Back to The Basics – Reimagining Church Beyond Buildings

Back to The Basics

By Pr. Emmanuel Akatukunda

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:8 – 9).

Of late I have been reflecting on an uncomfortable question. What if Church buildings were to remain closed for a little longer? How will ministry look like? I have listened from my fellow pastors, and many of us are waiting for time to come when we will return to “normal.” This is a fair and understandable desire. Personally, I would rather that church buildings and gatherings were allowed to open and we go back to the good old days.

But supposing this were not to happen, at least any time soon? Supposing God wants us to reset how we understand and do church? Could it be possible that we have become too comfortable by associating church with buildings. Could God be saying something to us but we are busy waiting to have our own way. Have we become so accustomed to building our empires that we fear to lose them? These are very uncomfortable questions—even for me.

As we pray and wait to go back to the good old days, we need to remember that there are millions of Christians who live in contexts where church buildings are not normal. They live in places where Christianity is a minority. There are Christians whom the house church is the only church they know. People who study the current church growth patterns say that China has perhaps the largest number of Christians in the world. Most of these Christians do not meet in designated church buildings. They are an underground movement. There are reports of vibrant churches even in so-called “creative access” countries. This is a fancy word for countries like North Korea where the preaching of the gospel is restricted. All I am trying to say is that God is at work even in places where Church buildings are not the norm. For us who are blessed to be in countries where we are free to preach the gospel and gather in public spaces, we should be grateful for such a privilege. I know that things are very difficult in many ways. We have never faced anything like this before—not even during when our country was at war. But must also acknowledge that this situation did not take God by surprise. He allowed it for a purpose.

Going Back to the Basics

But we should also be aware that these privileges can blind us from the real meaning of church and ministry. If there is one thing that the Lord would want us to learn during this time, it is to realign our priorities. We need to return to the basics. Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 2:8 – 9 are very important for the times that we live in: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.”

Paul was, so to speak, quarantined. His freedoms were highly restricted. He was facing an impeding execution. It was not because he was criminal but because of the Gospel. Despite the physical and emotional constraints, Paul was confident that the Gospel was not quarantined. God’s Word is not chained. Hallelujah! This is great news! The Gospel thrives even in the worst of contexts. If Paul could preach the Gospel in one of the worst Roman prisons. If our brothers and sisters in China, North Korea and other parts of the world where the preaching of the gospel is restricted can still preach the Gospel, we too have no slightest reason to complain.

We need to go back to the basics. Paul’s charge to Timothy is a reminder to all of us of the basic nature of the Gospel. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel (2 Timothy 2:8). Whatever we have made of the Gospel, the Word of God is clear. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ—raised from the dead. This is where is all begins. Last week I shared about two basic things about the church. The church is not a building but rather a people of God. Two, the church is essential because God works through her to advance His Kingdom.

The early New Testament church can provide for us a blueprint for what the church looks like. Now, I should add that the early church was not an ideal church. Each local church was unique and had its unique characteristics and challenges. But there are things that were common with them.

Be flexible

They did not have elaborate church buildings but rather met in homes. Very often Apostle Paul sent greetings to churches that met in people’s houses. Remember church is about people. Romans 16:3-5 he sends greetings to “Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.” In Philemon verses 1 and 2 Paul sends greetings to “Philemon…and to the church that meets in your home.” Remember that the earliest Christians were formerly followers of Judaism but when they became Christians, they were eventually stopped from meeting in the temple and Jewish synagogues. The believers had no choice but to reinvent how they could gather and have meaningful fellowships. Meeting in homes was a practical way of solving a challenge they faced. The point here is not that we should sell our church builds and resort to homes; no. We rather need to be flexible in the way we do church and have meaningful fellowship. 

Remain Connected

The early believers were connected with other believers. They shared resources. The church in Colossae was in touch with the church in Laodicea. In Colossians 4:15-16, believers are instructed to “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” The churches in Macedonia and Corinth supported the church in Jerusalem when they had a need. They were living out the true nature of being the body of Christ.

Be Accountable

The early church was an accountable church. The churches acknowledged the apostolic leadership of Paul, Peter, Timothy, Titus and others. The Apostles gave spiritual oversight, doctrinal guidance, and leadership oversight. In Titus 1:5 we learn that Paul left Titus in Crete that he “might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” Clearly, Titus was under Paul’s leadership. The leaders in Crete were also accountable to Titus. The believers also gave financial support to their leaders. This enabled the leaders to focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer. Where and when necessary some leaders worked with their own hands to provide for their living.

