Archive for the ‘Philippians’ Category

Whistler-Blackcomb by Jordan Manley

Sammy spoke to us about eternity from the book of Job at our last MTC.

Then early yesterday morning one of the pastors from our church passed on suddenly.

Here are some quotes and words from an eternal perspective…

I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories… But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning  Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

(Ro­bert M. Mc­Cheyne, died at the age of 29)

Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you. (Psalm 39:4-7)

…teach us who survive, in this and other like daily spectacles of mortality, to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is; and so to number our days, that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom, whilst we live here, which may in the end bring us to life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord. (From The Order for the Visitation of the Sick from the 1662 BCP – the whole order is so radically different to most modern Christianity it’s worth reading in full)

I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men. (Richard Baxter)

I stand vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking to people who this week could go over the edge whether they are ready to or not. I will be called to account for what I say there. (John Piper)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” (Revelation 14:13)

So truly our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ; and our door to enter into eternal life is gladly to die with Christ; that we may rise again from death, and dwell with him in everlasting life. (Order for the Visitation of the Sick)

…labour always to learn to die. Defy the world, deny the devil, and despite the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord… desire, with St Paul, to be dissolved and to be with Christ, with whom even in death there is life. (From the letter of Lady Jane Grey, 9-day Queen of England, to her sister Katherine, written in the back of her Greek New Testament the night before her execution)

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

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RTB Philip Sudell

Memorable moment of the day: Philip preaching on “squabbles in the nursery” (1 Cor. 3:1) having to compete with the very enthusiastic children’s music class in the next door room.

1 Corinthians and Philippians were again full of challenge:

  • Are we taking the glory that God deserves for building his church and giving it to men? (1 Cor. 3:6-7)
  • Do we have leaders who are good models? Do we have good models who give the time and space to ‘Timothy’s? (Phil. 2:22)
  • Do I have sufficient kingdom-mindedness to be fine with other people building on the foundation I have laid (1 Cor. 3:6,10) or to train up and send a ‘Timothy’ away to another mission field? (Phil. 2:19-23)
  • Am I careful about how I’m building the church? (1 Cor. 3:10-12)
  • What is our measure of success in mission and ministry? (Phil. 2:25-30)

I ran out of time looking at Application so you can download the full notes for that here and the Powerpoint here.

Mercy Ireri, our good friend from Langham, pulled a lot of the week together, talking about moving from the flesh of the text (words) to the skeleton (structure) to the heart (big idea) and then back out to the sermon skeleton (it is useful if the sermon is not a structure-less jellyfish) and finally putting the flesh on the bones. I was particularly struck here by the danger of looking at the flesh and making a quick initial judgment (as we do about people) without taking the time to get to know the structure and have a heart-to-heart and maybe find something quite different to initial appearances.

We finished the day a slightly reduced number (29) who stayed the course to do the hard work of producing a sermon outline for the 1 Peter passage. We found that there was a good deal of fuzzy logic involved – trying out a big idea, working on the subheadings, finding they don’t all link into the big idea, reworking the big idea…  But in the end we came out a lot clearer than we were a few days ago with something that, with a big more flesh on the bones, we could preach on Sunday knowing that it is not us speaking but the Author of 1 Peter.

Please pray:

  • Giving thanks for those who have committed a lot of valuable time to attend the week and shown great humility and keenness and engagement, pray that we’d persevere with joy to the end!
  • For Sammy, Greg and Harrison as they teach us tomorrow.

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Into the heart of the week, into the heart of 1 Peter, into the real hard work of labouring on passages. What came out clearly today through various sessions is that there really are no short cuts, no substitute for actually reading the whole letter, reading it again, working hard at the themes and the structure and starting to get a feel for how it ‘works’.

From 1 Corinthians 2 we saw that the deep things of God, the secret, hidden wisdom taught by the Spirit himself, is in fact the gospel of Christ crucified.

From Philippians we saw that humility is not a renouncing of leadership or a loss of identity. As Tim Keller puts it, it is not so much thinking less of myself as thinking of myself less and thinking of others more (Phil. 2:4). What is the solution where humility is lacking? A deep experience of the gospel (Phil. 2:1) and the extraordinary pattern of the humble God (Phil. 2:6-8).

text and frameSammy warned us of the dangers of ‘lucky dip’ verse picking, not bothering to read the context, of assembling a ‘hodge podge’ of verses, of ignoring the historical situation of the letter and jumping straight to us, and of reading our culture or framework (F) into the text (T).

In 1 Peter we found some tremendously rich themes: suffering now, glory later; Christ crucified as our substitute, example and shepherd; the glorious nature of the Church; holiness, submission and sober-mindedness under pressure; the Word of God and the Grace of God… We’re starting to get a feel for the ‘melodic line’. Now we need to make sure our preaching of the individual passages is in tune with that.

