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Just been listening to a very challenging and thought-provoking talk by Ian Hamilton on principled pragmatism. He seeks to bring out and dust off a neglected emphasis in the Reformed tradition – a passionate concern for the unity of the visible church. A concern that looks shockingly liberal and ecumenical to most modern reformed evangelicals but is tied to a very high value placed on both the local church fellowship and on the body of Christ. It reminded me of this passage in Baxter’s classic The Reformed Pastor:

We must be very studious of union and communion among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches that we oversee. We must be sensible how needful this is to the prosperity of the whole, the strengthening of our common cause, the good of the particular members of our flock, and the further enlargement of the kingdom of Christ. And, therefore, ministers must smart when the Church is wounded, and be so far from being the leaders in divisions, that they should take it as a principal part of their work to prevent and heal them. Day and night should they bend their studies to find out means to close such breaches. They must not only hearken to motions for unity, but propound them and prosecute them; not only entertain an offered peace, but even follow it when it flies from them. They must, therefore, keep dose to the ancient simplicity of the Christian faith, and the foundation and center of catholic unity. They must abhor the arrogancy of them that frame new engines to rack and tear the Church of Christ under pretense of obviating errors and maintaining the truth. The Scripture sufficiency must be maintained, and nothing beyond it imposed on others; and if papists, or others, call to us for the standard and rule of our religion, it is the Bible that we must show them, rather than any confessions of churches, or writings of men. We must learn to distinguish between certainties and uncertainties, necessaries and unnecessaries, catholic verities and private opinions; and to lay the stress of the Church’s peace upon the former, not upon the latter. We must avoid the common confusion of speaking of those who make no difference between verbal and real errors, and hate that madness formerly among theologians, who tear their brethren as heretics, before they understand them. And we must learn to see the true state of controversies, and reduce them to the very point where the difference lies, and not make them seem greater than they are. Instead of quarrelling with our brethren, we must combine against the adversaries; and all ministers must associate and hold communion, and correspondence, and constant meetings to these ends; and smaller differences of judgment are not to interrupt them. They must do as much of the work of God, in unity and concord, as they can, which is the use of synods; not to rule over one another, and make laws, but to avoid misunderstandings, and consult for mutual edification, and maintain love and communion, and go on unanimously in the work that God has already commanded us. Had the ministers of the gospel been men of peace, and of catholic, rather than factious spirits, the Church of Christ had not been in the case it now is. The nations of Lutherans and Calvinists abroad, and the differing parties here at home, would not have been plotting the subversion of one another, nor remain at that distance, and in that uncharitable bitterness, nor strengthen the common enemy, and hinder the building and prosperity of the Church as they have done.

 

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Already Rewarded!

You know some of those small things that happen and that don’t seem that significant at all. Like your wife prepares a cup of tea, serves you and it just looks normal- why appreciate anyway when that’s her duty! After all it’s not a favour that she’s doing so there shouldn’t be any expectation from her!

I am lost somewhere in town – I ask the ‘soldier’ for directions – no sooner has he shown me than I take off even without saying thank you. A matatu conductor has been so good (a very unusual scenario) but immediately I alight I zoom off without even looking at him and saying ‘poa buda, baadaye.’ I think we are a society where being grateful and appreciating others is seen as a very awkward thing. In fact, sometimes those people you appreciate may look at you suspiciously as if you just dropped from another planet.

At the centre of ingratitude is a heart that is so focused on self. An inward looking person can never show appreciation for the ‘small things’ that others have done… but will feel so bad when the same happens to them! And, unashamedly so, that’s what most of us are- narcissism is our being cool!

Blowing Trumpets

At the office, it’s tea time. Tea has been prepared, it’s ready but there’s no-one to serve it with the snacks. So, I go to the kitchen, pick the stuff and everyone is made aware that it’s all ready to be consumed. Then came the support staff and on realising that it’s already been served, says “Oh, you guys have already served. Thanks to the person who did. I’d rushed out to get some items for lunch.” There I was thinking “They all forgot. Am the one who brought it and served!” Oh! What a feeling! Wait… “Kwisha, you’ve already received your reward” one of my colleagues said. Of course, we laughed out loud and I said “am just being humble” but this made me think hard.

