The Coronavirus Crisis and Christmas

Text: Matthew 2:13-18

A strange year!

Merry Christmas! Or, is it really a merry Christmas? For many people around the world, this year 2020 is one of those they would rather forget. I have friends and people that I know who are in hospitals right now; whose only prayer is that they will be able to breathe normally again. There are other frontline medical personnel who cannot be with their families today because they are taking care of patients. There are also others who would have loved to reunite with family members but they have decided not to travel because it is not safe to do so.

Two days ago, I and some of my family members were traveling from the countryside and on our way back my son commented that he had not seen any Christmas lights in any of the towns we had passed by. It turns out that this might be a Christmas without lights. It may not be a dark one but it might be somber. So, this is not your typical Christmas. Today as we commemorate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to reflect on what Christmas means in times of crisis such as these.

The Irony of Christmas

The message I am sharing with you today was triggered by a conversation with my friend about the story in Matthew 2:13-18. Christmas is often associated with glamor, festivities, lights, family reunions and happiness. This is all in order, and as the Lord permits and provides, we need to rejoice and celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. But there is another angle to the Christmas story that we tend to ignore—and I understand why. Why would we spend our time on a sad story on such a joyous day like Christmas? As preachers we don’t want to dampen the mood of our listeners. But I think this passage is appropriate for us today and through this season.

Matthew 2:13-18

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

During the first Christmas, there was not only angels singing, and much celebration. There were also massive murders, weeping, mourning and dislocation. The Christmas story is one when God embraced our humanity with it’s potential for greatness but also its fragility. In this story we learn that the birth of Jesus Christ triggered a mass massacre of innocent and defenseless boy children by an insecure king who was afraid of the new king. Herod certainly misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God. He thought that by murdering children of two years and under, he might be able to kill Jesus. Matthew quotes Jeremiah to highlight the great weeping and mourning of the mothers—the daughters of Rachel—who lost their children.  

I think this passage speaks to us who live in Uganda in very concrete ways. We are in a season of elections and many of us would agree that the stakes are very high. The sheer amount of violence and death of innocent people that we have seen so far is unprecedented. This in many ways reveals the heart of our leaders—insecure, fearful, heartless. We need to pray for our nation for sobriety and peace.

The story in Matthew 2:13-16 exposes human vulnerability. Those in power are vulnerable because without it, they have nothing to hold onto. They kill and oppress to preserve their power. Those without power are defenseless and harassed by those who are meant to protect them.  In many ways the coronavirus pandemic has also exposed our vulnerabilities at different levels. There are many of us who are yet to come to terms with the losses we have suffered this year—whether it is of loved ones, jobs, businesses, health or relationships. That is why Christmas makes sense even in such difficult times as these.

Hope beyond Pain

God understands our suffering, pain and loss. He is not far removed from human suffering. He faced injustice first hand. He is familiar with corrupt and broken systems that work against the poor and vulnerable. He is familiar with the cries of mothers whose sons and daughters have died from illnesses that are treatable. He is familiar with the pain of someone struggling with mental illness. He knows what it means to be away from your loved ones when you need them most. He is aware of your struggles.

Therefore, however you are commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus, you can rest assured that God is right there with you. Ultimately His purpose will stand. The story does not end with wailing, loss and pain. There is salvation, restoration and hope. I pray that the reality of the birth of Jesus Christ will minister to you regardless of what you are going through. I pray that the grace of God will preserve you during these very difficult times. Merry Christmas!

God in Unlikely Spaces

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Genesis 39:2. The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.

There are many things that I find surprising about God. This is not unexpected since He is God—infinitely wise and free—and I am a finite human being. I always find it intriguing that His presence is in unlikely spaces. Today’s sermon idea came as I was recently sharing with a friend who is going through a transition in life and ministry. He feels that the next step he is about to take is less than ideal but it is something he has to do. As we went on with our conversation, I realized that God is also present in less than ideal situations.

I am reminded of the story of Joseph the son of Jacob. I think that for many Christians, we have a romanticized version of Joseph’s story. We easily gross over his pain and struggles because we know how the story ends; and it ends very well. We forget that it is a story of a teenager who was abducted by his own brothers and trafficked abroad as a slave. We forget that it is a story of a young man whose young adult life was wasted—something that had nothing to do with himself. For close to thirteen years he went from misfortune to misfortune; from betrayal to betrayal. Life could not have gotten any worse. I guess he was wondering what had become of his childhood dreams of greatness as he was sold and resold to different slave masters and finally landed in prison for a crime he never committed.

