Hoping against Hope

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Hoping against Hope

Text: Romans 4:18-22

Today, I would like to share on the subject of hope. If there was a time when we needed to keep our hope alive, it is now. Every other day signs of hopelessness and despair keep manifesting in our society. People are increasingly giving up on life — some even attempting suicide. God is reminding us today to keep on hoping.

What Hope is Not

Before we can see what hope is, we need to know what hope is not. For one, hope is not sheer optimism or wishful thinking. Optimism is a belief that things or the world will get better. Optimistic people always look at the bright side of life—and this can sometimes be helpful. Although optimists hope for the best, there is no guarantee that the best will ever come. But hope is more than that. Hope is also forward looking but it is active (rather than passive). It is not just wishful thinking. Hope anticipates something we are certain will happen. In this sense, hope is intrinsically connected to faith because both of them are based on the promise (or Word) of God. There may be a lot of things happening around us, but there is also the certainty of God’s promise.

What Hope Is

One Bible character that illustrates hope vividly and concretely, is Abraham. His story is amazing. We do not have much information about Abraham until he is 75 years old. Think about that for a moment. Some people are still in their twenties or even younger and they have already given up on life. So, God calls Abraham at age 75 and tells him to leave his extended family, his culture and his country—and go to a place God would show him. Life was just about to begin! In obedience to God’s word, Abraham leaves for a destination he has no idea about. But also, God gives Abraham—who until now has been childless—a promise of a son. Remember it is at age 75 and his wife Sarah is ten years younger than him! But Abraham believes God’s promise. He waits for another 25 years before he could have a son. The book of Romans 4:18-23 describes Abrahams hope and faith for us:

Romans 4:18-22: Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead —since he was about a hundred years old —and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
I believe there is a lot that we can learn from Abraham about Christian hope.

1. Hope is grounded is reality.

Hope does not deny what is happening. It acknowledges that things are the way they are—although they could be better. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead —since he was about a hundred years old —and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. As I already mentioned, Christian hope goes beyond sheer optimism and wishful thinking. For us to be truly hopeful we have to face our realities head-on. These could be personal challenges, pains or struggles. They could also be systemic injustices in our community. We cannot live in denial and be hopeful at the same time. For Abraham and Sarah, they knew that the biological clock was not in their favor. …he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead —since he was about a hundred years old —and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. What are those realities that you have to confront? What are those pains, struggles, injustices, and failures you have to admit? What are those circumstances; those facts that almost make you feel hope-less; that make you feel like giving up? Name them. When we face our realities, we wrestle with them, we weep, we lament, we repent and we surrender them to God. This becomes the seedbed for hope. When we name our challenges, we disempower them. We deny them the opportunity to keep us down.

2. Hope sees beyond reality.

While hope refuses to deny what is happening around us, it does not end there. It goes ahead to interpret reality from God’s perspective. It does not only see things are they are but goes beyond to envision them as God said they would be. It refuses to be bogged down by the pressures of the circumstances. In a sense Christian hope is stubborn.
Romans 4:19-20: Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead —since he was about a hundred years old —and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.

Our Christian hope goes beyond what we see with our physical eye, the painful experiences we go through, the injustices we are subjected to. We hope against hope. We see justice and equity in the face of injustice. We see hope amidst hopelessness. We see life in the face of death.

But how would this even be possible? Why would a terminally sick man still be hopeful? Why would survivors of a financial downturn or even a genocide be hopeful? Why would believers living in the most tyrannical and oppressive countries remain hopeful? It is because our hope is grounded on something—or even better—Someone greater than our circumstances. We are hopeful regardless of the things around us because of who God is and what He has promised. Romans 4: 21 tells us that Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

God is able to do what He has promised to do. He is faithful and able. Like the old hymn goes, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Our hope is not built on our own ambitions or accomplishments. It is not built on our political systems or the economies of this world. Our hope is built on Jesus Christ. Any other basis for hope is shaky and unreliable. It is like “sinking sand.” Christian hope is the patient expectation of what God has promised. But it is not merely futuristic, it also looks backwards at what God has done in the past. God cannot lie. He is completely trustworthy. Our hope is anchored in him. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). It is our hope in God that keeps our feet on the ground amidst the uncertain storms of life. It is our hope in God that causes us to refuse to give up or even despair amidst pain and rejection. It is our hope in God that causes us to lament, resist, imagine and prophetically engage with our communities. It is our hope in God that causes us to envision a better and wholesome communities despite the brokenness that we see and experience. Do not give up, keep hoping—even if it means hoping against hope. God bless you.

Resilience in a Tough World; Lessons from Nehemiah

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Back in the day we used to sing a song that went like this: “Life is full of perplexing situations…but we can have victory over every matter if we learn to wait upon the Lord.” For many of us there are many situations that work against us. It is clear that God has given us a vision; that we have goals but there are serious obstacles on our way. Whether it is an unexpected terminal illness, a financial or business crunch, or family disruptions. There are many examples of people in the Bible who demonstrated resilience in tough times. Resilience is the ability to recover or bounce back after going through tough situations. Today we will focus on Nehemiah, a man who showed an exceptional quality of resilience as he led his countrymen to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem amidst very harsh external opposition of Israel’s enemies and internal spiritual decline of the people of Jerusalem.

1. Faith in God

To have faith is to put our total trust in God. This is very important if we are to be resilient. When you have faith in God you will pray, knowing that God will help you. He will guide you. He will open unexpected doors. He will give you the strength that you need. You will gain the confidence to confront the insurmountable circumstances in your life. He will give you wisdom on how to deal with certain situations. When Nehemiah was faced with opposition, he turned to God for protection. In Nehemiah 4, we read that

Sanballat…ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble —burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Nehemiah 4:1-3). This is how Nehemiah responded: Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity (Nehemiah 4:4).

