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Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

That’s exactly the kind of title that makes you stop scrolling, isn’t it? What if I said this blog is about preaching? How does that make you feel? If you are honest you might be a bit disappointed. You might even feel cheated because that’s not what you always associate preaching with. You wanted to hear about the secret behind public speaking and moving crowds. How to become the Luther King of our generation. To move crowds and influence people. Well, I want to make a case that preaching can do that and much more when it’s faithfully done. You can then apply the same idea as a Christian influencer whether in blogging or Tiktok.

I want to begin by saying that no speaker sets out wanting to be boring. They may have struggled in preparation if they did any of it. They may have wrestled with the text and question of relevance in their study. But no one wants to imagine theirs will be a boring message with little impact on the audience. I doubt any of us sets out to fail in persuading people.

We want the Truth but we also want it to move our audience. But how do you move people while being faithful in your preaching?

We want to move people with the Truth. We want them cut to the heart and ask, how can we be saved? We want to spur people to be excited to live for God and his mission? We want to warn them of coming judgement in a way that they feel compelled. If we are honest we admire preachers who move crowds even when we might take issue with their methods. And no one comes to a Sunday morning ready for a boring sermon. We want the Truth but we also want it to move our audience. But how do you move people while being faithful in your preaching?

Ask Why it Matters
You cannot be a good speaker if you don’t believe in your message. Likewise, you won’t make a faithful and relevant preacher if you don’t believe in the text at hand. Before you can preach it to others you need to preach it to yourself. And here I don’t mean give yourself a theological or doctrinal lesson. I mean preach it to yourself brother! Sit and ask what it’s saying, how it’s saying it and why that’s relevant. Have your Eureka moment not by discovering the Greek wording of it but by seeing just how relevant and practical it is to our faith and everyday life. And trust me it’s relevant.

Great preaching rests on showing us why the text matters and the secret is going back in time.

You see the beauty of expository preaching is that you have your work already done for you. Every passage we teach is actually a repeat sermon. There was a first audience who heard and applied that sermon. They were moved by it back then. This means all we need is to go back and ask why it mattered to them so it matters to us. Great preaching rests on showing us why the text matters and the secret is going back in time. But be careful not to remain back there. Before you stand in front of us make sure to travel back and apply it in real life. Preach that sermon to yourself and your world and if you can at least move with it you’ll have a friend cheering you in the congregation.

Find your Passion Switch
It’s said some people can sell you anything because they do it so passionately. The problem with some expository preachers is they can rest on just having the faithful script with them. They know the truth, they want to preach the right thing but give little attention to the delivery and landing process. But I guess for most of us who are starting out we just don’t know how to go about it. I want to say if we are compelled by the truth we will be compelling in our delivery of it. If the message had an impact on us we need to do the same for our audience.

While we can apply methods like storytelling, humour, helpful illustration and the like it all depends on how passionate we are about the truth in front of us.

We need to find our passion switch. To want to communicate the passage in a way that moves people. But this is not just about the methods. It’s about us and the truth. Think about how you told the news of your wedding, your graduation, your first job… There was an enthusiasm that made people want to listen. While we can apply methods like storytelling, humour, helpful illustration and the like it all depends on how passionate we are about the truth in front of us. Some people can talk all day about their jobs because they are passionate about them. Others won’t stop bringing football into every conversation. Why can’t we do the same with our preaching? Make the people in front of you see you value and love what you are teaching. Passionate speaking is infectious. Find your passion switch before you come out to preach.

Think about the People
Faithful preaching cares about people because God cares about them. You cannot love preaching and not love people. That’s like loving a party without people. Unfortunately, sometimes we think so highly of preaching than we do the people in front of us. We call ourselves soldiers of the truth but miss the recipients of the message. If that explains you and I then we should stop preaching and ask God for a love for his people first. Don’t go to that Sunday service with your points and illustrations if you’ve not thought of the people.

Jesus was a faithful preacher, he knew his text but what moved him to preach is the people.

What moves people is when the preacher is both faithful to the text but also faithful to them. I always admire the instances where the Gospel accounts note that Jesus saw the masses and had compassion for them. Jesus was a faithful preacher, he knew his text but what moved him to preach is the people. Do you want to be a great speaker and influencer? Think about your audience first. Ask yourself where they are at in their journey of faith. What are they struggling with? Do they need encouragement or rebuke? Faithful preaching is neither tied to the text nor the people alone. It’s tied to both. It’s faithful to the text but it’s also faithful to the people.

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Many Christians spend a good part of their early years wrestling with the question of their unique gifting. This is especially the case where the church has overemphasized the place of gifts more than the place of character and service. I remember sharing with a friend that I was thinking about Christian ministry back in college and the first thing they asked was what’s my gifting. According to them, Gospel ministry was for those who knew their specific ministry gifts.

But I think this question isn’t just important to those considering full-time Christian ministry but one that explains service in our local churches. You see if people wait to discover their specific gifts so they can serve then you are going to have a lot of people on the waiting list. Someone will argue I cannot teach so I can’t join children or youth ministry. Another will say I’m not good with people so I can’t do welcoming and hospitality. Or I’m not as good as the song leader so the music team isn’t for me.

