STEWARDSHIP OF OUR PRESENCE 3

Stewardship of our Presence III

 

Jesus in our Hangouts

 

Introduction

A friend of mine died recently in the U.S, on the day he was to fly back into the country. One of the events he was to attend but was delayed was the birthday of his nephew as he turned 13. However he sent an email to him with this message: “You are the aggregate of your 5 closest friends. Choose your friends carefully”. I thought that was profound and it got me thinking about my 5 closest friends and their influence on me and mine on them.

Over this month we have been carrying out our series the Stewardship of Our Presence. We have been asking ourselves, “How can we have an influence on the people and community God has placed us in at home, away from home, at work and other social and formal places? How can we live out the LIFE of Jesus in such a way that people are drawn to the source of that LIFE? Two weeks ago we looked at Jesus in our neighbourhood, and last week we look at Jesus in the Marketplace. This week we look at Jesus in our Hangouts. How do we bring Jesus into our social circles and friendships; how do we represent Him there.

Created as social beings, people need friends – people who understand them and believe in them. But why are many people so lonely. For when you look at the evenings after work, people leave the offices in groups, laughing and in camaraderie. When you look at hangouts, they are full of people having a social time at the end of the day and more so the weekends. But more than anything else I am astounded at the number of people who call in to pour out their hearts to Maina Kageni on Classic, Jalash on Radio Maisha, Eudia Kaigai on Radio Jambo or Larry Asego when “Looking for Mapenzi” on Classic. I am led to think and therefore suggest to you that the reason for so much loneliness today is because many people have acquaintances but not friends. People tend to mix up the two, lowering the value of friendships. And so when we think about Jesus, we often think of Him more in His divinity than in His humanity. Yet in His humanity there are things we can learn if we did not think of him as only divine. And one of these is friendship. I want us to listen to the value and expectation of friendship from Jesus and glean a few things for our humanity that we may grow to be more like Him in His divinity.

Turn with me to John 15: 9 – 17

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

Be ready to choose your friends

There is no question that Jesus chose His disciples and indeed very carefully after prayer. These men who He was to stick with very closely were not just followers. He chose men who would also be His friends. And I believe that He truly meant the word friends. Therefore He chose His friends. In v 15 he states categorically, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants but friends, because servants do not know their master’s business. I have called you friends for everything I have learned from my father I have made known to you. You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear much fruit”. Jesus chose men who would become His friends.

Many of our friendships are incidental rather than intentional. They are office friendships that sort of grow and soon you are tight. Some of these friendships are here in the church too. You serve on the same team then because of regularly doing things, you believe you are good friends. It may be the same in the neighbourhood, and because you meet at the shop or at the water collection point daily, you have a good friendship. Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants” and then proceeds to explain the transition, “but friends, because servants do not know their master’s business. I have called you friends for everything I have learned from my father I have made known to you”. When they were ready, they transitioned to become friends as He became much deeper in what He shared with them. When did you make the choice for that acquaintance to become a friend? Were you intentional about it? What changed? I say, it important to be intentional about your choice of friends rather than it being incidental – because that is reflected in my next point.

Be ready to choose your friends because they are a reflection of your character

Before Jesus came to the point where He called His disciples His friends, He provided a context for His discussion and hence His decision. He talked about the kind of person that God is, the kind of person that He is, an the kind of person that He wanted them to be, each feeding into the other respectively. And the character trait that stands out is love. So He said, “ “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command

It is after this that Jesus calls his disciples friends and gives them the reason for that. Yet it is clear that he wanted the character that was displayed in God the Father by loving Him, and that He himself had displayed by loving them, would be displayed in them by loving one another. And He says they would be His friends if they did what He did, to love one another.

Your friends are a reflection of your character. What our friends talk about will become what you talk about. What your friends laugh about becomes what you laugh about. You have to be intentional about choosing friends who reflect your character. But it is worth it because there is a sense in which the values you have are safeguarded and nurtured in that friendship. When your friends are a reflection of your character, you can confide in them just like Jesus did with the disciples. Because of their character you can trust them with your possessions. Because of their character you can trust them with ideas. Because of their character you can trust them with their advice. The opposite is clear. When we are unintentional about our friendships we share very personal things and they are turned into rumours. When we share our possessions they are misused and mishandled. When you ask for advice, you are fed with malice instead and when things backfire they laugh at you. You feel exploited and disappointed. And you wonder how? That was not a friend. There is a difference between acquaintances and friends. Friends are chosen because they are a reflection of your character.

Be ready to choose your friends because they are a reflection of your calling.

Jesus stated His mission and tied it very much to the discussion that He was having. In v 13 he says, “Greater love has no man than this; to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. This is what He was going to do. This is what He had come to do so that these friends would be reconciled to God and to Himself; so that these friends would know the fullness of God’s plan for their lives. Jesus came to be the revelation of God’s love. He also sought that His disciples, being a reflection of His character would also become a reflection of His calling. And therefore he speaks to them about the command to love one another and then also charges them to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Even after saying that, he repeats at the end the charge of their calling once again in v 17, “This is my command: love each other”.