Because of his faith in God, he was also able to encourage his team: After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14

2. Focus on The Goal

Resilient people keep focused on the main goal. At the same time, set out short term goals that you want to accomplish. Learn to celebrate once you achieve a milestone, even if it doesn’t seem to be that great. Over time, those seemingly small milestones will compound to great accomplishments. Focus helps us to put our present challenges in perspective. In Romans 8:18, Apostle Paul reminds us that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Nehemiah faced opposition from his enemies but He remained focused on the main goal. In Nehemiah 6:1-4 we read that
2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

He did not give room to the enemy to distract him. He remained focused. It can be very easy to give up or be distracted if we do not keep the big picture in focus and also learn to start small and celebrate every milestone we accomplish. Learn to celebrate the process. Do not deprive yourself joy because you are waiting to celebrate when you reach that big goal. Learn to discern how God is at work even in those seemingly mundane things—and give him thanks.

3. First Things First

Resilient people know how to put first things first. They have their priorities right. Many times, we struggle a lot because we do not have our priorities right. This causes us a lot of stress and anxiety. Setting the right priorities will save you from unnecessary pressure. You will learn to say “no” to certain things including good ones. You will know how best to spend your energy, time and other resources. You will focus most of your energies on things that really matter. You need to ask, “What has God called me to be?” This is a question about your vocation. The second question is about your life’s purpose and vision. What on earth am I here for? How does God want me to live for Him and serve Him? How has God equipped me to serve His purpose? This has to do with your gifts, passions, training, experiences and perhaps resources.

Nehemiah was a man who had his priorities right. The project was about rebuilding the wall but ministry was to the people. The goal was God’s honor and glory. It is no wonder that when he received the news about the broken walls of Jerusalem, the first thing he did was to pray, fast, repent and ask for God’s favor. “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).

When Nehemiah received reports that some of the vulnerable people in Jerusalem were treated unjustly by their rich and powerful countrymen, he intervened (Nehemiah 5:1-19). It wouldn’t help much to build a wall but within it were people who were deeply wounded and divided. Nehemiah 5:6-8 says:
6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

4. Flexibility

I previously shared about flexibility as the ability to adjust plans and strategies as you carry on with your vision. Your life-calling (vocation), purpose and vision may not change but you must learn to constantly adjust strategies for accomplishing the vision as the times and circumstances change. For instance, many people, families and institutions have had to adjust their plans and strategies in order to survive or even thrive in these very tough times. We have had to adapt to online and virtual means of communication. Much of the formal learning in educational institutions is being moved online. We have to innovate new ways to live, learn, relate, or transact businesses. Nehemiah had to constantly change strategies in order to counter opposition and continue with his mission of rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah 4:16-18 says:
16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.

This was by no means a convenient way of building the wall. But it was necessary to protect the people against the enemies without stopping the work of building. Flexibility means that we will have to think through the options available to us so that will continue with the mission God has given us. Some options may not be convenient. Some will stretch us out of our comfort zones. We may have to do things in ways we never thought we would. We may have to adjust our budgets. As long as it honors the Lord, let us be open and flexible as we pursue our God-given vision.

Nehemiah’s story has a very beautiful ending. Despite all the external opposition and the internal challenges, “the wall was completed…in fifty-two days” (Nehemiah 6:15). My prayer for you is that you will not only survive the crises that you may encounter but rather thrive in them. God is there to help you. Keep your faith in Him. Remain focused on the main goal while celebrating the small milestones. Keep the first things first. And, be ready to be flexible by adjusting your plans and strategies as you pursue your vision.

Being Accountable in a Local Church

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. Titus 1:5

In today’s message, we will look at the last message in our series, Back to the Basics. One of the essential characteristics of the Church of Christ is the accountability of believers in the context of a local church. As we saw a few weeks ago, the early church was an accountable church. The local churches that gathered in different houses were also accountable to the apostolic leadership of Paul, Titus, Timothy and others. In Titus 1:5 we see Paul sending Titus to undertake the responsibility of appointing elders in every town in Crete. This implies that an elder could have been responsible for several house churches.

The times that we live in make it harder for some people to be accountable to church leadership or even fellow believers. Accountability is particularly challenging during these times because believers are not physically gathering in church buildings on a weekly basis. Also, there are believers who do not feel it is important to be committed to a particular local church. They would rather hop from one fellowship to another. It is very easy for some people to be on their own with no sense of Christian responsibility. It, therefore, takes a certain level of discipline to keep oneself accountable. It is not something that comes automatically. It is something we have to intentionally work out.


Why is accountability important?

  1. A Healthy Community Requires Accountable Individuals

Accountability means that we take responsibility for our actions. We also allow other people to hold us responsible for how we live. Last week we saw that the reason we have to remain connected with other believers is because we were created to live in community. And for us to create a healthy community, we all must be accountable to one another. Just as children grow in the context of a nuclear family, God’s design is that Christians are nurtured in the context of a local church. You were not called to be a believer-at-large. Families provide the context of a child to grow and be nurtured to become a responsible citizen. They provide the food a child needs to grow, give counsel and provide a sense of belonging—a sense of identity. Every family has a culture that is important in shaping their identity and values. In the same way, your local church helps you have a sense of identity as a believer. It also provides you a context to grow and serve. The Bible tells us that “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

  1. Authority Can Only Be Appropriately Used If One Is Accountable

In Matthew 8 there is a story of a Roman Centurion, a commander of a group of Roman soldiers. His words to Jesus help us to understand the concept of authority and accountability. This is how the story goes:

Matthew 8:5-10: When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” 7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” 8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

The Centurion understood the power of the authority of Jesus Christ because he had learnt to be under authority. He was accountable. Authority can only be appropriately used if one is also under authority. In many ways, our level of accountability to human authority can also affect our faith in Jesus Christ. If you are insubordinate and rebellious towards the people God has brought into your life, I doubt how you can grow in your walk with Jesus.  