There is no single incident whereby God appears and speaks to him the way he did to his patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God seems to be absent or at least silent throughout this horrific drama. Perhaps He is watching from a safe distance, unbothered by what is going on in the life of this poor young soul. Yet God is not absent. He might seem to be silent but He is actively involved in Joseph’s life. Twice, we are reminded that God was with him.
Genesis 39:1-2. 1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.

Again, in Genesis 39:20-21 we read, 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.
He might have been a slave, but God was with Him. He might have been in the cruelest of prisons, but God was him. God was with him, suffering along with him, sustaining him, watching over him, guiding him and causing Him to be successful in whatever Joseph did.

If there is anything that the Covid-19 pandemic has done, it is to expose our vulnerabilities. It has pushed many of us to the edge of the cliff—whether it is financially, emotionally, relationally or even spiritually. Like Joseph, we find ourselves wondering whether we will ever come out of this in one piece. Joseph’s words to a fellow prisoner resonate with many of us: “I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon” (Genesis 40:15). I can hear many people say, “I don’t deserve to be here. How will I ever get out of this situation? Where is God in all this? Does God even care?” Let me say that these are all legitimate questions. God is never embarrassed by our honest questions.

I am reminded of an experience that I went through many years ago. One day I left home and traveled hundreds of miles to Kampala City. I was supposed to join college but there were a number of things that were not yet lined up. I actually left home before I secured an admission to college. Also, I did not have any contacts in Kampala. I had not made any arrangements about where or with whom I would stay. There were no mobile phones then. As you can tell, this was a reckless move at the very least.

Reaching Kampala bus terminal, I did not know what to do next. I was basically stranded. Not knowing where to go next, I kept roaming about the city with my small bag I came with. Thank God Kampala was not as congested and disorganized as it is now. But time was not in my favor. As it approached evening time I started to panic. I prayed a short prayer asking God to help me. A few steps further I randomly saw a dirty piece of paper that had been trodden on by the passersby. Somehow, I was moved to pick it up. It turned out to be a Christian newsletter. In it was an article with the title “do not let go of the rope ” or something close to that. Basically, the message was about not losing hope no matter how desperate the situation you are going through seems to be. I knew that God was speaking to me through that article in a dirty, torn and abandoned newsletter. God was with me in this unlikely space. The hours, days and weeks that passed proved that. God opened doors for me that I could never have imagined. I was able to find a very kind and generous host, I was enrolled in college and as they say the rest is history. The situation was undesirable. Looking back, I could have made mistakes. But God never abandoned me.

If there is anything we can learn from Joseph’s story, it is that God is always with us no matter where we find ourselves. He may not be the cause of our circumstances but He is the God who suffers along with us. He is not an impotent God—as though He cannot help us out of our circumstances. But He sometimes allows some things to happen for a greater good. We can now appreciate Joseph’s story because we know how it ends. Remember that Joseph was in the story. He did not have the privilege that we have to know that it would end well. While he was in that deathly dungeon, He probably thought that his dreams of greatness were now dead. But God was with Him.
When God is with you, He causes you to bloom where you have been planted regardless of whether you are a slave in a foreign master’s house, a prisoner in a cruel dungeon, living in one of the dangerous slums in your city, or going through times of depression. God is with you. The flourishing that the presence of God brings about may not be like what the world expects. It may come as unexplainable peace in your heart, unexpected provision, the grace to endure the pressures of life or the wisdom to navigate the complex circumstances you encounter.

I think one of the acts in history that best describes how God comes into unlikely spaces is the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God became human and shared in our humanity. When Jesus was born under the most ordinary and lowly circumstances, God did express His heart for the unlikely—especially people on the margins. God became a suffering God. God, the Immanuel, the God who is with us is a suffering God. He is the God of the underdogs. He is the God of those on the margins. He is with those who feel rejected, abandoned, invisible and edged out by the powerful and privileged. God is with you, to help and sustain you. Do not let go of the rope.

