Tuesday, March 19, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-19 [Lent2019] Keeping the focus right

Keeping the focus right

We're nearly two weeks into Lent...
We need to keep the focus right...
Let's remind ourselves of Lent's original purpose...

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

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

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

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

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

The idea around Lent is that we add and subtract to our lives so that we don't just move forward but God-ward. Our Lent additions need to do justice to:

  • God (through prayer, reflection and action)
  • Ourselves (through the creation of good habits or breaking bad ones)
  • Others (through charity and kindness) (Remember that pIlgrim Tuesdays are "Initiate caring conversations.")

Today's challenge is this:
"What, are you going to consciously do to move you Godward as you prepare for Easter this year?"

For physical training is of some value, but Godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.      (1Timothy4:8)

EmmDev 2019-03-17 [Lent2019] pilgriM - Make time for family and loved ones

pilgriM - Make time for family and loved ones

We live in a connected society. We can video call people on the other side of the world. We sit in traffic among hundreds of people, we work in spaces that are often densely packed and do our shopping in malls where we contend for parking with hundreds of others.

And yet we are lonely.

Sundays have always been called family time, but very often our family gatherings are part of a script that involves rush, too much food, and very little real connection.

Our Sunday pilgriM challenge is that we: "Make time for family and loved ones. Connect deeply. Write notes, make phone calls, spend quality time together..."

While we can have many many acquaintances, we need to nurture those who are "closer than a brother". Sadly, many people spend more time on social media with people that are not our "inner circle" than with the present people that keep us going.

We need to reconnect with those who are the source to our strength.

If you're a dad write notes to put in your children's lunch boxes - tell them you're proud of them and love them. Send an encouraging text to a loved one who needs it. Take a slow stroll with a loved one. If you eat a meal with family, keep the meal simple and the pace slow. Look your spouse in the eye and remind them that you love them. Cuddle your children or grandchildren. Appreciate a friend who has been there for you.

Finally, take time to pray for your loved ones - this is one of the most profound gifts you can give them.

A man or woman of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.      (Proverbs18:24)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-16 [Lent2019] pilgrIm - Inventory your heart

pilgrIm - Inventory your heart

Our pilgrIm task for today is: "Inventory your heart. What priorities, dreams and hopes are at the 'front of mind' for you? What needs re-aligning?"

It was Socrates who famously said that an "unexamined life is not worth living."

Our three texts for today emphasise the importance of "giving thought/consideration to our ways."

It is good to take stock of your life from time to time.
Please use this Saturday to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are the 3 things in your life this week that have brought you hope and joy?

  2. Using a scale of 1(rock bottom) to 5(fantastic) please rate your levels of gratitude, contentment, optimism and connection to God and others.

  3. Has anything happened this week that was a bitter pill to swallow? Take time to hand it over to God.

  4. In this last week have you come closer to what you believe God wants for your life, or have you drifted further away from this purpose? If you have come closer, take time to give thanks and then consider your next step. If you've drifted away, take time to reflect on why this happened, repent if you need to, and then formulate a strategy to overcome this setback.

  5. Take time to pray about your life and your ways.
The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways (Proverbs 14:8)

A wicked man puts up a bold front,
but an upright man gives thought to his ways. (Proverbs 21:29)

I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.      (Psalms119:59)

Friday, March 15, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-15 [Lent2019] pilgRim - Read the Bible more

pilgRim - Read the Bible more

When Paul wrote to Timothy from his second imprisonment in Rome, his letter was very poignant and personal, because Paul was very aware that he was on "death row". His letter was a "passing on of the baton" and a commissioning of Timothy.

Paul hoped that he would see Timothy one last time and so he asks Timothy to fetch a cloak, scrolls and parchments that he had left in the care of Carpus of Troas.

A good outer cloak was a valuable item of clothing for a travelling preacher. It protected the wearer from the elements and was a blanket when you had to sleep along the road. Although Paul wasn't going to be doing any more travelling, he probably wanted to pass his cloak on to Timothy.

Scrolls and parchments were valuable and scarce in Paul's time. Scholars agree that these scrolls and parchments were probably Old Testament texts that Paul wanted to have. Firstly, Paul most likely wanted to read them for himself and secondly he probably wanted to pass them on to Timothy.

It is a significant priority for a man on death row.