  1. How We Conduct Our Lives Now Has Eternal Consequences.

The choices we make have consequences—and some of these consequences are eternal.  God expects us to be accountable in this life. Also, we will ultimately give an account on how we lived when we get to heaven. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says that “…we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” How we conduct our lives today has eternal consequences.


How Do I Develop the Character of Accountability?

  1. Be an Active Member of Your Local Church.

Get involved in your church’s programs. Support your church’s ministry initiatives. As I already mentioned, your local church gives you a context to grow and serve. There are many ways to participate in your local church. Find an area where you can serve regularly. Be a regular and generous giver. It doesn’t matter how much you have or give; it is all about the state of your heart. 2 Corinthians 8:12 tells us that “…if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”

  1. Submit to The Leadership of Your Local Church.

Follow the vision of the pastor. Pray for the leadership.  The leaders communicate the vision and mission of the local church. They provide strategic direction of the ministry. The leadership of the local church also gives spiritual and doctrinal oversight. Over and over again the Bible exhorts the leaders to give attention to the proper handling of God’s Word.

I always tell people that if you are a member of a local church whose leadership you feel you cannot submit to, prayerfully find another fellowship to be part of. God requires you to submit to the leadership of your local church. Hebrews 13:17tells us to “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

Accountability also means submitting to the discipline of the church if need arises. I know that this might sound old fashioned and even ridiculous to some people but we cannot talk of proper accountability if there is no willingness to submit to church discipline. After all, discipline simply means doing what I am supposed to do whether I like it or not. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.””

  1. Walk in the Light.

Let your private and public life be a testimony to those around you. Find a few mature Christian friends to whom you can be open. Let them be your accountability partners. Confess your sins to one another. Determine to be a person of integrity. Admit your failures, ask for forgiveness and forsake whatever does not honor Christ. Secret sins can hurt us deeply. They affect our fellowship with the Lord and our relationship with other people. The Bible tells us that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Again, being accountable does not come to us naturally. It is something we have to learn to do. It is a discipline that we have cultivate. But it is something that honors God. Accountability, in the context of a local church, helps us to grow in our faith in Jesus Christ.

Remain Connected

Remain Connected
By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Today, I continue with the sermon series, “Back to the Basics,” where we reflect on how to be a vibrant church in spite of the tough times we are going through. We have been looking at some lessons we can learn from the early church. Last week we looked at the aspect of being flexible. Flexibility is the character that enables us to adjust our plans as God leads us. Today we will look at the second aspect of remaining connected with other believers. Two weeks ago, we saw that the believers in the early church were connected to one another. They were not isolated in separate communes but rather different churches kept in touch with churches in other locations and shared different resources.

Created to Belong

We are to remain connected with other believers because we were created to belong to God and to live in a community. The internet and the rise of social media have amplified the need for humanity to be connected. But getting connected or networked is not a just recent innovation. It is something inherently human. Even the most introverted persons can only enjoy living in isolation for a limited amount of time. We were never meant to live in isolation. We were created to live in community. I believe that the reason why a human baby takes a relatively longer time to mature and become independent as compared say, to animals, is because God wants us to bond and form strong communities.

The Bible uses the image of the “body” to emphasize the interconnected nature of believers. We are the “Body of Christ” and each believer is a part of the body. This means that you have an important role to play in the ministry of the church. Just like the different parts of a human body, we are all different. Our giftings are different, our temperaments are different, our social statuses may also be different. We may have different experiences and living in different contexts but we are part of one Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 says:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Verse 27 goes on to say that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

The unity of believers is a spiritual reality that is expressed in tangible and practical ways. We are one in Christ but we have to make effort to keep the unity. That’s what Ephesians 4:3 tells us. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. How are you contributing to the unity of Christ? In what ways are you making effort to remain connected with other believers?

Love is the Bedrock

Love is the bedrock of our connectedness, otherwise we can easily manipulate and use others. Without love, many of our relationships can easily become transactional; I relate with you because of what I want from you. As someone said, some people love things and use people. This is a corrupted way of living. The right way to live is to love people and use things.

Jesus said that our love for one another as believers is one single most strategy for sharing the Gospel. When we put aside our differences and focus on the agenda of God’s kingdom, people will be drawn to God. John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Apostle Paul says that love is the most excellent way to live and do ministry. Ministry and anything we do that is not undergirded by our love for God and for His people is empty and meaningless. This is what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Therefore, our connectedness with other believers should be motivated by our love for God and our brothers and sisters. We want to remain connected with them because we love them. We cherish who they are in Christ, and appreciate what God is doing in their lives. We relate with them not as their benefactors or dependents but rather as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We acknowledge that God has endowed us differently, and therefore we need one another.

Love and humility go hand in hand. It takes humility for us to keep the unity and the connectedness between us and other believers. Philippians 2:1-5 exhorts us to imitate the humility of Christ.

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Romans 12:10 tells us that “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

Kingdom Partners

We need to develop a Kingdom mindset where we see ourselves not in competition but rather in cooperation. We are called to complement one another. There is no individual believer or local church that is self-sufficient. If we share our resources, we promote the agenda of the kingdom of God. We are called to support one another, to care for one another, to rejoice with one another, to mourn with those who mourn. We are to share resources for the sake of building God’s kingdom.

In 2 Corinthians 8:14 we read an account where Apostle Paul encourages the church in Corinth to raise support for the church in Jerusalem that is going through challenges. He tells them, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality….” In Romans 12:13, we are encouraged to “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

In Hebrews 3:13, we are exhorted to encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. There are many ways to remain connected. If the early church believers remained connected without the benefits of cars, telephones, internet and other privileges available to us today, how about us? How are you actively engaged with other believers in your local church. These are challenging times but still God wants us to remain connected. We may be physically isolated but we should remain socially and spiritually engaged. Develop a habit of praying for your friends and partners by name. Call some people and ask if there is any way you can be of help to them. If the health guidelines permit, meet up with a few for a cup of tea or coffee. Remember that you are a vital part of the Body of Christ. Your talents, your spiritual gifts, your resources, your experiences are needed in the kingdom of God. Therefore, make an effort to remain connected with the rest of the Body. God bless you.

