Separate from Each Other

Separated from each other

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands).

Ephesians 2:11

The reality of human separation from each other goes back to the fall in Genesis 3. That reality is however still with us today as we see in racial, tribal and national hatred in our times. Human beings have hated each other and gone to great lengths to demonstrate it.

In this passage, Paul calls Ephesian believers to remember that they, were gentiles by birth and were called ‘uncircumcised’. The Jews had a very low opinion of Gentiles and viewed them as the lowest of the law. In his commentary of Ephesians, John Stott quotes William Barclay to express the depth of the separation.

‘The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. The Gentiles, said the Jews, were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. God, they said, loves only Israel of all the nations that he had made …. It was not even lawful to render help to a gentile mother in her hour of sorest need, for that would simply be to bring another Gentile into the world. Until Christ came, the Gentiles were an object of contempt to the Jews. The barrier between them was absolute. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl, or if a Jewish girl married a Gentile boy, the funeral of that Jewish boy or girl was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death. [1]

But the hatred went both ways. The Gentile treated the Jews with similar if not more contempt. The Jews have been hated in much of human History having suffered genocides perhaps more than any other people in history in what is more recently called anti-Semitism.

But the division goes beyond Jews and Gentiles. All of humanity is broken by sin all the way from Genesis 3. We see evidence of that in wars, The transatlantic slave trade of the 16th and 17th Century, The Rwandese Genocide of 1994 where nearly a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, The tribal clashes in our own country in 1992, 1997 and 2007 and in many other ways and places. We are broken as a society and almost always at war with each other.

If the imagery of the Jew-Gentile separation did not strike you, Paul uses the second imagery of the derogatory term ‘uncircumcised’. This term pointed to the uncultured outsiders who did not bear the covenant mark of membership in God’s family. Closer home, the idea of being uncircumcised is derogatory in most cultures. It is a term used to demean, despise, dehumanize, reject and exclude others. Such was your state and mine – hating and being hated.

Paul wants us to appreciate how wide and deep this division is because unless we appreciate the extent of the rot, we might not fully appreciate Christ’s unifying work on the cross.

Remember.

[1] Stott, JRW The Message of Ephesians,1979 Nottingham, UK, Intervarsity Press. Page 91

Online Communion? No Thanks

Why are we not having communion?
Someone called me recently enquiring whether we should prepare for online celebration of the Lord’s supper now that yesterday was the last Sunday in April and as usual, we celebrate communion every last Sunday of the month. My answer was simple, perhaps because I had thought through the issue a month earlier but had not communicated to our wider church family: No, we will not be doing any ‘online communion’. Maybe that might come across as odd given that Work, Sermons, Giving, Bible Studies and a host of other things have gone ‘online’ why not Communion? I would like to answer this as simply and clearly as I can and so I will state 3 reasons why I think we should wait till when we can gather in person.
1. Gathering is essential to communion. The Lord in his providence has sovereignly allowed that we cannot gather in person due to public health measures instituted to stop the spread of COVID 19. This has meant that some of the things we should do and others we love to do cannot happen. Thankfully, and again in the Lord’s providence, we can still be spiritually nourished through the greatest resource we have as believers – the Bible which is accessible to all. We continue to feed on God’s word in our personal devotions and hopefully grow in our knowledge of Him. Further, it has been possible to hear God’s word through sermons and devotions through online platforms and for that we are very grateful. Communion however, by its own nature requires a gathering. Christ instituted it (Mark 14:12 -26 and Luke 22: 7-19) in the context of the old testament Passover meal to symbolically represent the new covenant. He was there in person and so were those ‘reclining at the table’. In His instructions on Communion, Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 17 -34, uses the word/idea of gathering/meeting at least five times and interestingly distinguishes the ‘food at home’ with communion twice (verse 22 and 34). Gathering then, is essential for us to say we are one body sharing one bread and blood of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to have communion at any cost – it is a memorial and it does not save in and of itself, therefore it can wait till when we can do it properly.