God's Word is an important part of our journey of faith. His Word is alive and active, a scalpel that excises cancerous tumours from our hearts and minds (Heb 4:12). It is our God-breathed guide to correct, train and guide us in our spiritual journey (2Tim3:16). It sets our souls on fire (Luke24:32) and is a lamp to light our path (Ps.119:105). We need it even more than we need bread (Matt4:4)

Today's "pilgRim" challenge is: Read your Bible for a bit longer today. Read a few chapters of Mark's Gospel each Friday, reflecting on Jesus' love for people.

I've pasted the first three chapters of Mark down below. If you read three chapters each Friday, you will have read the whole of Mark by Easter.

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.      (2Timothy4:13)

1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet:
"I will send my messenger ahead of you,who will prepare your way" --

3 "a voice of one calling in the desert,`Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' "

4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13 and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!"

25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching--and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!"

38 Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come." 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."

41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and `sinners'?"

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, "How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?"

19 Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

21 "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins."

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

25 He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions."

27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

1 Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone."

4 Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.

5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. 8 When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. 9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. 10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. 11 Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve--designating them apostles--that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons."

23 So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: "How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. 28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."

30 He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit."

31 Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."

33 "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Thursday, March 14, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-14 [Lent2019] pilGrim - Give more of yourself

pilGrim - Give more of yourself

We're at Thursday: The "G" of the PILGRIM challenge:
Give more of yourself to help others. Look for opportunities to do practical things for others.

In our verse for today Peter talks about
"God's grace in its various forms."
I love this phrase!!
Another word for "grace" in this context is "generosity". Just think about using whatever gift you have as faithful stewards (or unleashers) God's generosity in its various forms.

God's generosity is shown in Salvation (John 3:16 God gave His only Son for us) and also in Providence (James 1:17 "Every good and Perfect Gift is from above"). Although we may have troubles there are also plenteous blessings in our lives. When we begin to count our blessings there are soooo many!

On Lent Thursdays the challenge is to make a conscious effort to give of ourselves to others. Our service should be a sharing of our Time, Talent or Treasure but ultimately it should be a giving of ourselves. Try to do it as anonymously and incognito as possible.

But be creative and imaginative!
The Greek word for "steward" implies management and administration. This puts us in the creative driving seat.
God's goodness/generosity/grace comes to us in so many various forms! So too we can be of service to others in so many ways. Send an unexpected bunch of flowers. Write a generously encouraging card to someone. Wash someone's car, pick up litter in your neighbourhood, cook a meal for someone who is overloaded, visit a lonely person or help a family member with chores... (The possibilities are endless!)

Make sure you do it in a way that puts the focus on the person you are serving and points them away from you and towards God.

Each one should use whatever gift they have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.      (1Peter4:10)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-13 [Lent2019] piLgrim - Let go of resentment and pain

piLgrim - Let go of resentment and pain

It is said that resentment and unforgiveness are like drinking poison and hoping the person who hurt us will die.

Many of us carry pain from the past. We've been betrayed, disappointed, victimised, treated unfairly and hurt undeservedly. This pain has the potential to hold us back or alternatively it can launch us into a better future. Unfortunately it seems that people succumb to pain more easily than they overcome it.

Forgiveness is an intrinsic part of the gospel. In the Lord's Prayer we are reminded that our sense of forgiven-ness is related to the forgiveness we offer others. Or put better, if we aren't able to forgive, it probably means that we don't understand how much we have been forgiven!

Unfortunately many of people battle to remember without pain - which is what forgiveness actually is. People say "forgive and forget" but no-one can give themselves amnesia! Forgiveness is the choice to let go of pain every time we remember a hurt until we can remember and it doesn't hurt.

So what to we do on piLgrim Wednesdays?
We courageously look at our heart-and-soul health and ask ourselves: "How toxic (negative, cynical, resentful, bitter, suspicious, angry and critical) am I at the moment?" (Score yourself from 1(non-toxic) to 10(very toxic).)

If you find yourself with a toxic score, take some time to give your pain to Jesus. He will take your pain and give you the yoke of forgiveness and forgiven-ness. (We need forgiven-ness because sometimes the things people do to us make us feel dirty even though we are innocent victims.)

