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Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28

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Thanks to Chris Kiagiri for brilliantly condensing Perman’s What’sBestNext into one of the most helpful sessions of the conference #RTB2015

Eph2Titus2: God saved us for productivity, Matt25: God expects productivity #wbn #RTB2015

“To be productive is to do all the good we can” Every word is important here. DO. ALL. GOOD. CAN. #wbn #RTB2015

RTB 2015 Nairobi WBN

More resources on WBN:

 

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It’s a Saturday morning, there’s a somber mood sweeping across the whole village. There I was among the mourners.

Reality is dawning on the mourners that actually they won’t be seeing their loved one again. In a few hours’ time, she’ll be laid six feet under and that is it… gone forever never to be seen in this life again. That’s the moment you realise that however much you, as a mere mortal, love someone so much, you can never bring them back to life again. Death is indeed an enemy!

At this time of bereavement, the family and friends of the deceased need nothing short of comfort, consolation and support. And there’s a way in which if you belong to a church congregation, you can definitely, almost certainly know that the church will be there in full swing to provide this kind of support.

All was going on well, with tribute after tribute pouring in, until something happened; When time came for the ‘church’ to take over and conduct the service and eventually bury the dead, they were nowhere to be seen! They had boycotted the whole thing because apparently the family didn’t play by the rules like no playing of music, no speeches, burial be at 9 a.m. e.t.c. So the best thing they could do was leave. What a disappointment! Is this how the ‘church’ behaves?? Seemingly, the church is more important than the people! But what really constitutes the church if not Christ and people!!

My disappointment wasn’t because they failed to give a proper send-off, we buried my aunt, 2 of us conducted the service. My disappointment was because of 3 things:

  1. Failure to Bear Witness for Christ

Romans 12:15b teaches us to “mourn with those who mourn.” And our Saviour Himself, in John 11:33 “When He saw her [Mary] weeping, & the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His Spirit and greatly troubled. ” He couldn’t hold it in “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

The ‘church’ here failed to witness for Christ. What does the Bible teach us about death & mourning? And how can we represent Christ to a watching world? Jesus is deeply moved & greatly troubled by Lazarus’s death and the weeping of those who were there… He identified with them… He didn’t shut Himself from the realities of the messy world around Him, which death is part of. This is exactly the reason why He came on earth, to restore this fallen world. Funerals provide a huge opportunity to speak of this Christ & His Mission and also to show people what the heart of Christ is. This we do not in theory but in practice.

  1. Failure to Present the True Hope found in Christ

Look at Jesus at Lazarus’s funeral. He would do more that just weep. He went ahead and raised Lazarus back to life. Of course Lazarus died again later but here Jesus was giving us a sneak preview into what He will do. He will later on go to the cross, die, be buried and after 3 days rise again, thus opening the way for us to enjoying eternal fellowship with God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Funerals are a great evangelistic opportunity. This is the opportunity that the Church has. Use that setting of funeral and death to speak about One who died to defeat death and thus give us hope beyond the grave.

  1. False Teaching

Yes, this is the genesis of the whole saga. The ‘church’ in question here is actually well known. I know in Kenya we don’t like calling by name but we know them- the Jehovah’s Witness. The thing here is not just about refusal to mourn with the family or bury the dead- it goes much deeper. What of causing some of the children to also skip the burial of their own mum!! And how about going and locking themselves in one of the sons’ house to ‘pray’ when people are waiting for you to speak to them!! How about being totally secluded from ‘the world’ and not wanting anything to ‘defile’ you! It has to do with what they actually teach (which is a thing for another day). Is this really biblical Christianity?

It’s either they are representing Christ wrongly and they need to be corrected or the Christ they are teaching is not really the real Christ, or both- if their actions are anything to go by!

Remember Christ’s warning,

“Be careful… Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees & the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6).

A little yeast affects the whole lump of dough and given some time, you’ll see the dough ‘rise up’ never to flatten again. That is what false teaching does.

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Patience

I’ve been hearing a call to patience recently:

But paradoxically at the same time the need for a greater impatience – about my own sin (Who will rescue me from this body of death?) and the need for Christ to come and sort out this horrible mess of a world (How long O Lord?).

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There was a fierce debate in the 16th century about whether or not Jesus was really present in the bread and wine given in Holy Communion. Leaving that to one side, where do we expect Jesus to be specially present today? Where are we confident that we will meet him?