This time is particularly challenging for Christian leaders. We need a spirit of discernment. It is not easy. Does the Lord want you to rethink how you have been doing ministry? Do you need to find something more to do to supplement your income? Does the Lord want you to press on despite the challenges?

But this is also a time of great testing for all believers. The Lord knows those who are His. Some who were thought to be believers will fall away. Some who are weak may stumble. We need to reach out to them. Those who are strong in the Lord will grow stronger. We need to encourage them to keep the faith. Let us be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.

The church buildings may be closed but the gospel is not. There are vast opportunities to share the gospel. There are many ways to remain connected. We need to remain accountable to the leadership God has given us. As I close, I pray that the words of Paul that we read will be an encouragement to us. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained (2 Timothy 2:8 – 9).

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.

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.

Asa’s heart was fully committed to the.jpg

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?

Missions: a Call to Worship

1 Chronicles 16:23-27 (NIV)  Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  26 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.  27 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.

In the passage above, King David, assisted by Asaph, calls upon the people to worship the God who created the universe. He deserves to be worshiped because He alone is God. All the other gods are idols. They are false gods. God called Israel that they would proclaim the greatness of His name to the other nations. Israel’s faith was neither meant to be private nor exclusive. God’s intention was that through Israel’s obedience and devotion to His ways, other nations would come to the knowledge of His love, justice and holiness.  This too is our mission as the church of Jesus Christ. We are called to declare the name of the One true and living God through our words and actions.

For some Christians worship and missions are two important but unrelated activities of the church. We tend to limit worship what is done when believers are gathered and missions to what believers do when they are scattered in the world. I think there is some truth to that but there is still more. Worship and missions are interconnected. The One true living God is the object of both worship and missions. None of them is a mere human endeavor. One leads to the other. Worship is both the fuel and goal of missions. John Piper famously said that, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” As such, missions is a call for the people who are estranged from God to return and worship Him.

A call to worship

When Moses encountered God in the burning Bush, God sent him to go back to Egypt. His mission was to “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exodus 8:1). God’s desire is that all people get to worship Him. We were created to worship God, but Satan also competes for our worship. People turn away from God when they fail or refuse to worship Him alone. So, when we worship we are declaring to the enemy, Satan, that only the Lord is God who is worthy of our worship. And when we witness, we are calling people to return and worship the One true and living God.

Food for Thought:

How can you, as part of your church community, be engaged in declaring the praises of the One true God among those who do not believe in Him? 

The Shepherd’s Heart

 2 Corinthians 12:14-18

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

 

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” and charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In 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 believers to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

what I want is not your possessions.jpg
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 who should emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

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.

Be shepherds of the church of God.jpg
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.

Our Humanness and God’s Purposes

1 Kings 19:1-4 (NIV)   Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,  4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Fleeing for dear Life

After a powerful demonstration of God’s power (by fire), defeat of Baal’s prophets, and the end of three and a half years of a dry spell which had been pronounced by him (chapter 18), Elijah now faces a death threat from Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife. Jezebel’s reputation for being a nasty and deadly queen is unmatched. Not wanting to take chances, Elijah flees for his life.

1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

This story reveals Elijah’s humanness. He is a fiery prophet, powerfully used of God but he is also human. It is easy to underestimate our humanness, especially when God is powerfully using us. Elijah’s life is threatened precisely because he is doing God’s will. This story also reveals God’s concern and care for his servants (vv. 5-8). Elijah was tired; he need to rest. He was hungry; he needed to eat—a lot of food. God provided all that he needed (vv. 5-9).When we find ourselves tired, discouraged and depressed, God is right there to help us. His grace is available for the weak, and tired and desperate.

Serving God and being in His will does not necessarily insulate us from life’s challenges and threats. Yet God cares for us even in the most difficult experiences.

A Gentle Whisper of God

1 Kings 19:11-12 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

At mount Horeb, Elijah has many things to complain about: Israel’s worship and religious systems are dead. There has been severe persecution and killing of God’s prophets. Elijah feels alone, rejected and perhaps suicidal. Here is a stark contrast between the Elijah at Mount Carmel: confident, bold, in charge (chapter 18); and the one at Mount Horeb: distraught, unsure, and desperate (vv. 10, 14).