Choosing your friends must be tied to understanding your calling. It is the reasons a good number of people have many acquaintances that they unfortunately treat at the level of friends – because they do not understand their purpose or calling. You are surrounded by people who are heading in different directions or who do not know their calling – the purpose for their existence in their time and season they are in. Jesus knew His calling and therefore chose the people who would reflect that calling. Those are the people he called His friends and then invited them to share that calling with Him. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last”.

What joy there is to have a group of people who share the same passion and calling and then serving with them. They give you wisdom, they give you passion, they give you energy and because they believe in you, they are able to share their resources with you. They are the ones who believe the mantra we recently learnt in our 40 Days of Community – We are Better Together. Whether it is a chama, a LIFE Group, or a ministry team – such friendships become powerful vessels for the kingdom. This was Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who together refused to eat King Nebuchadnezzar’s rich food – they ate vegetables, for not wanting to defile themselves and whom God gave favour and raised them to prominence in the kingdom. This can be you and the friends you have chosen, to stand for the right thing in your office. This can be you and the friends you have chosen from among your relatives, to stand for justice over a land dispute (because families have serious alliances of “friends”). Whatever the context, you are better if you choose your friends because they are a reflection of your calling.

Conclusion

Shakespeare, that great English author said in one of His books, “Show me your friends and I will show you who you are”. Today how I hope you will go away more intentional about choosing your friends, for they reflect your character and your calling. But more so I pray that as you are taught about Christ, people will choose you as a friend for your Christ – like qualities. And hopefully as Christ is lifted up in and through you, men and women will be drawn to Him.

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STEWARDSHIP OF OUR PRESENCE 2.

Stewardship of our Presence II

 

Jesus in the Marketplace

Introduction

Going to the National Youth Service was definitely a marker in the lives of many of us who went through the compulsory program in the late 80’s. It was a tough encounter and stretched us to the limit. But it had its down side too. There are some things that we did which resulted in a negative response. And for me, that was work. Work was made a form of punishment and some times – I guess any Kenyan who has been to boarding school or prison knows this. The result is that when I came back from N.Y.S, I was less industrious than before. Whereas I enjoyed doing some manual work, I tended to avoid it. Where before I walked a distance without thinking, I started taking public transport. I did not realise how much I had been affected until much later. It took diligence and effort to reshape my view and appreciation of work.

We continue with our series for this month on the Stewardship of our Presence. As I said last week, the intention of the series is to ask; How can we have an influence on the people and community God has placed us in at home, away from home, at work and other social and formal places? How can we live out the LIFE of Jesus in such a way that people are drawn to the source of that LIFE? If last week we looked at Jesus in our neighbourhood, this week we look at Jesus in our Workplace. How do we bring Him there; how do we represent Him there.

Our view of Work

Allow me to begin by saying that we cannot be good representatives of Jesus in the workplace if we do not share God’s view of work. What is your view of work? I suggest three broad categories in response. First there are those who have never questioned why they work and what work exists for. They have always known that when you grow up you work and then you retire. It is simply the cycle of life. Born, grow up, work, retire. You have never really thought about why you work.

But second, a good number of us have gotten our view of work from our parents. If your parents were civil servants, you know you try to keep your job then return to the village after your retire and sort of figure out the rest of your life. If you parents were farmers, you sort of just keep going till you drop, and often hope that the rains come when they are supposed to; If not, too bad. If your parents were businessmen, then you work to get the last coin possible, often getting home late. Others had or have parents who did not work, or saw their parents lose their job and struggled for their livelihood because of that. You lived with the shame of being chased from school for lack of school fees was too much. You know that losing a job is a disaster and therefore you know you must do anything for financial security.

There is a third category of people, who view work in a slanted way, maybe even with a biblical angle to it. Such people think that work is a curse. All was good in the garden of Eden until Adam and Eve sinned. They quote Genesis 3: 17 – 19,

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

For these people, there is nothing good about work but a necessary evil – to sweat and toil till we drop back to the dust from which we were taken. These people view work as a punishment and a necessary evil. I therefore repeat again, you cannot be a true representative of Jesus in the marketplace if you have the wrong view of work such as this or any other. You notice I have said nothing about people who appear to love to work – Monday-to-Monday they just work.

From the book of Genesis 2, I would like to give my view on the earliest perspective from scripture on work so that you may view it in the right way and thus represent Jesus at work in the right way.

A Biblical view of Work

God is the originator of work: The creation story can be seen as a matter of words, because we have understood it to be that God spoke and it came to be. And rightfully so, until you understand how God did it, V 2 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done”. God worked and therefore the concept of work – using effort and energy to bring forth something – is from God. It is not an act of capitalism or any ism. It is an aspect of God.

God created us to work: When God finished the work of creating, it is said that He rested from that work. He was done. But that very creation needed nurture and care. And God would gave that responsibility to no one else but the one He made in His own image. And so in Genesis 1: 27 – 30, after God makes man in His own image, He blesses him and then gives him rule and responsibility over all He created. Not only that, He gave him a clear mandate to work on what He had created – Read Gen 2: 5 – 7, 15. The land needed the work of man for it to be fruitful and productive. In other words, God created us to work so that there could be gain from what He had already given to us. Wherever we are, we work as stewards of what God has given us on this earth. We are partners with God in our work.