Four suggestions:

1. Real presence in preaching. A few examples: The elders of Israel are to go and say to Pharaoh, “The LORD… has met with us” (Exodus 3:18) – He had actually only met with Moses but as Moses preached the wonderful words of the LORD to the elders (Exodus 3:16-17) in that gospel preaching event they did truly meet with the LORD. In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel, as Peter Adam shows, we find that we encounter Jesus not so much in the empty tomb or in mystical experience or in the Lord’s Supper but in the Scriptures – and specifically the Scriptures opened and exposed as all about Christ – that is when we experience the best sort of heart burn (Luke 24:32). In Colossians Paul describes his preaching – “Him we proclaim” (Col. 1:24-2:5) and then he continues, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). The implication is that it was in Paul’s preaching of Christ they received Christ. Paul’s preaching of Christ was, as Wesley and Whitfield later put it, ‘offering them Christ’ , holding out the bread of life and saying, ‘Have Him’.

2. Real presence in mission and suffering. There is the great mission promise of Matthew 28:20 and there is the less often celebrated Philippians 3:10 – Paul’s desire to share/participate/fellowship/commune in Christ’s sufferings. And often these two come together – suffering in mission. I am always moved by reading the accounts of 19th century missionary John Paton’s suffering on the island of Tanna and especially the way that he records having the sweetest communion with Christ precisely when he was in the deepest trials and greatest danger (read page 7 of Lessons from the life of John Paton). Then I received this in a prayer letter from our friend Newton Gatambia, on mission in the UK (shared with permission):

When our Lord Jesus gives the great commission to his disciples he makes a promise to be with them/us till the end of ages. To some this may sound like a mere saying or even an incentive to motivate the disciples to ensure they take on the great commission; however this to me has been the unbreakable hook where all my hope has continually been firmly pegged, the pillar upon which all my trust has been anchored. Amidst a so fast changing youth and children culture in the West it takes more than passion to serve the Lord among this young people, it takes more than experience, it takes more than one availing themselves for the work. It indeed has wholly drawn from the faith on the promise that the Lord is indeed with me every single hour of this journey. At the time of blossoming joy and smooth sailing it is easy to not realize the existence or the significance of such a promise yet at the point of sorrow and dismay, at the point of fear and doubt there is nothing else left for us but this true assurance that the Lord is with us till the end of ages.

3. Real presence in the Church as court. As many have noted the promise of Matthew 18:19 – “where two or three are gathered in my name…” is in the context of church discipline, evidence, witnesses, judgement. The same thing seems to be going on in 1 Cor. 5 (“gathered in the name” – v4). Church discipline is not in the same category as a workplace disciplinary procedure – the Judge of the Universe is present in the courtroom.

4. Real presence in respect to our personal sin. This is perhaps the most difficult one. We don’t in any way want to say that Jesus ever sins or is comfortable with our sinning or is in any way responsible for or complicit with our sins. He is the perfect high priest, ‘holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens’ (Heb. 7:26). But the implication of 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 seems to be that, while Christ is separated from sinners in respect to his office and nature, he is genuinely united with justified sinners in a one flesh, one spirit union, even when we are sinning with our bodies. Glen Scrivener shows how this is the strongest possible motivation to cease sin and do good:

Paul writes to Corinthians visiting brothels and what does he say? Does he say, “Stop it, Jesus remains outside the brothel, arms-folded waiting for a very good display of contrition before He’ll even consider forgiving this“?  No, he says to the Corinthians “Stop it, you’re taking Jesus into the brothel with you!” (1 Corinthians 6:15-17)  And you say, “How horrible!”  Well exactly.  So don’t do it.  But don’t give up fornicating because Jesus isn’t with you all the way.  Stop it because He is. (post: Why be good?)

When did Peter crumple in repentance? Luke 22:60-62: when he suddenly realised that his Lord was present, when he locked eyes with his bruised Saviour in the very moment of his denial.

 

More on presence:

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There’s a lot of debate at the moment around issues of hypergrace theology, sanctification and accusations of antinomianism. In America it has most recently surrounded the removal of Tullian Tchividjian’s blog from the Gospel Coalition website but there was already a lot of discussion prompted largely by Joseph Prince’s teaching. I’m aware that it is an issue in Uganda as well with one or two large city churches seeming to preach a message that ‘You’re saved so sin all you want’ or ‘You’ve died in Christ so you’re free from all responsibilities to this world’. Some groups seem to be linking this with the false teaching that ‘You are gods’, thus exponentially increasing the poison of the error.

