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.

The Coronavirus, the Lockdown and God’s Sovereignty

Text: 2 Kings 6:24-7:20

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

 

God is able to do more

I find that today’s passage resonates with what we are currently going through due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The passage is about the Reality, Your Experiences and God’s Sovereignty.

  1. The Reality:

2 Kings 6:24-25: 24 Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. 25 There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels.

The King of Aram attacked Israel and put the city of Samaria (Israel’s capital) under a siege (or lockdown) for 2 years. No one of the inhabitants of Samaria was able to come into or go out of the city. Can you imagine how terrible that must have been? We have been under lockdown for seven weeks and for many of us if feels like it’s been seven years! The lockdown was extreme that it led to a severe famine in Samaria that reduced decent people to cannibalism. Can you imagine a mother cooking her own child for dinner? Recently, there was a story in the media of a woman who was found “cooking” stones for her children. She was desperate and put the stones in the pan to give her children a false hope that it was food. Thankfully some people, after watching a video of her story, responded by providing her with supplies. Praise God! But there are probably those who are not lucky enough to get the attention of people out there. The situation is indeed desperate.

  1. Your Experiences:

2 Kings 6:26-27: As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!” 27 The king replied, “If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?”

The King of Israel represents anyone in a place of leadership or responsibility whether it is a leader in a home, head of an organization or a pastor of a congregation.

The Woman represents an ordinary person dealing with the trauma of personal loss. Unfortunately for her, even the king could not help her. It was unfortunate enough to lose her son in that way. It was even more frustrating that she could not get justice from the king. What kind of trauma, tragedies and personal losses are you dealing with?

Her conversation with the king reveals the deep vulnerability of both the woman and the king. Let’s turn to the story:

 “Help me, my lord the king!” The woman is appealing to the highest authority in the land. Surely, the king must have all the answers. Maybe you find yourself in the place of the woman, seeking for help from those whom you think should be able to help you. It could be your pastor, a community leader, the employer, the government. Then you realise that they are as vulnerable and helpless as you are.

Now listen to the king’s response:

“If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you?

The king raises more questions than answers. He gives a theological response to the woman’s moral and practical question. Wait a minute; he did not even wait to listen to the woman’s plea. “If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you?

  • In one sense the king acknowledges that the only true help anyone can receive is from God. God is our only source of help. Even kings—who represent the most powerful people—are powerless without God’s help. If there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it is that even the most powerful people in this world are deeply vulnerable and helpless.
  • In another sense, the king is implying that God has either failed or refused to help His people. “If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you?

In this question, we can feel a sense of resignation by the king. He had given up. He had run out of options. He was an impotent king who could not protect, defend or even provide for his subjects.

Some of us have found ourselves in that place; feeling incapable and unable to fulfill our responsibilities. Like the king, you find muttering to yourself, “if God does not help them, where can I get help?” Our resources are exhausted—and these are not only financial and material resources. Many of us feel that our emotional resources are exhausted too. We have run out of options. There is no money on our bank accounts, we have no food in our gardens (some of us have no gardens at all), we have lost our jobs, we have lost our businesses, we have lost our families.

Some of us have found ourselves in that place; feeling incapable and unable to fulfill our responsibilities. Like the king, you find muttering to yourself, “if God does not help them, where can I get help?”

2 Kings 6:30-31: When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body. 31 He said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!”

The king was horrified, in anguish, and angry. How many can identify with those emotions. Sometimes we are not even sure whom we are angry at: it could be the government, the situation, your employer or your spouse. We are hurting, traumatized, broken, lost and angry.

The king was particularly angry with Elisha, the prophet. Somehow, the king believed that Elisha could be having a solution to the situation or at least he knew where the problem was coming from. Of course, the king himself knew where the problem was coming from!

  1. God’s Sovereignty:

As a prophet, Elisha was God’s spokesperson to the people of Israel. He would receive God’s Word and then communicate to the people. What was God saying?