2. Waiting and longing for each other is part of God’s providence for us, for now. When for some reason we are separated from our loved ones we don’t have to create a semblance of still being together. Perhaps bringing the picture of marriage to the church, when a husband and wife are separated by distance due to some travel or illness, there is a lot that can be done over phone and email but nothing can replace their physical presence with each other. Such opportunities to be apart can serve the purpose of making them long for each other more, as the saying goes – distance makes the hearts grow fonder. When we try to replace every aspect of our ‘gathered essence’ with an online version then we might be raising the question of the usefulness of gatherings in the first place. I submit that although a lot can be done virtually, and we are grateful for technological advancements that make these things possible, not everything can be done online. The Lord himself expresses longing for it in Mark 14 ‘that he will not eat the fruit of the vine until in the new kingdom’ And if the Old Testament pattern of the annual Passover feast offers any guidance, then communion can wait for a much longer season. Certainly, the early church had ‘breaking of bread’ a lot more often (Acts 2:42) but there is no prescribed pattern on frequency leaving the matter to the wisdom of elders in every local church. For now, not being able to have communion serves, in the Lord’s providence, to help us long for each other and for a time we can see each other again – face to face and eat together.
3. Online communion sends an unintended message on the nature of the ‘body of Christ’ and creates potential confusion in future. From the beginning of the year we have been preaching through Israel’s journey from Egypt to Caanan in a series we are calling #TheDesertExperience. In both Exodus and Leviticus, we noticed that Yahweh is to be worshiped in a clearly defined way and on His own terms. This is a very instructive pattern on how worship services are to be run. There is a sense in which we need to be careful about being pragmatic/innovative about how we ‘do Church’. Just because something works does not mean it is necessarily right or true. Big questions then emerge around online communion like – who is in the body in an online breaking of bread? How is it defined? Who is it served and shared?

In an online set up, anyone can participate at any time in any location whether known to the rest of believers or not. Viewers coming in later can as well participate in their own time and in their own space and you don’t have to know anyone else who had participated. Is that really communion? Does that not make cheap, a means of grace provided for the enriching of the body (local church)? Does that not take away from the solemn nature of the assembly of God’s people and make light an ordinance instituted by Christ? Are we to take lightly Paul’s warning to those who partake of the Lord’s body and blood in an ‘unworthy manner’ (1 Cor 11:27-31).

Further questions also emerge. How far do you go with disembodied practices? Should we also expect online baptisms in the near future? Might we see online church discipline soon? These and more questions beg our understanding or lack thereof, of the nature of the church. The called-out community (ekklesia) is a real body of believers who have covenanted to follow Christ and to hold each other accountable through biblical eldership and practical membership. To imagine we can extrapolate family business of communion into the public square in a free for all online fashion is tantamount to offering communion elements in the open-air market or matatu stage and hawking it for all and sundry to take as they pass along.

How about when COVID 19 pandemic is over, how much confusion will there be around the nature of Holy Communion? Will anybody need to submit to a local church and receive instruction and discipline from the elders there, if they can be part of a virtual body. Is that a risk worth taking if only to give a semblance of ‘business as usual’ even in the unusual times we are living in? I don’t think so.

Now, I will close with a reminder that the mode, the frequency, the elements and the administration of Holy Communion are second order issues and for which there can be divergent opinion. The words often attributed to Augustine of Hippo come to mind – In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity and in all things, charity. I respect those who are persuaded otherwise and submit that it would serve the body of Christ better when the ordinances he instituted (Baptism and Holy Communion) are administered in a reverent, biblical and culturally sensitive manner.

I hope this clarifies the reason as a church we will wait to have Holy Communion when we gather again in person.

Rev. Harrison Mungai M,
Lead Pastor
GracePoint Church, Kikuyu.

A Biblical Response to the Resurgence of African Traditional Religious Practices Among Christians

Presentation at Africa International University Post Graduate Fellowship – 11th March 2020.

