Archive for the ‘Romans’ Category

The powerful leaders of the world showcase their power by creating big armies, standing behind huge projects and big military investments. One, because they can and also because they’d love everyone else to see what they are capable of. But I think there’s something else that tells them they need to showcase how powerful they are. Perhaps it’s the reality of how fleeting power actually is and the need to enjoy it while it lasts. The big man needs people to see their might and in truth we are all drawn by a true showcase of power. We feel safe with a leader who’s strong and are reassured when we see his big army match infront. Human strength is measured by what we see and the methods at play. Power and wisdom is the true mark of human strength. At times you can even pretend to be powerful if you have the right gadgets. But those who are truly powerful don’t need to always showcase their power.

Our God is truly powerful, he made the heavens and the earth by a word and everything operates by his will. He doesn’t need to lift a finger to make things happen. But when it’s been appropriate to do so he’s proved to be able move mountains, to stop giants and change the course of history. The Bible story tells of a powerful God working for a weak people in impossible situations to save them for himself. So he doesn’t need to showcase his power everytime we demand it. Instead he usually shows his power not by a great show of might but mostly through seemingly weak methods. Here are 3 most powerful methods he uses which from a human eye looks so weak and ineffecctive: the cross, the Gospel and prayer.

The Cross
Think about the cross of Jesus. Nothing shows more weakness than the son of God dying on a wooden cross like a criminal. Actually that’s like the worst thing that can happen to someone who claims to be God’s son and the Lord of the world. Which powerful leader of the world would let his son suffer let alone die if they could rescue them? Humanly speaking you’d doubt the power of this God to help you if he couldn’t save his own child when he needed him most. But the Bible tells us it’s through this weakness that our salvation was born. God used weakness to showcase his greatest power and might at the cross. The power to deal with sin, to defeat Satan, the world and death. At the very center of the story of redemption, the very heart of human history is the weak sign of the cross.

But when it looked most weak, Jesus paid the ransom for our sins and won our eternal salvation. At the cross of Jesus we see God’s power most manifested. In Christ, a man deserted, denied and betrayed by his own is our victory won. At his death our penalty of sin is paid fully. And by his resurrection we are given hope for eternal life as Christ emerges as the firstborn in the new everlasting life. God used what looked so humanly weak for the most powerful act in history. He didn’t bulldoze his way but in weakness he did what seemed impossible. He didn’t call down angels to come showcase his might and force his way. Instead, he sent a man born in weakness to achieve the greatest act of redemption. The weak sign of the cross is the signature of the powerful God of the universe and the message we proclaim.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1 NIV.

The Gospel
If you wanted the world to trust in your power and truly fear you you’d never go the Gospel way. I mean what would a bunch of weak disciples who’ve proved to fail so many times accomplish? Jesus wasn’t only entrusting the most important mission of the world to sinful men, he entrusted it to the most unlikely candidates. You ask any expert and that’s a mission bound to fail from the word go. And yet he continues to do so today using preachers and Gospel workers most of whom are uneducated, unqualified, weak and sinful. Why? Because they are just vessels for his life-changing message. It’s him and his word that does the work not them.

When this seemingly weak message takes hold of men it makes them do the impossible. Nothing changes people like the Gospel. Just look at the story of the 12 and see what God did through their witness of the Gospel. Through this message God is winning the world to himself and he’s been doing so all through history. It doesn’t always feel like it’s achieving much, sometimes we actually try to change and re-adapt it but when clearly taught the Gospel does the impossible. God works in unlikely ways, through weak unlikely people with a message that causes more offence than admiration to rescue humanity. I mean it’s a miracle that anyone would be willing to give up everything for the Gospel. But the Gospel captures, captivates and transforms unlikely people to believe and do unlikely things for God. Because the Gospel is God’s power and God at work. 

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.

Romans 1 NIV.

One of the main reasons why we struggle so much with prayer is because humanly speaking it’s a very weak strategy. Here I am facing an impossible situation and someone has the audacity to say pray about it? Your friend is ailing in hospital and all you can do is pray? Here’s a deal of a lifetime and first thing you want to do is pray? It doesn’t even sound like a strategy it speaks more of lacking in options and of last resort. And yet there’s nothing more powerful for a believer than to commit themselves in the hands of the Almighty. The history of faith shows God working by prayer to achieve great milestones for the Gospel and intervening in impossible situations for his people.

