Being Accountable in a Local Church

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. Titus 1:5

In today’s message, we will look at the last message in our series, Back to the Basics. One of the essential characteristics of the Church of Christ is the accountability of believers in the context of a local church. As we saw a few weeks ago, the early church was an accountable church. The local churches that gathered in different houses were also accountable to the apostolic leadership of Paul, Titus, Timothy and others. In Titus 1:5 we see Paul sending Titus to undertake the responsibility of appointing elders in every town in Crete. This implies that an elder could have been responsible for several house churches.

The times that we live in make it harder for some people to be accountable to church leadership or even fellow believers. Accountability is particularly challenging during these times because believers are not physically gathering in church buildings on a weekly basis. Also, there are believers who do not feel it is important to be committed to a particular local church. They would rather hop from one fellowship to another. It is very easy for some people to be on their own with no sense of Christian responsibility. It, therefore, takes a certain level of discipline to keep oneself accountable. It is not something that comes automatically. It is something we have to intentionally work out.


Why is accountability important?

  1. A Healthy Community Requires Accountable Individuals

Accountability means that we take responsibility for our actions. We also allow other people to hold us responsible for how we live. Last week we saw that the reason we have to remain connected with other believers is because we were created to live in community. And for us to create a healthy community, we all must be accountable to one another. Just as children grow in the context of a nuclear family, God’s design is that Christians are nurtured in the context of a local church. You were not called to be a believer-at-large. Families provide the context of a child to grow and be nurtured to become a responsible citizen. They provide the food a child needs to grow, give counsel and provide a sense of belonging—a sense of identity. Every family has a culture that is important in shaping their identity and values. In the same way, your local church helps you have a sense of identity as a believer. It also provides you a context to grow and serve. The Bible tells us that “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

  1. Authority Can Only Be Appropriately Used If One Is Accountable

In Matthew 8 there is a story of a Roman Centurion, a commander of a group of Roman soldiers. His words to Jesus help us to understand the concept of authority and accountability. This is how the story goes:

Matthew 8:5-10: When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” 7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” 8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

The Centurion understood the power of the authority of Jesus Christ because he had learnt to be under authority. He was accountable. Authority can only be appropriately used if one is also under authority. In many ways, our level of accountability to human authority can also affect our faith in Jesus Christ. If you are insubordinate and rebellious towards the people God has brought into your life, I doubt how you can grow in your walk with Jesus.  

  1. How We Conduct Our Lives Now Has Eternal Consequences.

The choices we make have consequences—and some of these consequences are eternal.  God expects us to be accountable in this life. Also, we will ultimately give an account on how we lived when we get to heaven. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says that “…we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” How we conduct our lives today has eternal consequences.


How Do I Develop the Character of Accountability?

  1. Be an Active Member of Your Local Church.

Get involved in your church’s programs. Support your church’s ministry initiatives. As I already mentioned, your local church gives you a context to grow and serve. There are many ways to participate in your local church. Find an area where you can serve regularly. Be a regular and generous giver. It doesn’t matter how much you have or give; it is all about the state of your heart. 2 Corinthians 8:12 tells us that “…if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”

  1. Submit to The Leadership of Your Local Church.

Follow the vision of the pastor. Pray for the leadership.  The leaders communicate the vision and mission of the local church. They provide strategic direction of the ministry. The leadership of the local church also gives spiritual and doctrinal oversight. Over and over again the Bible exhorts the leaders to give attention to the proper handling of God’s Word.

I always tell people that if you are a member of a local church whose leadership you feel you cannot submit to, prayerfully find another fellowship to be part of. God requires you to submit to the leadership of your local church. Hebrews 13:17tells us to “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

Accountability also means submitting to the discipline of the church if need arises. I know that this might sound old fashioned and even ridiculous to some people but we cannot talk of proper accountability if there is no willingness to submit to church discipline. After all, discipline simply means doing what I am supposed to do whether I like it or not. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.””

  1. Walk in the Light.

Let your private and public life be a testimony to those around you. Find a few mature Christian friends to whom you can be open. Let them be your accountability partners. Confess your sins to one another. Determine to be a person of integrity. Admit your failures, ask for forgiveness and forsake whatever does not honor Christ. Secret sins can hurt us deeply. They affect our fellowship with the Lord and our relationship with other people. The Bible tells us that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Again, being accountable does not come to us naturally. It is something we have to learn to do. It is a discipline that we have cultivate. But it is something that honors God. Accountability, in the context of a local church, helps us to grow in our faith in Jesus Christ.

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).