2 Kings 7:1: Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

Elisha told the king that God was going to turn things around in ways that are humanly impossible. God has promised help. It would come sooner than anyone expected. Just within 24 hours the siege would be lifted and there would me more than enough food for everyone at a very cheap price. God was going to do what was humanly impossible with effects that were unbelievable. Unlike the kings of this world, God is sovereign. He does what no one else can do. When God works, He amazes everyone!

  • How can it be that God could save someone like me?
  • How could God turn my situation around, just like that?

But then there was this king’s aide. He could not believe any of Elisha’s words. They were too good to be true. He sarcastically responded: “Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” (2 Kings 7:2).

Have you come to a point whereby you have stopped believing God to do amazing things in your life? Have you given up

  • Praying for the salvation of a loved one
  • Believing God for healing
  • Trusting God to help you break that destructive habit
  • Believing God to turn around your marriage?
  • Praying for your business?

Do you put up a brave face when people are around you but inside you are broken; you have given up; you have come to your wits end? Like the king’s guard, you can easily reduce the power of God’s Word to your experiences. But God is sovereign.

There is no situation that God cannot turn around—including those that are humanly impossible.

The amazing news is that when we continue to read the story, God used just four lepers to turn things around. The Arameans ran away even when no one was chasing them. The people of Israel broke the siege, went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of the finest flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the LORD had said (2 Kings 7:16).

There is no situation that God cannot turn around—including those that are humanly impossible. Nothing is impossible with Him, including your current situation. The Bible says that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Do not allow your circumstances to distort your view of God and what He can do. The reality around you, and your experiences are all subject to God’s sovereignty. Do not stop believing God.

The Sufficiency of Christ in all Things

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13

Greetings in the most precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord! We praise His name for sustaining us in these very difficult times. I have discovered that every day that passes, God is teaching me how to trust Him—to help me, guide me and provide for me.

These difficult times reveal my deepest vulnerabilities—and I believe I am not alone in this. They also reveal what we really depend on or what we think is important. I would like to encourage you that you can survive—or even thrive—in these tough times. Even though you may not have much in terms of material things, or struggling emotionally, you will get out of it victoriously. Today, I would like to encourage us that Christ is sufficient in all things. And if we understand this secret, we will be victorious regardless of the situations we go through.

Joy and contentment are only possible when you

This portion of scripture is Paul’s “thank-you note” to the believers in Philippi. They had sent Epaphroditus to take some supplies to help Apostle Paul while He was in prison. The believers in Philippi did not give because they had a lot. They gave because they were generous. Tough times, such as the ones we now live in, also open to us opportunities for us to shine for Jesus Christ by sharing with those who are in need. I have been encouraged by some of you who have gone out of your way to share food and other supplies with God’s people. It is not because you have much but because you have compassion towards those who are in need. You would rather share the little you have than hoard it for yourselves.

More than that, I believe that you are convinced that Christ is enough; that He will take care of you.  When you are contented, you will not be greedy for more stuff. It is unfortunate that hard times like these also reveal the ugly side of humanity. We have seen people who we think are better off than most of us act in greedy ways by stealing what is meant for the vulnerable. But when you are contented in Christ; when you know that Christ is sufficient, you will not be fixated on material things.

Paul also makes a profound statement: I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11). He is basically saying that “look, I am grateful for all the support you have given me but I also want you to know that although, I am in need, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Remember that when Paul says these things, he is in prison. He is physically isolated from his friends and family. He does not have a lot of material things. Maybe on some occasions, he has gone without food. See what he says: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12). His life is far from being an ideal one.

Paul says that “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” What was this secret? I think that the secret is found in the words he already said the preceding verses. Let us look at verses four to seven: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).

We should not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by anxiety but rather we should allow God to be in control of our hearts and situations. Friends, there will be times when we will find ourselves in a fix—helpless and unable to do anything about the situation. If our trust is in the material things we have, our jobs, the money on our bank account, our friends or family, we will fail. We will be disappointed because there will be times when those things or people will not be there when we need them. There will be times when even our best friends will not be there for us. There will be times when we will not have the money we need. But there will never be a time when Jesus will not be there for us—to help us, to guide us, to sustain us, to provide for us or to comfort us.