This inward-looking question will in the end keep you away from service and you’ll not actually discover what you can do for the body of Christ. But here I want to suggest you avail yourself first and let your specific gift if you only have one be discovered later. Because the gift is from the Spirit and for his church then begin by rolling your sleeves to do anything that your hands find to do for the church family. I’ll give 3 reasons as we reflect on this.

Jesus is calling Disciples not Gifted Professionals
When Jesus called his first disciples he didn’t sit them through an interview process to know how good they would serve him. He called anyone who would come to him. Coming to follow him, being with him, and obeying his calling was more important than what they could do for him later, see Mark 3:14. It wasn’t until later that he would send them out in the great commission yet they did serve him by being there with him. They were with him from the beginning, they walked with him and served alongside him without titles. You can say they were his errand boys but who wouldn’t want to be Christ’s errand boy.

What I’m saying here is that the body of Christ needs people who are willing and ready to roll their sleeves and do the work. It needs those available to serve in any and every way not just those with specific gifting and experience. The church needs people to be available in what is called the ministry of presence and to fill in the gaps as they notice them. And it’s only when you are available and ready to serve that the church can then discover your specific gifts not when you sit and wait.

When I did my first apprenticeship I didn’t know what was my specific gift but that meant I was available for anything. I was given an admin job which I wouldn’t have availed myself for before but it was the best ministry I have ever done. That’s where I actually learned how to write as I prepared weekly briefs. Then I tried youth ministry which was at first scary and then it became something I cherish today. I went on to welcoming which I always thought wasn’t for me only to realize how strategic it is. In the end, I wasn’t concerned about my specific ministry gift but was looking for where there was a need. I realized if you are willing to serve then you can have all the gifts to choose from.

Service is the end of Gifting
We can all agree that if the most gifted pastor doesn’t use their gift to serve the body of Christ then it’s a useless gift. They may talk about how good they are with the microphone but that benefits no one. Jesus didn’t call his disciples to display their abilities but to roll their sleeves and work for his church. It’s not our unique abilities that matter but our preparedness to serve and to do it wholeheartedly. It’s actually as we give ourselves fully to whichever area of ministry that is available that we discover what we can do best for King Jesus.

I find people who label themselves with a particular gift early on close the door for service too early. They are content with being evangelists when they haven’t tried hospitality. They pride themselves on their preaching skills without ever discovering the beauty of children’s ministry. They walk around with empty titles when their local church needs them to be available and do whatever is needed. It’s good to clarify that I’m not against discovering our unique gifts early on but I think service is bigger than us and our specific gifts. Because the gift belongs to the church then our availability to serve God’s people is what matters not what we do specifically. In time we may realize a unique need and our ability and decide to concentrate on one or two areas of service but we should always be ready for whatever the master calls us to do.

The Kingdom is bigger than my Gifting
It’s not a surprise that there are countless ministries built around a specific person and their unique gifting. It’s actually very human to rally people behind what we believe and are good at. And it’s not always wrong or premeditated that it happens like that. But we need to be careful if our churches and ministries draw and produce people who are just like us. We may be the most charismatic preacher or the most organized administrator and the most welcoming guy but we must be ready to have and grow many who are unlike us and yet fit for the kingdom of God. Let them come and discover the endless opportunities there are to serve the Lord.

God’s church needs all kinds of servants for all kinds of ministry for the benefit of the whole body. I think it’s a tragedy if everyone in a team thinks and serves like everyone else. Worse if we only think there are only 5 ways or so one can serve the church family. In time this would bring competition and complacency if there are only a few areas that all can do. But the way God has constituted his church is that we find all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities and opportunities to serve in the kingdom of God. The better way to view the church isn’t checking everyone’s gift in order of priority but seeing everyone as a unique gift to the local church. I think if we all set aside titles and abilities we would realize just how much we are needed in the kingdom. We would see beyond us and the vast harvest all around us. We wouldn’t shy from service on account of specific gifting instead we would discover just how gifted we are as a church.

Conclusion
In this article, I have argued that being available is better than being gifted. Yes, I would rather you try to service and fail if anyone ever can fail at service instead of waiting to be good to serve. More than that I think we need to realize that Christian gifts are not qualifications for a CV but opportunities to serve. They are actually not your gift but they belong to the church. In the end, service is what matters not how well we score in a certain area of ministry.

Many people live and die without knowing their unique gifts yet toil so hard for Jesus. And when we come to him the words welcome good and faithful servants is what will matter, see Matthew 25:23. I believe that in heaven we’ll find people who were totally unknown and unappreciated in their diligent service yet are regarded highly by the one who knew their good works without a title. Friends, it’s better to be an errand boy for King Jesus than wait to be recognized by your gifting here on earth.

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Daisy Njenga leading our staff devotion through Psalms 12

In a world corrupted with sin, even the word legit is not legit. Human relations are not spared as they are many times overrun with conflict on account of sin. It is in this very world that we find vain chatterers. We find proud men who like to bring praise to themselves and flatterers who like to lavish insincere praise on others. But when we are loose with the truth the weak are not spared as they suffer greatly at the oppression of the ungodly. Perhaps you have been caught up in these vices in the past either as the oppressed or as the oppressor.