Please pray:

  • For Philip, Andy and Mercy as they teach tomorrow.
  • Give thanks for real hunger for the Word and pray that we would all keep working hard through to the end of the week.
  • That hearts would be fired up, thinking sharpened and ministries shaped by the Word.

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Not particularly spiritual person

What does the truly spiritual person look like? Floating two inches above the ground? Always singing and praying? A certain way of walking and talking and holding the head? Bursting with tongues and words of knowledge and spectacular spiritual gifts?

We saw this morning from 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5 that true spirituality is consumed by the gospel of Christ crucified – that’s where all the spiritual power and the wisdom is.

Then, studying the second half of Philippians 1, we were all very struck by the double privilege granted to Christians – to believe in him and to suffer for his sake. There was quite a bit of discussion about how alien this message is to many Kenyan pulpits.

Greg helped us get a handle on the NT letters, reminding us, that they were originally expected to be read in one sitting (as you would expect a modern email to be read in one go) and so we need to look at the parts in the context of the whole.  We also need to “go to Corinth” – looking at the letter carefully (and maybe Acts as well) to get a picture of what the issues were and how the first recipients would have understood the letter.

 Travelling to Corinth

But we don’t need to depend on history text books and we mustn’t speculate. “If we can’t prove a point from the text then it shouldn’t be in the sermon.”

Clive Dunn don't panicIn the afternoon Philip prepared us to start working on a passage from 1 Peter in groups. I was very helped by the reminder not to panic (!), to pray and to read the passage (easily skipped steps), and just take time to work and rework and rework an outline in the confidence that by the Holy Spirit and hard work (2 Tim. 2:7) the Lord will make things clearer before Sunday morning.

I was also very struck by Psalm 119:97-100 which Philip drew us to as we closed: the encouragement that chewing on God’s Word is the route to joy and wisdom; the surprise that listeners/receivers may well end up wiser than preacher/teachers; and the challenge that I will only understand if I obey.

 Please pray on:

  • Giving thanks for the new participants who arrived this morning including the four pastors and lecturers expected from Munguishi Bible College Tanzania.
  • That energy levels would keep high throughout the week, that there would be continued good engagement with the Word.
  • That we would have hearts not only wanting to understand but to submit to the Word.

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Ken MbuguaPraise God we got off to a good start on the first day of the Raising the Bar conference. Pst Ken Mbugua kicked us off with a great start in 1 Corinthians: A Church Divided by Leaders Idolized called to Unite around Christ Crucified. We saw how Paul, completely differently from how we might write to a church riddled with serious problems, chooses to start his letter (1:1-17) by:

  • rubbing their faces in the gospel indicatives (you are the church of God, you are holy in Christ);
  • declaring his massive confidence for their future, not in his clever plan for church revival, but confident in Christ’s grace;
  • addressing the big issue of disunity – remove the gospel and you get personality cults, centre on the gospel and you have a glorious unity.

Philip Sudell led us through group work digging into Philippians where we found the great apostle Paul defining himself first and foremost as a servant of Christ and where we found a church without spiritual hierarchy – where everyone is a saint, equal in Christ, where the overseers and deacons are just fellow members with a different role (and that one of servants).

With Harrison we looked squarely at the massive challenges facing expository preaching in our context, especially the temptation to popularity rather than faithfulness. We saw the priority of preaching for Jesus (Mark 1:32-39), the apostles (Acts 6:1-7) and the early Church (1 Tim. 4:13). And we saw the wonderful model of Jesus’ ministry as a servant preacher from Luke 4:16-29…

Nazareth sermon

  • anointing does not rule out expository preaching – Jesus, more than any other, is anointed (v18) but he submits himself to preach from the Scriptures (v17-21), ‘anointing’ is no excuse for neglecting the Word written;
  • expository preaching is Christological preaching – Jesus interprets the Scriptures here (v20) and elsewhere ( Luke 11:29-32; 18:31; 20:17-18,41-44; 24:25-27,44-47) as pointing to the Son of Man;
  • the proof of successful preaching is not in a good reception – Jesus is not a populist, he doesn’t entrust himself to men, the early applause is shallow (v22), masking a deep rejection (v28-29).

Finally we looked in the afternoon at the story behind the New Testament letters – both the story of Acts and the story of the whole Bible, told as Two Men or as Two Exoduses.

Two men

Bible overview - Jim Sayers

If you are a praying person, please pray:

  • that the 40 or so pastors and teachers who came today would return tomorrow and that the several more who have registered but didn’t get there today would also land with us.
  • for Greg and Philip as they take the major burden of the teaching tomorrow.
  • for the group work in the afternoon as we really start to dig into some passages from 1 Peter.

