for is an expression of joy in the midst of hurts. When the Christians are hurt in the world they know that there is a calming place, the church. It is in that church where broken relationships are healed, painful experiences are transformed and suffering and hardship are turned into abundance. When God builds the foundations of His church, He increases His love. Love, not hate, is the concrete foundation of God's church.

The church increases love.
At the core of the church is God's love. "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." (John3:16) God wants humanity to keep on loving each other as sisters and brothers (Hebrews 13:1). Love is an anchor of God's kingdom.

The church acts passionately in building God's kingdom
God builds the church on a rock called Jesus Christ. "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the just one do"(Psalm 11:3) The foundations are lowest load bearing part of the building. With Jesus being the foundation of the church, the church will not be shaken or moved by whatever whirlwinds of change.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.      (Matthew16:18)

Charles Bonga Bosiki is a chaplain at the SANDF and an Interim Moderator at BD Yanta Congregation in the Highveld Presbytery. He is married to Cordelia and is also an author and poet.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-27 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Building itself up in love...

Building itself up in love...

[For this week our theme has been "What does a healthy church look like?"]

As a child of God, you have a very special relationship with other Christians. Paul's letter to the Ephesians pictures this relationship in two different ways. First, every believer is a member of the Body of Christ. Christ is the Head of His Body. His Body has many members, each of which is very essential. Paul says that every member of the Body must grow up and work together.(Eph. 4:15,16).

Second, the people of God are growing into a temple for the habitation of God. "[You are] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit"(Eph. 2:20-22).

If the Body of Christ is to become mature and the temple is to be built as a dwelling place for God, every individual Christian must be committed to building up each other. Edification is the biblical term for this process (Eph. 4:12). Evangelism leads to spiritual birth. Edification results in spiritual growth. The goal of edification is spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. As each individual member does his or her part to build up the others in the Body, the entire Body grows up and becomes mature and healthy.
There are different ways to edify the Body of Christ. Many New Testament phrases with the words "one another" or "edify" suggest specific ways to build up one another.

For example, Paul writes: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph4:29).

We so easily speak to one another words that hurt, criticize, or tear down or words that are just plain useless. Rather, we ought to build each other up with words of grace. Words of grace are the right choice of words spoken at the right time with the right spirit. Words of grace minister to others and meet their needs. These words express love, encouragement, acceptance and affirmation. Which of us is not built up in our spirit when we hear genuine words like, "I appreciate you." "I love you." "God has used you to minister to me." "Thank you for your selfless ministry." "I have noticed the way God is changing this area of your life and I am rejoicing with you about it." Each child God has duty to the whole well being of the body of Jesus Christ. Paul implores you and I to be conscious of this assignment in this passage.

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.      (Ephesians4:14-16)

Teddy Zimba is Engaged to Rhudo Moonga, an is currently serving as a Church Development Evangelist (CDE) at Makeni Village Presybterian Transitional Congregation, Munali Presbytery, Lusaka Zambia.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-26 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] The Church and Agape love

The Church and Agape love

In the last decade, I have been privileged to serve on a mission field and became involved in various outreach ministries. The joy of making a difference in someone's life has been phenomenal. I guess the question one would have to ask after repeatedly doing something for that long is, "why am I doing it?"

Repeatedly doing something can easily become a legality that one ends up doing as routine instead of in devotion to the Lord. The Church at Ephesus had been doing good deeds and was working hard especially in keeping the Church free from heresy. In the process however, they fell into the trap of being legalistic and had lost the love they had at first, for God and the people -- Agape love. Agape love is the love that God showed us, that while we were still sinners God loved us and gave His only Son to save us (John 3:16). Born again believers have God abiding in them through His Spirit and anyone who has the Spirit has the love of God in them and ought to love others (1 John 4:11).

Definitely, the Church must condemn evil. Conversely, when we begin to hate the person committing the evil deed, we have departed from the redeeming Agape love of God in Christ. The Church is also called to do good deeds. However, when we work so hard in keeping our ministries and programmes running, that we lose our devotion to Christ, we risk doing it, not out love for Christ, but as a self-satisfying duty.