Coming closer home, how many times have we failed in our own words? How many times have we been dishonest with people perhaps when we feared sincerity would put the friendship at stake. How many times have we promised what we did not think about two seconds later, just because we were afraid of appearing weak? How many times have we disappointed others with our words because we wanted to appear well collected?  Have you been disappointed by a compliment that was given insincerely or with misguided information? Well, this was not different in David’s time as we shall see from Psalm 12.

Psalms 12 is a Psalm of David, which he wrote as a lament having witnessed people talking insincerely with one another and the weak being oppressed as a result. David writes asking for God’s help in this situation while praising God because unlike men’s words his are pure and trustworthy. Looking at the previous Psalms, we can say that David knew of the incorruptible and unchangeable nature of God and he believed in him. We see David asking for God’s help when faced with human injustices such as false accusations as we see in Psalm 7. Here in Psalm 12, we see David allude to the purity of God’s words, in comparison to man’s corrupted words. The big idea is that because God is trustworthy, then his words are pure and they can be trusted implicitly unlike the words of men.

For our reflection, we’ll now briefly look at the flow of Psalms 12 using the ESV:

Vs 1-2  David Laments Against the Ungodly

The Psalmist laments about the disappearance of the godly at a time when everyone spoke lies to his neighbor. He speaks about those who use flattering lips. Flattery is such a serious vice as we see in Daniel 11:32 that it is used as a powerful tool by the enemy. Maybe closer home, is to think about how it’s used in politics at such a time as this. Many a time the public seems to support a person just because they are getting a few coins but in their hearts and elsewhere, they undermine the same person. David cries to God on account of those who flatter with their lips and harbor deception at their hearts.

Vs 3-5 He Pleads with God to Judge the Proud and the Flatterer

From verse 3, we see the Psalmist greatly distressed by the boasts of the proud who disregard God. He pleads with God to bring justice against the wicked. In verse 5, God answers him saying he’s the one who hears the cry of the oppressed. When it feels hopeless we see the character of God as one who does not overlook sin but instead he says he will rise to defend and protect the weak.

Vs 6-7 David finds Refuge in the Pure Words of the Lord

In this section, the Psalmist compares God’s words to silver that has been refined in a furnace on the ground purified seven times. This brings a clear contrast between men’s vain words as we have seen in verses 2-4, and God’s pure words. The process of refining silver is indeed long and tedious, but the refiner watches and waits patiently till he can see his image clearly through the end product after all the impurities have been removed. This is what the Psalmist compares God’s word to that unlike the words of men it is without impurities of flattery, lies, and pride. It’s pure and trustworthy.

Spurgeon once wrote;

“The Bible has passed through the furnace of persecution, literary criticism, philosophic doubt, and scientific discovery, and has lost nothing but those human interpretations which clung to it as an alloy to precious ore. The experience of saints has tried it in every conceivable manner, but not a single doctrine or promise has been consumed in the most excessive heat.”

Vs 8 He’s encouraged that though Wickedness seems to Prevail there’s Hope

David seems to be ending this Psalm on a sad note looking at what the wicked continue to do in vs 8. But as we’ve seen:

The Psalmist is assured of God’s protection against this deceptive world, where vileness is exalted among the children of men. His confidence as we have seen in verses 6 -7 comes from the fact that God has promised to bring justice to the helpless and his words are trustworthy. So it’s not a sad note because the godly are not on their own.

Conclusion

Through this Psalm, there is a clear call for us who have believed in the Lord Jesus, to be careful with our words. Let it not be asked in our generation and specific society, where did the godly disappear to? But the big encouragement is that while we cannot always trust the words of men, we have the sure word of the Lord who died for our sins. This serves both as an encouragement as well as a challenge for us on how we use our words. We are to depend on God’s words as believers both as an example for our words and a source of refuge in this wicked world.

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The world needs passionate men and women. People who are committed and self-driven to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Those won totally and visibly by the Gospel. Those who are using every second to build the kingdom of God. It’s exciting when people speak about reaching the lost so passionately. About going out of their way to reach the unreached. Risking their necks for the lost overseas. It’s great to hear from those passionate about children ministry, church planting, students, families, preaching, evangelism, and so on. 

Talk of changing our political scene with faithful leaders, influencing the corporate world with men with true faith and godly practice. What about the education level, media and technology, the police, the judiciary, the transport sector, and whatever else gives you sleepless nights. We need passionate men and women in all spheres of life that the Lord calls mine. I pray that the Lord would make me this kind of man so passionate for him that I ooze the Gospel and its influence in my corner.  But there’s a danger when we are too passionate in one area of ministry.

When we Only See our Corner 

There’s a danger with people who are too passionate in one area because they can be too invested in their corner of ministry and miss the forest of God’s vast kingdom. When we feel all resources, time and energy should be directed to our area and especially to us we’ve narrowed the kingdom too much. I’m passionate about training people for Gospel ministry and availing training resources to the next generation. I hope we can invest as much in this area. But if I imagine that’s the only way to serve God or it is the only area that matters then I’ve lost the bearing of the kingdom of God. 