Back to The Basics – Reimagining Church Beyond Buildings

Back to The Basics

By Pr. Emmanuel Akatukunda

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:8 – 9).

Of late I have been reflecting on an uncomfortable question. What if Church buildings were to remain closed for a little longer? How will ministry look like? I have listened from my fellow pastors, and many of us are waiting for time to come when we will return to “normal.” This is a fair and understandable desire. Personally, I would rather that church buildings and gatherings were allowed to open and we go back to the good old days.

But supposing this were not to happen, at least any time soon? Supposing God wants us to reset how we understand and do church? Could it be possible that we have become too comfortable by associating church with buildings. Could God be saying something to us but we are busy waiting to have our own way. Have we become so accustomed to building our empires that we fear to lose them? These are very uncomfortable questions—even for me.

As we pray and wait to go back to the good old days, we need to remember that there are millions of Christians who live in contexts where church buildings are not normal. They live in places where Christianity is a minority. There are Christians whom the house church is the only church they know. People who study the current church growth patterns say that China has perhaps the largest number of Christians in the world. Most of these Christians do not meet in designated church buildings. They are an underground movement. There are reports of vibrant churches even in so-called “creative access” countries. This is a fancy word for countries like North Korea where the preaching of the gospel is restricted. All I am trying to say is that God is at work even in places where Church buildings are not the norm. For us who are blessed to be in countries where we are free to preach the gospel and gather in public spaces, we should be grateful for such a privilege. I know that things are very difficult in many ways. We have never faced anything like this before—not even during when our country was at war. But must also acknowledge that this situation did not take God by surprise. He allowed it for a purpose.

Going Back to the Basics

But we should also be aware that these privileges can blind us from the real meaning of church and ministry. If there is one thing that the Lord would want us to learn during this time, it is to realign our priorities. We need to return to the basics. Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:8 – 9 are very important for the times that we live in: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.”

Paul was, so to speak, quarantined. His freedoms were highly restricted. He was facing an impeding execution. It was not because he was criminal but because of the Gospel. Despite the physical and emotional constraints, Paul was confident that the Gospel was not quarantined. God’s Word is not chained. Hallelujah! This is great news! The Gospel thrives even in the worst of contexts. If Paul could preach the Gospel in one of the worst Roman prisons. If our brothers and sisters in China, North Korea and other parts of the world where the preaching of the gospel is restricted can still preach the Gospel, we too have no slightest reason to complain.

We need to go back to the basics. Paul’s charge to Timothy is a reminder to all of us of the basic nature of the Gospel. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel (2 Timothy 2:8). Whatever we have made of the Gospel, the Word of God is clear. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ—raised from the dead. This is where is all begins. Last week I shared about two basic things about the church. The church is not a building but rather a people of God. Two, the church is essential because God works through her to advance His Kingdom.

The early New Testament church can provide for us a blueprint for what the church looks like. Now, I should add that the early church was not an ideal church. Each local church was unique and had its unique characteristics and challenges. But there are things that were common with them.

Be flexible

They did not have elaborate church buildings but rather met in homes. Very often Apostle Paul sent greetings to churches that met in people’s houses. Remember church is about people. Romans 16:3-5 he sends greetings to “Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.” In Philemon verses 1 and 2 Paul sends greetings to “Philemon…and to the church that meets in your home.” Remember that the earliest Christians were formerly followers of Judaism but when they became Christians, they were eventually stopped from meeting in the temple and Jewish synagogues. The believers had no choice but to reinvent how they could gather and have meaningful fellowships. Meeting in homes was a practical way of solving a challenge they faced. The point here is not that we should sell our church builds and resort to homes; no. We rather need to be flexible in the way we do church and have meaningful fellowship. 

Remain Connected

The early believers were connected with other believers. They shared resources. The church in Colossae was in touch with the church in Laodicea. In Colossians 4:15-16, believers are instructed to “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” The churches in Macedonia and Corinth supported the church in Jerusalem when they had a need. They were living out the true nature of being the body of Christ.

Be Accountable

The early church was an accountable church. The churches acknowledged the apostolic leadership of Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus and others. The Apostles gave spiritual oversight, doctrinal guidance, and leadership oversight. In Titus 1:5 we learn that Paul left Titus in Crete that he “might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” Clearly, Titus was under Paul’s leadership. The leaders in Crete were also accountable to Titus. The believers also gave financial support to their leaders. This enabled the leaders to focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer. Where and when necessary some leaders worked with their own hands to provide for their living.

This time is particularly challenging for Christian leaders. We need a spirit of discernment. It is not easy. Does the Lord want you to rethink how you have been doing ministry? Do you need to find something more to do to supplement your income? Does the Lord want you to press on despite the challenges?

But this is also a time of great testing for all believers. The Lord knows those who are His. Some who were thought to be believers will fall away. Some who are weak may stumble. We need to reach out to them. Those who are strong in the Lord will grow stronger. We need to encourage them to keep the faith. Let us be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.

The church buildings may be closed but the gospel is not. There are vast opportunities to share the gospel. There are many ways to remain connected. We need to remain accountable to the leadership God has given us. As I close, I pray that the words of Paul that we read will be an encouragement to us. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:8 – 9).

Is Church Essential?

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

The COVID-19 situation has introduced us to new terminologies such as “essential services.” Of course, it is the government that determines what the essential services are. Currently there is debate in our country whether churches should be reopened or remain closed. This begs the question whether church is among the essential services or not. So, is church essential? Why does it matter? For us to answer the question, we need to first define what church is. Also, we need to ask why the church is essential.

What is Church?