Rev. Harrison Mungai, GracePoint Church – Kikuyu.

Preamble

The last 30 years have seen a major shift in the landscape of Christianity in Kenya. We have seen strong cultural movements emerging and attracting attention from the highest church offices in the land. Just this week Roman Catholic Church, through Cardinal John Njue issued a letter warning against a new grouping calling itself Gwata Ndai. The Presbyterian Church has been on the forefront in fighting against the ‘re-emerging’ cultural practices as well as other churches in Central Kenya.

To some extent, I want to state there is nothing new about this. As far back as 1920’s there was a rejection of ‘Western Christianity’ among most people groups in Kenya in groups such as Gikuyu Karing’a movement[1], emergence of African Instituted Churches ec. These groups were reacting against under-contextualization of the western missionaries to the local cultures. The 1969 Oathing ceremonies in Kikuyuland were a defining moment of cultural clash between Biblical Christians and Kikuyu cultural adherents (Mugikuyu Mukristiano kana Mukristiano Mugikuyu)

A number of aspects that define the landscape over the last 30 years comes to mind.

  1. Political pluralism/multi-party state (competitive politics)
  2. Breakdown of social structures and institutions.
  3. Economic meltdown and unemployment. Lack of faith in government
  4. Growth of information technology, mass media and international travel.
  5. Liberal thinking (Postmodernity), feminism, liberal sexual values, rejection of authority.
  6. Shift from collective/communal to personal/individual mindset.
  7. Liberalization of Christian ministry. Mystical authentication of ministry.
  8. Growth of false teaching. Prosperity Gospel. Syncretism.
  9. Shift from the authority of scripture to personalities/experiences.
  10. Growth of the mega church concept. Anonymity/privacy being a paramount value.

 

Whereas this list is not exhaustive, these factors have led to a loss of meaning to most people and they are now searching for meaning, identity, significance. This has especially hit men who feel ostracized in the community having lost their traditional place in the community and now they are reeling back to traditional cultural practices in search of their place. How has this manifested itself?

  1. Cultural Pride. Demonization of other cultures. Little understanding that culture is dynamic and indeed a global melting pot. Hypocrisy of advancing our own (using other’s tools) while demonizing others.
  2. Through syncretistic rites like ‘Mburi cia Kiama’ and ritualistic prayers/offerings that seem to have a redemptive agenda (Gukuura Marigithathi)
  3. Through declining church attendance, especially by men. Depiction of the church as a western culture (or Jewish) hence wanting our own ‘narrative’. Rejection of facts
  4. Through mainstreaming of teaching on cultural rites and practices on Radio and other conversations. Fear mongering about what might happen in the event of default.
  5. Through outright greed/commercialization of culture. EG Dowry is no longer a token of appreciation but bride-price. Real trading of people. New activities are invented to get money from others [Kamweretho, Kuhumba aciari nguo, Kuguranira maitu etc).

 

How might we respond? Acts 19.

  1. Re-defining the enemy. A call to understanding the real issue. Can I suggest that although all human cultures are fallen, culture is not the enemy. It can be an expression of the enemy at work but the real enemy is the darkness in the human heart, caused by sin. There is only one known way to deal with darkened hearts – the light of the gospel, presented in love for the people. We must be careful not to come across as resentful of people or to create a ‘we’ vs ‘they’ dynamic. It does not serve the gospel when we come across as ‘adversarial’ in our approach. Let us call our people to turn away from idols to the living God through careful contextualization. Tim Keller says when we over-contexulaise we make an idol of the host culture and when we under-contextualise, we make an idol of our own culture (Centre Church)

 

  1. Re-evangelising our people. A call to reaching our people afresh with the good news. The average parson on the street doesn’t understand the what the gospel is. Our biggest task in most of Kenya (85% Christian according to 2019 census!) is not unbelievers but lukewarm and nominal Christians. Translating our theology into the local dialects is an important task. Taking the gospel to vernacular stations is crucial. Starting podcasts and Youtube Channels around the gospel is crucial. Acts 19 (Paul in Ephesus gives us a helpful motif in engaging a culture)

 

  1. Re-discovering and proclaiming the gospel. A call to authentic gospel living and ecclesiology. The root for any lasting change in a community begins with a rediscovery of the gospel. Every move of God in History has been a back to the Bible movement. From the reformation in the 16th Century to the Awakenings in the 18th and the Revival movements in the 20th.

