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  

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.

Faith – Beyond Positive Confession

Hebrews 11:1-3(NIV). Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is encouraging the believers to remain faithful to the God who called them. Faith is one of the subjects that widely preached about, especially in my part of the world. For some, faith is kind of a currency that one needs to get whatever they want. It is like some kind of magic that one needs in order to leap into the unknown and the impossible. According to some preachers, faith is all about feeling and thinking positively about ourselves and circumstances—and our potential to become or achieve anything we want. We are the objects of faith. We are essentially taught to trust in ourselves.

This, however, is different from biblical faith, whose object is the Triune God. Faith is the confident hope; the promised good beyond us. This hope is more than mere optimism; it derives from God. Faith—genuine faith—is our response to God’s promises. But if the character of the One who promises were flawed, we would have no confidence in Him. So, essentially, our Christian faith is premised on the unchanging character of the living God, the creator of heaven and earth. We can believe in His Word because it is consistent with who He is.

Christian faith begins and ends with God. It is Him who sets the agenda. It is Him who knows the end—the goal, the purpose, the consummation—of all things. It is the almighty God who is in charge of every single detail. Our role, therefore, is to respond to Him in obedience and trust. This trust is based on our relationship with Him as our heavenly Father. He knows what is best for us even though it might not seem to be what we really wanted.

Sometimes our faith will result in us accomplishing great things, humanly speaking. At other times our faith in God could result in us losing the very things we hold dear, including our own lives. In other words, it is God who sets the agenda; not us. Faith is not about us winning or losing but rather honoring God with our lives and everything else.

And without faith it is impossible to please God

REFLECTION

In what ways can the faith of those who went before you motivate you to keep trusting in God?

PRAYER

Dear heavenly Father, You are faithful. Your Word is trust worthy. Please teach me to trust in You, especially during times when things may not be going my way. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Fake Shepherds

Acts 20:28-30: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

In recent years, the world has been introduced to a phenomenon of the so-called fake news, that is, news that intended to misinform and mislead in order to influence public opinion on certain national or global issues. Sadly, the perpetuation of false information is not only limited to the public arena but it is also pervasive in the church.

Jesus declares that “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). This is in contrast to the fake shepherds. He calls them “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) or “the hired hand (John 10:12). They are basically selfish and have no interest in the welfare of the people who follow them. Apostle Paul refers to them as “savage wolves.” They are greedy. They have no fear of God. They use the name of God to advance their own selfish interests. Instead of pointing people to Christ, they draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:30). Their mission is to advance Satan’s agenda, that is, to “to steal and kill and destroy.”

Their methods are also clear. They distort the truth of God’s word. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies. Like a thief, they can be sneaky, secretive, and manipulative. Others are bold and forceful like robbers. Many are indifferent or even hostile to those who attempt to correct them.

When we commit ourselves to godly leadership of a local church that faithfully teaches the Word of God, we will be able to discern these fake shepherds. More importantly, we should emulate the life and teachings of the Good and Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Be shepherds of the church of God,

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

I Want to See

Mark 10:46-52 (NIV)

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 

It probably started like just another day for blind Bartimaeus. He goes to his usual place hoping that some kind souls would help him out with some little money but then something happens. He hears that Jesus is passing by accompanied by a large crowd of people. Could this be his turning point? Could the One who has performed many miracles change his life?  Jesus hears the cry of Bartimaeus and stops. Jesus calls for him. When he is asked what the Lord would do for him, he responds that “I want to see.” He is aware of his condition. He knows that only the Lord can change it.

One of the stated ministry objectives of Jesus Christ was to open the eyes of the blind. Bartimaeus’ physical blindness reminds us of our own spiritual blindness. There are many things that can blind us blinds us from seeing things God’s way.

One of them is our culture.  Our culture conditions us to think and act in certain ways. Sometimes some of these ways are not consistent with God’s Word. The cultural practices we may consider to be “Christian” may actually be detestable before God. The Bible cautions us against being conformed to the standards of the world (Rom. 12:2). It is, therefore important for us to be aware of our cultural prejudices as we study God’s Word and seek to follow Him.

The other reason why we can be spiritually blind is because of our sinful tendencies—wanting to have our own way rather than the Lord’s. The Bible calls it the “hardness of the heart” (Mark 10:5). As we continually submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the spiritual scales that blind us get removed and our desires become more and more aligned to the will of God.

We must acknowledge the sheer fact that we are human and limited in many ways. Sometimes we can have faulty expectations from the Lord. Paul says that our knowledge is partial (1 Cor. 13:9). We, therefore, need to go to the Lord every day and ask Him to open our eyes to see things as He sees them.

PRAYER:

Dear Lord, open my spiritual eyes so that I may see You clearly. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

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