When God’s people pray they are not saying we have no other option. Actually it’s by prayer that we open our options and access real help from our very able Father. Prayer says I can’t do it but I trust in the one who’s not only able but is available and willing to help us. Praying is calling in the big guns to come to our aid in a war we would otherwise never win on our own. Though seemingly weak, believers have never been able to achieve anything without prayer because without God we can do nothing. Any real Gospel progress has been born of God working through weak people by weak methods like the Gospel and prayer. That’s why we should commit fully to the ministry of the cross, the work of the Gospel by the power of prayer. Because the ministry of word and prayer is the power of God at work. 

1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

Psalms 116 NIV.

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Fidel: This year we will be doing nothing but seeking to give you confidence in the Word of God. #Back2TheWord


And some more notes and links:

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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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return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?


Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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The church is Jesus’s body on earth. So we should be continuing Christ’s ministry on earth. Feeding, healing, blessing, lifting up the broken and marginalised. We are his body. Not just preaching at people – that would mean the church is just one big mouth – we need to be Jesus’ hands and feet to go to go to the needy and hungry and broken and care for them. That is the church’s mission.

Is that true?

Well there’s plenty of good sentiment in there about having compassion for the needy and marginalised. As John Piper said at the last Lausanne conference if we don’t care about physical suffering we’ve got defective hearts. We should be like our heavenly Father who sends rain on the just and the unjust and like the Son who blesses even his persecutors (Matt. 5:44-45). I find that very convicting.

But are we right to say that this is the church’s mission? I.e. what we are commissioned to go out into the world to do not just as children of God but as a church? In particular, can we draw this mission stuff out of Paul’s teaching that the church is the body of Christ?

As I’ve looked at the ‘body’ passages over the last week or two I’ve noticed that they have particular purposes:

  • Romans 12:3-8 – Do not be proud. There is diversity and unity. Use your gifts. (Most of the gifts seem to be for use within the church. ‘Ministry’ and ‘mercy’ are probably also within the fellowship given the immediate context (v9-13) but could be outside (v14,20) or both.)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:15-17 – Your bodies are members of Christ. Do not unite with a prostitute.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:17 – Unity in our communion with Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – There is unity and diversity. Jews and Greeks are one. In your diversity of gifts do not have an inferiority complex. Do not be proud. You are needed by one another within the fellowship (v21-22). There should be care for one another within the fellowship (v25-26). (And in chapter 14 we find that the diversity of gifts/members is for building up the church (14:4-5,12,19,26 cf. 12:7)
  • Ephesians 1:22-23 – The headship of Christ for the church. The exalted position of the church in union with Christ.
  • Ephesians 2:15-16 – Reconciliation with God and with one another – Jews and Gentiles – through the Cross.
  • Ephesians 4:11-16 – The five-fold or four-fold (whichever you prefer) Word-teaching gifts are for equipping the whole church for works of ministry – not ministry out in the world so much as to build up the body of the church (v12). And this building up means not so much numbers but unity in the faith, knowledge of the Son and corporate Christlikeness (v13-15). Each part of the body is to work together to build up the body/church (v16).
  • Ephesians 5:23-32 – Christ saving, loving and nourishing the church.
  • Colossians 1:24-25 – The church suffering as the body of Christ. (cf. Acts 9:4)

The main ways the body picture seems to be used are:

  • Union with Christ, salvation
  • Union with one another, unity in diversity, serving one another and building one another up

I don’t see much mission here. Nothing about being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Paul could easily have extended the metaphor in that direction but he doesn’t. The only explicit mentions of contact between the body and the outside world are about sin and persecution. When Paul talks about his mission – it’s all about preaching the gospel (Rom. 15:14-21; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:16; 2 Cor. 4:1-6; 5:20; Col. 1:25-29; 4:3-6). When he talks about us doing mission together he uses metaphors of farming, building, business and warfare (1 Cor. 3:6-15; Phil. 1:5, 27; 2:25; 4:3; 2 Tim. 2:2-6) but not the body. Which is not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in alleviating all kinds of physical suffering etc. but it’s a reminder:

  1. that we need to be careful about our categories and vocabulary (esp. ‘mission’) and not press justifications for social action from texts not talking about that;
  2. that we need to look for the purpose of biblical metaphors and be careful not to cut them free of their context and run with them in all directions.