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It’s not good to argue about words and split hairs. Different people mean different things by ‘internship’ and ‘apprenticeship’. What one church calls an ‘intern’ might be very similar to what we prefer to call in iServe Africa an ‘apprentice’. On the other hand, the UK/US TV series ‘The Apprentice’ has very little to do with what we mean by apprenticeship and looks more like an extreme internship. So the stuff below might not apply in some contexts. But generally speaking, there are some important differences between the way ‘internship’ is usually understood and the connotations and conceptions that go with it, and what we mean by apprenticeship.

  1. Holistic – This flows out of the relational nature of apprenticeship – father and son (Phil. 2:22) – as well as the biblical view of the human person – the inter-relationship of heart, head and hands. If you’re an intern at Safaricom or Barclays, no-one is interested in your personal life, spiritual life, emotions, passions, health, character – so long as they don’t interfere with your work that is all irrelevant. In an apprenticeship, particularly a ministry apprenticeship, they do matter. It’s a life-on-life thing where the apprentice should be seeing and following the mentor’s ‘teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, love, steadfastness’ (2 Tim. 3:10).
  2. Horizontal – An internship suggests that you are getting on the first rung of the career ladder. The organisation is interested in getting the most out of the skills and knowledge that you gained at university (and cheaply!). They’ll work you hard and if you produce the goods then there’s a chance they may take you on and you can start working your way up within the organisation. In contrast, apprenticeship might well be unrelated to school learning. It’s more about gaining new skills – being a child again. And when you’ve gone through a year or two of apprenticeship you realise that you will always be a child, always learning, that there are no CV points to be earned here and no promotion prospects in the Kingdom.
  3. Humbling – All that makes for apprenticeship being a humbling thing. In fact the very label ‘apprentice’ is more humbling to wear than ‘internship’. I’ve been told that apprenticeship sounds like something that uneducated people with no ‘prospects’ in rural areas do – becoming a carpenter or farmer or mechanic like their father. If you are university educated then internship is the thing to do. And for organisations too – to say, “We have two interns” sounds more impressive than, “We have two apprentices” (to which people say, “What does that mean?” or silently think, “That’s a bit weird”). Of course internship might be humbling at times but that is seen as a pain to get through until the glories of a secure position, whereas in an apprenticeship humbling is part of the point of the exercise and a preparation for the rest of life. 
  4. Hearing – Apprenticeship is about hearing not just doing. Internship is mainly about output. Apprenticeship has more to do with input. Interns need to contribute straight away to the organisation. Apprentices are more ‘works in progress’, growing and changing on the inside – identity, convictions. That doesn’t mean we forget that apprenticeship is learning through service (Phil. 2:22) and it doesn’t mean apprentices shouldn’t end up being a great blessing to the church or organisation they are with and to the wider community, but it is also about transformation. And that transformation comes about very largely through listening. Paul told Timothy, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13); “What you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 2:2). Timothy would have been with Paul hearing him preach hundreds of sermons, listening in as he carefully pastored and counselled people, and no doubt they had lots of time on the road and on ships talking about ministry, and late nights where Timothy and Silas and the others just sat at Paul’s feet soaking up his wisdom, sharpening their doctrine and biblical theology. This overlaps with the relational nature of apprenticeship –listening to the stories of the wazee around the fire in the evening; it meshes with what the Christian life is all about – first and foremost being and receiving rather than doing and performing; and it flows from the truth that transformation comes through hearing the Word.
  5. Heaven-minded – Finally, one of the most difficult things to get across when it comes to the apprenticeship model of training is the idea that it is training people for the Kingdom of Heaven not for my little earthly kingdom. As we noted, internship carries with it at least the hope/possibility of the organisation retaining the intern. With apprenticeship – certainly ministry apprenticeship – the idea is to send out workers into the harvest field regardless of whether that is ‘my’ bit of the harvest field or not. The apostle Paul spent days and nights, weeks, months travelling around with Timothy, mentoring, training, investing in him and then he encouraged him to remain in Ephesus, not to lead franchises of ‘Paul Ministries International’ but simply to nurture and grow the Church of God. The plan is simply 2 Timothy 2:2. It’s not about organisational growth it’s about people being born from above and growing in Christ. That doesn’t mean that an apprentice can’t sometimes stay in the ministry in which they’ve been mentored but the focus is on their continual growth and exposure to mission and more than that to the growth of the Kingdom of heaven whether that be in this denomination or that one, whether it mean working in Kenya or East Africa or beyond.

If you’re a recently graduated Kenyan and you’re up for that kind of apprenticeship or you know someone who would be) then get in touch before the end of this week (16th November) to apply for our December intake.