Jesus' cross is the place where all the pain of broken humanity was drawn together and paid for. When we come to Him, we know that we are not alone in our pain. He can carry what we cannot.

Let this Wednesday be a day that you take seriously the invitation He gives:

"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)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-12 [Lent2019] pIlgrim - Initiate caring conversations.

pIlgrim - Initiate caring conversations.

Although "I" normally means "me", the first "i" in Pilgrim is outward looking and challenges us to "Initiate caring conversations: Ask people how they really are and really listen to their answers and engage with what they say."

After Jesus was crucified and buried, two of His followers stayed in Jerusalem on the Sabbath (Saturday) and on Sunday started walking to Emmaus. We know that one of them was called Cleopas and some scholars suggest that the other was his wife Mary who is mentioned in John's gospel.

They were heart-broken at the loss they had suffered. Jesus joins them on the road, but they are kept from recognising Him. He interrupts their conversation, pretending not to know what has happened.

When Cleopas gives a partial answer, Jesus takes the opportunity to press in deeper and ask a further question. Their answer, while stating the facts, also reveals their dreams, hopes and loyalty: "...but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel."

This is a risky statement. They "out" themselves as followers of Jesus and this could land them in hot water. But there is something about the way in which Jesus (who is a total stranger in their eyes) interacts with them that makes them comfortable enough to share their heart and soul with Him.

As we walk on the road of life, we will encounter people who carry heartache, a sense of being overwhelmed, the burden of loneliness or profound spiritual pain in their lives.
What if we took the time and trouble to listen carefully and engage with care and love? It means asking more than just "How are you?" and expecting the standard answer. Like Jesus we may need to ask a second or maybe even a third question.

Jesus did it and it led to a conversation that "set their hearts on fire."

He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
19 "What things?" he asked.
32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"      (Luke24:17-32)

Monday, March 11, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-11 [Lent2019] Pilgrim - Prayers of Thanks

Pilgrim - Prayers of Thanks

Part of our congregation's Lent journey has been to adopt the word PILGRIM as an acronym to take us through the roughly six weeks to Easter. P is for Monday's, I is for Tuesdays, L is for Wednesdays and so on...

You can see the Pilgrim poster below...

So Mondays are:
Pray short prayers of gratitude throughout the day. Put your watch on the other arm (or something similar) to remind you...

When I first started reading the Bible, I battled with Paul's call to continual joy, prayer and thanks. I was intimidated by what seemed to me to be an impossible task. How could I study and pray, work and pray, cook and pray, etc.

But prayer isn't exclusively about closed eyes and thoughtful words offered to God even though this is important. Sometimes prayer is awareness of God's presence in all we do. Prayer can be observing hints of God's working and hearing the whisper of God. Sometimes prayer is an attitude of gratitude or the patience of waiting. Sometimes prayer is a sigh or a groan.

Years ago, reflecting on marriage, I wrote this:
"Brenda and I do many things together. Each day passes with us working side by side and sharing the ups and downs of each day. We are able to communicate constantly with words, grunts, smiles, signs, and expressions. In fact, we actually say very little - it isn't necessary. Prayer can be like this too..."

If we become sensitive to and aware of God's presence, we will be able to "spend the day with God". When I get this right, then my 'prayers' sound something like this:

  • (Driving in the car) 'What a beautiful morning Lord - thank you'
  • (later whilst looking around in traffic) 'Gosh, Lord, the lady in the car over there is crying - please would you be with her.'
  • (Arriving at the church) 'There's a lot to do today Lord, please give me the energy I need!'
  • (Faced with a pile of work) 'Groan! I need help Lord!'
  • and so on...

Joy and Gratitude are both attitudes and I don't think that Paul sandwiched Prayer between them by accident. I think each day can be a stream of communication between us and our ever-present God. You'll find that the words don't matter much.

Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus      (1Thessalonians5:16-19)

Friday, March 8, 2019

EmmDev 2019-03-08 [Lent2019] Basking


Yesterday, in two separate conversations with good friends, a similar concept came up. One friend talked about the Ash Wednesday service he'd been to where the priest had urged the congregation not to work too hard at abstaining in Lent, but actually to do less, and to actively "waste time with God." In other words, slow down and enjoy the presence and love of the Father.

In the other conversation I had we were talking about how often in churches we work hard on the quantity of our work for God instead of enjoying the quality of our relationship with Him.