The secret is to present our needs, our requests, our frustrations to Jesus. Jesus will in turn pour His peace in our hearts so that we can rejoice and rest regardless of the circumstances that come our way.

there will never be a time when Jesus will not be there for us

But we need to know that rejoicing and being content in every situation is a discipline we learn. Apostle Paul, twice says that “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. …I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation… (Philippians 4:11,12). Being content is not something that simply happens to us. It is a discipline we grow into. This sense of contentment is derived from our total dependence on Christ.  When you realise that Christ is all you need regardless the circumstances you will be joyful. Paul’s contentment is against the backdrop of joy. He has found joy in Christ and encourages others to rejoice in the Lord. He does not tell them to rejoice in their wealth, or even their poverty. He does not tell them to rejoice in their jobs or professions; not in their friends or family. He encourages them to rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4). Joy and contentment are only possible when you realise that Christ is sufficient.

When you learn to rest in the sufficiency of Christ, His peace will guard your heart and mind from the anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. Even when everything around you is uncertain and perplexing, you will be peaceful, joyful and confident. Every time we are tempted to worry about our situations, or become greedy for more stuff, we should train our eyes to focus on Jesus. We train ourselves to present our requests to Jesus. We train ourselves to rejoice in Him.

Like Paul, you can confidently say: I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). Christ is sufficient in all things, including what you are going through right now. God wants you to know that He will give you all that you need to do His will. A generous spirit comes out of a sense of contentment; a feeling that what you have is enough. Your focus is not on material things but on Christ.

God will give you the spiritual strength, the grace, the human connections and the material things to enable you do what He wants you to do. We can be content in all situations because we know that Christ is sufficient. Christ is all we need.

a generous spirit comes out of a sense of contentment; a feeling that what you have is enough

Let us pray:

Dear God, I thank you that in Christ Jesus, I find strength to face my challenges today. He is all I need. Please continue to teach me to be content in You alone. I know that that in Christ, You will fulfill all Your promises concerning me. In His name we pray, amen.

 

Secure in God’s Love

If God is for us, who can

One of the gifts that the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has given me is time to pray and reflect. I also, occasionally read or watch stuff from social media platforms. I am always intrigued at the different views Christians have about this pandemic in particular and pain in general.

So, what does suffering, adversity and pain teach us, especially about our relationship with God?

There are Christians who have a transactional view of God. They believe that God deals with them according to their performance. When things are going well with them, they think that God must be happy with them. When the going is tough, they conclude that God must be angry with them. This is of course a faulty view of who God is and how He deals with us. The truth is that God loves you unconditionally, and there is nothing you do or don’t do that will ever make Him love you less. When things are going well with you, God loves you. When it is seems like everything is falling apart; when life doesn’t seem to make sense, God still loves you. His love for you does not depend on your performance. It is unconditional.

In the Book of Romans, we see how God has called and saved us not on the basis of our own righteous acts; not on the basis of what we have done right, but because of His grace. The Bible tells us that no one is righteous. We could not save ourselves. That is why we need the grace of God. God has not only saved us but He also sustains us by the same grace—conforming us into the likeness of Christ. The Bible calls the process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ, sanctification. God uses all things, including suffering, to conform us to Christ. That is why having a right attitude to pain and suffering is important for every Christian. In fact, our attitude towards suffering somehow reveals our view of God.

Today we will be sharing from Romans 8:31- 39. In this passage the Word of God assures us that we are secure in God’s love regardless of what happens to us or around us. Let us turn to the Word of God.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). This is a very important question:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

God has put Himself on our side. He is our ally. He is our friend. He fights on our behalf. But how do we know that God is for us? We find the answer in the next verse:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).