God wants us to have partners in our work: We very quickly see Eve as primarily a romantic addition to Adam – a solution to his loneliness. But the context that the Genesis 2 refers to Eve as a helper is that of labour, not love. In v 18, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. May I suggest that even in the matter of procreation it was so that there could be others who would carry out the mandate of God of being stewards of what He made – protecting it, nurturing it, and getting profit from it. And that is why it is equally important to help our children understand God and His purpose for work as we demonstrate a good attitude towards work. God does not want us to work alone. He wants us to team up with others.

God wants us to rest from work: I mentioned earlier that I had not commented on the people who just love to work and work and work. Well, I have a take on that. I say a person like that has issues that they need to resolve. It may be insecurity and wanting to prove that you are needed. It may be something they are running away from outside work. It may be the misconception that success is to work yourself like a donkey. Whatever the issue, the scriptures indicate that we must rest from work. I do not mean laze around and not work, no. I mean rest from work done. I repeat Genesis 2: 2 – 3, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done”. God by His actions prescribes rest. Indeed if I may milk scripture, the order of every day of God’s work, “there was evening and then there was morning – the first day”, and so forth for all six days. It seems the day began with rest, followed by work.

Are we going to be good stewards of our presence at our stations of work? It will not be by doing evangelism even if that is good. It is not by being the most polite even though that is good. It is not by being a busybody, and that is not good. It is by having the right attitude about work, and the right approach to your work. It is about God’s purpose for work – that we may be good stewards of what God created and put here on earth for us. When we work, we partner with God in accomplishing His purpose, “So that in everything Christ might have the supremacy” (Coll 1: 18).

STEWARDSHIP OF OUR PRESENCE 1.

Stewardship of our Presence 1

 

Neighbours without Borders (Luke 10: 25 – 37)

Our Sunday mornings are usually characterised by one familiar event. Very early in the morning, almost without fail, our neighbour begins to wake us up by loudly issuing instructions to her family. It starts by calling them by name. After that there is a long discussion on the things that need to be done. Shortly thereafter the quarrelling begins. Why they are not done. And almost every Sunday, we ask ourselves the question, “What is wrong”. And Yoland also asks, “Am I like that?”

Our neighbour is a school, and Sunday morning is the day the real neighbour feels like she owns the home. No children in school on Sunday. Our neighbour is the caretaker’s wife and she has no reservations in making it known that she owns the compound. All of it and her voice dominates it. I wonder if she knows that the entire row of our estate hears her. I wonder if she cares that we hear her. I wonder if she thinks that she cannot be heard beyond the walls. She has become a neighbour without boundaries. And if you think this is all about her, one day our wall collapsed after a heavy rain. And so I went to inspect it and there was the caretaker, just standing there. And when he saw me his face lit up. Ah! Finally the neighbours had met. I cannot remember the details of our brief discussion but what I can remember is that it ended with a request for me to buy him some sugar. We were already sharing groceries after 5 minutes. He truly became a neighbour without boundaries because there was a gap in the wall. Lets just say that the discussion ended there and the wall came up quickly thereafter.

Turn with me to the familiar parable of Jesus of the Good Samaritan. I will read from the version in Luke 10:25 – 37 (read).

Today we begin our September series titled Stewardship of our Presence. How can we have an influence on the people and community God has placed us in at home, away from home, at work and other social and formal places. How can we live out the LIFE of Jesus in such a way that people are drawn to the source of that LIFE?

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the focus has often been on the response to the question of the teacher, “Who is my neighbour”. However must not forget where this discourse began in v 25

25 – On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 – “What is written in the law?” He replied.  “How do you read it?”

27 – He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

There is a sense in which the law sought to demonstrate that our love for the Lord needs to translate into our love for people. That was not good enough for the expert. As an expert in the law, he knew that the definition of neighbour was selective. For example, the Jews did not consider the Samaritan a neighbour. They were people too low in the social pecking order to be brought into this equation. Technically, a neighbour was a fellow Jew. It may have been with this in mind that the expert asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour”. A loaded question it was but a LIFE answer was the response from Jesus in this parable.

I said earlier that the focus has often been on the differences between the religious leaders who passed by the injured man and the lower class Samaritan who did an unexpected thing. As we ask the question, “How can we be good stewards of our presence in the community”? I would like us then to attend to the characteristics of the Good Samaritan rather than the differences between him and the other two.

Compassion and courage: The internet has a way of bringing us stories from far and wide. I will not forget a video I saw a few years ago from the Japan or China. It was about a girl who was knocked down by a hit and run car. It was not even the initial hit that was shocking. It was the fact that after that nobody had the courage to remove the body from the road. What followed was that the little girl was run over by about 5 cars as people watched. No one had the courage to get onto the road and remove the girl. But also nobody seemed to have the compassion to respond after she was first hit. People just kept away on the other side.

Granted it is a tricky thing to try and stop for an injured person lying on Outer Ring Rd or Ngong Rd in the middle of the night. Such people have a tendency of resurrecting and then multiplying and then attending to you in such a way that eventually you switch positions with them and they leave you there instead. The sinfulness of people has killed most people’s ability to have compassion and has taken away our courage. But we must still look for those opportunities with wisdom.