The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 should actually be called the "tale of two brothers who didn't 'get' their dad." In this beautiful story Jesus describes the reaction of the older brother who is quick to quantify his work:
"Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends."
The older son worked with a transactional mindset: "I've slaved hard, therefore I should receive a reward."

The Father's answer is so deep...
You are always with me - your status is a given.
Possession/Inheritance/Reward is not based on performance but on our awareness of His love for us.

Even our Lent resolutions (whether we're abstaining or adding) won't earn us any more "merit" with God. They're good habits to build muscles of character, discipline and service in our lives, but they won't change how He feels about us.

The older son had absolute gold - he was in the presence of his Father. He just didn't realise what he had.

Here's your challenge for the weekend: Use the time to bask in the idea that you are beloved of God, that He chose you, delights in you, saved you and is with you.

'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.      (Luke15:31)

EmmDev 2019-03-07 [Lent2019] Ash and Oil

Ash and Oil

Our Ash Wednesday started on a tough note. We woke up to find that we had been burgled in the night. Only two phones were stolen. No-one was hurt and we are not too rattled by the incident. But the day was swallowed up with the aftermath of police reports, fingerprints and blocking phones etc.

It made me think a lot about Ash Wednesday though...

On Ash Wednesday we mix ash and oil and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads.

Ash reminds us of our mortality and is a sign of sorrow & repentance.
Oil is the symbol of Healing, Comfort, Blessing and Celebration.
And the Cross is the place of suffering.

These symbols were very prominent for me as we navigated yesterday.

I thought about Ash as I processed the brokenness of society (crime and violence), as I heard a friend's painful story of disappointment and betrayal, and recognised my own impatience when trying to arrange replacement phones etc.

I thought about Oil (the symbol of God's tender Holy Spirit) as I received comfort, calm, wisdom and inspiration throughout the day. As I was able to push the bully of fear aside and recognise God's hand in a chance encounter with an old friend and the encouraging conversation we had.

Lent is about preparing to contemplate the wonder of the Cross.
Lent is about opening our hearts anew and afresh to God.

King David failed badly and sinned horribly.
As he drew near to God, he did so with sincere remorse, but also great hope. He believed that Ash would be combined with Oil to bring healing. While he feared that his sin was grounds to be cast out of God's presence, he believed that God could change his heart and transform his life. As we look forward to Easter, we think of the One who was cast off and forsaken in our place so David and you and me could be made whole.

May this passage from Psalm 51 be our Lent prayer:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.      (Psalms51:10-12)

EmmDev 2019-03-01 [Sermon on the Mount] Conclusion: Where will we build?

Conclusion: Where will we build?

How many children's songs about the wise and foolish builders do you remember?
  • "Don't build your house on the sandy land..."
  • "Build your house upon the rock (X3) and it will staaaand!"
  • "The wise man built his house upon the rock... the rains came down and the floods came up... (and in vs2) ...and the house on the sand fell FLAT! (Accompanied by a hall full of kids collapsing flat on the ground)

There really is not much need to explain this passage - its plain sense is clear and obvious.

Three thoughts stand out:
Firstly, building well requires hearing and obedience. We often fail on both counts. Many of us have filled our lives with too much noise and activity and we just can't hear His guidance for our lives. When it comes to obeying, we rationalise, justify and make excuses because we're afraid, guilty, stubborn, proud and sinful. We need to quiet down and make time to hear where the firm ground is and we need to deal with the obstacles that prevent us building well.

Secondly, Jesus makes it clear that we must choose. There will always be choices. We need to be aware of them and we must develop the skills needed to make the right ones. This is particularly important when we raise children.

Thirdly, the rains and the wind will come. May we be ready.

And so we reach the end of the Sermon on the Mount...
Jesus started by announcing the blessedness (thus God's interest) of those considered the "underdogs". He raised the standards of ethics and morality to being a matter, not of rules, but of the heart. He powerfully promoted discretion in the matters of piety. He tackled the issues of possessions, what we focus on and the anxiety this can cause us. In ch.7 He speaks about our relationships with those we are tempted to judge, with toxic people, with God, with manipulative people and those who claim to know God.

