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.

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  

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?

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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

Reflections on Human Mortality

Read Psalm 91

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” (Verse 3)

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (verse 3).

When I was growing up, I didn’t really like Psalm 90. When someone in the community died, we would tag along our parents to bid the deceased “farewell.” On these occasions, Psalm 90 was read out as part of the liturgy. So I associated the psalm with death—which in itself is not far-fetched. I, like many other people, don’t want to die but the fact is we will all die. Irrespective of how long we live on this earth, our time is limited. Our lives here on earth are transient.

We, therefore, need not only to reflect on life but also on death. Or better still, we need to reflect on our lives in light of our mortality. I believe that it is only when we start taking our mortality seriously that we can start living meaningfully. Jon Bloom once said, “If God is eternal and our earthly lives are transient, then there is only one place the wise will choose to live: in God, our forever dwelling place.” For us who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that our life here on earth is not all there is to life. We have an eternal home. Our present life is like a dress rehearsal for the real thing. When we die, the curtains in heaven open for the real performance.

Every single person has a choice on how they should live their lives in preparation for eternity. We can choose to squander our time, strength and opportunities or to invest our lives in ways that honor God and advance His kingdom. We need to use our time on earth wisely, for the glory of God.

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Food for Thought:

Since your life on earth is transient, how will you invest it in serving God’s purposes? Think of the gifts, talents and opportunities God has given you as your spiritual capital.

The Presence of God

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Exodus 33:14-15 (NIV) The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.

The motif of the presence of God is pervasive in the scriptures. Although God is everywhere, He chooses to localize his manifest presence among His people. Before the Fall, God dealt directly with His people. There were no intermediaries such as priests, altars, sacrifices or a temple. In the Garden of Eden, God came to Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8).

During the time of the exodus, God instructed Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant—a gold-coated wooden box where the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept (Exodus 25:10ff). The covenant Box was always kept in the holiest section of the sanctuary and its access was limited to a few prescribed priests.  It signified the presence of God in the midst of His people.

In the New Covenant, Jesus is the Immanuel—God in our midst. Even when Jesus returned to heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit who dwells in the life of every believer. Again, although God is omnipresent, He manifests His presence among His people.

When Christ returns, we the believers shall be with Him in the New City. Apostle John saw a vision of the New Jerusalem. What is remarkable in John’s vision is that there is no “temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). Indeed as someone has put it, “all of life—and, principally, the gospel life—is about being in God’s relational presence.”  We all should long to be in God’s presence both now and in the life to come.

The Shepherd’s Heart

Acts 20:28-31 (NIV)  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. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd.” He also charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” And Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In all these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believer to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds that emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.