What’s worse, passionate men can be selfish and proud men. We might look down on others and what they are doing. We might think they are wasting time. We might feel we are doing a better job. We might be jealous if they get the resources that we think we deserve. We might actually speak ill of them and their ministries. But all this is sinful friends regardless of our commitment to the Lord and the specific causes we are pursuing informed by the Gospel. 

We need to survey our hearts and our motivations that we are being godly and not after selfish interest and our own glory in our ministry pursuit. I would say we need to force ourselves to speak well of others. To say little of, I’m doing this and why are you not joining my corner. Instead to encourage those serving in a different area that we are probably less passionate about. Speak about their work and pray for them genuinely to be provided for even more than us if it pleases the Lord. After all, it’s his work and they are his labourers. 

When we Expect Others to be Like us 

If we are passionate about children’s ministry that is good and commendable but we need to remember the Gospel has many other groups in mind. Men and women, rich and poor, office workers and construction workers, rural and city people, Africans and Asians all need the Gospel. Just because someone is not passionate about our ministry and just because they don’t see how strategic and urgent it is doesn’t mean they are not serving the Lord. 

In the case where someone seems to lack passion in anything we deem important we shouldn’t look down on them. As the word says it’s before their master that they stand judged, see Romans 14:4. Actually, if everyone was passionate about everything very little could be achieved because no one would be convinced to come alongside others. You need people you can challenge. You need others to encourage. Others need their energies redirected while others need to be given a Gospel passion. And perhaps you also need a broader scope of the kingdom of God and be clear on the calling we have all received.

You see being passionate about ministry isn’t the end goal anyway. We need to always ask ourselves where our work and ministry ends. All ministry work however important is actually temporary because worship is the end goal. In heaven, we’ll not be doing walk-up evangelism or even full-time Gospel ministry. Our gifts, our strategic ministries, and all our passions will have ceased when God’s people arrive to be with their Saviour forever. That’s the end goal friends, to walk with the Lord now and enjoy him forever. Fellowship with the Lord is the end goal. Our walk with the Lord and bearing fruit for him in our lives is the first calling. What we do for the Lord however passionately follows after we are walking with him. Remember on that last day your passion and your ministry won’t save you, Jesus will.

When we Mistake how People Change 

People who are too passionate think they can move mountains. It’s a beautiful thing and there’s a lot we can do for the Lord when we give it our very best. We should have big dreams in our ministries, we should make big prayers and go for big steps. But we should remember that only God can change people’s hearts, see Ezekiel 36:26-27. Whatever we are passionate about isn’t our own doing anyway. We were not born passionate in that area. We didn’t even care about it before the Lord opened our eyes to that need. It was the Lord who sowed the seed and watered it before we claimed it our own. 

If you’d love for more people to be passionate about a certain ministry go to their Lord and Saviour and ask for his help. Don’t argue, abuse, call hell down, mourn and complain before you ask the Lord. If you sense a brother would make a great children’s minister save up some convincing energy for asking the Lord for his passion and commitment. If you see a gap that exists in the church don’t kill the pastor with new demands. Start praying about it and call others to pray on it. If you feel a particular ministry isn’t getting enough attention don’t spread hate and call people names. Talk to the Lord about it. You’ll be surprised how he starts to change you and others in that direction. 

Weighing our Passion

All of us however sold out to the Lord and his work need to remember we are on a discipleship journey. None of us have arrived and yet so often we operate like we have already made it to heaven and are back helping others. That’s a lie that blinds us to our blind spots in our walk with the Lord. We also need to remember nothing we have is our own, see 1 Corinthians 4:7. Not even our passion, our gifts, our clarity of the Gospel, and our key ministries. They are all gifts from the Lord and he has many other gifts and many other areas of ministry with many other faithful people. Let’s be careful not to miss the forest of God’s kingdom for our small tree.

If the Lord is calling us to a certain area let’s go for it with all the energy he provides. Let’s come to him with big prayers on the same. Let us get as many others excited on the same. But let us also remember the kingdom of God is bigger than us and our area of ministry. If others thrive in other areas of ministry we should praise the Lord for them. If some don’t seem as excited or convinced to join us we should pray about it and be okay with it. But we should also be careful not to build a kingdom around us. We need to remember it’s the Lord’s work we are doing, the resources come from him, the passion is his to inspire and the opportunities are his to open which means it’s him to have all the glory. If we weigh our Gospel passion and find we are at the heart of it, that we are always fighting on it and hating others because of it we need to repent and ask God to give us a bigger vision of his kingdom.

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Our Missions manager, Stanley teaching during Induction Workshop

We learn preaching long before someone sits us down to say this is how we should preach. We pick up things from our favourite preachers and we seek to emulate that. We might change a few things borrowing from different people but we rarely come up with new ways. It’s not just in preaching actually life itself is a copy-paste exercise. We see something good and we want to do that.

But somewhere along the line, we might get an opportunity to sit and learn that there’s a right way to do this. We might not accept it immediately or even drop everything to follow this path but slowly we are won over. I think this is what happens when we start learning Expositional preaching that seeks to let the Bible speak for itself.