When many people talk about church they are thinking of either buildings or denominations. Therefore, you hear people talk about “my church” or so and so’s church. But the Biblical idea of church is different. Church is neither a building nor a denomination. Let us look at what Jesus says about the church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Peter that “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.” Jesus tells us that the church is His. He says, “I will build my church.” This is a very important revelation. So, the church is not a human idea, or something that belongs to the state or to a certain institution. Nothing will stand in the way of the church and prevail. “The gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Gates are barriers; something that are to hinder progress. The church of Christ is dynamic and triumphant. Nothing will stop it from advancing the kingdom of God.

The church belongs to Christ. In Ephesians 1:22-23, the Bible tells us that “God placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” In Ephesians 5:25-27 we see that Christ’s love for the church is the model of how husbands are to love their wives. Husbands are commanded to love their wives, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Christ loves and cherishes the church as His own bride.

As we can see from the above scriptures, the church is inseparably connected to Christ. When one persecutes the church, they are persecuting Christ. Do you remember the story of Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus before he became a believer in Jesus Christ?
Let’s turn to Acts 9:1-5: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. Paul thought that he was persecuting errant heretics who had deserted the Jewish faith. He did not know that by persecuting Christ’s followers, he was persecuting Christ Himself.

Therefore, according to the Word of God, the church is not a building or an institution. It is not a human creation. It is not a personal enterprise. It belongs to Christ. It is His Body. It is His bride. It is a community of all those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their savior. Church is about people and not buildings. Church buildings can and may be closed but the church of Christ can never be closed. Nothing will stand in the way of the church and prevail.

Is the Church Essential?

The second question for us to ask is whether the church is essential. The straight forward answer is “yes.” But the essential nature of the church is not obvious to the world. The passage we just read in Ephesians 1:23 tells us that the church is the body of Christ, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” The church is Christ’s representative in the world. Through the church Christ exercises his authority on earth. We derive our existence and power from Jesus Christ. We are His body; His feet and hands. Through the church God advances His kingdom. Through the church, Christ touches and transforms the world. The church is the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are Christ’s ambassadors, through whom God makes His appeal to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are the official representatives of Jesus Christ in this world. We are co-workers with Him.

Now What?

Since we now know what the church is and how essential it is, the question to you and me is “now what?” What is your role? What is your contribution? For one, you need to know that you are part of the body of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 tells us that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Therefore, use the gifts and talents God has given you to serve others. Even during this lockdown situation, you can find ways to minister to the people around you. Some Christians behave like they are on holiday from “church” since public gatherings were stopped. They have stopped praying, contributing to the financial needs of the local church or even witnessing Christ to those around them. I would like to encourage you to get involved in the life of your local church. Pray; give; reach out. Be an active part of the body.

You are part of the church you have been waiting for. And since you are part of the church, God works through you to confront the gates of hell. Remember that God has given us a wonderful promise that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church. As the salt of the earth, you are to influence the world around you with your Christlike actions. You are to bring healing to the brokenness around you. You are to show compassion to the vulnerable, the struggling and the marginalized. Matthew 25:35-36 says “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” Jesus tells us that the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked and the prisoners are his brothers and sisters. James 1:27 tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

As the light of the world we are to expose and stand against the injustices around us. We are to speak and act against tribalism and racism. We are to speak and act against social injustice. This may not be comfortable and may even put your life in danger but we don’t really have an option. We either have to let our light shine or choose to hide it under the basket.

You are the church. You are essential. Therefore, start living and acting like you are.

Christ-Centered Relationships

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Text: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

If you were to ask me what in this world matters to me most, I would say, family. I believe that I am not alone. One of the things that matter to us most is relationships. Relationships, especially family, affect everything about us. When they are healthy, life is good. When they are struggling, we struggle in almost everything. Every relationship is built upon certain principles and values. If I may ask you, what are the foundations upon which your relationships are built? What are the values upon which you have built your relationships?

Every culture has its own values upon which relationships are built. Every kingdom has its own principles. People are expected to relate with others in certain ways depending on their ages, genders and other social aspects. There are many voices out there trying to show you how to live and relate with those closest to you. Not every voice is from God. Some of our cultural values are helpful and should be upheld but others contradict the Word of God.  

When we accept Christ, we become citizens of heaven. Jesus is our King. We, therefore, run our lives and relate with those around us based on the principles of Jesus’ kingdom. It is rather unfortunate when we decide to run our lives based on the principles of other kingdoms and not our own. God calls us to turn to Him and let Him show and teach us how to relate in ways that honor Him.

As believers in Jesus Christ, our relationships with others are built based on our relationship with Christ and our new life in the Holy Spirit. Without Christ at the center of our lives, we cannot have wholesome relationships. This is true, because without Christ at the center of our hearts, we are essentially selfish. We do not always act in the interests of others. Instead, we want other people to serve our interests. We get frustrated when things—even family relationships—do not work out our way. Even when we do the best for the other person, we hope that they will return the favor.

Some of us have been hurt or even abused in the previous or even current relationships; we do not know how to relate in wholesome, life-giving ways. Some of us come from cultures that despise virtues such as submission or love. Some cultures have misused concepts such as submission to abuse, especially women. So, we hate anything to do with submission, at least in the way we understand it.

Christ our Model

Let us look at the Word of God to see what it tells about how to live in wholesome relationships. Ephesians 5:21 tell us that “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This mutual submission out of our reverence for Christ is the basis for all other forms of relationships. The immediate context of this passage is household relationships between spouses, parents and children or workers and employers. But the principles can extend to other relationships as well. Our submission to other people should be mutual regardless of our gender, age or social status because we are all equal before God.

Christ is our model. He is our Savior and Lord. He is our example of self-giving love. He is also our ultimate Master. When we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and allow His love to fill our hearts, He teaches us how to submit, love, obey and respect others. Whether you are a wife, a husband, a parent, a child in a home, a worker or employer, you can look up to Christ as the example of how you relate with others.