 

  • The gospel had already been in Ephesus. Verse 1
  • Paul taught in the synagogue for 3 months. (Persuading them Verse 8)
  • There was opposition (verse 9) Paul withdrew in the hall of Tyrannus
  • For 2 years until all in Asia heard.
  • There was pretence (sons of Sceva) but the gospel grew.
  • There was open opposition (riot)
  • There was ongoing fruit (Chapter 20 and the book of Ephesians)

May the Lord help us to be bold and witness his unchanging gospel to a changing world in the 21st Century.

www.mungaimacharia.com

[1] See Douglas Kiereini’s reflection here: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/lifestyle/society/Rebellion-that-gave-rise-to-independent-schools/3405664-4874656-1i2s8xz/index.html

Sabbath Year and Jubilee

Sermon: GracePoint Church Kikuyu

Sunday 22nd March 2020

Text: Leviticus 25

Theme: The Sovereign God orders how His people are to live and rest.

Opening Statement.

We are living in a difficult time especially occasioned by the Novel Corona Virus. This ‘new’ infection has caused untold pain to many in the world with nearly ten thousand dead and many infected. It also has meant closed borders for many countries, closed schools and workplaces. The government has called upon us to exercise extra hygiene measures like more frequent handwashing, use of hand-sanitizers, avoiding public gatherings and self-isolation. All these are good measures to ‘flatten the curve’ or rather minimize the spread of this dangerous infection. In light of this, our body of elders found it necessary and wise not to gather in person today but to use technology to share the gospel with you. We certainly miss each other’s fellowship but rejoice in the almighty God who gives all things including science and technology that allows us to fellowship virtually.

Having said that, it might be helpful to mention that although the virus is being called ‘novel’ meaning ‘new’, there is nothing really new under the sun. Working from home or teaching children at home is not new – people have been working from home for much of human history. In fact, it can be said to be the normative way of life and work is more home based rather than away from home in a factory, an institution or business. Diseases have also ravaged generations in the past – The Antonine plague in Rome in the 2nd Century AD killed about 5M people  between 165 and 180 AD and another one followed between 250 and 271 killing so many (estimated to 5000 a day in Rome alone) that the African Bishop of Carthage (Cyprian) described it as the end of the world. The black death of the 14th century wiped out half of Europe’s population between 1346 -1353.  More recently the Spanish flu a hundred years ago (1918 -1920) affected 500 Million people and killed 50 Million, The Asian bird flu of 1958 claimed more than 1.1 Million lives including more than 100K in the US. Right now, HIV AIDS remains a global epidemic since when it was discovered in 1981 – more than 35 M people have died. Ebola, Zika Virus and others remain a threat to human life and flourishing. Praise God for the advances in Science and Technology that there are cures and vaccines for most of these plagues today. I pray that soon there will be a cure or a vaccine for COVID 2019. But it wont be the last one, if the Lord tarries.

I say these things not to minimize the threat of COVID 19 but indeed to allay your fears which have been greatly multiplied by the misinformation going round in these days of social media. My aim is to encourage your faith in the almighty God who does not change with the changing seasons of human experience.  May we be reminded of the sovereignty of God in this season and may that lead us not to hard-heartedness but to worship for whether we live or die, our hope is sure in Christ. The first question in our New City Catechism course, which we did on the first Sunday of this year, comes to mind:

Question 1 – What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters – The gospel gives us a firm assurance – whatever happens, we are Christ’s. May that give us confidence as we continue in this unusual season.