The threads that weave throughout the story are:

  • God loves us relentlessly and looks and sees beyond exteriors.
  • When it comes to morals and ethics, God looks deep.
  • We have choices to make: Rock or Sand, God or Mammon, Trust or Worry, Lampstand or Bushel, Transformed from the inside by the Spirit or try to obey the law in my own strength...

It's my prayer that you've enjoyed this series!
What's been striking for you?

I will resume again next week on Ash Wednesday (Can you believe it is nearly Lent already?)

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.      (Matthew7:24-27)

EmmDev 2019-02-28 [Sermon on the Mount] The bottom line

The bottom line

The last relationship that comes up in Matthew 7 is a challenging one... Jesus, having spoken about judgementalism, toxic people and manipulative people talks about the danger of substituting activity for relationship. In this area we can easily be fooled and we can easily fool ourselves.

One of the things one of my earliest mentors said to me was that it was "easy to be so busy with the things of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the things." This is particularly true for those involved in active Christian ministry. Sermon prep is not the same as a time spent in personal Bible reading and reflection (a "Quiet Time") and prayers in the service or with people are not a substitute for a personal conversation with Jesus.

The example Jesus gives is striking: Here are people driving out demons and performing miracles and they are doing it in the name of the Lord. Two things are happening here: Firstly there is much that can be achieved by the power of human charisma - a stirring sermon can bring many people forward in an altar call, but sometimes people are responding to the preacher rather than to the Spirit. Secondly, God is merciful, He lets His grace (healing, miracles, exorcism) flow through broken and cracked vessels - He can work past our egos for the good of those who need His help. Paul hints at this in Philippians 1:18 where he notes that even though some preach out envy and rivalry, but he still rejoices that Christ is being preached.

There are two things that are central and form the bottom line:

  1. Are we doing the will of the Father?
  2. Do we know Him?

Every day there are many things that we can do. Many of these are noble and good. Not all of them are the will of the Father. More than our activity, the Lord wants us to have a personal relationship with Him.

The danger with frantic activity as that the "things of the Lord" become more attractive than the Lord of the things. And just because our activity seems fruitful, that doesn't make it good. He's asking us to prioritise our relationship with Him. Who knows? We might end up doing less, or doing other things, or we may do the same things with a new heart.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'      (Matthew7:21-23)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

EmmDev 2019-02-27 [Sermon on the Mount] The bad fruit of manipulation

The bad fruit of manipulation

The next relationship Jesus addresses in this chapter of the Sermon on the Mount is our relationship with those who claim to speak for God. Unfortunately there are many who would use the guise of faith to control and manipulate others.

My friend and colleague Christopher Judelsohn has offered the following five criteria to identify these dangerous leaders:

  1. Submission to a particular leader/s: If you are expected to accept a certain person or persons as your spiritual leader/father to whom you must, therefore, submit because they are the ones God is specifically talking to; walk away. Jesus is the only mediator between humanity and God. Yes, there are those called to lead in the Christian community, but we do not 'swear' allegiance to them. Jesus is the head of the church and he calls people into leadership who, together with others, discern what he requires of us. Leadership does not rest on one or two individuals.
  2. Claims to have the monopoly on the Gospel: If you are told that you can only follow Jesus in that particular community of faith because they are 'right' and others Christians are 'wrong', be careful.
  3. No transparency and accountability with the accounts/money: If you are refused access to the financials of a Christian community, then beware. There are no secrets in God's Kingdom, especially when it comes to the sensitive matter of finances.
  4. Spiritual and Emotional manipulation: If you feel emotionally and spiritually manipulated, walk away. Jesus NEVER manipulated anyone.
  5. Classes of Christians: This is where being saved by grace through faith is not enough and being told that there are other qualifications necessary before you can know that you are a 'true' Christian. This is a popular one, and unless you can do or experience these certain spiritual things, then you are not really a true believer.

Jesus used the idea that a tree cannot but bear the fruit of what it really is. The fruit of a person's life will add or subtract to the credibility of their words. Loveless words prefaced with "Thus says the Lord" should be doubted. Calls for commitment spoken from an opulent lifestyle should be doubted. Ambition for self with little service should be doubted. And the list can go on and on...

Someone once said to a preacher: "I'm sorry - who you are shouts so loud that no-one can hear a word you are saying."

Jesus warns that these kinds of trees will be cut down...