Christ-Centered Relationships

The Word of God tells us to Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2). It is important to put Christ at the center of our relationships because we relate with imperfect people. However good the people around us are, they are not perfect. Some times they will fail us, they will not meet some of our expectations. Some of the people closest to us are anything but good. They are deeply flawed and very difficult to love or submit to. We too are deeply flawed. Without Christ transforming us, it is difficult for us to submit, love or respect others.

The Bible also reminds us not to get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). So, when we put Christ at the center of our relationships and allow the Holy Spirit to fills us, He enables and empowers us to do what is humanly impossible. The Holy Spirit, can teach us how to relate in ways God intended us to. So, the starting point is not our cultures, or experiences but rather the Word of God. We need to look at Christ Himself.

These instructions from God are not given to be obeyed in ideal situations. These are not conditional instructions. The Word of God does not promise that other people will always appreciate our acts of love or kindness. You cannot say, “I would have loved my wife but she is very difficult to love. She is not submissive.” Wives submit to their husbands not because the husbands will necessarily love them back but rather out of reverence for Christ. The wife submits to her husband because she is obedient to Christ. Similarly, husbands are to love their wives by following the example of Christ’s love for the church.

Learn from Christ

We should learn from the way Christ loves us. He does not love us when we are perfect or because we are perfect. He does not wait for us to first clean up. He loves us despite our flaws, brokenness, lostness or sinfulness. He loves us the way we are. We are to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).

Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (verse 22). Husbands are to love their wives with self-giving, sacrificial love—in the same way “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27). The husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies (verse 28).

The same principle applies to other relationships, whether it is between parents and children, children and parents or work-related relationships. Children, are to obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1). Fathers are also called up not no drive their children to anger but rather bring them up in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1). Workers and employers are to relate knowing that their ultimate Master is Jesus Christ.  

Some of the ways God calls us to relate with those around us are contrary to our cultures. If you choose to live and relate God’s way, people around you might think that you are out of your mind. Some might even become hostile to you because you threaten their status quo. If you, as a wife, choose to obey God’s Word and submit to your husband, people might think that you are old fashioned. If as a husband you choose to love your wife in self-giving and sacrificial ways, people around you may think that you are not man enough. But that’s okay.  We must choose God’s ways rather than the ways of the world. We must live and relate as God intended.

What we need to realize is that family ministry is spiritual warfare. The enemy has put families as one of his primary targets. That is why Christ-centered families do not come the easy way. When we live and relate according to God’s design and principles, Christ will be honored.  The devil will be defeated.

Christ-centered relationships are as a result of lives that are completely submitted to Christ. When we accept Jesus Christ, He transforms us in and out. He also helps us to change the way we relate with other people. We start valuing them as worthy of our love and respect. We do not wait for them to change or become good people before we start loving them. Christ teaches us to accept them as they are just the way He accepted us. If we put Christ at the center of our relationships; if we make Christ our model, then we will have wholesome families. Strong families will lead to wholesome communities. Consequently, we will have a strong nation.

As I close, I ask you to:

  • Surrender your frustrations, hurts and struggles concerning your relationships to Jesus Christ.
  • Determine to put Christ at the center of your relationships.
  • Ask Him to enable you do His will.
  • Trust that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower you to do the right thing.
  • Remember that our primary calling in relationships is to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

God bless you.

The Purpose of Pentecost

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Today is a special Sunday in the Christian calendar. It is Pentecost Sunday. It marks fifty days after Easter Sunday. Originally the Feast of Pentecost was one of the Jewish feasts which was celebrated fifty days after the Passover.  They celebrated the Pentecost to commemorate when God renewed the covenant with His people Israel. It was also a time of thanksgiving for the harvested crops. Christians celebrate the Pentecost to commemorate when God’s promise of the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus Christ who were waiting upon Him in the upper room in Jerusalem. It marks the time of a great harvest, when God is bringing people from all corners of the world into His kingdom. Let us turn to Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Promise of Pentecost

The disciples (followers of Jesus) were in the same place because they were waiting for the promise of their Master, Jesus Christ. Before He went to heaven, He had told them not to leave Jerusalem until they had received the gift the Father had promised. Acts 1:4-5 tells us that

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So, from the time Jesus Christ was taken up to heaven, the disciples were gathered together in the upper room praying and waiting. This was critical for their ministry. It was to be a turning point in their lives and ministry.  Many times, we do not like the time of waiting. But waiting on the Lord can be a time of preparation. It is a time to actively engage in prayer, study and meditate on God’s Word. It is time of getting ourselves ready for what God wants to do in and through us. The Holy Spirit was the gift they were expecting from the Father. He would change their lives and ministries forever. The Holy Spirit is the Father’s greatest and best gift to us. In Luke 11:13, Jesus asks his disciples: 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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  The disciples needed the Holy Spirit before they could embark on their assignment. We too need Him. We need His power, we need His guidance, we need Him if we are to be effective in ministry. 

The Purpose of Pentecost

Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promise, which was the Holy Spirit. He also told them about the purpose of the promise. Like all of us, disciples were shaped by the culture of their time. They interpreted the words of Jesus and the events of their time through a certain theological and cultural grid. In the same way we tend to interpret events in light of our culture and worldviews. For instance, people ask questions like: “Is this pandemic a sign of God’s judgement against the world?” Or, “Is this a sign of the end times; is it a preparation for people to get the “mark of the beast – the 666?” “Is so and so the anti-Christ?” All these questions reflect our cultural and theological worldviews. It reflects on what we believe about God—who He is and how he deals with us, and about the world around us—how the events around us relate to the purpose of God.