The Samaritan man could not just pass by a man who was suffering and in extreme physical agony. His heart was moved to do something about it. It required courage to stop on a road where there were people bound to jump you. It took even more courage to carry the man and, with an extra load, increase your risk. But the man had compassion, and it did not matter that the injured man would easily have spat on him at any another time. He felt for the man and stopped to attend to him. This was Jesus telling about himself in this story. For in Matthew 9, it talks about how He went to all the towns and villages, preaching the Good News and healing the sick. V 36 says, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus was asking in this parable that this kingdom or LIFE quality, which he shares with us through His Spirit would be demonstrated in the lives of those who in loving the Father would love their neighbours too. “But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was ; and when he saw him had pity on him” (v33).

Action and Generosity:

34 – He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.

35 – The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

The Samaritan without hesitation translated his pity into action. He did not, like the others, pass by. He stopped and attended to the man. I am informed that it would have been very inconveniencing for the Levite and priest to attend to the man. It would have meant being impure if the man was dead or at the very least bleeding. According to the Law they would have been in isolation. Heading back to their homes, they would have not have been able to interact with their families after being away on duty in Jerusalem. It was a therefore a NO.

But the Samaritan had bigger issues. He knew the cost of helping this man. It is a little like that of helping someone on the road here in Kenya and taking them to the hospital only for you to be accused of being the one who knocked them. Well, if the Samaritan was found helping the Jew, we presume, he would have been the first suspect, no question. Yet he did not think of what this would cost him let alone the time and inconvenience of delaying his journey.

Not only that. He went beyond the call of civic duty. It would have been sufficient for him to leave the man at a safe place where his own people would have attended to him. At the very most he would have left him at the equivalent of a public hospital where he would have received medical attention. But no: He went the extra mile to administer first aid, put him on the donkey as he walked, took care of him overnight and when he had to leave the next day, settled the bill and promised to return to take care of any extra cost. He was not only a man of action but generosity as well.

Once again I suggest to your thinking that Jesus was talking about LIFE qualities that are not beyond our ability, but are made available to us through His Spirit, and as He provides for our needs. When our neighbour needs help in the middle of the night it will be mighty inconvenient, but can you go the extra mile and help them get to the hospital. When we remember our encouragement from Psalm 24:1, all that we are and all that we have has been given to us by God. This then enables to move to the place of action by adding that it has been given to us for our enjoyment but also for the extension of God’s kingdom.

At this point our compassion and courage, our action and generosity become mission – living out the LIFE of Jesus in such a way that people are drawn to the source of that LIFE. And that mission then comes out of being like the Samaritan – Neighbours without Borders.

Practices of A LIFE Community

Introduction

He had been involved in ministry for a while and was reliable and dependable. Not only that, but he was also very skilled and passionate in what he did. He became the backbone of the team who looked up to him for leadership even though he was not the leader of the team. Then he broke the news to us, that the girl he was dating was pregnant. The leadership of the church attended to the matter with the stipulated provision. Some of it was hard but had to be done. Some of the rigidity made a few members resentful of the church leadership. But the leadership of the church committed to being there even though they looked bad. The leadership of the church continued to extend a hand of fellowship and care even when it seemed they were cruel. After a season of not being involved in the ministry or its leadership, the young man was restored back to service in the church.

 

This is a scenario that has been seen churches, fellowships, and college Christian Unions. But the ending is not that familiar. In many places has ranged from being brought to the front of the congregation for public confession, and then being stripped of any responsibilities they had. In the rather extreme circumstances, the members have been excommunicated from the fellowship with a warning for people not to have any association with them, sometimes according to a bible verse, “released to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that the soul might be saved”.

 

Today I begin by sharing one of the practices of a LIFE Community from the book of Ephesians. And this is the practice of grace. Grace in its biblical definition has been said to be God’s unmerited favour shown to us through the person and the work of Christ. But grace on the basis of God’s unmerited favour also becomes a value that is practised in the church as a way of living out the LIFE of Christ. Read Eph 2: 1 – 10.

 

A Gracious Community recognises where it has come from (1 – 3)

When I worked in Uganda in the early 90’s, it was still the time of Tukutendereza. This was the revival that spread throughout East Africa, regenerating the church in a way that has not been seen in the recent years. It raised hard-core believers who did not entertain a speck of sin. One of the defining marks of the movement, at least in Uganda, was the “Walking in the Light” sessions. I attended one of those. For me hearing the stories of what people did was incredible. At one point I felt people were trying to outdo each other in how bad they were. At a certain point I realised that my testimony was very boring unless I cooked something dramatic. And yes I also felt that they were indeed prime candidates for salvation.

 

Yet we all needed to get saved, none more than the other. V 3 says, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of God’s wrath”.  All means all, regardless of how good or bad you were. Yet when a community loses sight of the fact that all of us were sinners and the objects of God’s wrath, and none more than others, there is a temptation to categorise people – the good and the not so good. And when we have categories of people there is a temptation to lack grace for the not so good, let alone the bad ones. And so when there is a case of one who has fallen into sin, there is less understanding of how and why they fell. There is a lack of grace. A gracious community understands that all of us were in that category without exception. At the end of a church service, still in Uganda, a member of the church walked up to me and greeted me. Then he asked me to my face, “Uchalokoka – Are you still saved”. He had analysed me and concluded I was either backslidden or not fully saved. When a community lacks grace, it is judgemental and critical of people’s shortcomings. It becomes a community carrying people with pain – a hurting community.