We are continue on in our journey following God’s people Israel through the Desert from Egypt to the Promised Land. Last Sunday we were reminded of God’s holiness and how we are to live as his holy people – in a sense separated from the world around us, the standard mark of quality for God’s people is holiness. Today we see how that theme of holiness works in the communal life of Israel through the institution of the sabbath year and the Jubilee.

The sabbath year – Chapter 25 Verse 1-7, (Deuteronomy 15)

The Lord commands his people that when they come to the land, they will observe a sabbath rest for the land. They will not sow or reap that year but the Lord would provide for them. That the land belongs to the Lord and he just gives it to them. They must never feel entitled to it or depend entirely on it, but rather on the Lord. They were essentially sojourners who had a ‘tenant-owner’ status of the land. Deuteronomy 15, speaking of the Sabbath year points three elements of social justice among God’s people.

  • Release of Debts. Israelites in debt are to be released from their obligation. It is interesting how lending is literally big business all over the world with little thought given to whether debt is good for human flourishing. Today, predatory lending happens in both small and large scale, confining millions to poverty. I shudder at the thought that many, if not all Francophone countries in Africa still owe Paris huge debts which they pay for being colonized, read as development done for them when the French ruled them.
  • Giving to the poor verse 7-11. It is striking to see the Lord say that there will always be poor people among you. Verse 11. God’s people were to give freely to the poor and to open their hand widely to your brother. How generous are you to the needy? Paul challenges us that a mark of true biblical ministry includes a genuine concern for the poor (Galatians 2:10)
  • Release of captives. Hebrew slaves were also to be set free verse 12. The way the economy worked then, dare I say even now was that there were slaves – less privileged labourers who were either sold into slavery or sold themselves.

The Jubilee year – 25:8 -end.

After every 7 weeks of years, God’s people were to have a Jubilee (50th year). The Jubilee was an enhanced sabbath year and had the following elements to it

  • Proclamation of liberty (Lev 25: 9)
  • Returning to ancestral land and clan (Lev 25:10)
  • Rest from all work (verse 11) (Echoing the fourth commandment)
  • Fair business dealings (Verse 13- 17)
  • Redemption of Property (23 -34)
  • Generosity to the poor Israelite (35 -46)
  • Redemption of Hebrew slaves (47 -55)

The purpose of the Jubilee, it seems to me from the passage was;

  • To remind the people that the Land was His. That the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24). The land also needed rest from cultivation.
  • To Remind the people of their frailty – Their need to rest and trust in the Lord. We watch many super-power movies and we might have gotten the idea that we are invincible. In 2002, soon after I learnt how to print (rather belatedly) I typed out a song that was going round at the time – I am unbwogable. It was a political lie that has since been proven false. We have made the same mistakes of choosing corrupt and inept leaders over and over again.

Conclusion

Whereas the jubilee was indeed a great time for the nation to press the reset button every fifty years, It is interesting to notice that it was ethno-centric with no universal application. For instance, non-Hebrew slaves were not set free at Jubilee. Further, it did control human greed as we see the prophets later calling on Israel to act justly, to be merciful and kind (Isaiah 5:8, Micah 4:4, 6:8). Their disobedience led to judgement and they were exiled in Babylon for 70 years.

 

The Sabbath Year and The Jubilee Looked forward to a greater Jubilee – the real ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ that the Lord Jesus Christ would promulgate. In His declaration of mission in Luke 4 verse 18 and following Jesus says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,  because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

If we read this passage from the beginning we notice some striking parallels and contrast. The context of the passage is Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth, the town where he had been brought up. It is on a sabbath day and he reads from Isaiah 61 and when he finishes says this scripture is fulfilled NOW. Nobody makes such a claim! The Messiah is here announcing the sabbath, proclaiming the gospel in all its elements to a bewildered crowd that will soon reject his message and ‘run him out of their town’

Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the true sabbath. He is the one who has been anointed (set apart) to

  • Proclaim the gospel to the poor
  • Proclaim freedom for prisoners
  • Proclaim sight to the blind
  • Proclaim freedom to the oppressed
  • Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

 

This is the true essence of Sabbath and Jubilee. A weary and confused world needed a saviour and the Lord sent one in the Lord Jesus Christ. He promises rest to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:29) and the promise of eternal rest for God’s people stands.