I later remembered Christ’s words

Thus when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have already received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2)

This is really hard stuff! How many times have I sought for praise and recognition? How many times have many of us been known/wanted to be known because of our deeds? Oh, how we sound the trumpet for ourselves!! Selfie here, selfie there, how will they know? Hashtag everything- #VisitToChildrenHome #PoorKids #HereForACourse #MakingAChange #ITouchedAChildsHeart

The real test for me is can I do something without expecting to be congratulated and commended however good it is? But even bigger, can a single day pass without me going out there and deliberately seeking for glory and praise? Just listen to the way we introduce ourselves? What is the big thing that will remain in the people’s minds? We go on each day redeeming our ‘bonga points’ at the expense of that greater reward that we await when our Saviour returns… that eternal, intangible, incomparable reward, I don’t wanna lose that.

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Kufundisha Tora

Had a great time in Arusha last week at Munguishi Bible College. A wonderful work is going on there. Very sharp guys. We were often learning far more from them than we were imparting. Fidel did an excellent job teaching us Walawi (Leviticus) in full Kiswahili.

hema

On the Pentateuch / Kiswahili theme, the principal of Munguishi pointed me towards a very helpful series of lectures on the Pentateuch made available by Third Millennium with free to download video, audio and text:

And here’s something on the narrative structure of Genesis from the forthcoming book accompanying the Utumishi Wa Neno Course:

let bible speak cover

Genesis is clearly a collection of stories – many very well known: Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. But the whole book also holds together as one big story – a story of stories; or better, a story of ‘beginnings’ or ‘generations.’

generationsThe story is told in ten parts, divided by the phrase, “This is the account of” or in more literal translations, “These are the generations of…” And those ten divide quite clearly between the first five and the second five at Genesis 11:27.

THE TURNING POINT AT GENESIS 12

There are various contrasts between these two halves of Genesis:

  • The first half goes wrong with disobedience and exile away from God’s presence. By Genesis 11 people are still going away from the East (v2) and still being disobedient (v4). But when we get to Abraham in the next chapter we find obedience and a movement towards God’s land. (At the end of the Book of Genesis we find another obedient man who has the presence of God (Gen. 39) and looks forward confidently to the land (Gen. 50).
  • Genesis 1-11 is universal (‘the nations’) but from Genesis 12 there is a focus on God’s particular “great nation” (v2).
  • While the people at Babel wanted to make a “name” for themselves, now God says, “I will make your name great” (12:3).
  • Genesis 1-11 is mainly curse with glimpses of blessing. From Genesis 12 there is an emphasis on blessing (the word comes 5 times in Gen. 12:1-2 compared to “curse” 5 times in Gen. 3-11). In the second half there is still plenty of curse around (barrenness, famine, death etc.) but in each generation there is one Blessed One to whom all can bow and be blessed through him.
  • Genesis 1-11 is mainly about discord and disunity (Gen. 4, 9, 11) while Genesis 12-50 gives examples of the blessing of reconciliation (Gen. 33, 42-50).

Shape of Narrative (2)

THE DECISIVE ACTION AT GENESIS 15

Even after the turning point of chapter 12 there is still a major tension because Sarai is barren (Gen. 11:30). It doesn’t look like any of the promises of a great nation and blessing through offspring can be fulfilled.