Elijah encounters God, not in the spectacular phenomena of powerful wind, earthquake and fire, but in “a gentle whisper” (v. 12). The God of Mt. Carmel who answers by fire is the same God of Mt. Horeb who answers in a gentle whisper. God works in and through ordinary people like Elijah (and you and me for that matter) to accomplish His purposes (cf. James 5:17-18).

The Transition

1 Kings 19:15-16  The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.

Elijah has been faithful to God; it is now time for a transition. He is to anoint other kings— Hazael and Jehu, and his successor—Elisha. Elijah also needs to know that he is not alone. There are “seven thousand in Israel– all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18). One of the strategies that the enemy uses to discourage us is to make us feel and believe that we are alone; that our experiences are unique and no one really understands us. The truth is that you are not alone. When you feel abandoned ask God to lead you to people who can be of encouragement to you.

Have you ever realized that God’s purposes are bigger than you; than your accomplishments or even your failures? As His servants, we are not in charge; He is.

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The Centrality of Worship

In the beginning…

God is Holy and demands that the people He created worship Him. Simply put, we were created to worship the One living God. When God created mankind, Adam and Eve, he put them in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was their act of worship. There was neither temple nor altar in the Garden of Eden because the fellowship between God and people was unbroken. But because of sin, mankind could no longer have direct fellowship with God. As a result altars, temples, sacrifices and priests became necessary. You see, the heart of worship is obedience. We cannot worship God on our terms. God has set the terms and conditions for those who worship Him. To worship God is to acknowledge Him for who He is and what He does.

Let my people go, so that they may worship me (Exodus 10:3).

The encounters between Moses and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus highlight the centrality of worship. God’s purpose is delivering the children of Israel from Egypt was “that they may worship [Him]” (Exodus 9:13). “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go” Pharaoh asked Moses (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh’s response to Moses signifies how the devil’s primary mission is to stop or distract us from worshiping God. So, in this sense, worship is spiritual warfare.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22 22).

Jesus Christ reiterated the centrality of worship when He told the Samaritan woman that the Father seeks for worshipers who worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). In the Book of Revelation, the worship ideal is restored. There will be no temple in the new earth and new heaven because God’s presence will be with His people (Revelation 21:22). This is the ultimate goal of life—the sommum bonum; to find pleasure in the presence of God. May we all strive to make worship the center of our lives.

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The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (V)

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Focus 

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates–Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:1-4 (NIV)

One of the qualities any leader must have is focus—not being distracted from one’s calling, vision and mission. Nehemiah is an example of a leader who was focused and intentional about his assignment. He refused to be distracted by his enemies. Every day we are faced with a challenge to stay focused on what God has called us to do. Let me share some of the distractions we can encounter.

Good things/programs

This is the easiest to distract us from our mission. Life sometimes offers us  many good things. Some of these things or programs may be even more attractive and appealing than our primary commitments. They may offer better positions, opportunities, or remuneration than the ministry God has called us for. It takes immense discipline and intentionality to keep focused when such situations arise.

The enemy

Satan is diabolically opposed to God’s purposes. He distracts us by making us focus on the challenges at hand than the big picture of our mission. The enemy can use diverse strategies to make us fail in our mission. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Apostle Paul clearly says that several times Satan hindered him from going to certain places to preach the Gospel. The encouragement we have is that with Lord’s help we can overcome Satan.

Life challenges

Life is a journey, and so it has its ups and downs. There are times when every leader has to deal with a crisis—whether it is a loss of a loved one, an illness, financial challenge, or a divorce. These challenges can threaten our commitment to our mission. What keeps us going is the assurance that God is with us even in the fire that we might be going through.

Past victories or failures

The hangover of yesterday’s victory or the guilt of past failures can derail us from our calling. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Yesterday’s victories cannot guarantee today’s success. Similarly, you might have failed yesterday but that’s not a reason for you to give up. Every leader needs fresh spiritual nourishment and strength for the tasks and commitments of each day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Like Apostle Paul says we need to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Keep your Focused on the Goal.
Like an athlete, leaders need to be stubbornly focused on their mission. Our lives must be wholly committed to the mission God has given us. Like Apostle Paul, we need to say “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Like Nehemiah, when we encounter the challenges that would distract us, we should be able to say: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3).