Therefore remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9 -11

In the name of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

www.mungaimacharia.com

 

 

We are in a spiritual war-zone

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:10 – 20

In the recent past I have been very aware of the spiritual nature of ministry more than usual. I think I should be alert about this fact all the time but the motions of life and routine has at times clouded my mind so that I have not been alive to the fact that ministry is a work of hearts, a spiritual battle of sorts. Sometimes the Lord uses events in our lives or in the lives of others to call us to attention to what we either have been ignoring all along or have not been paying sufficient attention to.

Such was the case in the recent past when I considered a number of events in the church family and a thought came to mind – what if it is demonic? Now, I am not one given to see demons everywhere. I see sin, human irresponsibility and systemic failures at play when I see problems in the lives of people or in the society at large. But this particular issue had me thinking broadly or you might say deeply and I wondered out loud to Rhodah – what if this is a demonic manifestation.

Many of us are shy to talk about demons and spiritual forces. We don’t understand them well and many have abused/manipulated others on this subject. Besides, we have received a western education that values evidence and looks down upon anything you can’t quite substantiate. If you can’t rationally prove it, then it does not exist. I think the one big lie the devil has sold to evangelicals is that he does not exist or to belittle his power. Our temptation is to swing to one end of the pendulum where we see demons everywhere and blame them for every fault or the other end where they don’t exist and have nothing to do with our present existence.

The Bible calls believers not to be ignorant of the devices of the evil one. In the passage above, we see there are ‘schemes’ of the enemy. The enemy is an active, intentional planner.  When we see the effects of habitual sin in people’s lives, the desperation of those caught up in addictions, the breakdown of families, the disunity in a local church, the rot in society and the list could go on, there are not many places to look – the enemy is at work. But how are we to biblically understand and fight spiritually? Paul offers us a few pointers.

  1. Remember your identity

Paul opens this section with verse 10 which affirms clearly – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. The most important thing to remember in spiritual warfare is who you are. I submit the battle is actually won or lost at the point of identity. Paul had spent the first 3 chapters of the letter to Ephesians reminding of their identity in Christ. He wanted the Ephesians to be aware that they are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing (1:3), That they were chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight (1:4), That they were predestined for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (1:5), that they were God’s possession (1:14).

  1. Remember the Gospel

Paul is very aware that the greatest threat to the Christian lies in forgetting who they are and what God in His grace has done for them. And so he is quick to remind them to rest their identity in the strength of his might. He is echoing the words in Chapter 1 from 16.

18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Paul prays that the Ephesians might be clear in their understanding of the gospel – That they may know the hope to which they have been called and the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. But he does not stop at that. He goes on to remind them of the gospel power – that power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the Father’s right hand above every rule and authority, power and dominion.

I think our arsenal in spiritual warfare is right understanding and application of the gospel. Paul wants us to know that, the very power that raised Christ from the dead continues to overcome evil for Christ is seated at the right hand of the father far above every name and that all things have been put under his feet. That ought to give you confidence.

 

 

  1. Remember your enemy.

It is very hard to fight a battle when you don’t know who the enemy is. The call to put on the full amour of God in 6:11 is given so that you can take your stand against the devil’s scheme. There is no mincing of words here – the enemy here is the devil. Paul goes on to say in verse 12 that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (other people) but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. There might be a sense of repetition for emphasis here but there is no missing the point of who the enemy is. Christian, you are not to be ignorant of the devices of the evil one. You are to be sober and vigilant for your enemy, the devil prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

  1. Remember your location.

Recently I was reading Pst. John Piper’s arguably most famous book – Don’t waste your life and in it he refers to conversation he had with the famous missiologist Ralph Winter who had challenged him about a war-time mentality. He writes…

“I need to hear this message again and again, because I drift into a peacetime mind-set as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth “home”. Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached peoples drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of His grace. I sink into a worldly mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness.” 