 

A Gracious Community recognises what it cannot do (v 4 – 10).

A pastor who shepherded me in my early days of faith once shared with us how zealous he was for the gospel. He was so zealous that when he would preach on the street in Mombasa where he was based, he would force any person who gave him audience to kneel down and get saved, hammering them with the bible. Another group of evangelists made it their mission to go to arboretum and target Indians having a good time. They would then set up their speakers right next to them and preach the gospel, preaching brimstone and fire and eternal damnation in hell.

 

I wonder how many people gave their lives to the Lord from that. But I know how Jesus won me. V 4 says, “Because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. A gracious community knows that the greatest gift ever given to them was not earned. It was a combination of God’s love and mercy, culminating in His gracious act of salvation. We could not save ourselves and neither can we sustain ourselves. It is only “He who began a good work in us who can bring it to a perfect finish at the coming of Christ” (Phil 1:6). When a community lacks in grace and understanding of this, it becomes a community defined by legalism rather than faith, where what you do or don’t do matters above else. Failures are not tolerated and indeed become a stain in that community and hence the need to excommunicate them. But when a gracious community knows that it is justified by faith and saved by grace, they are able to see the One who is at work in them and also in others. This community heals the wounded and comforts the broken-hearted. This community practices the words spoken of God in Isaiah 42:3, “He will not crush the weakest reed, and a flickering candle He will not put out”.

 

A Gracious Community recognises the Purpose of Grace

But I need to be careful and say that grace is extended to the willing, those whose hearts desire to walk in the ways of righteousness and truth. Grace operates in the arena of weakness so that the power of God can be seen. Paul says in 1 Cor 12: 9 recounting what God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.  For those then who may take grace for granted, Romans 6: 1 – 2 asks, “Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound”? The response is clear – “By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer”?

 

A gracious community knows how to extend grace but also knows that when grace is taken for granted, then they must make a call on that situation. A gracious community knows that when grace is abused the value of it in the community is threatened. And so we must challenge those who would take for granted grace by keeping on sinning. We must point out to them the sin and challenge them to return to the ways of holy living. A gracious community must treasure the gift of grace given to them by challenging those who misuse it in the same measure that they would extend it to one another in difficult circumstances.

 

Conclusion

We must value grace. We must also live out the values of grace as a community at large. We must value grace in our marriages, with our children, with our neighbour and in our fellowships. It must become a mark of a LIFE Community. Somebody asked a question in reference to the song Amazing Grace, “What is so amazing about grace”. I go back to the words of that song that has resounded over the ages,

 

T’was grace that brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me home

 

Amen

Faith or Fear: What will determine your MOVE

 

This week I attended a dinner that brought together leaders and partners of an international organisation. It was there that I met a man who shared the story of his heritage. This man’s name was Kirk Franklin (not the gospel singer) and he was the keynote speaker. Almost 60 years ago his parents felt God calling them to serve as missionaries in Papua New Guinea. My reference to PNG as it is known, is the story Peace Child, a true story about a people whose highest calling is to betray and eat each other. The story of Christ as the Peace Child is for another day. And yet that is the place they went. His parents left the United States by boat and travelled for one month to get to Australia. From Australia they took another week to get to PNG . And when they got to PNG they walked for 10 days to get to the people they had felt called to reach.

 

This month we have been preparing ourselves for the MOVE – NI KUHAMA. Our theme verse for us over the next three months is in Deut 1: 6 onwards,

The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

 

We have been looking at this scripture in the context of our MOVE to the sanctuary that we are building and sensing the Lord say that “we have been at this mountain too long”. Last year we sensed it was time to MOVE and we began to prepare for that. And now just as the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan to the land promised to their forefathers, we too are at the brink of MOVING to the new sanctuary. We are picking lessons from our experience to help us where we are now as a church but also where we are individually in our various challenges.

 

In the first week we established that there was a purpose for God bringing them and keeping them at Mt Horeb. And we said that purpose was two fold.

–       That they would be consolidated from families and tribes into a nation.

–       That they would be instructed in the ways of the Lord as His people.

We then asked and continue to ask – what is God saying and God doing at the mountain where you are. Could it be that there is a MOVE He is preparing for you?

 

Last week we continued down the story from v 19 – 25 where Moses out of a need to make justice accessible to the people, organised them under a structure and leadership. And I said that because there was access to justice where people were heard, there was a sense of unity. And that was enabled by a structure that provided leadership to the people that was acceptable to them. I said then that the MOVE from Mt Horeb was therefore facilitated by the unity and organisation of the people. More than anything else we need to recognise that they were also under the instruction of God’s word that united them under God himself and His laws. People need unity and organisation if they are to make successful MOVES. Today we continue with our teaching from where we left last week, reading from v 19 – 32.