Genesis 15 is a key chapter in Genesis (and in the whole Bible) because it is here that we find:

  • The Word of the LORD comes to Abram – God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12 but in chapter 15 we are told twice of the ‘Word of the LORD’ – something (or someone) who will become hugely important as we move through Bible history.
  • Stars – The first mention of these since the opening verses of Genesis; suggesting a new creative work (cf. Rom. 4:17; 2 Cor. 4:6).
  • Faith – It was implicit at Genesis 12 but here in Genesis 15 it is explicit (the first use of the word in the Bible).
  • Righteousness – We have already heard that Noah was righteous (Gen. 6:9) but here for the first time we find out that righteousness is something that can be credited to someone who simply believes God’s promises.
  • genesis 15Covenant – God gave Abram a promise at Genesis 12 but here in chapter 15 the LORD formally ‘cuts’ (makes) the great covenant of grace (v18). Most amazingly, when we compare the strange night-time events of this chapter with the covenant ceremony described in Jeremiah 34:18-19 we see that one party is sleeping (cf. Gen. 2:21) and God alone is meanwhile taking on the full responsibilities of covenant keeping and of suffering if it is broken. Abram’s obedience to God’s call in Genesis 12 is important but this divine action in chapter 15 – the fire of the LORD moving between the halved animals – is the ‘decisive action’ which changes everything in the Book of Genesis.

THE UNFINISHED STORY

So there is a sense in which the Book of Genesis works as one long story – setting (Gen. 1-2), problem (Gen. 3), escalating tensions (Gen. 4-11), turning point (Gen. 12), decisive action (Gen. 15), unfolding of God’s covenant and choice of the children of Abraham (Gen. 16-50). But when we finish the book we know that this is very obviously not the end of the story started in Genesis 1-3. The promises of Genesis 3:15 and chapters 12 and 15 are not fulfilled. Death is still reigning. We’re not in God’s Land. We still need a curse-reversing serpent crusher.

See also A. C. Leder, The Structure of Genesis.

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Quite helpful I must say. I thought I was the only one who felt this way!!

Biblical Preaching

Depressed2Now and then you might preach a sermon and finish on a personal emotional high that lasts for days.  Typically you won’t.  William Willimon wrote that,  “On any Sunday you can give it your all and still know that the Word deserves more.” Typically you may find yourself feeling vulnerable, weak, drained, self-critical and/or regretful.  Post-preaching stress disorder: known by most preachers, not understood by most others.

People in your congregation probably don’t understand PPSD.  They are quite happy to chat with you after you have preached.  They might want to talk about other things (that can be tough – it feels like they ignored you completely).  They might want to talk about your message (that can be tough – you may feel too vulnerable at this stage).  They might want to discuss some detail in your message (that can be tough – your purpose and big idea related…

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Continued….

THE GREAT AWAKENING

During the Great Awakening in the 1740s, it is said that people spoke in a way of what they saw: ‘God is present in our assemblies’; ‘God’s Spirit came upon the preacher and the people’. In places where it was not customary for people to be disturbed by preaching, ‘Men saw hell opening before them and themselves ready to fall into it’. Before the end of May 1740, it was being said that ‘there was never such a general awakening and concern for the things of God in American known before.’ There was also a great gospel influence upon the children and the youths of the town too. By summer of 1741, the revival has spread to many other parts like Boston. Churches, which, in some cases had been cold and dry at the beginning of the year, were transformed before the end. Many people were being converted in hundreds and thousands and added to the churches.

It was during this time that George Whitfield visited Northampton. His friendship with Edwards was strengthened during this period. During his visit, Whitfield preached four sermons at Edwards’ church and:

“The congregation was extraordinarily melted by every sermon; almost the whole assembly being in tears for a great part of sermon time… One or two persons… were so greatly affected with a sense of the greatness and glory of divine things… overcoming their strength, and having a very visible effect upon their bodies.” (Edwards, An Account of Revival)

Speaking of the conditions in general, Benjamin Trumbull writes:

“There was in the minds of people, a general fear of sin, and of the wrath of God denounced against it. There seemed to be a general conviction, that all the ways of man were before the eyes of the Lord. It was the opinion of men of discernment and sound judgment, who had the best opportunities of knowing the feelings and general state of the people at that period, that bags of gold and silver and other precious things, might, with safety, have been laid in the streets, and that no man would have converted them to his own use.”