Paul reminds the Ephesians about ‘this dark world’ in other words our existence as Christians is surrounded by darkness. Friends, we are at war and this is continuous. It is easy for us to relax and enjoy the comforts of life and forget that we are in a state of emergency. We fight best when we are aware that we are at war. We commit our time, energy, resources and everything at hand for the glory of Christ.

  1. Remember your weapons.

Perhaps the most famous part of the section is the analogy of the Roman soldier that Paul draws for the Ephesians. Here is what readiness for spiritual warfare looks like.

  1. Belt of truth. (The Gospel)
  2. Breastplate of righteousness. (The Gospel)
  3. Readiness that comes from the gospel
  4. Shield of faith (in the gospel)
  5. Helmet of salvation (By the gospel)
  6. Sword of the Spirit (Word of God – the gospel)

Finally, Paul calls the Ephesians to do the most unusual thing in any battle – to cry in dependence. Can you imagine gathering soldiers and getting them all the supplies and then giving the order ‘Pray!’ Shockingly that is exactly what we find in verse 18. They way to fight is to cry to the Lord. To pray in the spirit (according to the Word) with all kinds of prayers and requests and with that in mind, to always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

But what are we to pray for? I think our weapons gives us an idea as does Paul’s own prayers in chapter 1 and in the closing verse – for the light of the gospel to spread in our dark world.

 

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Mid Week Reflection – True Gospel Love

Mid-week Reflection 4th July 2019

Text: 3 John

Topic: What Does True Gospel Love Look Like?

When I was growing up, the Daily Nation used to run a comic strip series called ‘Love Is…’ I have since learnt that the cartoons were done by a New Zealand artist called Kim Grove initially for her future husband Roberto Casali. Kim tried to capture in a simple image and few words what love looks and many people looked forward to her various depictions of what it looks like to love your spouse. The Daily Nation no longer serializes ‘Love Is…’ but for fans out there, the cartoons are available online and on social media platforms.

In this rather short and snappy letter, John tells us what true love looks like and for clarity, he contrasts it with what it does not look like just so we are very clear. The letter is addressed to Gaius, a Christian brother who showed love and hospitality to believers (verse 5 – 7). It is likely that he is the same man commended by Paul in Romans 16:23 but Gaius was a common name and it is used severally in the New Testament. So what does true gospel love look like?

  1. Love is… Walking in the truth

John describes Gaius as one whom he loves in the truth. Truth and love go hand in hand because they are two sides of the same coin. There is no true love without love in truth. A man cannot truly be loving his wife if he is hiding certain things from her. We cannot merely know gospel truth and not lovingly tell it to our family, friends and neighbours. This is best demonstrated in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the personification (embodiment) of love and truth at the same time. John tells us in his gospel that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and that greater love has no one than him (Christ) that he should lay down his life for us. (John 15:3). We err when we divorce love from truth. John tells Gaius that he has no greater joy than to know that his Children are walking in the truth. I think it is a great delight to know and walk in the gospel. It is a wonderful thing to hear of brethren you have not seen in a long time that they are still clear about the gospel and they are living it out. May the Lord help you and I to walk in the truth.

  1. Love is … Wishing others well

In verse 2 John prays for Gaius that all may go well with him, some translations render that as prosper, and that he may be in good health even as it goes well with his soul. I realise this is a rather uncomfortable phrase for most people as it has been abused by ‘prosperity false teachers’ to mean that God want us all to be wealthy, healthy and famous. What I see here is the elder wishing a dear brother well. There is nothing wrong with praying for the well being of the other. There is a big difference between praying and promising and what the elder is doing here is praying that all may be well with Gaius. This is no different from your prayers or mine.