Every church should desire to have Agape love if it is to be a healthy Church. The sin of forsaking Agape love carries with it a consequence. Christ calls the Ephesus Church to repent immediately and allow Agape love to flow through them once more or risk being cut-off. If they do not repent they will be like salt that has lost its saltiness, "what good does it still have except to be thrown away and be trampled on by people." (Matthew 5:13)

The earlier question was; "why am I doing it?" When we serve because Agape love flows through us, we will be fulfilling the purpose of creation -- we glorify God and enjoy serving Him out of the understanding of why we were created in the first place.
There is the danger though of Christians becoming such experts in the ministry that they serve with lack of devotion to Christ. There is a need to always maintain a proper balance between serving others and your intimate relationship with God.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‎2 I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; ‎3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. ‎4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‎5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place---unless you repent. ‎6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. ‎7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'      (Revelation2:1-7)

Elisha Gobvu an elder at Highlands Presbyterian church in Harare, Zimbabwe coordinating Mission and Outreach ministries. Married to Sandra and have been blessed with a daughter Priscilla and two sons Brendan and Bradley

Friday, October 25, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-25 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Love is all you give in Jesus

Love is all you give in Jesus

...but if I have no love, this does me no good. (1 Cor 13.3)

Love is all you give in Jesus - love which gives and builds in Jesus.

Romance love has songs like "Ain't no mountain high enough -- to keep me away from you...", for warm, fuzzy feeling. Super-spirituality offers use of communicative gifts, noisily. Super-insight offers gifts of discernment for present and future, in vanity. Super-faith offers miracles in nature, super-generosity offers millions to welfare giving, and super-fanaticism offers even suicide blasts or self-immolation fires, which do no good. Love in Jesus gives new life to save.

John 3.16, "God so loved the world..." Matt 5.44, "Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you...", John 15.12-13, "Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no person than this, that someone lay down their life for their friends..." John 19.30, "It is finished" - these are the image behind 1 Cor 13.1-8. Jesus in love for us died for our forgiveness, Jesus crucified, resurrected and giving the Holy Spirit to save, is the fullness of love.

Verse 12b "then we shall see face-to-face', means only the image of the resurrected Jesus is behind 1 Cor 13. Paul didn't write it to win a religious or philosophical contest, or as 'spirit of common humanity' wisdom literature. Hippy 'love is all you need' for self-centred harmony, tranquility, serendipity and withdrawal is not it. Only the love that saves is the love beyond ourselves which "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things", love that "never ends". Love is all you give in Jesus, the King of love.

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.      (1Corinthians13:1-8)

[Rod Adamson is married to Colleen 20 years, they have one daughter. They minister at George Presby, within the APTsec 'Apostolic Protestant Theology Sector'  Go to resurrectlife co za]

Thursday, October 24, 2019

EmmDev 2019-10-24 [He gave Gifts - Month of Mission 2019] Enduring Trials and Temptations

Enduring Trials and Temptations

If you just read the start of this passage in the context of this week's theme ("What does a healthy church look like?"), you might think it would continue very differently -- "Consider it pure joy when... things go your way; when your church is growing; when there's plenty of money in the bank; when the Children's Church is packed; when there are too many volunteers and when congregants hang on your every word." Aren't these the things we think we should see in a healthy church?

Yet, what are we confronted with? Church membership that is stagnant or declining; stretched budgets where expenses exceed income; the Children's Church is dwindling or non-existent; there just don't seem to be enough people to keep the doors open and the lights on, never mind launching new initiatives and we wonder if anyone is really listening when we speak.

Fortunately, James gives us some hope, because he says that we should consider it joy when we face trials of many kinds because those trials actually test our faith. We might wonder why God would allow our faith to be tested, but, if you think about faith more as a muscle to be worked than as a quantity to be collected, then it makes sense. Muscles need to be stretched and stressed in order to grow and develop. If they are not used in this way, they atrophy and eventually stop working altogether. God wants our faith to grow strong, so what God does is to allow our faith to be stretched and stressed so that it grows strong.

The Greek word here is peirasmos which means an experiment, an attempt, a trial, a proving, and specifically, the trial of human faithfulness, integrity, virtue, constancy through adversity, affliction, trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one's character, faith, holiness. This testing produces perseverance, a never-give-up attitude that is required of all those who follow Christ. Perseverance leads us to maturity and complete wisdom. It's interesting to note that when James instructs us to ask for wisdom, it's one of the few times in Scripture where we are told that if we ask for it, God will give it to us.

So the next time you face a tough situation, pray for wisdom and don't be surprised when God answers your prayer. As you prepare to bring God's Word to your congregation, teach in Sunday School, serve tea or welcome people at the door this Sunday remember that as you do what God has called you to do, God will be at work among you, doing the things only God can do: healing the sick, cleansing those who are covered in sin, setting prisoners free, bringing sight to the blind, helping the deaf to hear and the lame to walk.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.      (James1:2-8)

[Thanks to our Moderator, Peter Langerman, who has helped out where one of our ministers was indisposed and unable to write for today.]