So, when Jesus told the disciples about the promise of the Father, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). So, the disciples associated the giving of the Holy Spirit to specific events of the end times. The disciples reasoned that since Jesus had died and rose again, then this would be the time He should become a political King over Israel. They were thinking like typical Jews of their time. Of course, they were wrong about the purpose of the Father’s gift.  Yes, the coming of the Holy Spirit would change the course of world History but not in ways the disciples thought. In Acts 1:7-8 we read that

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The purpose of the Pentecost is very clear: The Holy Spirit enables us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world. That is the one purpose. The Holy Spirit empowers us for witness. Indeed, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, those who used to be timid, and unreliable, stood up and boldly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus. God has not called us to speculate about seasons and times. I feel that some of the current conversations going on in some Christian circles (about the anti-Christ, the mark of the beast and all that) is one of Satan’s tools to distract us from our main goal of being witnesses of Jesus Christ. Let us stick to our part of witnessing to God’s love and salvation. God will take care of the other details. Let us read Acts 2:1-4 again:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

One of the first signs of Pentecost was speaking in tongues—which were actually different human languages. These disciples who had probably never gone beyond Galilee, were enabled to speak the languages of all the people who had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.  Acts 2:5-12 says,

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

The purpose of the Pentecost is very clear: The Holy Spirit enables us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world.

Language can be a tool that divides us. We see that in the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). We cannot communicate if we do not understand one another’s language. I have been in spaces where people switch to another language in order to shut out others out of their conversations. I have seen people abuse and persecute others because they speak a language different from theirs.

Language is something that brings people together. We are able to communicate if we share in a common language. You are able to listen to this sermon because you understand the language in which I am communicating. Language is a powerful tool for witness. By enabling the disciples to speak other languages, Jesus was effectively telling them that, “Now, you are equipped to be my witnesses to the whole world. You are now ready to speak my life-giving words to the hurting world.”

The Power of Pentecost

When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter stood up and preached. His message was simple. He told his audience that this is the fulfillment of what was promised many years ago through the prophets. Ultimately, the promise is about Jesus Christ. Acts 2:36 says,“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

People were asked to make a decision to follow Jesus Christ. Acts 2:38-39 says,

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

It goes on to say – Acts 2:40-41

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

When we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit, God will draw people to Himself. This is the power of the Pentecost.  Pentecost is time to call on the name of the Lord. This is a time of a great harvest. God is still bringing unto Himself people from different corners of the world. Whoever calls on the name of Jesus shall be saved. This promise of salvation is still available to anyone who calls on the name of Jesus. Maybe you are listening to this message but you have never surrendered your life to Jesus. I would like to encourage you to pause right now—and tell Jesus that you need Him to be your savior.

When we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit, God will draw people to Himself. This is the power of the Pentecost.

We live in the season of the Pentecost. The promise of the Holy Spirit is still available to whoever calls on the name of Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit is still available to us. God wants to give us the power, courage, and the boldness for the effective witness of the gospel. I pray that you will experience the power of the Holy Spirit and live up to the purpose of Pentecost—as witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world. 

We live in the season of the Pentecost. The promise of the Holy Spirit is still available to whoever calls on the name of Jesus.

Generosity in Adversity

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

2 Corinthians 8:1-8

This season of the COVID-19 and the lockdown is perhaps the toughest many of us have ever gone through. It has also exposed the best and worst in us. Trials are like a burning furnace; they reveal what is in the inside of us. If our hearts are filled with greed – a desire to have more and more for ourselves but disregarding the needs of others – they will be exposed. If we are filled with generosity – a desire and willingness to share whatever we have with those who are in need – it will also be revealed. I have been personally encouraged by the generosity of many of you. Some of you have gone out of your way to share with and support God’s people who are in need.

Today, I would like to share with you how you can be generous even in times such as these. I will be sharing from 2 Corinthians 8:1-8. This passage relates to our situation. Jerusalem was experiencing intense famine and Paul writes to the Church in Corinth requesting them to support the churches in Jerusalem. As believers we have an obligation to act generously towards all those who are in need, especially fellow believers. Let’s turn to the Word of God:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

The believers in Macedonia were Paul’s model church when it came to the grace of giving. It is not because they were rich. No. In fact they were extremely poor. But they were outflowing with joy. They were a joyful community. They were a church that was totally committed to – surrendered to – God and His will. They were also a people who gave sacrificially. They gave beyond what was comfortable and convenient.  There are at least five lessons that we can learn from the Macedonian believers when it comes to being generous. 

  • Generosity is the matter of the heart

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:2).

We do not give because we are rich. Generosity is an attitude. It is from the heart but it is expressed in tangible ways. Generous people give. They forgive those who offend them; They share helpful information with those who need to benefit from it. Generous people are networkers. As you can see, generosity goes beyond giving. Generous people are always looking for ways of making other people better. They are not afraid to share whatever they have for the good of others. They want others to shine. The needs around us can be an opportunity for us to express our generous spirit.

  • Generosity reveals our sufficiency in God

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:2).

As Christians our generosity is based on our sufficiency in Christ and not the abundance of material things. You can be rich and generous. You can also be deprived of material things but generous. We can be generous despite our circumstances. Generous people are joyful people. Generosity and joy go hand in hand because generous people are contented people. A generous person does not give because they must but rather because they want to. It is their joy to give. They delight in giving; in making other people better. And the Bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

  • Generosity is sacrificial

3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 2 Corinthians 8:3-4. Generous people give beyond what is convenient or comfortable. The Bible also reminds us that Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

Generous people are not thinking about the cost; they are thinking about how to serve others.

  • Generosity is an act of worship

And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:5.

The Bible tells us of a story of a woman called Mary who saved up whatever she could to buy a very expensive perfume and then poured it on the feet of Jesus. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3). For people who did not know her – those who could not see what was in her heart – they thought that it was a waste of money. But for Jesus, Mary’s act was prophetic worship. She was preparing Him for the impending death.

True generosity is a result of our inner surrender (self-giving) to God. It is an act of worship. It is an expression of our faith in God as our source of provision—as the one who sustains us.  We give in obedience to God’s Word. We first commit ourselves to God and then to those whom we serve.

  • Generosity is a discipline

But since you excel in everything —in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). We can learn and grow in generosity as an outflow of our love for God and others.

In my experience, I have encountered generous people who, like the Macedonians, do not necessarily have much but are incredibly generous. They go out of their way to support God’s work and His people. Sometimes their giving makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like telling them, “stop!” because I know what they are going through. They have very little to live on.