The nature of preaching during the Great Awakening was often alarming. There were some criticisms against the awakening with some asserting that it was ‘pretended prudence’. Edwards ‘The Distinguishing Marks’ highlighted the necessity of comparing Scripture with what was happening in the land so as to know whether it was genuine or not.

The Spirit’s true work can be from that which is false because we know that He always:

  1. causes a greater esteem for Christ
  2. operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom ‘which lies in encouraging and establishing sin’
  3. promotes greater regard for the truth and the divinity of the Holy Scriptures
  4. Brings men to the light of the truth
  5. excites love to God and man, making the attributes of God, manifested in Christ, ‘delightful objections of contemplation’.

Although later on Edwards admitted that there might have been some extremes in terms of what people experienced during the revival, his question was ‘what would be left of real Christianity if all felt spiritual experience was rejected?’

Now, there were other controversies that arose during his ministry. One of them was that of ministers admitting people to take Holy Communion before they would show any true signs of conversion. He said that a minister may have ‘suspicions and fears’ about a particular candidate for communion and yet have no sufficient ground to bar him from membership. But later on, Edwards could write that a lax principle of admission to the Lord’s Table imperils the whole nature of the Church, for then the church and the world cease to be distinguished. One of his failures as mentioned by later writers was that he ‘did not visit his people in their houses unless he was sent for by the sick’.

In 1750, Edwards was dismissed from his role as a minister in Northampton, just after the marriage of his daughters. Now, he and his wife, Sarah, were left without an income and the question they faced was in times of trials, whether they could cheerfully resign all to God. Edwards’ earlier biographers saw his removal from Northampton as a work of providence because it was during this period that he concentrated on his writing ministry. Edwards later moved to Stockbridge where he had a ministry among the Mohawks. His work as a missionary among the American Indians probably showed his connection with David Brainerd.

Lessons for Us Today:

  • That “We are dependent upon God, he argued, not only for redemption itself but for our faith in the Redeemer, not only for the gift of His Son but for the Holy Ghost for our conversion.” This was the conviction for Edwards & other preachers and should be ours too lest we think it’s our effort that brings conversion.
  • Edwards would spend long hours in his study. He believed that his public work as a calling to speak to men in the name of God was inseparable from his conviction that the first demand in such a calling was that his own knowledge of God should be personal and first-hand. He sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshiper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together.
  • The need for a solid doctrinal preaching addressing both heart & mind. Edwards was good at addressing both heart & mind. It’s not just about presenting truths to be digested or exciting emotions but awakening the right affections in listeners.
  • Commitment to mission; heart beat for the lost
  • Edwards wasn’t afraid of controversy. He didn’t run away from it even when it cost him.

You can read more on Edwards at:

A God Entranced Vision of All Things (John Piper, free download)

Captive to Glory (John Piper, free download)

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For more info contact us here.

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Preaching has become the easiest thing to do in this country, trust me. You can just wake up and pick on something you like and can connect with people, then off you go! It’s a plus if you add just a little bit of charisma… and don’t forget that Hebrew or Greek vocabulary! Some fancy topic will always do the trick.

I think the reason behind this is that we as preachers always want the easy way out. Why should I spend so much time working on a text preparing my sermon? Why should I dare preaching through a book or a chapter or a passage Sunday after Sunday? Especially of the passage is hard to understand! But if ever we are going to see congregations grow into maturity in Christ then the Word of God must be faithfully preached from our pulpits. And that will mean hard work.

The aim of preaching is gospel transformation—in as much as we aim at the hands (get people serving) and the head (knowledge), the main aim really is the heart (transformed into His likeness- maturity). This is really demanding because ‘heart work is hard work.’

But because we don’t want to labour much, what do we do, go for the easiest thing- our hobbyhorses!

