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.

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.

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  

Too Good for the World

Hebrews 11:26-38 (NIV) Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

Hebrews 11 is one of my favorite chapters. Some commentators have described it as a hall of fame for men and women who exhibited their faith in God. Yet, we can be gripped by a thriller-like description of the lives of these men that we skip one thing that really defined them. One of the most profound statements about these heroes of faith is mentioned almost anecdotally. “The world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:38). What was so special about these men and women that, so to speak, made them too good for the world?

I think that what makes them special is that their singular focus was on heaven. This, however, does not mean that that they were “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good;” far from it. They were grounded in the realities of their times. They lived, raised families, conducted business; they were as human as anyone could be. But they were not attached to this world. As a matter of fact, very few people could have even noticed that these people actually existed. They were not politically powerful or economically affluent. It seems some were even homeless and “wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:38). So, by this world’s standards, they were really insignificant.

But this did not matter to them. Their allegiance was to Jesus Christ. They lived for God and not this world—and whatever it presents. Could the same be said of us? Are we singularly committed to the cause of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Is our faith in God the grid through which we see everything else? Or have we blended with the world so much that it seems like this is where we truly belong?

The world was not good enough for them

The City and God

Hebrews 11:16 (NIV). Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

What emotions does the word “city” evoke in you? Are they feelings of hope, energy and excitement; or fear, despair and loneliness? Some people are energized by the city. It provides space to nurture and fulfill their dreams. Others find it as a necessary evil. It is a place where they need to be in order to survive. Still others view the city with suspicion. They consider it to be to be disruptive to what could otherwise be a normal life—whatever that life is.

I recently participated in a research on faith and the city, exploring the areas of collaboration between Christian organizations and urban authorities in my city. One of the questions we asked the research participants was rather philosophical: “Is the city home?” We were surprised by some of the responses. Many people in my city do not consider it to be “home.” Although many of these people have been in the city for all their adult life, they still have strong attachments with their ancestral homes—villages where they will be buried when they die!

But what has the city got to do with faith? The notion of cities is pervasive in the Bible—for good and not-so-good reasons. The word “city” appears over 600 times in the English Bible. If we consider that a city is a place where everything is amplified—whether it is production, consumption, population, wealth, poverty, power or vulnerability—then we have to take cities seriously. God does take cities seriously.

How then should Christians engage with their cities? I think one of the helpful motifs when it comes to engaging our cities is the “city of God” which He has prepared for His people (Heb. 11:16). This should motivate us to love our cities. God has a special purpose for your city. You should therefore, pray for your city. Get involved in initiatives to transform your city, one small step at a time. Also, let your city motivate you to long for the perfect city in heaven.

God has a special purpose for your cityPrayer

Lord, I thank you for my city! I pray that you help me to see my city through Your eyes. Help me to love and seek for the flourishing of my city. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

The Risk of Following Jesus

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Before I became a Christian, everything I heard about following Jesus Christ was good and attractive—and I think this experience is shared by many other believers. But as I started reading the Bible, I realized that Jesus does not promise that the journey will be easy for those who would want to follow Him. One has to take serious considerations about the implications of being His disciple. He, in fact likens following Him to carrying the cross on a daily basis. Our concept of the cross has been distorted due to the time and culture gap between us and the time of Jesus. For us it is a harmless or even beautiful artifact or piece of jewelry.  But during the era of the Roman Empire, only those who were about to be executed carried their crosses to the place of crucifixion. So, carrying the cross is akin to dying—and on a daily basis.

Those who take a stand for what Jesus stands for risk being hated, called names, ostracized, treated unjustly, imprisoned or even killed. The story of Joseph of Arimathea illustrates the kind of boldness every believer needs in order to identify with Jesus. Although, he was among the most respected people in the Jewish religious establishment, Joseph risked his reputation and perhaps his carrier to identify with Jesus. Hitherto he had been a secret disciple of Jesus. But Joseph was not alone. There were two other women following. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph had been with Jesus right for most of His public ministry. They followed their Master to the end.

Why would anyone risk being shunned by family and close friends, arrested or killed for the sake of Jesus? It is not because of what the world could offer us in this life but rather of what Jesus promises us both in this life and the life to come. Although we might lose everything—including our own lives, when we have Jesus we have everything.

Have you ever had to make hard choices for the sake of following Jesus? How are you going to live for Him today; this week?

when we have Jesus we have everything

Contending with Evil Altars

2 Chronicles 15:16-18 (NIV)16 King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 17 Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. 18 He brought into the temple of God the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.

