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 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.

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

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.

Teach us to number our days.jpg

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

My Presence will go with you.jpg

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.

What did Jesus Do?

During my college days, I used to like the WWJD wristbands and tee-shirts. I think that whoever came up with the “what would Jesus do” idea or movement had very good intentions. They must have wanted Christians to have the right kind of Christ-like attitude—and perhaps corresponding actions—in every situation they encountered.  But the truth is that we cannot know with certainty what Jesus would actually do in each and every situation we encounter. Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. They were unconventional and counter-culture.

WDJD.jpg

But there was also something predictable about Jesus in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. I think that the more realistic motivation for us is to ask “what did Jesus do,” or WDJD if you will. He touched as cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the riffraff of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

What did Jesus do? He forfeited His divine privileges, came down to our level, and suffered for our sake. He was not indifferent to human rebellion and predicament. He was not judgmental. He gave His own life for ours. That is the life He lived for us to emulate. He laid down His life for us, so we ought to lay it down for others (1 John 3:16). And yes, he told us “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).

 

Turn the Other Cheek?

Acts 22:22-28

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

 

The soldiers are about to flog Paul in order to get a confession out of Him. But he immediately raises a protest because he is a Roman citizen who has certain privileges and protection according to their Law. It was illegal to scourge Roman citizen before he was tried. This scourging was so brutal that it could easily lead to death. Paul, who was born a Roman citizen, had a higher status than the one who simply bought his freedom.

This passage raises a question of how believers respond in cases of injustice. Are there issues of injustice in your community—neighbourhood, church or workplace—that you think need your attention and action? How can your faith in Jesus Christ help you to respond to such issues?

As I read Paul’s protest to the Roman soldier, one question that comes to my mind is, “aren’t Christians supposed to ‘turn the other cheek?’” How should Christians respond in cases of persecution and injustice? Are we supposed to protest, resist and fight for our rights? Or should we keep silent, hoping that our suffering will highlight our Christian witness. What is the best way to honor Christ? Certainly, there are no easy and straightforward answers to these questions. We, however, can find some pointers from the scriptures.

How balanced has your gospel been.jpg

In the above passage, Paul puts it to the Roman soldier whether it is lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged before they are charged. Paul is aware of his rights as a Roman citizen. Although Paul is under arrest, he knows what his rights are and he is not afraid to stand up for them. As Christians, we have an obligation to keep the laws of the land. But if such laws are repressive or inconsistent with God’s Word, we should use whatever legal ways available to us to challenge such laws.

We, however, need to ask God for wisdom. There are times when the right thing to do is to keep silence and endure suffering for the cause of the gospel. There are other times when our faith in God demands that we speak up for our rights and of those who are marginalized. The ultimate goal of every decision we make should be to honor Christ with our lives and actions.

I would like to conclude this devotional with Paul Tripp’s rather uncomfortable questions. “How balanced has your gospel been? Have you been an advocate for grace, but silent in the face of injustice? Have you been comfortable with the segregation of the Christian community or with subtle personal prejudice?”

 

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.

Unmet Expectations

Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine over ministry expectations. He was not comfortable with my philosophy of ministry and the way we ran stuff at church. Every relationship revolves around expectations. The more these expectations are mutually met, the healthier the relationship. Some expectations may be expressed while others may not. Some are realistic, others aren’t.

It is always fulfilling when our expectations are met. But it can be disappointing or even devastating when our expectations remain unfulfilled. Unrealistic expectations can hurt both us and others, especially those whom we care about. Some people have expectations of their friends and colleagues that only God can meet. This of course puts a strain on their relationship.

Some people have expectations of their friends and.jpg

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…

It is also possible to have unrealistic expectations of God. The Jewish people during the time of Jesus had a faulty understanding of the person and mission of the Messiah. They were waiting for a charismatic, political and militarily powerful liberator. It’s no wonder that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth could not fit into their frame of reference. He was too ordinary to be the “savior” they had been waiting for. When He came to them they did not recognize Him. They missed the “time of God’s coming to [them]” (Luke 19:44). And their rejection of the Savior had far reaching ramifications. That’s why Jesus wept. They rejected the One who could give them peace—the Prince of Peace. They rejected their King; they One they had been waiting for all along. But that was not all. 40 years later, the city of Jerusalem would be besieged and later destroyed together with six hundred thousand of its inhabitants.

What are your expectations of God? How do you respond when things seem not to be going your way? Could you be in a resisting God’s will because you have misconstrued God’s will and His ways?

What about your expectations of the people around you—your spouse, siblings, colleagues, etc? Are they realistic and contributing to building a healthy relationship?

My prayer is that God may help us to have realistic expectations in whatever relationships we are involved in.