Just walk into a Kenyan Church, these are the topics that will most likely be covered throughout the year:

  1. Relationships
  2. Spirit of Excellence- academics, business
  3. Prosperity- possess your possession
  4. Domination (Principles of)
  5. Positioned for Greatness
  6. Money and giving
  7. Spiritual growth
  8. Spiritual warfare
  9. Cults and occults
  10. Mission month- hear stories from missionaries in the field & congregants have that woow feeling!!
  11. Embracing our ‘Kenyanness’ (One love Ke, We are One)
  12. Discipleship; Read the Word more, Pray more, be good (do’s and don’ts)
  13. Leadership
  14. Faith
  15. Restoration, Rebuilding Broken walls!
  16. Moving to the next level… Turning a mess to a message
  17. Wealth Transfer- from the wicked to the righteous
  18. Forgiveness
  19. Spiritual gifts; tongues
  20. Motivation; you can be a better you
  21. Vision- Church Building Projects
  22. Victorious Christian Living
  23. Sowing on wings like an Eagle
  24. The year of Jubilee (this is a big one… but 2013 is coming to end and it isn’t a year of Jubilee really!)

Perfect! That is a two-year preaching calendar for you (thank me later!)

You realise that the emphasis on Christ is less and less. What we hear is more of me-centred preaching rather than Christ-centred preaching. Me (the preacher and the listener) determines what is to be preached… it’s no longer the Word that guides our message but our message determines the scripture we’ll turn to as a back-up to our message!

I am not saying that this isn’t the right thing to do but there’s a danger that when we do this, we set the agenda instead of the Word setting the agenda. In the end, we’re only addressing people’s felt needs & not the most crucial need for a Saviour! And as 1 Cor. 1:23 says

But we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles

Christ crucified… that’s all we’ve got to preach. This isn’t the most appealing message that people wanna hear!

But because we aren’t doing that and we don’t want to be offensive, what happens is that the Bible (Word) is no longer in the driving seat, it’s been relegated to the back-left, or chucked out altogether. There’s a great danger here because a few years down the line, people’s ‘needs’ will have changed, their status improved but still they’ll be impoverished spiritually!

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Yesterday’s Church service was quite encouraging; not because the preacher had a Rhema word that spoke to my current prevailing situation or because we sung praise and worship until the heavens came down but because there was some faithful Bible teaching from the pulpit! In a country where we get less and less of the Bible being preached but more and more of preachers expressing their own agenda and using the Bible as a back-up, it’s only prudent that we marvel and rejoice when we see the Bible being taught faithfully!

The O.T text was Genesis 11:1-9 (The Tower of Babel) and the N.T text was Matthew 19:1-30 (The Rich Young Ruler). The ongoing series for this month are on ‘Discipleship’ and on this particular Sunday, the topic was ‘Misconceptions of Discipleship.’ The first good thing is that the preacher stuck to the texts given, he didn’t jump about from one thing to another.

From the Genesis passage, there were two main points that were drawn out;

  • Humanity seeking Self-Praise- All men uniting to build a tower whose top reaches the heavens with one aim of making a name for themselves!

This is what man-made religion does; seeking glory and praise for man instead of giving praise and glory to God. It was helpful here for the preacher to draw out some relevant illustrations from the contemporary scene where we see so many false teachers whose aim is nothing but making a name for themselves! The application being we need to be weary of seeking to make a name for ourselves and that every effort we make in trying to ‘reach heaven’ by our own means apart from Jesus Christ are only but futile.

  • Humanity seeking Self-sufficiency & Security- Here, they built a city in order that they won’t be scattered/dispersed in the face of the earth.

The problem with their thinking is that it is exactly in contravention of the command that God had given to ‘go and fill the whole earth.’
They have forgotten that this is the duty of man and now want to have a city of their own where they can be secure from the dispersion. And oh, how often we seek our sufficiency and security from other things apart from God! It could be our finances, our wealth, knowledge, education, family or even church. We easily drift off the purposes God intended for us and form our own goals that we seek to achieve.

He was clear and precise and in 25 minutes or so, he had driven his point home.

Can we have more of this please?