Let’s be clear for a start, ‘Saved to sin’ is wrong and ‘Saved by works’ is wrong. ‘We no longer sin’ is wrong and ‘It doesn’t matter if we sin’ is wrong. Reading through 1 John (as I’m doing at the moment) makes that very clear. As the great African theologian Tertullian is credited with saying, just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so the doctrine of justification is constantly accompanied by two opposite errors. (It may be that Tertullian was originally referring to Christological controversies rather than justification and that the errors in question were of saying Jesus is the Father versus saying Jesus is only man, but his picture works well for legalism and license too.)

The problem is that in trying to refute one error you can very easily fall into the other one. As the Puritans used to say, you mustn’t correct an imbalance with an imbalance. How we argue these things matter. These are deep waters and I feel very ill-equipped to swim in them but these are also very important questions (e.g. is just preaching Christ enough? what do we mean by ‘just preaching Christ’? what is the place of the law? how do Christians change? is telling Christians to do things always moralism?) so we need to at least wade in a little way.

To start things off, here are a few posts from others that I’ve found very helpful:

  • Obedience: not a dirty word – “It’s true that there is a slavery on the near side of sonship and that is spiritual death.  But there’s a slavery on the far side of sonship and it is life and peace.”
  • Grace aint a carrot, sanctification aint a stick – commenting on the Tullian Tchividjian debate.
  • Gospel preaching: preaching to the converted – is the gospel ‘repent and believe’ or ‘what Christ has done’?
  • Gospel preaching: the third way – the options for progress in the Christian life are not simply 1) obedience / self-effort or 2) knowing our identity in Christ / remembrance of salvation / gratitude – there is a third option.
  • Gospel preaching: the third way (continued) – “If the gospel doesn’t transform a life, do you balance grace with effort?  Do you preach grace more boldly?  Or do you make sure your preaching of the gospel of grace goes beyond gratitude to the dynamic relational and spiritual union of being one with Christ?”
  • God sanctifies his people – very helpful message by Piper explaining from 1 Thess. 5:23-24 how sanctification is both something that is promised as the work of God and something commanded which we need to pursue.
  • Extravagant Grace – Dane Ortlund’s very helpful review in Themelios of Barbara Duguid’s important book building on John Newton’s understanding of sanctification.

This is all really challenging me to think things through more carefully…

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There is a good deal of debate about the use of ‘Daddy’ as an appropriate translation of ‘Abba’. Do we run the risk of a flippant, casual approach? Are we in danger of reading too much of our modern cultural understandings and feelings about daddies into a very different culture? Well for a bit of historical perspective, here’s a puritan commentator from 300 years ago…

Whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Praying is here called crying, which is not only an earnest, but a natural expression of desire; children that cannot speak vent their desires by crying. Now, the Spirit teaches us in prayer to come to God as a Father, with a holy humble confidence, emboldening the soul in that duty.
Abba, Father. Abba is a Syriac [Aramaic] word signifying father or my father [or O father (vocative)]; pater, a Greek work; and why both, Abba, Father? Because Christ said so in prayer (Mk 14:36), Abba, Father: and we have received the Spirit of the Son. It denotes an affectionate endearing importunity [persistent demanding], and a believing stress laid upon the relation. Little children, begging of their parents, can say little but Father, Father, and that is rhetoric enough. It also denotes that the adoption is common both to Jews and Gentiles: the Jews call him Abba in their language, the Greeks may call him pater in their language; for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew.
(Matthew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary, Romans 8)

A couple of challenges:

  • For those of us who think, What’s the big deal? Of course we can say ‘Daddy’ – we need to repent of our narcissistic entitlement mentality and get a much bigger vision of the God of the Bible. We need to read the last few chapters of Job and see an indescribably majestic Creator and Judge. We need to read some big chunks of Ezekiel and see the blazing fury of a jealous God. And then we need to be utterly gobsmacked that we can come to this God as Abba.
  •  For those of us who are nervous of using words like ‘Daddy’ in prayer and fear an over-intimate or over-bold approach to such an awesome Creator and Lord – then a) perhaps we need to question whether our own negative experiences (or lack) of fathers is feeding into our image of God and b) certainly we need to take a look again at the almost-unbelievably-good gospel – that the white-hot holy King of the Universe should come to love us as intensely and perfectly as He loves the Son of God himself (John 17:23). See what manner of love the Father has given unto us…

 

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