Experiencing Peace in a Troubled World

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Bible Text: John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Almost on a daily basis, I go through experiences that could make me feel anxious and take away my peace. I believe that I am not alone in this. Is it possible to experience peace in the troubled world that we live in? To begin with, the word peace can mean different things to different people. Take, for instance, peace in a political sense. It presumes that peace is the absence of conflict. It is peace that is most of the times enforced by military force. Some people lose their lives in the course of ensuring that there is peace. So clearly, the peace Jesus talks about does not mean the absence of conflict or trouble but something beyond this. It is not like the peace the world gives.
Jesus did not promise a trouble-free life but rather peace in the midst of a troubled world. In fact, He promised that those who believe in Him will have trouble. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

As Christians, we are not shielded from the troubles that everyone else goes through. We hurt, we experience loss and grief, we go through stressful seasons. We feel lonely and rejected. The peace of Jesus Christ is different from that of the world. In John 14:27 Jesus assures is that “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The biblical meaning of “peace” is very rich and we cannot exhaust it in this message today. In the Old Testament, the meaning ranges from completeness or wholeness, security, healing, or prosperity. It is life in fulness. Peace is also associated with the presence of God. The priests would bless people that “the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26). The peace of God is for those who fear God. Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble (Psalms 119:165). And there is no peace for those who do not fear God. There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). So clearly, the peace that Jesus gives, depends on our relationship with God. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is our Peace.

So then, how can we experience peace in the midst of trouble? It is only when we put our full trust in Jesus Christ that we can experience this kind of peace. To have peace in God means that we have calmness and unshakable confidence in God’s presence and His victory. We know that Jesus loves me unconditionally, He is with me, and that He is in control. We experience this peace when we choose to change our view of life and the circumstances around us.

1. Jesus loves you unconditionally

Many times, we are anxious because we are not sure that we are of any worth before God. We think that God loves us when we have our act together. But when we mess up, God stops loving us. It is as if Jesus’ love for us is predicated on our performance. But Jesus love for us is unconditional. He is able to bind our broken pieces and make us whole again. After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to His disciples on several occasions and locations. Each time he met them He pronounced His peace on them. In John 20:26-27, we read that “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” I believe that this was more than a mere greeting. He was reassuring them of the peace that comes because of His unconditional love for them. The disciples could have deserted Him when He needed them most, but He still loved them. They could have been anxious and devastated by a sense of betrayal, but He still cared about them. They might have been gripped by fear of what the future held for them, but Jesus pronounced His peace over them. When we know that Jesus loves us unconditionally, we will trust him to bind our broken pieces and make us whole again.

2. You are not alone

You are not alone because the Holy Spirit lives in you. He is the one who applies the peace of Jesus into our hearts. John 14:25-27 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

The Holy Spirit is an “advocate”—a friend who never abandons us. The Holy Spirit perpetuates the presence of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer. He is our advocate; the one who pleads our case before the Father. He is the One who stoops so low in order to come to our level and lift us up. He is not afraid of our mess. But we must allow Him to help us.
The storm might be fierce and life-threatening but we know that Jesus has promised that He will be with us in the midst of the storm. Hebrews 13:5-6 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?””

3. God is in Control

Since we know that God is ultimately in control; that He is in charge of our destiny, we will not fear regardless of what we go through. Fear and anxiety about the present and the future rob us of the peace that Jesus gives us. We may not know exactly how things will turn out to be. We may not be able to manage the situation we are going through on our own. Sometimes God will allow you to go through stuff you cannot handle on your own. But there is one thing we know. God can handle whatever situation that He allows to come your way. God is in control. He holds the future.

Once in a while when I find a good movie, I watch it more than once. Sometimes I find that the second time of watching can even be more exciting than the first one. But there is also something about watching a movie for more than once; you know how it will end. You will still be gripped by the tensions but you know the end. This is also true for all of us who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know how all this will end. If we take Jesus’ words in John 16:33 seriously, then we have no reason to fear. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Will some experiences still be painful? Yes. Will we go through moments of stress? Yes. What I mean to say is that the troubles and pain that we go through are real. The peace that Jesus gives us does not mean that we live in denial of the experiences we go through—but we believe that God will give us victory over those troubles. That is why the Word of God tells us to pray whenever we feel anxious. Someone said that you need to turn your worries into prayers. Whenever you are worried, pray

The peace of God guards our hearts and minds in Christ. It is an antidote for anxiety and fear. May God feel you with the peace of Jesus Christ, especially in these troubled times.