Generosity in Adversity

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

2 Corinthians 8:1-8

This season of the COVID-19 and the lockdown is perhaps the toughest many of us have ever gone through. It has also exposed the best and worst in us. Trials are like a burning furnace; they reveal what is in the inside of us. If our hearts are filled with greed – a desire to have more and more for ourselves but disregarding the needs of others – they will be exposed. If we are filled with generosity – a desire and willingness to share whatever we have with those who are in need – it will also be revealed. I have been personally encouraged by the generosity of many of you. Some of you have gone out of your way to share with and support God’s people who are in need.

Today, I would like to share with you how you can be generous even in times such as these. I will be sharing from 2 Corinthians 8:1-8. This passage relates to our situation. Jerusalem was experiencing intense famine and Paul writes to the Church in Corinth requesting them to support the churches in Jerusalem. As believers we have an obligation to act generously towards all those who are in need, especially fellow believers. Let’s turn to the Word of God:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5

The believers in Macedonia were Paul’s model church when it came to the grace of giving. It is not because they were rich. No. In fact they were extremely poor. But they were outflowing with joy. They were a joyful community. They were a church that was totally committed to – surrendered to – God and His will. They were also a people who gave sacrificially. They gave beyond what was comfortable and convenient.  There are at least five lessons that we can learn from the Macedonian believers when it comes to being generous. 

  • Generosity is the matter of the heart

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:2).

We do not give because we are rich. Generosity is an attitude. It is from the heart but it is expressed in tangible ways. Generous people give. They forgive those who offend them; They share helpful information with those who need to benefit from it. Generous people are networkers. As you can see, generosity goes beyond giving. Generous people are always looking for ways of making other people better. They are not afraid to share whatever they have for the good of others. They want others to shine. The needs around us can be an opportunity for us to express our generous spirit.

  • Generosity reveals our sufficiency in God

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Corinthians 8:2).

As Christians our generosity is based on our sufficiency in Christ and not the abundance of material things. You can be rich and generous. You can also be deprived of material things but generous. We can be generous despite our circumstances. Generous people are joyful people. Generosity and joy go hand in hand because generous people are contented people. A generous person does not give because they must but rather because they want to. It is their joy to give. They delight in giving; in making other people better. And the Bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).

  • Generosity is sacrificial

3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 2 Corinthians 8:3-4. Generous people give beyond what is convenient or comfortable. The Bible also reminds us that Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 2 Corinthians 9:6

Generous people are not thinking about the cost; they are thinking about how to serve others.

  • Generosity is an act of worship

And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. 2 Corinthians 8:5.

The Bible tells us of a story of a woman called Mary who saved up whatever she could to buy a very expensive perfume and then poured it on the feet of Jesus. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3). For people who did not know her – those who could not see what was in her heart – they thought that it was a waste of money. But for Jesus, Mary’s act was prophetic worship. She was preparing Him for the impending death.

True generosity is a result of our inner surrender (self-giving) to God. It is an act of worship. It is an expression of our faith in God as our source of provision—as the one who sustains us.  We give in obedience to God’s Word. We first commit ourselves to God and then to those whom we serve.

  • Generosity is a discipline

But since you excel in everything —in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). We can learn and grow in generosity as an outflow of our love for God and others.

In my experience, I have encountered generous people who, like the Macedonians, do not necessarily have much but are incredibly generous. They go out of their way to support God’s work and His people. Sometimes their giving makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like telling them, “stop!” because I know what they are going through. They have very little to live on.

One of such generous people is a widow named Anne. Anne is one of the best cooks I know. She does not have much but she delights in serving God’s people. On many occasions she would plead with me (and a few others) to visit her. On every visit we would be surprised by how much delicious food she had prepared. I must confess that I could not help to think about how much it must have cost her; let alone the time she took to prepare. But her delight was to see us enjoy the meal she had prepared; and indeed, we enjoyed!

But Anne is not just a good cook and a wonderful host.  Her heart of generosity is deeper than that. One morning she had gone to the market to shop for groceries. She then saw a group of people gathered in a certain corner of the market. When she went to see what was going on, she discovered that some one had abandoned a child on a garbage heap. The child was barely a week old. Anne then asked the market authorities if she could take the child and take care of him. After seeking help from police and local community authorities, she was allowed to keep the child. Many people discouraged her from taking the baby home. How could this old woman take care of the child? What if the child was HIV positive? Where would she get the money to look after the child? What if the actual parents came years later and demanded for their child? But Anne did not let any of those discouraging remarks deter her. She took up the boy. She gave him a new lease of life.

As you see, every day there are opportunities for us to act generously to the people around us. Generosity begins from the heart. Ask the Lord to open your heart to the needs around you. Ask Him to give you wisdom about how you can respond. Act in faith, trusting that God will use what you have to bless the person in need. Ask God to help you grow in the grace of giving. I pray that you will be the person whom God uses to make others better.