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At iServe Africa we really believe in apprenticeship. This is where character is formed, convictions tested, skilful hands and warm hearts developed. But what is apprenticeship? Here is a key text for us:

“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he was served with me in the work of the gospel.” (Phil. 2:20)

Obviously Paul was pretty unique in some ways but he is a model for us in many things. He passed the baton of gospel ministry to Timothy, Titus and others who passed the baton to others… all the way to us. How was the baton passed? In what context was it passed on? Timothy was an apprentice to Paul.  Paul was a mentor to Timothy. What did that involve?

  • Relationship – There is love and respect as between father and son. The father is not overbearing or exasperating (Col. 3:21; 1 Pet. 5:3) but encouraging, comforting, urging (1 Thess. 2:11-12; Eph. 6:4) and above all a humble example (1 Pet. 5:3-5). The son is submissive (1 Pet. 5:5) and eager to learn from the life and words of the father (2 Tim. 3:10-11).  This relationship matters far more than a precise curriculum.
  • Service together – Apprenticeship is not academic – it is about getting hands dirty. There is content to be taught (2 Tim. 2:2) but the deepest learning comes through service and particularly serving together – the apprentice observing the mentor and the mentor observing the apprentice and giving feedback. The aim is that the apprentice grows not only in skill but in servant-heartedness.
  • Gospel work – The apprenticeship that we are talking about here is not in plumbing or electrics or even in ‘leadership’ but in gospel ministry.  The priority is proclaiming Christ (Phil. 1:18) the God who humbled himself to death on a Cross (Phil. 2:5-11) who wraps us in his own righteousness (Phil. 3:7-9). This gospel must never be assumed. The apprentice and mentor are constantly seeking to know Christ more (Phil. 3:10-14) and to work for the joy of others in Him (Phil. 1:25).
  • Proving – Apprenticeship is a time of testing. This is true both in the sense that, through hardship and trials, through temptations and through the rigors of gospel service, faith is refined as gold (1 Pet. 1:6-7) and in terms of exploring gospel ministry – the apprenticeship experience begins to reveal whether there is a gifting, desire and right character for long-term gospel ministry.

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The word partner has got a bit tired. We’re always hearing about public-private partnerships and (in the UK) about civil partnerships. In some church circles ‘partnership’ sometimes seems to be euphemism for “please can we have your money”. But that’s a shame because gospel partnership is a really exciting and wonderful thing.  Four pictures of partnership:

Going into business together

Partnership is basically a business word – Luke 5:9-10:

Partnership is being in business together.  The question is what business are we in? Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the great partnership letter. Paul is in prison but he isn’t moaning about the bad food and the rats – Philippians 1:3-5:

This is a business where the aim is not to grow our empire but Christ’s, where we’re not trying to please shareholders but Christ, where we’re not promoting ourselves but the Cross of Christ, where the bottom line is not success but faithfulness, where we’re not trying to go up a corporate ladder but go down to serve, where we don’t want customers but disciples. This is a business where we’re not selling anything but holding out the grace of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. And Paul is so excited to be in that business with the Philippians – to be partners in the gospel with them.

What does that partnership actually mean in practice?

A many-stranded rope

It’s all two-way. The central core around which all the other strands are wrapped is our Unity in Christ. Paul and the Philippians are together IN Christ – the deepest and strongest unity you can possibly have. From day one Paul and the Philippians have been partners in preaching the same gospel, living lives worthy of the gospel, suffering together for the sake of the gospel. They’re prayer partners – Paul prays for them, Philippians pray for him. They communicate – by letters by sending and receiving people. They are partners in giving and receiving material resources.

So gospel partnership is a two-way, multi-stranded thing. Let’s never reduce it to one strand. The problem with the rope image is that it doesn’t get across that this is a relationship thing…

A relationship

Gospel partnership is not ‘civil’ in the sense of polite in a rather distant, cold way. The whole thing is very warm – Philippians 1:7-8:

It’s not just about sending money and receiving prayer letters – it’s a relationship – incredibly close and warm – for an Englishman almost embarrassing warm – “my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1).

Fighting on the front line together

Paul says that he and the Philippians are:

Later he calls Epaphroditus, his “fellow soldier”. Obviously our enemy is not human and our weapons are not human weapons. The point is – when we’re in partnership together it isn’t really that there are the guys on the front-line doing the exciting stuff and there are the guys back home. The mission front line is in Nairobi and Moyale and Wajir and London and Northampton.  When we’re in partnership with one another – praying for one another and communicating and loving one another – it’s like we’re fighting side by side.

Basically if we’re in Christ we’re all missionaries. It’s hard being a Christian anywhere in the world because we’re in a conflict (mainly with our own sinful nature) and it’s a wonderful privilege being a Christian anywhere in the world because we have Christ and we have one another.

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