God, the Father, did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all. God did not only make empty promises but He made them good by sending His One and Only Son to die for us. And through Christ we have all things. We have all that we need for life and godliness. He has not only promised but has also acted through Jesus Christ. God is for us. That means that whoever or whatever contends with us has to contend with God. So, if God is for us, who can be against us? The answer is plain and simple: NO ONE. All of our adversaries are powerless before God. Does that include the challenges you and me are going through? Yes. Does that include suffering, hunger, sickness or even death? Yes.

The following three questions and answers in the passage are meant to reaffirm our security in God’s love. Let us take a look at those questions:

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33). Again, the answer to the question is simple: NO ONE. Why? Because God justified you. God declared you not guilty. You have been saved by his grace. Satan will always try to accuse believers before God. That is his job. In fact, the name “Satan” means “accuser.” Sadly, many Christians tend to erroneously think that bad things happen to them because God is angry at them. Truth is that if God was to deal with us on the basis of our actions, no one would ever deserve anything good from Him. But God is merciful and gracious. He has graciously justified us through Jesus Christ.

Then, comes the next question: Who then is the one who condemns? (Romans 8:34).

There may be many who may stand to accuse you: Satan, your own conscience, religion, your culture, etc. But who will stand as judge to condemn you—who has believed in Jesus Christ?  The Bible gives us the answer: No one. Christ Jesus who died —more than that, who was raised to life —is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34). Christ is the only judge and He is on your side. He will not condemn you. In fact, He is now exalted in Heaven and is interceding for us.

The last question summarizes the point we have been trying to make:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:35-36).

Yes, even we as believers are not insulated from these challenges. We fall sick, we go hungry, we face death, we lose loved ones. Pain is real. Suffering is real. Losing a loved one is very painful. The Word of God is not teaching us that we deny the painful realities of life or pretend to be fine when we are struggling. No.

So, what difference does it make when we suffer as Christians? It is only when we look at what God has done for us in Jesus Christ that suffering makes sense. God sacrificially gave up His only Son for us. Jesus died for us. He took our sins. In His suffering, He identified with us in our suffering. But he was raised to life. He overcame sin, pain and death. We, too, share in His victory. He is exalted in Heaven. He is Lord over all things; over all circumstances. Also, He intercedes for us. He pleads for us before the Father in heaven. Since He is familiar with our human experiences, He is perfectly qualified to plead with the Father on our behalf—for more grace to endure, and for help in times when we need it. He is our ally. That is why nothing will separate us from God’s love. That is why we are secure in God’s love. We can, therefore, together with Paul, exclaim:

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

God’s Word gives us an assurance that there is nothing that will ever snatch us from God’s love. We are secure in God’s love, even though we go through hardships and adversity. Any teaching that tells you that believers are shielded from trials and hardships is false. Christians, like anyone else, go through suffering. But human suffering is not inconsistent with God’s love for us. When we go through suffering, it does not mean that God loves us less, or has withdrawn His love for us. God does use those experiences to conform us to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Nothing and no one can ever separate us from the love of God. No devil, no adversity; not even death can separate us from God’s love for us.

So, how should our response to suffering, pain, hunger, sickness, and adversity be?

We respond with confidence that we are more that conquerors – we are gloriously victorious – in Christ Jesus. Christ’s victory is our victory.

Suffering is an opportunity to experience God’s love and comfort.

I pray that you will indeed experience God’s love and comfort during these very trying times. I pray that the Holy Spirit will reassure you of God’s unchanging and unceasing love for you. That you will be assured of your victory in Christ—even amidst pain and death—because God is for you. He is on your side. You are secure in His love.

Dealing With Life’s Interruptions

 Text: Mark 4:35-41

You can also watch this sermon on YouTube via this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_g4Si1z_f8&t=62s  

Teacher, don’t you care if we

I remember a number of times in my life when everything seemed to be headed to the right direction and then, boom; everything changed for the worse—or so I thought. One such incident happened years ago when I was a seminary student. I had concluded my first year and was looking forward to two other exciting years of being prepared for ministry. Life was good! Then one morning I was causally checking my emails, I saw one from my sponsor. I was sort of excited, excepting to receive some good news. Were they informing me that funds were available to go and visit my family? Was it a ministry update that I need to be aware of?  On opening the email, I wasn’t ready for what I found. They were basically letting me know that they were no longer going to fund my studies at the seminary and were advising me to go back to my country. To say that I was shocked is an understatement. I froze. My body ached instantly. So many questions ran through my mind. I was angry; I was confused. I felt betrayed and alone on that cold winter morning, in that dormitory room in South Korea.