The problem, however, is trying to apply here does not come easily. You spend all your preparation trying to get the passage right only to realise it’s full of good truths but little application. You see if you grew up hearing and doing problem-solving, motivational preaching that wouldn’t be a problem. You already have an application in mind and all you need is the Bible to agree with it and you have a sermon. Here you’ve got to do the hard work of getting the passage right and then wrestle asking how does this apply from them to us.

This is probably the main reason we might give up on expositional preaching. It feels too hard and academic. We feel like the church is becoming a school and we know few Kenyans loved school. We might do it but drop the ball at the end by going for the quick and obvious applications. Tell them what complex doctrine they should learn from here. Remind them to pray, read their Bibles and go to church regularly. Fix their gender and sexuality views, questions of abortion or their commitment to mission, whatever we think are the big things in the public sphere. All these are possible but mostly lazy ways of doing Biblical application. And I’m speaking about this because I’ve done it before even without realising it.

But we can grow friends as we give more time to apply and learn from others. It won’t be fixed in a day but we can grow as we remember the word has spoken to real people in the past and is for real people in the present. Here are a few things I’ve picked up mostly from others but also when I’ve paid a bit more attention to the passage in front of me and the world around me.

Aim for the Heart, not just the Head
This one I learnt from my apprenticeship years but I always need to be reminded of it. That the Bible isn’t an academic book and that fixing the head without the heart won’t do it. It should be obvious but it’s not. You look at the life of Jesus disciples, they were learning directly from him so knowledge shouldn’t have been a problem though it didn’t always come easily. But how long did it take them to believe him? Actually, towards the end these guys will desert him, betray and deny him. Peter saying he was the Christ in Mark 8 didn’t prevent him from denying him in Mark 14. And I bet Judas had a lot of good theology but his heart was somewhere else.

When we come to applying the Bible it’ll help if we ask ourselves where change begins. And we don’t need to go to psychology for this. Look at how Paul writes his letters. There are great and beautiful truths to blow our minds away but he also beckons the heart to believe and the hands to act. Ephesians chapter 1-3 is followed by chapter 4-6. His job is not finished until he persuades the heart and by effect seek a real change from the heart that brings a change in conduct. He tells them not just what they should know but also what they should believe and do by effect.

Think Culture not General
So often we forget the power and the influence of the environment we live in. We forget that the Bible speaks both to the person and the world around him. If you fix the person and keep him in the same environment there’s no guarantee he won’t go back. A lot of things we do are shaped by where and who we live with. If you want to help someone struggling with pornography you need to ask what is making it so common these days. You can’t just say stop it you might need to say change your environment and your patterns of rest. Go out and hang out with friends. Put the gadgets off.

But this is not something we bring to the Bible, actually, it’s there if we pay a bit more attention. The Bible from day one tells us we are not alone in the universe. It warns us about the world, the flesh and the devil. We need to deal with all these enemies. It teaches us to kill sin in our lives, to turn away from the flow of the world around us and say no to the schemes of the enemy. Actually, the Bible often shows us all these enemies work together like we see in Ephesians 2:1-3. To grow in Biblical application we shouldn’t ignore one of these for the other.

Go for Progress, not a Quick Fix
The worst thing about living in our consumer world is we want to fix things like yesterday. We do one sermon and expect change by the latest tomorrow morning. It’s no wonder we can get very disappointed when we don’t see results and sometimes try to cook the results ourselves. But that’s naive because if we were honest there are things we learnt years ago that we still struggle with. How do you expect your audience to change overnight?

Actually, if we were to pay attention to our Bibles we’d realise God plays the long game. How many years is he telling Israel to have no other God but him? And how long does he have to wait until he finally sends them to exile and still he doesn’t give up? How long does Jesus tolerate his disciples who simply don’t seem to get who he is when all the evidence is pointing to him? And how long does he have to wait for them to accept his mission and follow in his footsteps? When you think application think progress however messy, not a quick fix.

By Prayer not Might
It might shock some of you but it seems this has taken me longer to learn. That no real change coming from the heart comes unless God acts. It should be obvious because Jesus says it, apart from me you can do nothing, John 15:5. We should see it if we paid attention to our own lives. We just need to remember how we came to faith in the first place. How long God was beckoning our attention before we said the prayer. And still how long he has to tolerate us as we hold on to our precious little idols. But no, we keep thinking a little more hard work and commitment will do it. We can even give principles of how to overcome a certain sin and grow a certain gift in a day. I think we are setting ourselves up for failure and depression.

Dear friends, I’m learning prayer isn’t just for the beginning and the end of the sermon. Prayer is what makes the sermon work. Prayer is your main application. You need to ask God in the closet and in your preaching to change you and those people. You need to point them to him if you truly want to see change. If God doesn’t work don’t even bother preaching unless you are doing it for fun. I’m learning to ask how can we prayerfully apply this? What prayer do we need to make on this? Lord, what are you telling me to pray on this? I think this is a gold mine and it’s no wonder Jesus would drop important ministry for this. He knew if he was going to accomplish anything it’s only if the Father did it. Apart from him, we can do nothing friends. We can’t even change ourselves leave alone anyone else.