An altar is a place where people make sacrifices to a deity. The first mention of the altar in the Bible is when Noah builds one after the flood in order to offer sacrifices to God (Gen. 8:20). God instructed Moses to build an altar, as part of the tabernacle, to burn incense for the Lord (Exod.  30:1). The priests were tasked to burn incense on the altar every morning. In the New Testament believers are exhorted to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Therefore, for Christian believers, altars may be the spaces where we live out and the activities we do in the name of Christ to honor God. This may include prayer and worship gatherings or even our day-to-day work as long as it is done to honor Christ. Altars concretize and energize our worship of God.

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However, even in the biblical times, altars were not the preserve for the worshipers of the One true God. Other nations also erected altars to sacrifice to their gods. Sadly, time and again the people of Israel were lured to worship the foreign gods on the pagan altars. This of course displeased God and He likens it to spiritual prostitution.

Evil altars, then, are spaces and activities where the name of the Lord is dishonored and evil is glorified. As believers, we are called to contend with evil altars. But we also need to realize that we contend with evil forces and not human beings. We don’t kill “non-believers” or disown our children when they refuse to follow Christ. We content against spiritual altars by speaking and living by the truth of God’s Word and praying against them in the name of Jesus Christ.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What radical steps of obedience do you fell led to take as a follower of Jesus Christ?

Conditions for True Success

2 Chronicles 15:1-2  The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded.  2 He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

Whereas the world understands success in terms of material possessions, true success comes from God. We learn from King Asa’s story that true success comes when we have a right relationship with God and we are committed to doing what honors Him.  The king was exhorted to seek the Lord so that he and his kingdom can be successful. His primary call was to seek God and serve Him. As long as he was singularly committed to honoring the Lord, he would be successful. There are at least three attitudes that Asa demonstrated that are also applicable to us if we want to experience God’s blessings.

Fear the Lord. To fear the Lord is to have reverence for Him that culminates into worship. When we fear the Lord we exalt Him above everything else. We honor Him in every way. We shun evil and strive to do what pleases Him. The Word of God repeatedly exhorts believers to fear the Lord because that is the source of wisdom.

Seek the Lord. It is easy for people in places of responsibility to miss their primary calling, which is to seek the Lord, and focus on pursuing their selfish ambition. That’s why every leader, and indeed every believer, needs someone to speak the truth of God’s Word to them. Asa was blessed to have Azariah speak into his life. Make an effort to stay in God’s presence through prayer, the Word, fellowship with other believers and practicing other spiritual disciplines. Seeking the Lord also involves turning away from other idols of the heart such us self, earthly treasures, and other lusts. God has promised that all those that humbly seek Him, will find Him.

Obey the Lord. This is closely related to the two attitudes we already mentioned. We seek the Lord because we fear Him and when we seek Him, he reveals His will to us so that we can obey Him.  Our obedience should be prompt, wholehearted and unreserved. Whenever there are aspects of our lives where we hesitate to completely surrender to the Lord, they can easily become snares to lure us away from Him.

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Finishing Well

2 Chronicles 14:2-6 (NIV) Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.  4 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. 5 He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. 6 He built up the fortified cities of Judah, since the land was at peace. No one was at war with him during those years, for the Lord gave him rest.

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One of the commonest analogies to the Christian faith is a race. It is easy for many people to sign up, turn up and actually begin the race but not all who start the race finish. The same thing happens in Christian ministry. There are many people who start well but end up miserably. It is important that we do not only start well but also finish well. So, how can we finish well?

Keep the Perspective. One of the pitfalls of Christian ministry is losing the big picture. It is easy to be preoccupied with dealing with the crises and the urgent but miss the whole point of the purpose of our calling. We are really here to please our Master, Jesus Christ. If whatever we do does not honor Christ, then we have missed the point.
Keep the Faith. It is easy to depend on God when you are poor, struggling, or not famous. But when God blesses us and we become successful, the temptation to become proud becomes great. We can easily attribute our success to our wisdom and hard work rather than God’s help. Never stop trusting the Lord.

Keep the Fire burning. Do not lose the passion. Do not become complacent. When we become complacent, we get content with our accomplishments and stop believing God for the best. It is easy to think that we have arrived and simply enjoy the status quo. Always find avenues to keep aflame your passion for the Lord and His work.

Quote: “We never outgrow your desperate need for Christ.” Jerry Bridges