I know that many of you can relate with my experience of dealing with life’s interruptions. For some of you, it was a routine visit to the doctor’s office when you received news that would change your life  forever. Maybe it was a phone call you received from a spouse letting you know that your relationship was no more. For the last two or three months the world has faced interruptions at a scale it has never experienced before. The coronavirus has brought the world systems to their knees. No one seems to know the answer. I recently was reading from Facebook post of one of the key persons in the tourism sector in my country. He said that this year 2020 was promising to be one of the best years in the tourist industry. Now everything is at a halt. Companies are thinking of downsizing.

Have you wondered where God is in all this? Has he taken a vacation and left the virus to wreak havoc on the world? Is He executing judgment on His stubborn and unrepentant people? I have heard comments similar to these but I think when we think of God that way we miss the whole point of the purpose of life’s interruptions. I believe that God has an answer to our dilemmas when we face interruptions in our lives. Recently, a friend of mine shared with me a passage from Mark 4:35-41, and I felt that the Lord was speaking to the church about the times we live in.

Let us read along:

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

So up until this time, life looks good. Apparently, it seems like the disciples are in charge and Jesus is simply tagging along: they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. They are the masters on the lake. They are in charge of the boat and the oars. They know the destination. Then, boom!

 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 

Then comes the interruption. No one saw this coming. They have no idea what to do. They have run out of options. But then then, there is something rather unusual:

38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Think about that for a moment. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Okay let’s go back to the previous verse and read again, just in case you missed it.  37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 

Jesus was sleeping—literally! Whatever the reason was for this kind of deep sleep, it simply shows how Jesus was just as human as anyone of us. He probably was too exhausted from the previous ministry engagements.

The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” The disciples actually thought they were all (including Jesus?) were going to drown! And, Jesus was just sleeping—unbothered by the impeding catastrophe. Have you ever been in a situation where you were like, “God, where are you?”

But let us not miss the main point here. Jesus was there in the boat. Sleeping, yes; but He was present. In fact what makes the humanity of Jesus relevant to our human experiences, including life’s interruptions, is that He shares in our human experiences. He is there when we need Him.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Think about this again: Jesus rebuked the storm. He spoke to the storm as though it had ears and was listening—and indeed it was. He commanded the waves to be quiet and still. He spoke to something inanimate and impersonal. Why? It is because, everything—I mean everything is under His sovereign power. Your situation is under His sovereign power. The coronavirus is under His sovereign power. Everything God created can listen to Him. I always tell people that everything that has a name has a knee. It bows to the name of Jesus. When life becomes interrupted, when the storms of life come, remember that JESUS IS RIGHT THERE WITH YOU AND THAT HE IS IN CONTROL. He was with me on that cold winter morning in South Korea when I felt like the world was caving in around me. He is with you when you feel helpless and defeated. He has sovereign power over your situation and the predicaments that we face every day.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

God still calls us to have faith. In times when everyone is panicking and living in fear, we need to trust Him. We need to speak His word to our circumstances. Jesus told us that we can speak to mountains. We can believe God to mend our brokenness and restore us. We can trust Him to guide us through the darkest valleys of our lives. He is able to lam the storms of our lives.

Let us pray:

Our heavenly Father, we come to you today in the face of everything we are going through. We do not have the answers to the world’s problems but You do. Only you can calm the storms of our lives. We particularly pray that you will calm the storm of the coronavirus that is ravaging the world. We speak hope to the hopeless world. We speak life where there is death. We speak healing where there is sickness and brokenness. In the name of Jesus, we have prayed, amen.

You can also watch this sermon on YouTube via this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_g4Si1z_f8&t=62s