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The first lesson as a human being ought to be that I’m not in charge. To know that I’m born to a world older than I and rest in the hands of the maker who brought me here. I’m not in charge of this world and I’m not even in control of my own fate. Yes, I would love to be in control. I would love it if I can guarantee my future and be in charge of my present. I would love it if tomorrow was mine to command and today mine to rule. But I need to know that though there are aspects of my life I can control yet there are many factors beyond me. I need to get it right in my mind that I’m not in charge before the world lies to me that I am.

Though he should choose to take us through the furnace of suffering his hand still would hold us. And I should say his hand is firm than mine.

But if that’s the first lesson for a human being. The first for a Christian ought to be that it is good and right that I’m not in control. Not in dismissive indifference but because our God is in control. Yes, given a choice I should always choose God to be in charge because he’s a better Father than any of us will ever be. He knows best and he who didn’t spare his own son for us will surely do right by us. Though he should choose to take us through the furnace of suffering his hand still would hold us. And I should say his hand is firm than mine. His mind has the best interests for his children and his heart knows best their weaknesses. If he wounds us the good potter will make good of his clay. If he should prosper our ministry I should remember it’s his work at hand, not mine.

But my problem is to know that my heart will even so constantly doubt his control. That there will be times I wish I was in charge and doubt he knows what he is doing. That you’ll find this clay ask its maker, what are you doing? What is wrong with you? This tells me that I need to intentionally and constantly let him take charge. If he’s the Lord of all I need to let him be my Lord indeed. I shouldn’t wait until he has to show me he’s in charge. By then I might hate him for it. I would rather know and expect him to take charge at all times. But I need help here because the idolatry of my heart will always compete against his sovereign hand. Many will be the times I take his seat and want to be my own lord and god. I need his help to know and believe that no other god not even myself will lead me better like our heavenly Father would.

At the heart of that first rebellion, we see our pride and the idolatry of the heart to take charge of our lives thinking we can do better than God.

Isn’t it interesting that the first man having everything given freely to him was tempted to set the word of God aside for the promise that he would be like God? At the heart of that first rebellion, we see our pride and the idolatry of the heart to take charge of our lives thinking we can do better than God. We read in Genesis 3:

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Genesis 3.

How often do we follow in the footsteps of that first Adam to our ruin and heartache? So often the old serpent says you’d do better than God and we yield like we don’t know he’s been a liar since day one. But the redeemed are called to follow in the footsteps of the second Adam who we are told in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! Philippians 2.

Jesus was happy in God’s charge even though he could have said he is equal with God. He taught us the path to glory is yielding and trusting in God’s charge. Trusting him in the good and the not-so-good times. It should therefore be the business of our lives and something we need to pray regularly for that our Lord would give us such an attitude of humility and faith in his sovereign hand. Whatever awaits us dear Lord teach us now to take comfort that you take better charge of us than we could ever do.

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Here in Kenya, we are preparing to go to the general elections next year. I bet you’ll hear a lot about the kind of leaders we want or need. We will all hopefully get a chance to choose who to lead us. The problem is leaders can’t choose who to lead. Sure they can pick a constituency and position of influence but they can’t pick and choose the people. They can have the best manifesto and the most elaborate implementation plan but they can’t have the best people to lead. What’s worse is they’ll have to deal with those who already hold them with suspicion. People who don’t want to be led by them.

But what does that have to do with shepherding you ask? Well, everything. You see many of us think the problem with leadership is that we don’t have good leaders. And while we apply that mostly to political leaders we can also share the same attitude in Christian ministry. Get the right person and leadership works, we say. Everyone will be happy, godly, and prosperous. In truth, the best of leaders have to endure harsh criticism and opposition because people don’t want to be led. We enjoy the merits of good leadership but we don’t really want to be led even by the best of leaders. If we did Jesus would face no opposition from our world. People from every nation and race would gather around to serve him who truly cares for them. You’d think the best leader would have everyone following them and doing so joyfully.

But the word of God is unashamed to tell us who we truly are, that we are all rebels. We’ve all gone our separate ways when it comes to God and his authority on us.
Romans 3 says:

10 As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.
Romans 3 NIV.

We are all sinners who especially hate God’s authority and with it any other form of authority. The world heaps all kinds of praises and massages our ego but the word speaks plainly here. Where the world says we are mostly good but shaped by our environment the word says we are inherently wicked and that it is us who shape our environment that way. That’s the problem of leadership and shepherding. The problem behind every other problem we face is the problem of sin. Adam chose his way and likewise, we do the same. People don’t want to be led and leaders don’t want to be held accountable because they don’t want to be led either. Politicians don’t want to be asked questions and citizens don’t want leaders telling them what to do and how to live.

Back to shepherding and it’s the same problem in Christian ministry. You’d think the redeemed would celebrate good leadership and to some extent, they do as adopted saints. But the presence of indwelling sin in our hearts means we still are rehabilitated rebels. There will be occasions when we despise leadership even from the best pastor and youth worker. Moses was a great sacrificial leader, a Saviour and yet Israel made his life hard. Jesus came to die for his people and if you think perfect leadership none fits the bill more. But he was not only rejected by the religious leaders but the masses demanded for him to be crucified.