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.      (Matthew7:15-20)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

EmmDev 2019-02-26 [Sermon on the Mount] At the heart of relationships...

At the heart of relationships...

We've looked at three relationships so far:
- With those we tend to look down on and be judgemental of
- With those who tend to be abusive and dismissive
- With our Heavenly Father who opens, answers and finds

There are two more relationships to be explored:
- With those who claim to speak for God
- With those who claim to be near to God

But before we get to the last two relationships, Jesus offers us vital advice about relationships and the first part of His advice is probably the most widely quoted saying from the the Sermon on the Mount and is often called the "Golden Rule" - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This truly is at the heart of relationships.
We know how we would like to be treated...
There are three things that I believe everyone wants from others:

  • To be Valued: That they are Respected, Appreciated, Treasured, Included and Noticed.
  • To be Protected: That they are Nurtured, Defended, Provided for by others.
  • To be Offered Grace: A second chance when they make mistakes.
This is what Love does...

But this is not an easy road.
It is a narrow and difficult road.
Most people live self-focussed instead of being other-focussed.

We are called to live differently and it is not easy...

Which road are you on?

12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.      (Matthew7:12-14)

Theo Groeneveld
Emmanuel Presby Church
theo@emmanuel.org.za Cell: 082-5510752

Friday, February 22, 2019

EmmDev 2019-02-22 [Sermon on the Mount] The relationship you can rely on

The relationship you can rely on

As we have already noted, Matthew 7 is all about relationships. We've seen that we can't sit in God's seat to pronounce ultimate judgement over others, but we may and must be discerning about limiting the power of toxic people in our lives.

When we are tempted to judge people and when we have to avoid toxic people, there is a very serious danger that we can develop a critical spirit or that we stop trusting people. In other words we can become toxic ourselves.

Jesus addresses this danger by reminding us of a relationship we can be sure of and rely on: Our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

It's such a beautiful picture He offers us:

  • Our Father is responsive: we can ask, seek and knock and we will receive, find and be able to enter the opened door.
  • Our Father will not give us bad gifts.
  • And even when earthly fathers fail, our Heavenly Father will not.

Have you had a tough week where people have let you down?
Have you been so frustrated by people's failures that you have become hyper-critical and cynical? Have you been badly hurt by people you gave your "pearls" to? Are you in danger of becoming toxic yourself?

Jesus invites us to return to our Father...

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!       (Matthew7:7-10)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

EmmDev 2019-02-21 [Sermon on the Mount] Pearls and Pigs

Pearls and Pigs

The day before yesterday we reflected on Jesus' warning that we should not become the judge on the bench... Today, to some degree, we move in the opposite direction... While we must not be judgmental of others, we must also not be unwise about the company we keep...
(This is a major theme in the book of Proverbs)

Sadly there are toxic, judgemental, callous, cruel and harmful people in the world. Jesus warns us not to give them our pearls...

There is no judgement here, He's not condemning them. While using the labels "dogs" and "pigs" may sound insulting and demeaning, it could be argued that Jesus is actually simply depersonalising them. This is not "Simon" or "Nancy" (or any other name) but just someone behaving in a way that humans shouldn't behave.

And what is Jesus advice? Don't give them your treasures.
We're not asked to judge them, fix them or punish them but to be circumspect - we mustn't hand over our valuables (our trust, our loyalty, our heartache, our pain, our vulnerability) to them. In other words, don't put yourself in a position where you can be abused.

We can be kind, we can be gracious, but we must not be abused.

This becomes tricky when we try to come alongside needy people.
Sometimes our care (our spiritual, emotional, material or financial pearls) can be abused...
Sometimes this is because people just don't know better or because they have suffered terribly and, with time and love, their hearts can change. But sometimes they just won't. Then we need to take our "pearls" or "seed" to a space where it won't be trampled.

In short, Jesus is alerting us to the fact that human beings can become so toxic that they are purely destructive, and we should not invest ourselves in such people.

"Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.      (Matthew7:6)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

EmmDev 2019-02-19 [Sermon on the Mount] The Dock and the Bench

The Dock and the Bench

As we move into chapter seven, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount touches on the area of relationships - to others, to evil people, to our Father, to false prophets and to those who claim to walk with God.