Worship in Turbulent Times

Worship in Turbulent Times

By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda

How is your worship life these days? Is this even a fair question to ask in times like these? Is it possible to worship in the tough and turbulent times we live in? Today we will share from the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was not a typical prophet who spoke God’s word to the people. Instead his is a dialogue, a conversation with God. This book resembles that of Job. It is about, lament (or complaint), listening to God, prayer and worship. It is a beautiful book that speaks to our human experiences. I encourage you to read the book in your free time. It is very short; you can read the entire book in under 10 minutes.

The summary (and paraphrase) of the dialogue goes like this:

Habakkuk: God, why don’t you do something about Judah’s wickedness?

God: I am about to do something. I will raise Babylonians to punish Judah.

Habakkuk: Really? But why would you use a nation more wicked than Judah to punish us?

God: Time will come when all evil will be punished. I am a just God. There will be an end to all evil and righteousness.

Habakkuk: Alright, I may not understand why and how you do Your things but I will trust in You.

Some Christians hesitate or even fear to have and honest dialogue with God. It is okay to have an honest dialogue with God. God is not put off or embarrassed by your honest questions. Our sharing today will focus on the three things that we learn from Habakkuk’s life. His life reveals a believer’s honest journey with God. I pray and hope that we will learn how to lament, to wait, and to worship.

  1. The Lament: How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? (Habakkuk 1:2)

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Habakkuk 1:2-3

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? Habakkuk 1:13

Habakkuk’s lament is rather shocking. He asks God, “why do you idly look at wrong? Habakkuk 1:3 – ESV). He is shocked and overwhelmed by the evil that is happening around him but God seems to be unbothered.  He is wondering or rather thinks that God tolerates evil.

I don’t know about you, but there are times I have found myself struggling to understand why things are the way they are. There are times I have expected to act in certain ways but he seemed not to care. He did not respond the way I wanted. Some questions we ask are like, “How come?” Because we don’t really understand God’s ways. Or we ask, “How long?” Because we don’t really understand God’s timing.

But then God replies: I am not silent; I do not tolerate evil; I will act. I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5

Sometimes God may respond to us in ways we do not understand or ways that are confusing to us. But then we do not have to give up. We need to wait on him and listen.

  1. The Waiting and Listening: I will look to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2:1)

I admire Habakkuk’s faith. He was not afraid of asking difficult questions. He expressed his confusion to God. Even when God replied in ways he did not expect, he did not give up. He decided to wait on the Lord. You see, true lament produces hope. We admit our own failures, pain, confusion and limitations but also look up to God for the help; for answers that only He can give. Like Habakkuk we need to come to that point where we resolve that: I will look to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2:1)

God responded to Habakkuk:

“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:2-3)

He also adds: the righteous person will live by his faithfulness I(Habakkuk 2:4)

Victory is assured for those who fear God. Faith—unwavering trust—in God and his will; a determination to follow Christ no matter what, is the key to the believer’s victory.

 

  1. The Prayer and Worship: I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day (Habakkuk 3:2)

Habakkuk reflects on what God has done in the past. He reflects on God’s power, His mercies, His splendor, His glory, His salvation. Can you look back and think of the works of God? What has the Lord done throughout history? What has God done in your life? When did God come through for you when you had given up? When did he move mountains to make a way for you?

Have you ever walked or run and somewhere along the journey you grew tired? But when you looked back, you realized that you had actually covered more distance than you thought; and that became a source of your encouragement? You may not understand all that is going on around you. You may not understand why things are the way they are. But you can trust in God. He has the power to move mountains. He loves you unconditionally and works in all things for your good. He is good all the time. God is merciful. He does not judge us according to what we deserve or else we would all have been destroyed.  He knows what is up to. He knows how all this will end. He guides all things to fit into His purposes.

In light of all this, Habakkuk decides to worship. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Habakkuk reflects on his life and circumstances. Things might not change; they may even get worse. Crop failure would lead to starvation and economic distress. Our feelings are not controlled by what happens around us but by our faith in God.

We must make a choice and say, “I will rejoice – in the Lord.” We serve God, not for what he gives but for who He is. He is our victory. He is our savior. He is our helper. God is our restorer. He is our strength.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:19)

We will be joyful – in God our savior—the one who rescues me. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t disappoint. He is just. He is sovereign. His ways are beyond what we can comprehend.

God gives us confidence in times of adversity. That’s why we lament, and wait…but above all worship Him.