If we then approach shepherding thinking that if we do our best, that if we die for the people they’ll love and make it easy for us we are in for a surprise. And yet if we are not willing to die for those we serve we fall short of Jesus’ model and his call to be undershepherds. So how do we shepherd people who naturally don’t want to be led and do it sacrificially?

The first thing is to know we are shepherding among rebels and we too are rebels. It means we know people for who they are and our leadership surpasses mere appreciation to serve a higher goal. John tells us something striking about Jesus in his Gospel. In John 2 we are told:

24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. John 2 NIV.

What is striking is that Jesus knew us more than anyone else, he knew our deep-seated rebellion, and yet he came to die for us. This is shepherding that does not depend on the applause of the sheep. It’s shepherding that follows the way of the Cross. It says that God’s approval and recognition is enough for us. It gives the very best to people who may not naturally want to be led. Such realization will safeguard us from the idolatry of approval and appreciation. It’ll be to God that we look and not merely what we gain from the people. And when people do appreciate and idolize us, our hearts will be shielded from pride.

But since the condition of the heart is also true of us as Gospel ministers we need to ask ourselves if we are also responding similarly. You see it’s not just the normal congregant who has an issue with leadership, our Gospel ministers also don’t want to be undershepherds under the great Shepherd. We can’t lead if we don’t want to follow. How can we ask people to submit to our leadership and shepherding if we won’t submit to Jesus and those he’s entrusted with leadership?

We need to remember we are first his disciples before we are Gospel ministers, first sheep before shepherds, and only undershepherds. Before we murmur and complain of rebel sheep we need to survey our hearts. Would the chief Shepherd say the same of us? To shepherd among rebels, we need to kill our own rebellion and submit to our great Shepherd and those he’s given charge over us. If we desire leadership we must learn submission to godly leadership. If we would be undershepherds we need to obey and follow in the footsteps of our chief shepherd.

To the shepherds among us please remember these words from the apostle Peter:

5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flockAnd when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5. NIV

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When you think about Gospel ministry I wonder what comes to your mind? What do you think a call to ministry actually means? Do you think there’s a chance God is calling you to ministry? I suppose most of us who are genuine and aware of our inner self think about what a noble and difficult task this is. We think about God’s word, about preaching to others and shepherding. We wonder how can I, a mere sinner help others in their relationship with God? How can a broken man lead others to the holy God? In this case, we think the call to ministry is something others can do but not us. No, we don’t qualify to lead others.

But perhaps your answer is different. If you’ve been serving elsewhere perhaps you do feel this is where the Lord is leading you. Your pastor thinks you can do it. You’ve led a Bible study before and enjoyed it. You’ve been involved in organizing for missions that went well and many souls were saved. And when you’ve had the opportunity on a Sunday to hammer the word people do seem to like your preaching. So it feels like yes God is calling you to ministry. You do realize it’s a noble task and you need help but you are largely convinced God is calling you to ministry.

Both of these are responses we hear every time we try to encourage people to do ministry. And there’s one thing that seems to drive these responses; if our heart is in the right place we think about the flock which is admirable. We ask ourselves can I serve God’s people? I’m I the right guy for the mission of God in reconciling the world to himself? Do I have the gifts and skills to pastor them? I’m I equal to the task of bringing others to the kingdom of God? Which I think is a very important question for anyone considering Gospel ministry.

The thing many of us forget or seem to miss is that a call to ministry though is actually a call first to personal discipleship before it is a call to disciple others. God’s call on his minister begins with the minister himself. He doesn’t call the qualified he qualifies those he calls. And to a great extent they never really qualify. No one is fit for that job. No one graduates to be a minister, instead, it is the student of the Word that leads other students in Gospel ministry.

But I know when I talk about ministry and mission the place that easily comes to mind is Matthew 28:16-20 which is the classic place we got to encourage people for missions and Gospel ministry. That’s where we get our job description. Now, I hope you don’t get this wrong but I think that’s the wrong place, to begin with, get me right I said to begin with. First, because if you read the Gospel accounts carefully as they should be read that’s where you end not where you start. Second, because when we start there we assume a lot about the people going for ministry and think very highly of them.

If you read the Gospels carefully you’d see how insufficient the men God sends are. This is especially clear when working through Mark’s Gospel. It should shock you that Jesus decides to send these guys. None of them qualifies. They want to be lords, not servants. They struggle to grasp what Jesus is doing, they are not A students. In the end, one betrays him, the other publicly denies him and they all desert the Saviour when he needed them the most. How can they qualify?

Now I’m not trying to split hairs and argue for the sake of it. Actually, I would still use Matthew 28 to encourage people to go to the ministry field and I think we don’t do this enough in our churches. But I do want to convince you why discipleship needs to come first before mission because even in the Gospel accounts it comes first. When Jesus called his disciples heres what we are told was to be their Job description:

14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach

Mark 3:14 ESV.

We easily get the second part of that verse but we miss the first. The first mission for the first disciples was Discipleship, to sit and learn from Jesus. He called them to be with him and he stayed with them 3 years before he could issue the Great Commission. And even at that point, I would say still these guys were not ready and they were not going to be ready.