Our section today is about judging others and is one of the most often quoted and misunderstood passages. John Stott notes that the Russian author Leo Tolstoy used these verses to justify his idea that all legal courts were wrong. While most people would affirm the need for a justice system, these verses are often quoted by a society that promotes a "hyper-tolerance" that will allow and accept any behaviour (short of actual crime) under the banner of "judge not lest ye be judged" (and these verses are almost always quoted in King James' English).

The irony is that Jesus Himself refutes this kind of hyper-tolerance in the rest of the chapter: He urges us not to throw our pearl before swine and dogs and he warns about false prophets and those who claim to be "tight" with God. So He is not averse to recognising evil, falsehood and deception.

So how do we understand Jesus' instruction about not judging?
I think the key lies in answering the question "How would I like a healthy and just society to treat me? (Especially if I am behaving destructively)" If I had made a mistake and caused pain, I would hope that society would give me the benefit of the doubt and a chance to try again. If I were addicted to my destructive behaviours, my sincere hope is that society would do what it could to prevent me from causing further pain and help me change my ways - but I would want them to do this with grace and justice.

When I don't treat people the way that I want to be treated then I am a hypocrite. And this hypocrisy goes further... Jesus powerfully illustrates this with the image of the speck and the plank: the truth is that many of us judge with a double standard - we are harsher to and more critical of others than we are of ourselves.

We'd be better off standing close to others and seeing ourselves in them and treating them as we'd like to be treated in a just and caring society than standing at a distance wanting to assume that we know better.

John Stott helpfully uses the language of the courtroom when he says that those who want to sit on the bench (the place of the One and Only Righteous Judge) will find themselves in the dock (the place of the accused)...

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.      (Matthew7:1-5)

Friday, February 15, 2019

EmmDev 2019-02-15 [Sermon on the Mount] Perspectives on Worry (Part 2)

Perspectives on Worry (Part 2)

We saw yesterday that we can be too full of care about possessions, the future, clothes and food.

Jesus uses some beautiful images and powerful arguments to remind us that we can "trust an unknown future to a known God" (This is one of Corrie Ten Boom's favourite sayings - Corrie and her family hid Jewish refugees from the Nazis and she was eventually captured and thrown into a Nazi concentration camp. There in the camp she lived by faith day by day, keeping her faith and love even through the horrors of her situation):

  1. Life is more important than its fuel and a body is more important than the clothes we hang on it. So often we get this sequence wrong, we put food and clothes before the gift of life and body. The former (food and clothes) are functional, whereas the latter are a Gift. We can make and earn food and clothes, but we can't make or earn life or a body.
  2. The birds of the air live day to day - they're not lazy - they 'forage' for each day's food, but they don't stress about the distant future and yet they are provided for by our Father who feeds them daily.
  3. As much as we stress about things, we aren't actually in control. We can't even extend our lives by an hour.
  4. Flowers and grass are given a beauty that far surpasses our best efforts and yet these are temporary whereas we are known and loved by God.
  5. Pagans (those who don't believe in or know God) run after the cares of the earth whereas we can be confident in the goodness of our heavenly Father who knows best what we need. When we marinate in "merimnate" (Worry/Anxiety/Stress) we're behaving like those who have no God to believe in. Martin Luther who we recognise as one of the giants of the Reformation, although positive by nature, could be prone to dark bouts of depression and worry. On one occasion even a holiday and retreat couldn't shift the darkness. His wife, Katherine, took matters into her own hands... Martin walked into the lounge to find Katherine and all the children dressed in black looking very mournful. When he asked who had died she answered: "Have you not heard that God is dead? My husband, Martin Luther, would never be in such a state of mind if he had a living God to trust in." It is said that Martin burst out laughing and his depression lifted.
  6. People talk about a hierarchy of needs (Maslow talked about a pyramid starting at the bottom with the basic needs of hunger, thirst and shelter moving upward to more esoteric needs.) But there also needs to be an inverted pyramid of priority. The tip on which this pyramid stands is the will and purpose of God for our lives. From this all else will flow.
  7. Life should be taken one day at a time. This doesn't mean that we mustn't plan, but we are being invited to live in today and plan for tomorrow, instead of dreading tomorrow and missing today.

Read our passage for today to identify these images and arguments. Which of them impact your most?

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.      (Matthew6:25-34)