Friday, May 31, 2019

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

Good good Father #3

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

Songwriters: Anthony Brown / Pat Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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

Good good Father #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

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

Good good Father #1

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

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

The nature of faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 24, 2019

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

When it's really tough...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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

The straw that breaks...

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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

It's more than OK to ask for prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-21 [Keeping Going...] The Fruity Choice

The Fruity Choice

The picture you see is my view for my Quiet Time this morning. We've been blessed by friends who have let us use their timeshare and so we have a few days at Crystal Springs near Pilgrim's Rest.

As I had my devotions, the words of Max Lucado from his book "When God whispers your name" came to mind...

I'd like to share them with you. (You may have seen them before, but please read slowly and thoughtfully...)

It's quiet. It's early. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming.

In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met. For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day's demands. It is now that I must make a choice.

Because of Calvary, I'm free to choose. And so I choose.
I choose love. No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.

I choose joy. I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical... the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.

I choose peace. I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

I choose patience. I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I'll invite Him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.
I choose kindness. I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.
I choose goodness. I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

I choose faithfulness. Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.
I choose gentleness. Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice, may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.

I choose self-control. I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful-ness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.       (Galatians5:22-23)

Friday, May 17, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-17 [Keeping Going...] Discouragement - Encouragement

Discouragement - Encouragement

There is a story that Hell went out of business and Satan had to sell all his weapons. Doubt was on sale for a million dollars, murder was on sale for two million, deception was one-and-a-half million, and many others at similar prices. At the end of the table was a small box. It was on sale for a whopping ten million! One had to squint to read the writing on the box. It read "Discouragement."

Discouragement is one of the most pernicious enemies Christians face.

Here's how it works:

  • It sneaks up on you slowly.
  • It doesn't happen to you because you are sinning, but because you are doing right.
  • It's a little bit of tiredness here, a little bit of being taken for granted there, a bit of uphill in the road here and a bit of loneliness there and before you know it, your get-up-and-go has got up and left!
  • Once the get-up-and-go is gone, service to God and others becomes a bit of a slog, and, if it is not checked, you begin measure the personal cost of the service and before you know it, you're feeling sorry for yourself and the work for the Lord isn't fun any more!

So what is the antidote?

We get encouraged in two important ways:

  1. Meeting together with God's people. We see others serving too. We see God moving in our midst and lives being changed and it makes it all worth it.
  2. We encourage each other. This is so important. If you see a fellow believer serving faithfully, take the time to pat them on the back and say "Good Job!" or drop them a text message or an email or write them a note. Get alongside and help if you see that the load is heavy. Remember them in your prayers.

We all need courage to keep serving God.
Life tends to dis-courage (i.e. pull courage apart e.g. dis-member dis-able)
But God's call is to "en"courage.
"En" is the Greek preposition for inward...
Our job is to put the courage back into people.

Let's instil courage back into those around us!

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

EmmDev 2019-05-07 Government


We are on the eve of elections in South Africa. Tomorrow we go draw our crosses and participate in the process of governance in our land.

In the wake of corruption, scandals and leadership failures, there are many who are negative: about voting, about systems of governance and particularly about the diminishing overtly Christian practices in our government.

If anyone had reason to be negative about the governing powers, it was Paul. Rome was a totalitarian state that taxed its people heavily and enforced this with military might. Its leaders were morally, ethically and spiritually corrupt and, ultimately, Rome would persecute the church and Paul would be beheaded by the state.

Paul wrote about government to the church in Rome. This congregation's members would be driven into the catacombs and would face gladiators and lions. His views are so surprising, that I am surprised that some well-meaning copyist didn't leave these verses out! But this is what I love about the Bible: It doesn't just tell us what we want to hear, but also what we need to hear.

As we read the text, we see Paul making a number of points:

  1. God establishes government. Our world is a broken world and so no government is perfect and no leader is perfect, but God causes nations to rise and fall, He raises kings and princes and works out His purposes in the ebb and flow of history. It is important to note that God establishes authority and not individuals. It is never about people, but about governance. God establishes authority for the welfare of society. ("For he is God's servant to do you good") If your authority is not acting for the good of the people, use the system to move them out.
  2. We should not rebel against authority (unless we are being asked to do something contrary to God's will and even then we must still act lovingly). We should do what is right and pay taxes because this creates a stable and functioning society. When we don't, chaos ensues and so authority must also deal with those who do wrong.
  3. We should do right, not because of fear of punishment, but for the sake of conscience. The best governments instill a sense of self-governance in its citizens.
  4. We should also be as respectful as possible. This is tough, especially when our leaders behave badly. We don't have to tolerate bad behaviour, but respect their position
  5. At the end of the day, we need to fulfil our duties (or debt) to society. But even after we have "ticked all the boxes" there is one task that remains and this is to love.

Children draw kisses as little x-crosses. If you are voting tomorrow, let your x be a reminder that, above all else, you are being called to love your fellow human being. Imagine if we all started doing this!

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow human has fulfilled the law.      (Romans13:1-8)