Dealing With Life’s Interruptions

 Text: Mark 4:35-41

You can also watch this sermon on YouTube via this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_g4Si1z_f8&t=62s  

Teacher, don’t you care if we

I remember a number of times in my life when everything seemed to be headed to the right direction and then, boom; everything changed for the worse—or so I thought. One such incident happened years ago when I was a seminary student. I had concluded my first year and was looking forward to two other exciting years of being prepared for ministry. Life was good! Then one morning I was causally checking my emails, I saw one from my sponsor. I was sort of excited, excepting to receive some good news. Were they informing me that funds were available to go and visit my family? Was it a ministry update that I need to be aware of?  On opening the email, I wasn’t ready for what I found. They were basically letting me know that they were no longer going to fund my studies at the seminary and were advising me to go back to my country. To say that I was shocked is an understatement. I froze. My body ached instantly. So many questions ran through my mind. I was angry; I was confused. I felt betrayed and alone on that cold winter morning, in that dormitory room in South Korea.

I know that many of you can relate with my experience of dealing with life’s interruptions. For some of you, it was a routine visit to the doctor’s office when you received news that would change your life  forever. Maybe it was a phone call you received from a spouse letting you know that your relationship was no more. For the last two or three months the world has faced interruptions at a scale it has never experienced before. The coronavirus has brought the world systems to their knees. No one seems to know the answer. I recently was reading from Facebook post of one of the key persons in the tourism sector in my country. He said that this year 2020 was promising to be one of the best years in the tourist industry. Now everything is at a halt. Companies are thinking of downsizing.

Have you wondered where God is in all this? Has he taken a vacation and left the virus to wreak havoc on the world? Is He executing judgment on His stubborn and unrepentant people? I have heard comments similar to these but I think when we think of God that way we miss the whole point of the purpose of life’s interruptions. I believe that God has an answer to our dilemmas when we face interruptions in our lives. Recently, a friend of mine shared with me a passage from Mark 4:35-41, and I felt that the Lord was speaking to the church about the times we live in.

Let us read along:

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

So up until this time, life looks good. Apparently, it seems like the disciples are in charge and Jesus is simply tagging along: they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. They are the masters on the lake. They are in charge of the boat and the oars. They know the destination. Then, boom!

 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 

Then comes the interruption. No one saw this coming. They have no idea what to do. They have run out of options. But then then, there is something rather unusual:

38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Think about that for a moment. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Okay let’s go back to the previous verse and read again, just in case you missed it.  37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 

Jesus was sleeping—literally! Whatever the reason was for this kind of deep sleep, it simply shows how Jesus was just as human as anyone of us. He probably was too exhausted from the previous ministry engagements.

The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” The disciples actually thought they were all (including Jesus?) were going to drown! And, Jesus was just sleeping—unbothered by the impeding catastrophe. Have you ever been in a situation where you were like, “God, where are you?”

But let us not miss the main point here. Jesus was there in the boat. Sleeping, yes; but He was present. In fact what makes the humanity of Jesus relevant to our human experiences, including life’s interruptions, is that He shares in our human experiences. He is there when we need Him.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Think about this again: Jesus rebuked the storm. He spoke to the storm as though it had ears and was listening—and indeed it was. He commanded the waves to be quiet and still. He spoke to something inanimate and impersonal. Why? It is because, everything—I mean everything is under His sovereign power. Your situation is under His sovereign power. The coronavirus is under His sovereign power. Everything God created can listen to Him. I always tell people that everything that has a name has a knee. It bows to the name of Jesus. When life becomes interrupted, when the storms of life come, remember that JESUS IS RIGHT THERE WITH YOU AND THAT HE IS IN CONTROL. He was with me on that cold winter morning in South Korea when I felt like the world was caving in around me. He is with you when you feel helpless and defeated. He has sovereign power over your situation and the predicaments that we face every day.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

God still calls us to have faith. In times when everyone is panicking and living in fear, we need to trust Him. We need to speak His word to our circumstances. Jesus told us that we can speak to mountains. We can believe God to mend our brokenness and restore us. We can trust Him to guide us through the darkest valleys of our lives. He is able to lam the storms of our lives.

Let us pray:

Our heavenly Father, we come to you today in the face of everything we are going through. We do not have the answers to the world’s problems but You do. Only you can calm the storms of our lives. We particularly pray that you will calm the storm of the coronavirus that is ravaging the world. We speak hope to the hopeless world. We speak life where there is death. We speak healing where there is sickness and brokenness. In the name of Jesus, we have prayed, amen.

You can also watch this sermon on YouTube via this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_g4Si1z_f8&t=62s  

Fake Shepherds

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

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

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

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

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

Be shepherds of the church of God,

The Risk of Following Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

when we have Jesus we have everything

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?

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.

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?