 

19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful wilderness that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea.20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us.21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe. 24 They left and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshkol and explored it. 25 Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they brought it down to us and reported, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

 

Faith or fear: One or the other will determine whether you MOVE of whether you stay rooted. Allow me to go back and refer to Kirk Franklin’s family and their move to the PNG mission field. There must have been people who thought they were absolutely out of their mind to go a place many had never even known existed. And there were enough reasons for them not to go – they were a young family (Kirk himself was born in PNG). What happens during a medical emergency? How will financial support get to them if it took them over a month to get to base station? How would they communicate when they did not know the language (Kirk learnt English as a second language). And most of all, will these “natives” eventually betray them and eat their flesh and keep the coveted skulls of the mzungu. One could argue that a compromise would have been to settle in Australia as a mission field there.

 

For the children of Israel, God repeatedly said that He had given them the land but they were to go in and take it. And the encouragement endlessly was “do not be afraid”. It meant, as it is in life, that there would be challenges. It would not be a walkover. Their part was to go in and take the land believing that God would be with them through the challenges. The spies who went to survey the land brought back evidence and a good report, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.”

 

Everything seemed to be on track until some of the spies suddenly developed cold feet. And they began to spread in the camp a message of terror that was believed by the people. They listed down the things that stood against them almost like people might have spoken against Kirk’s family before they left for PNG.

26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’”

 

A negative message changed everything. Before this, their focus had been on God. And now the focus changed to their circumstances, then the enemy and finally to them – “what will happen to us? How will we be able to stand against such a terrible people like the Anakites”. God was out of the picture. That was small Life thinking – that it was about them. And Moses tried to bring their perspective back to God – to big LIFE thinking, that it was about God wanting to fight for them if they were to go in. Moses needed to deal with their fear. 29 Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

 

But because their hearts were filled with fear, they were unable to see what Moses was saying; that if God had done this for them before, He would do it again. But fear had filled their hearts, which led to mistrust. They did not believe that God would help them. And therefore mistrust led to disobedience. 32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

 

How true it is that God is the one who searches for us the places we should camp and the way we should go. Yet we often think we have made our way. How it must have grieved Moses to see the people not trust the Lord. How it must have pained God to see the people reject His power and His promises. For it led to them missing out on all the good things He had in store for them. 34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”

 

In life we will always make moves whether we like it or not. It is the nature of life. But will they be moves to the place God wants us to go – LIFE MOVES. Or will they be moves in the wilderness, wandering around because we did not trust God when we should have. The difference may be whether in light of your challenges, you will act in faith or fear. God has already given you the land. Will you be a Caleb or like the rest. Generations after you could well be influenced by your faith or fear. Just ask Kirk Franklin who was born and brought up in Papua New Guinea to parents who made a radical move in their time to go to a place of danger and uncertainty. He was in Kenya speaking to the leaders of the Wycliffe Global Alliance, the bible translation people. Kirk is now the Wycliffe Global Alliance Executive Director. The blessing of the past generation is now upon him and he is a blessing to many others. But it happened because almost 60 years ago, his parents trusted God and chose to act in faith, not in fear. How I pray that generations later, our children and grandchildren shall worship in that sanctuary and be thankful that their forefathers in a difficult time and economy, few in number, chose to act in faith not in fear. They MOVED.

Introduction

ImageThis week it was announced that the immediate former and first democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi would be arraigned in court on the 4th of November. Egypt as some of you may be aware is central to one of the defining incidents of this decade – the Arab Spring. It is said to have began in December 2010 when a young Tunisian man in his twenties, a graduate and jobless, frustrated with the authorities harassing him in his small business, set himself on fire. It sparked a revolt in Tunisia that exposed the frustration and anger that was simmering beneath the surface. The leadership fled into exile. But apparently it was not just in Tunisia. Here is how someone defined the Arab Spring when it began.

 

The Arab Spring is a term used to describe the movements in multiple Arab countries this year to overthrow dictators or authoritarian monarchies. The hope (and it is still too early in the transition process) is that these popular revolts will lead to truly democratic states. The fear is that, since the opposition in these countries has been kept from organizing for decades, groups that garner their support based on religion (primarily fundamentalist groups) will have an advantage in the early elections leading to Islamic states. 

 

As we know, the very thing that the writer feared has come true. This cannot be symbolised better than in Egypt. Egypt became the story of how people power can overcome dictators and tyrants. Yet three years down the line, the country lies divided. Hundreds of lives have been lost and counting. What happened to the revolution?

 

NI KUHAMA. This is our theme and focus for the next three months as we look to the Lord to help us move into our new sanctuary. Yet not just our new sanctuary. We are looking to the Lord to help us move in different areas of our lives as well. Last week we introduced the series by looking at the scripture from Deuteronomy 1:6 where the lord said to the Israelites.” I elaborated on this by saying that there was a purpose for them being at that mountain for that long. And the purpose was twofold.

  1. God was forming them into a nation from the 12 tribes that they had been in Egypt.
  2. God was forming them into His people with Him as their God. This was the place where they were given the Law and the commandments.

And so at the end of it we asked the question of your own life – what is God saying about the mountain where you have been (have you been at that mountain too long?), and what is God doing at that mountain. Is it a time for shaping and forming?