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Covered all sorts of stuff today. Praise God for teachable humble engagement with the Word. The theme that seemed to emerge through the day was about our wretchedness and Christ’s wonderful salvation.

“Daily I abhor my sin. Daily I adore my Saviour.” (John Stott)

“I remember that this: that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.” (John Newton)

In the morning Bible studies we were encouraged by Paul’s Christian experience in Romans 7: “Wretched man that I am! …Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Then in Isaiah 6 we saw the prophet having a similar experience: “Woe is me!” (cf. the 6 woes in the previous chapter) as he see the Lord (Jesus) high and lifted up (cf. John 12) in the place of atonement.

In Job 2:11-3:26 we saw the wretchedness of Job – this time not a wretchedness from guilt but suffering as the blameless servant of God – an honest window into the dark night of the soul and ultimately a picture of Christ in Gethsemane with his useless comforters, of Christ on the Cross, enduring the forsakenness, the hopelessness of hell, suffering worse than death.

Christine introduced Augustine in 30 minutes and it came out clearly that most of the heresies the great pastor-theologian fought (Manichaeism, Donatism, Pelagianism) had an insufficient appreciation of human (and Christian) sinfulness (and there are certainly assumptions in that direction in our Kenyan context). Augustine, through his reading of the Scriptures and his own experience knew the true wretchedness of the human condition.

Then Harrison led the most meaty session of the day as we grappled with the doctrine of salvation, especially from Ephesians 2, seeing again the wretchedness of our natural state and the wonder of our sovereign deliverance in Christ – from hell to heaven. (Harrison’s paper on the doctrine of salvation written when he was an apprentice himself in 2006 is here).

After a Jinsi Ya on Interview Preparation Skills, Sammy gave us some very helpful guidance on being Steadfast in the workplace.

Finally we looked again at Ephesians and found that Paul’s mission was…

  • simply “preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8);
  • inextricably linked with the Church – the spectacular wisdom of God, the body of Christ, the unity of Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 3:10);
  • inextricably linked with suffering (Eph. 3:1, 13).

Pray for today (Wednesday):

  • That these doctrines would not puff us up but do their real job of completely humbling us and turning us to rejoice in Jesus.
  • For James Wainaina, myself and others speaking on Pastoral Ministry, Shaping a Sermon and lessons from Luther and from the East African Revival.
  • That the apprentices would be seeing things for themselves from the Word.
  • That there would be plenty of relaxation and fun too (we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously!)

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Praise God for a good day at MTC. The theme that seemed to come out throughout the day for me was (it sounds a bit depressing to say it but actually it was wonderful) death and the greatness of Jesus who has defeated death.

We started with Romans 6 and found that we’ve already died and thought through some of the implications of that.

Then we started to grapple with the reality of suffering as we opened the book of Job. Sammy noted that he’d never heard the book preached from (certainly anything more than a random one verse) in Kenya. His outline for Job 1:1-2:10 for us: (1) Job is really blameless; (2) Satan is really powerful; (3) The LORD is really in charge; (4) The LORD gives terrible permissions.

We had 30 minutes on the great African theologian Athanasius who was fearless in the face of death because he knew, “Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him.” I was speaking too quickly but the notes are here.

Then Pst. Sukesh gave us a wonderful session on Christ in the Whole Bible. The notes are here. We returned again to Romans 6 as the parallel to the Israelites release from slavery and destruction in the days of the Exodus and looked to Hebrews 2 to find the one who, “shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death”. And the greatest of all death passages – Isaiah 52-53 – was the summit of our session: (1) The person of the saviour – a servant, not outwardly attractive; (2) The work of the saviour – crushed instead of us; (3) The outcome of his work – justification (v11). Here are the notes: Christ in all the Bible.

Harrison led us through an extremely useful session on guidance, giving us a real perspective shift, encouraging us to see Christ as our all in all and the things of this world in the light of eternity. Notes here: Gospel and guidance.