Brothers and sisters what I’m trying to convince you and I is; that it’s only after we have been with Jesus when we are walking with Jesus when we are killing sin and striving for holiness every day that we can even think about Gospel ministry. In others words, the call to faithful ministry is a call first to be a faithful Christian. And it’s a daily call, not something that happens once in a dream. Not something that happened when they commissioned or ordained you. The Higher calling is not calling others but answering the call yourself first.

This is the case even when we think about the people of Israel. God’s call on Israel was a call to himself even before they could be a light to the nations. What does God say in Exodus 19?

5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Exodus 19:5 ESV

The call on Israel like the Christian call and to the Gospel preacher is a call to God first. The things we’ll do for God are great. The sacrifices we make for God are worthwhile and part of the package. The souls we’ll preach to and be added to the kingdom will glorify God. But if we miss the calling on our lives for the calling of others then the heaven we talk of is a place we’ll never set our feet on. Others will make it partly because of our ministry but Jesus will say on that day depart from me for I never knew you. If you think Gospel ministry is for you think about your devotion life. If you sense you’ve got the gifts for the job ask yourself if you have the heart for it. And if you feel weak and unqualified and yet see the need for Gospel ministers then ask God to qualify you and to do so every day.

Every year at iServe Africa we send out invitations to college graduates who are sensing a calling of God for ministry to do our one-year Apprenticeship program. This offers them an opportunity for training and testing the waters for ministry. The problem is often times when we talk about ministry they like us tend to think about preaching, going for missions, and discipling others. We think about ourselves as agents that God is sending to others so they can hear the Gospel which is partly right. But the thing we spend most of our time trying to convince our apprentices is that ministry is more about becoming than it is doing. For them, the year is more learning and unlearning than it is hammering the Gospel. It’s about discipleship before it’s about the mission. For only the faithful disciple makes a faithful Bible teacher.

The rebuke we need to hear friends for those of us in ministry is whether we are leading others where we are not following. There are extremes of those who are clearly leading others astray leading them to themselves and to the idols of their hearts. But if we claim to be faithful ministers we need to ask if we are faithful disciples. This is not aimed at guilt-tripping us or making us feel insufficient although that’s how we should feel. But to encourage us to go the Father so he can qualify us with his word. We ought to think the word we are preaching applies to us, not just the naughty teenager in front of us. We need to feed so that we can point others to where they can find pasture. For we are all sheep and we have one Shepherd, the Overseer of our hearts, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

If you are starting on in Gospel ministry or trying to make that decision I hope you can see where it all begins and stays. It’s a higher calling because God wants your heart before he can use your mouth, hands, and feet. Actually, I hope all of us can see that in one way or the other God is calling all of us for ministry. We may not have the gift set of a pastor but God is calling us to himself so he can send us to our neighbors. God is calling us to fellowship with him before we can go out for his mission. He’s asking for our hearts before we can give him our hands. Our heads before our mouths. Our life before we give him our gifts and skills. This is the higher calling.

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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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What are we supposed to learn as we read the narratives of Abraham and Moses and David and all the rest? What are we supposed to emulate? How should they help us?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us… run…” (Heb. 12:1a)

Question: What are the great cloud of witnesses witnessing?

If we don’t know the answer to that then we risk missing a great motivation and guide to running the Christian race well.

Hebrews 12:1a is clearly the bridge between Hebrews 11 (the hall of fame) and Hebrews 12:1b about running the race marked out for us. “Therefore, since we are surrounded… let us…”

So it clearly can’t be that these are non-Christians witnessing our lives (a common interpretation in our context). The witnesses in Heb. 12:1 are those in Heb. 11.

But what or who are they witnessing? Are they witnessing us or something/someone else?

Let’s look at the guys in Hebrews 11. Where was their gaze fixed? In the summary verse 13 it says that they saw what was promised them even though it/he was still far off (cf. Heb. 10:36-37). Moses faith meant ‘seeing the Unseen One’ (Heb. 11:27). In fact most of those mentioned in the ‘hall of fame’ here are notable in the Old Testament as those who ‘saw the LORD’ (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David and Samuel).

This would fit with the primary use of ‘witnesses’ throughout the Old and New Testaments. The ‘witnesses’ in Isaiah 43:12 are of the LORD and his mighty words and deeds. John picks up on this understanding of witness in his Gospel and presents us with various witnesses to Jesus (e.g. John 5). The Apostles are send out as witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8). The secret of their joyful courage was a vision of the glory of God and of Christ (Acts 7:55).

So I would conclude that the witnesses of Heb. 11 and Heb. 12:1a are those who witnessed Christ. They were not necessarily exemplary (think of Jephthah and Samson). It is not so much a hall of fame as a hall of faith. They saw something. They saw Christ. They witnessed Him. And so they did the only logical thing, they counted this world as rubbish and perishing, they looked forward to Christ and his resurrection day, they obeyed the heavenly voice, they ran towards their saviour God.

And that is the way they are an encouragement to us. I suspect that it is not so much that we are running and the saints of old are watching us from the sidelines and cheering us on (though that’s possible), rather we are supposed to look at them and see how they ran and then notice that their eyes are fixed straight ahead, on Christ. We are to see them and see what they are looking at, and run like that.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every weight and the sin that entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus

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