 

Today we proceed to look at what makes people make successful moves in the time and season they are supposed to. I suggest to you that successful moves require unity and organisation.

 

As things stand now, the Arab Spring revolution has turned back and is eating itself. The government of Libya is toothless and anarchy has returned to the seat of the revolution in Benghazi. BBC ran a programme this week detailing how many militia are still holding weapons and ready to fight again. They are divided again. Tunisia has survived because their democratically elected government has agreed to stand down and hold new elections next year. Egypt is in total turmoil and the country is divided halfway between the supporters of the deposed president and his Muslim Brotherhood and those against them, including the army. And in Syria, the fight continues daily to precipitate a humanitarian crisis as hundreds continue hungry and homeless. The country is divided between the pro Assad people and the rebels.

 

Successful moves require unity and organisation.

If I may repeat the definition of the Arab Spring that I read earlier, you noted the author saying he feared that since they had not been organised in a while, the religious fundamentalists might come in and take advantage of the vacuum of leadership. Which is exactly what happened in Tunisia, the original country of the Arab Spring, and then Egypt. What they did not have was cohesion. The revolution was basically a mass movement of people who knew what they did not want (their dictators) but did not know what they wanted. There was no one to organise them around a vision.

 

Moses speaks exactly about this. They came out of Egypt with no communicated vision and plan. They were told to get up and go. They were slaves and suddenly they were free for the first time in their lives. They were used to a certain order and discipline but now all they did was walk and rest, walk and rest. And so it is no wonder that the Lord required for them to stay at Mt Horeb, where like I said last week, they were formed into a nation. The twelve tribes began to see themselves as one. And further to that, they were united under the vision of a land promised to their forefathers flowing with milk and honey (v 8). But they were also united under one God, something that they had to learn because all of them had been born in Egypt under the many gods of the Egyptians (Deut 6: 1 – 5). And so they found cohesion by being one people under one God. And not just that, there was also organisation when leaders were chosen to deal with issues that affected their day-to-day living. This is why Moses said to them,

 

At that time I said to you, “You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. 10 The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 11 May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised! 12 But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.14 You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.”

 

And the people appreciated that because they were able to access justice with few inhibitions. This removed the restlessness from the people. Justice minimised conflict and disunity. But what it meant was that through this there was now a leadership structure that organised the people.

 

“15So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.” 18 And at that time I told you everything you were to do.

 

This cohesion and organisation is what enabled the Israelites to MOVE when God asked them to. And note too that the organisation now provided for a leader and a voice. Note how it says in v 18 “And at that time I told you everything you were to do”. The lack of unity and organisation is what seems to have ailed the Arab Spring in especially in Egypt. If this is the case, we then should be careful that this does not ail us too. We thank God for the unity that he has given us as a church and the leaders he has provided to work with me and me with you. I thank you that for the years we have been at this mountain, we have been united as a church. You have honoured the leaders in our midst and as one of them, allowed us to lead you even when it seemed we were not moving. You have been patient and have faithfully continued to give financially over the years. And when there have been questions raised you have done so graciously as we have equally sought to give honest answers about where we are. I am deeply humbled by that. Because there has been unity and organisation, we can make a successful move.

 

At a localised level, I dare say the reason why many people get stuck on a mountain is lack of understanding amongst them. I read the papers and I see brothers taking each other to court over a business. That is a recipe for being stuck at a mountain. I see families unable to divide land and develop it because there is a lack of agreement amongst the siblings. Many years down the line they are still stuck at that mountain and the investment losing value. I have seen couples who plan for a project when they are young and newly married. Of course in some cases it is a lack of leadership from the man to suggest a direction and a plan – lack of organisation. But because of lack of agreement, lack of unity between them, they are still stuck at the same place where they began their discussion. No wonder Amos 3:3 says, “Do two walk together unless they are agreed”. Indeed it is difficult for an organisation, group, even a couple to move from a mountain unless they are agreed. For the children of Israel, the very fact that they agreed to a form of organisation with a leadership structure enabled them to move from that mountain.

 

As I was doing this sermon on Thursday, I got home and watched the news – and there was Libya in the headlines again. I wonder how many of you are aware that the Libyan Prime minister was kidnapped in the early hours of Thursday morning and released in the afternoon. A group of revolutionaries claimed the kidnapping. It is not known what triggered his release. BBC in reporting on that matter concluded by saying that the lack of unity is a threat to Libya’s prosperity. How true! Yet how much more is the reverse? The presence of unity is a great aid to progress. As we MOVE, I thank you again for the unity you have shown over the years and pray that it will continue to be seen now and in the years to come. For we have been at this mountain too long, and now NI KUHAMA.

 

NI KUHAMA I

Introduction to Series: Deut 1: 1 – 8

 

The story of my move to Lifespring is memorable. It came at a time when I was beginning to be restless at the place I was, the primary reason being that my main responsibility was the MOVE of the church from Mamlaka to the new property. I was not doing well and out of my depth. But I remember how at one time God wanted me to move and I did not and it resulted in me losing my job and a wilderness experience. I read the times and began seeking where the Lord would have us go.