Finally Pst. Edward Ngaira shared his pilgrimage, including his struggles to come to terms with the loss a great spiritual hero and then also his mother. Job 1:21 came up again and Pst. Edward left us with the prayer of Psalm 90:

All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

As we go into tomorrow (Tuesday) please pray:

  • That the Father would be opening our eyes wider and wider to see Jesus and to see our brief time on earth in the light of his great and gracious plan.
  • For Christine teaching us on Augustine, Harrison on the doctrine of salvation, and Sammy on mission and being steadfast in the marketplace.
  • That apprentices would be seeing things for themselves from the Word and growing in deep convictions that would guide them and keep them standing contra mundum.


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“Ok,” we might say. “I like all this grace stuff. I do believe we need to be preaching the gospel of grace. But you can go too far with this can’t you? There are standards in the Christian life. There are laws to obey. We’ve got to get a balance of God’s grace and God’s demands. If we focus too much on grace, if we preach that it’s all 100% free then people will just think they can sin as much as they want.”

Look at how Paul answers that in Romans 6. He’s just been banging on about free grace: “justified by his grace as a gift” (3:24) “to the one who does not work” (4:5) “God counts righteousness apart from works” (4:6) “so that it may be by grace” (4:16) “this grace in which we stand” (5:2) “how much more did God’s grace and the free gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many” (5:15).

And he knows what we’re thinking… “Shall we go on sinning?” (6:1) 

Now how does Paul answer that? Does he say, “Ok, maybe I was being a bit too strong on grace there – we do need to remember the law – there are certain things that we really need to do.”

He doesn’t do that does he? He doesn’t backpedal or tone down his teaching on grace. He talks about union with Christ by grace: “we have been united with him…” (6:5). Notice the passive tense? Not, “we have united ourselves with him”. It’s sovereign grace. “Don’t you know…” (this is obviously supposed to be basic teaching – salvation 101) “…all those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death… our old self was crucified with him…” (6:3,4,6). When you were converted you were united to Christ and the history of Christ became your history – he died, he was buried, he rose – you died on that cross, you were buried in that tomb, you were raised that Easter morning. Just as death has no hold on Christ so it has no hold on you. The old you, the slave to sin, who deserved only punishment for sin, has gone. Now there is the new you, the new creation in Christ, living because He lives. Therefore of course we don’t want to go on sinning (6:2,11-13). Since you’ve been united to Christ in an unbreakable bond, since the old you has died the sinners death in Him, since you’ve been rescued from slavery to sin for true life in the Trinity – of course grace is not a license for sin.

Do you see how Paul has answered an objection to grace with more grace? The answer to “Can’t we just sin as much as we want then?” is not to bring in the law but to plunge deeper into the doctrine of grace. In fact Paul finishes the sub-section with a sentence that is completely the opposite of what we naturally think: “sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (6:14).

But Paul knows that we are still finding this really hard to accept.  “Surely you’ve got that the wrong way round Paul – you need the law to fight sin.” When we’re facing a church full of immorality or a lack of giving, preaching grace just doesn’t seem powerful enough medicine. And so we reach for the Law – “Stop robbing God or you’ll be cursed! Do this or do this more and you’ll be blessed!”  Paul knows that’s what we’re thinking: “If you say we’re under grace not law there’ll be no end of sinning” (6:15). 

How does Paul answer that? You guessed it. More grace, deeper grace. He doesn’t appeal to our free will and exhort us to make renewed commitments and resolutions. He says we were slaves and we are now slaves. We were slaves of a terrible master (sin, impurity, lawlessness) and now we’re slaves of a wonderful master (obedience, righteousness, God himself). How did we move from one to the other? Slaves don’t chose their owners do they? “…having been set free from sin [notice the passive tense again], we have become slaves of righteousness” (6:18 and again at v22). You don’t become God’s slave by being obedient, you are obedient because you are a slave to obedience – freed from sin for a new life and a new identity as God’s possession. How does he end the chapter: “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23).

The problem may be a superficial understanding of grace but it’s not grace itself. The answer is more grace, deeper grace, union with Grace Incarnate. Can you have too much Jesus?

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