One of such generous people is a widow named Anne. Anne is one of the best cooks I know. She does not have much but she delights in serving God’s people. On many occasions she would plead with me (and a few others) to visit her. On every visit we would be surprised by how much delicious food she had prepared. I must confess that I could not help to think about how much it must have cost her; let alone the time she took to prepare. But her delight was to see us enjoy the meal she had prepared; and indeed, we enjoyed!

But Anne is not just a good cook and a wonderful host.  Her heart of generosity is deeper than that. One morning she had gone to the market to shop for groceries. She then saw a group of people gathered in a certain corner of the market. When she went to see what was going on, she discovered that some one had abandoned a child on a garbage heap. The child was barely a week old. Anne then asked the market authorities if she could take the child and take care of him. After seeking help from police and local community authorities, she was allowed to keep the child. Many people discouraged her from taking the baby home. How could this old woman take care of the child? What if the child was HIV positive? Where would she get the money to look after the child? What if the actual parents came years later and demanded for their child? But Anne did not let any of those discouraging remarks deter her. She took up the boy. She gave him a new lease of life.

As you see, every day there are opportunities for us to act generously to the people around us. Generosity begins from the heart. Ask the Lord to open your heart to the needs around you. Ask Him to give you wisdom about how you can respond. Act in faith, trusting that God will use what you have to bless the person in need. Ask God to help you grow in the grace of giving. I pray that you will be the person whom God uses to make others better.

Worship in Turbulent Times

Worship in Turbulent Times

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

How is your worship life these days? Is this even a fair question to ask in times like these? Is it possible to worship in the tough and turbulent times we live in? Today we will share from the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was not a typical prophet who spoke God’s word to the people. Instead his is a dialogue, a conversation with God. This book resembles that of Job. It is about, lament (or complaint), listening to God, prayer and worship. It is a beautiful book that speaks to our human experiences. I encourage you to read the book in your free time. It is very short; you can read the entire book in under 10 minutes.

The summary (and paraphrase) of the dialogue goes like this:

Habakkuk: God, why don’t you do something about Judah’s wickedness?

God: I am about to do something. I will raise Babylonians to punish Judah.

Habakkuk: Really? But why would you use a nation more wicked than Judah to punish us?

God: Time will come when all evil will be punished. I am a just God. There will be an end to all evil and righteousness.

Habakkuk: Alright, I may not understand why and how you do Your things but I will trust in You.

Some Christians hesitate or even fear to have and honest dialogue with God. It is okay to have an honest dialogue with God. God is not put off or embarrassed by your honest questions. Our sharing today will focus on the three things that we learn from Habakkuk’s life. His life reveals a believer’s honest journey with God. I pray and hope that we will learn how to lament, to wait, and to worship.

  1. The Lament: How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (Habakkuk 1:2)

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Habakkuk 1:2-3

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? Habakkuk 1:13

Habakkuk’s lament is rather shocking. He asks God, “why do you idly look at wrong? Habakkuk 1:3 – ESV). He is shocked and overwhelmed by the evil that is happening around him but God seems to be unbothered.  He is wondering or rather thinks that God tolerates evil.

I don’t know about you, but there are times I have found myself struggling to understand why things are the way they are. There are times I have expected to act in certain ways but he seemed not to care. He did not respond the way I wanted. Some questions we ask are like, “How come?” Because we don’t really understand God’s ways. Or we ask, “How long?” Because we don’t really understand God’s timing.

But then God replies: I am not silent; I do not tolerate evil; I will act. I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5

Sometimes God may respond to us in ways we do not understand or ways that are confusing to us. But then we do not have to give up. We need to wait on him and listen.

  1. The Waiting and Listening: I will look to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2:1)

I admire Habakkuk’s faith. He was not afraid of asking difficult questions. He expressed his confusion to God. Even when God replied in ways he did not expect, he did not give up. He decided to wait on the Lord. You see, true lament produces hope. We admit our own failures, pain, confusion and limitations but also look up to God for the help; for answers that only He can give. Like Habakkuk we need to come to that point where we resolve that: I will look to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2:1)

God responded to Habakkuk:

“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:2-3)

He also adds: the righteous person will live by his faithfulness I(Habakkuk 2:4)

Victory is assured for those who fear God. Faith—unwavering trust—in God and his will; a determination to follow Christ no matter what, is the key to the believer’s victory.

 

  1. The Prayer and Worship: I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day (Habakkuk 3:2)

Habakkuk reflects on what God has done in the past. He reflects on God’s power, His mercies, His splendor, His glory, His salvation. Can you look back and think of the works of God? What has the Lord done throughout history? What has God done in your life? When did God come through for you when you had given up? When did he move mountains to make a way for you?

Have you ever walked or run and somewhere along the journey you grew tired? But when you looked back, you realized that you had actually covered more distance than you thought; and that became a source of your encouragement? You may not understand all that is going on around you. You may not understand why things are the way they are. But you can trust in God. He has the power to move mountains. He loves you unconditionally and works in all things for your good. He is good all the time. God is merciful. He does not judge us according to what we deserve or else we would all have been destroyed.  He knows what is up to. He knows how all this will end. He guides all things to fit into His purposes.

In light of all this, Habakkuk decides to worship. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Habakkuk reflects on his life and circumstances. Things might not change; they may even get worse. Crop failure would lead to starvation and economic distress. Our feelings are not controlled by what happens around us but by our faith in God.

We must make a choice and say, “I will rejoice – in the Lord.” We serve God, not for what he gives but for who He is. He is our victory. He is our savior. He is our helper. God is our restorer. He is our strength.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:19)

We will be joyful – in God our savior—the one who rescues me. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t disappoint. He is just. He is sovereign. His ways are beyond what we can comprehend.

God gives us confidence in times of adversity. That’s why we lament, and wait…but above all worship Him.