 

When the opportunity came up for a move to Life spring I was not even in the fore of it. We were discussing other people making the move. Despite the fact that that I was restless, life at the Chapel was comfortable. I had a great salary. I was at the centre of a church that was being talked about all over Christendom. I was travelling out of the country every year, sometimes thrice a year. I was meeting great men of the faith such as the late John Stott, that great theologian from the U.K and Zach Niringiye from our neighbouring country Uganda. I was where I belonged.

 

This was until the Lord began to use some people from here. I got messages from Pastor Wachira, Sammy Mate and others to consider the position. Before I knew it my wife and I were processing the pros and cons of the move. It was a tough choice moving away from all the glamour. But we felt that it was the time to move. We had been at the Nairobi Chapel for 7 years and received so much and been developed by one of the greatest leaders on the continent, if not in the world – Pastor Oscar Muriu. After prayer and discussion, we accepted the offer to lead you here at Lifespring.

 

We begin a new series here at Life spring and as you heard last week, the title of the series NI KUHAMA. It is not just Round Hii Tunahama. NI KUHAMA especially for us in our move to the new building that is progressing before us. To help us understand our times and seasons, turn with me to our key text for the month – Deut 1 – 8 (read)

 

The key verse there is v 6. “The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance …” First the question to ask is, “What is at about this mountain that made them dwell there that long?” It is my understanding that it is at Mount Horeb , also known as Mt Sinai, that God united all the different twelve tribes of Israel and formed them into a nation. It was at Horeb that he gave them the Law that would dictate their way of life that would make a different kind of people – God’s people. And so it seems that the stay at Mount Horeb was a time of formation. They were formed into one nation and into God’s people, understanding God’s ways. According to researches, their stay was for slightly over 11 months, which was also the second year since they left Egypt. But you cannot stay at a mountain too long. It may provide for security. It may remind you of God’s power. It may be fertile because of the rain that gathers and flows down into the plains or valleys. It may thunder and quake around the mountain to remind you of God’s power. But you cannot stay at that mountain too long. For the Israelites, the mountain consolidated them but they needed to move on. There was a purpose and a goal ahead of them, indeed even a better place – the Promised Land of Canaan. They had to break camp and move on.

 

For many years we here at Lifespring have been around this mountain. We acquired this property in 2004 when we raised that last million on the historical day of 30th May 2004. We saw God on that day. We moved onto this property in 2005 and started having our services in tents that we set up every Sunday except for the Sunday School block until we raised this tent in the following year if I am not wrong. Ever since then we have been at this mountain wondering when we shall move on and sometimes being afraid to move on. There were times when we wondered like the children of Egypt whether to move back to Pipeline Hall where it was comfortable with a nice good hall. This was because we were rained on here and our shoes got stuck in the mud. But we began to be comfortable even with that. But last year, we began to hear the Lord say, “You have been around this mountain too long”. We sought to borrow money for the move but a special meeting of members said to wait. It was not a good move. As we waited on the Lord, our drawings were miraculously approved by the City Council and we began to see God’s favour. At the same time, some members of the congregation said we should not borrow money from the bank at 27% interest. Instead they offered close to a similar amount interest free. And then we began waiting for a good contractor to help us start the work. He pulled out last minute. Little did we know that through that disappointment God would help us save half a million shillings for the work of excavation and backfilling, and then on top of that give us a contractor who has given us very favourable terms and a good relationship. Because of that we are saying NU KUHAMA. We have been in this tent too long. Over the next three months we will put all our prayer faith and effort to help us cross over in to the new sanctuary. God has clearly been with us and has shown us his hand in the past year. We praise him and we thank you for allowing him to use you to bring us this far.

 

For us as a church, there are reasons obvious why we have been around this mountain too long. One was simply that we had not enough money for a building. We kept wondering where to get the 20 million for building on top of running the ministries of the church. Every indication was that it was not a good move. Second even if we did have the money, we did not have the papers. The truth is many of the buildings here have been built without proper documentation from the Council. We sought to do things the right way and wait until God opens doors. And He certainly did. Everything seemed to come together at about this time last year when we began excavating. And to be honest we have still been fearful of not making it, not making our monthly payments, not making it to where we need to be. Then we remember that we have seen God’s favour to be where we are today.

 

But I want to speak into your life today. Has God been saying to you recently that you have been at this mountain too long? Break camp … and maybe you have set out, or on the other hand you are paralysed with fear. The first thing indeed is to ask what God is saying about where you are today, and what He is doing about where you are today. In the case of the Israelites, He wanted to form them into a nation from the 12 tribes. He wanted to give them His laws and commandments so that they would be His people in His ways as they went forth to Canaan. But what about you, what is God saying about where you are today.

 

Every stage and time of our life has a purpose in the eyes of the Lord. Ultimately God’s purpose is that His LIFE may be fully lived in your life. His purpose is as Romans 8: 29 says, for us to have a LIFE identity – to conform to the image of His son Jesus Christ. But we must learn to read the seasons. Is it the season of shaping and moulding or is it the season of breaking out to some other place in the journey God has for you. For us here at Life spring we hear God saying this is the time to make the move. NI KUHAMA. His blessing for us is in the move. You do not want to miss out on a move of God. Next week we will look at the signs of the seasons, but for today this is the question we leave you with. What is God saying about where you are today?