The Joy of the Lord is our Strength

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

Nehemiah 8:9-12

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

I would like to start by asking you a question. If you had an option to hang out with two kinds of people: one has an attitude, is always complaining and is the very definition of self-pity. The other person is full of life, hopeful and filled with joy. Who of the two would you rather hang out with? Let me ask the question differently? Would you say that you are a joy-filled person or one characterized by anxiousness and self-pity? Today I would like to share on the subject of joy. We all love to be around joyful people. Life can be difficult if the people around you are mean and grumpy. Also, our joyful attitude and lifestyle energizes and blesses others.

The Bible tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Joy is an inward sense of peace, satisfaction and gratitude. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:22 Apostle Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” It is a characteristic of those who are united with the Lord Jesus Christ and have allowed the Holy Spirit to transform them. Joy is also a choice. Over and over again we are commanded to rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). We choose to be joyful rather than allowing ourselves to be consumed with self-pity. The source of our joy is the Lord.

Beware of Joy Stealers!

If we try to derive our joy from other things, including ourselves, we will be frustrated. There are a number of things that can steal our joy.

i. Guilt or a sense of failure
A sense of guilt is one of those things that steal our joy. Many people find it difficult to get over failure or past mistakes. As a result, they allow themselves to live in perpetual misery. Now, as long as we are human, we will make mistakes. Some of them can be life-changing. That is why we need to be reminded of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. When King David was faced with the guilt of the sin of adultery and murder, it affected everything about him. Unconfessed sin takes your joy away. David prayed, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice” (Psalms 51:8). A sense of guilt can even affect our physical health. It certainly affects how we relate with others. Joy-less people are very difficult to relate with. A sense of guilt can make our relationships with others toxic. Like David, when faced with the guilt of our sins, we need to turn to the Lord, confess our sins and ask the Lord to “restore to me the joy of your salvation (Psalms 51:12).

ii. Focusing on our imperfections
Some people choose to focus on their imperfections and limitations. They focus on what they don’t have or have not accomplished. They are always admiring other people. They are always wishing they were someone else. They are always complaining or even blaming God why they are not like the other person. This robs them of their joy. Like the old hymn says,
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

You need to learn to celebrate your uniqueness. What you call imperfections are probably the things that make you special. Instead of complaining, you need to start thanking God for them. Like David we need to develop an attitude of gratitude. This is what he says: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalms 139:14). If we focus on the outside world, our accomplishments, failures, losses or anything else apart from the Lord, we will be disappointed. Because none of these things are reliable. Only the Lord is dependable.

iii. Anxiousness over what we cannot control
The other joy stealer is being anxious over things we have no control over. For instance, we can be easily anxious over how this whole COVID-19 pandemic will end. In Uganda, parents and children alike may be anxious over the future of the education of their children; whether they will have to repeat the school year or not. Most of the things we worry about are things we cannot control, which means that worrying cannot change anything. If worrying does anything to us, it does hurt us. It steals our joy. Our Lord told us not to worry about anything—and this is why: Matthew 6:28-34

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The Joy of the Lord is our Strength

In Nehemiah 8:10-11 we read that Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

When the people listened to Ezra read and expound the Word of God, they began to weep. They perhaps realized how far they had fallen short of God’s righteous standards. Sorrow for sin is an appropriate response. But Nehemiah also reminded them of the renewed relationship with the Lord. This was to be their source of joy. God is our source of joy. We can be joyful regardless of what is happening around us because of our assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ. Because of His sacrifice, we are children of God. God has declared us not guilty. We are eternally secure in Christ. No one can ever snatch us from His hands.

In Nehemiah 8:12 we read that: Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them Joy is never self-centered. The people went and celebrated with joy. They shared with those who did not have. Our joyful countenance cannot be hidden. Joyful people are not hard to find. God calls us to be witnesses of the joy that we have found in Him. As someone said, “Joy has no value until it is given away.”

The joy of the Lord energizes us. The joy of the Lord is our strength. As we rejoice in the Lord, He gives us the grace and strength we need to do His work. He defends us from our enemies. May the Lord fill you with His joy today.

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.