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A local pastor pointed out recently that while Kenyans love the Christmas holiday season, food, new clothes for the children, travelling home (or to the beach if you have the money), Christmas is not made much of in the church.  Most churches will make scant mention of it until the Sunday before and the next Sunday it’s quickly forgotten. For many the repertoire of Christmas carols doesn’t extend much beyond Joy to the World and O Come all Ye Faithful.   In fact fewer people go to church on Christmas day than any other time of year – the complete reverse of the UK. 

For us, the Kenyan pastor went onto say, the death of Christ is much more important than the birth of Christ.  And my initial gut reaction when he said that was – that’s great!  Isn’t that how it should be?  So Christmas Day church-goers in the UK have a sentimental attachment to the birth of Christ but want nothing to do with the death of Christ – the reason for which he came, the key to everything, the only hope for sinners, the epicentre of the glory of God.  Surely one of the great strengths of the African church is its unashamed lifting up of the Cross of Christ.

But then as I thought about it a bit more I started to see what the pastor was getting at.  There is real danger in ignoring the incarnation.  We lose a lot.  In fact the more you think about it the more you see how not making much of the birth of Jesus skews our whole view of the gospel and the Christian life. 

How?  What exactly would we lose if Jesus was beamed down as a fully grown man an hour or two before the crucifixion, did some amazing miracle to prove who he was, explained what he was about to do, got up on the Cross and suffered for our sins?

  1. Personal – the fact that we have Jesus being born as a baby, being taken to Egypt, returning, going to the Temple as a twelve-year-old, walking around as an adult for three years interacting with all sorts of people, a ministry recorded for us in 4D, means that we can know Jesus as a person.  Here is not just a cog in a system, a name, a party in a transaction – here is the beautiful person of Jesus to follow, to love, to push on in knowing better and deeper.  The one major thing I learnt in 2011 was that the gospel is not a concept – it is a person called Jesus, receiving him, being united to him, rejoicing in him.
  2. Pattern – the incarnation is the most extraordinary pattern for us – not in the sense that we should incarnate (we already are in the flesh) or that we can take the same leap the Son of God took from heaven to earth (we can’t) – but in the sense of our attitude. The God in the manger gives us something rather different to the New Year SMSs calling us to aspire to health, wealth and prosperity. As Philippians 2 says, we should have a manger mindset like the God who humbled himself to be a nobody, to take the towel and bowl and serve, serve, serve, day in day out for 30 odd years.
  3. Practical – the incarnation, as Irenaeus and later Luther saw, makes everyday life just as sacred as ‘religious life’, everyday spaces just as sacred as the monastery or church building. Christmas gives us a practical Christianity, a Monday-Saturday Christianity, a Christianity of the home and workshop and road and mundane practical sweat-it-out obedience rather than just a ‘spiritual’ Sunday faith consisting only of singing, reading and praying.
  4. Progressive – the birth of Jesus reminds us that we are dealing with a story, a narrative, a flow of events in history. Our salvation did not take place on the head of a pin. It was planned before the Creation, it was prepared for through thousands of years of history, Jesus was born, he lived, he died, he was buried, he rose, he was seen, he ascended, he poured out the Spirit, he’s coming back. That’s the gospel. It’s not an abstract system, it’s a story that we’ve been swept up into and which should shape all our thinking and feeling and acting.
  5. Perfect righteousness – as he lived for thirty or more years he was fulfilling all righteousness on our behalf; he was weaving a glorious garment of love and obedience and faithfulness that one day he would give to me in exchange for my filthy rags. The anchor of my assurance and peace is the stupendous news that not only has Jesus completely paid for my sin, he has clothed me ‘in royal robes I don’t deserve’ to stand boldly before the King.
  6. Perfect High Priest – Christmas means Jesus knows what it is to be a frustrated toddler, to have the hormones of a fifteen year old boy; he knows what it is to be to be completely exhausted, to be hungry and thirsty, to be tempted in every way we are. He is perfectly equipped not only to be the perfect sacrifice but to be our merciful, gentle, completely understanding high priest.

It’s striking that one of the earliest and most serious heresies in the church was the denial that Christ had come in the flesh – fully man. Let’s not forget Christmas too quickly this year…

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