That is not to mean that frustration, pain and suffering are eliminated, on the contrary they are part of the package of following Christ (John 15:20, 2Timothy 3:12). In fact if this Gaius is the same one in Acts 19:26, he would have known first-hand what it means to suffer for the gospel.

John wishes this beloved brother well. In verse 15, he wishes him peace. It is right to wish and indeed to pray for the well being of others. This is contrasted with a divisive character in the early church called Diotrephes who liked to put himself first . True Christian love puts others first and wishes them well. In fact, true love wishes other Christ, the epitome of our wellness and our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

  1. Love is … Generosity

Gaius is commended ‘for the faithful thing you do in your efforts for the brothers’. Gaius had shown hospitality to brethren who would have been itinerant evangelists or missionaries (for they have gone out for the sake of the name…verse 7). These brothers had testified of Gaius’ love for the church, demonstrated in Christian hospitality (verse 6). True love for the gospel is here depicted as faithful support for gospel work with our gifts. The elder says… ‘We ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth’. If this Gaius is the same one in Romans 16:23, clearly he was a generous man – hospitable to the whole church.

On the contrary, if we don’t really love the gospel we begin to compare more with Diotrephes – who is self-centered (likes to put himself first), rebellious (does not acknowledge our authority), malicious (talking wicked nonsense against us) and mean/stingy (he refuses to welcome the brothers, stops those who want to, and puts them out of the fellowship). You don’t want to identify with Diotrephes. But if you do in any sense, the surprising thing is, Diotrephes is in the church and if that in any way points to you or me, we need to repent.

Someone has said that you can give without loving but you can’t really love without giving. God himself so loved the world that he gave. Generosity is second nature to us when we truly love. It is effortless, lavish and other-centered. How does your love for the gospel measure up?

  1. Love is … Imitating the good example.

John warns Gaius against following the bad example of Diotrephes and encourages him to imitate the good example of another man named Demetrius. We do not know much about this man as his name comes up only twice in the NT, here and in Acts 19:24. Probably two people sharing the same name. If it is the same person, the Gospel had truly converted him from an idol designer working for the goddess Diana and trade unionist in charge Idol Developers Union of Ephesus to one who is commended by everyone even by Jesus himself (verse 12). We don’t know if it is the same person but clearly the man in 3 John 12 is an example to emulate. We are to follow the pattern of those who have gone ahead of us in faithfulness. The writer of Hebrews says in 6:12: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”

Perhaps the question to ask is, as we follow the examples of those who have gone ahead of us; will others want to follow our example. Are we those who are commended even by Christ himself? The words of Steve Green’s song ‘Find us Faithful’ come to mind;

O may all who come behind us Find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave, Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live, Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us, Find us faithful.

  1. Love is … Longing for one another

I particularly enjoy John’s writing because he is quite emotive in language. The gospel is not all knowing and doing and no feeling. On the contrary it is loaded with deep affections. In verse 13, John tells Gaius what I used to copy in my love letters in high school ‘I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I long to see you soon, and we will talk face to face’. You cant read those words and not be emotionally moved. Love is not merely a thought or idea it is indeed a deeply felt emotion. Love is a true longing for one another and a desire to talk face to face. There are no lone ranger Christians, we are called to be a community.

We live in a time when expressing emotions is frowned upon. Most of the appeal today is aimed at the head (knowledge) and hands (actions) and not much for the heart (affections). Granted, emotions have been abused in the past, especially by the charismatic movement where truth was/is reduced to mere feelings and subjective personal experiences. Emotions still have a place in our experience and expression of true gospel love. I long to see you, says the elder to Gaius.

In an age of social media, how refreshing it is to see brethren and talk face to face; real fellowship with real people. If we truly love God’s people we will long to meet them. We will not be giving up the habit of meeting together (Heb 10:25). Love is showing up. Love is greeting the brethren by name. Love is the gospel. The gospel is love.

mungaimacharia.com

 

 

Idols of the Heart: Culture

GracePoint Church, Kikuyu.

Sunday Sermon: 22nd June 2019

Idols of the Heart:  Culture [Mila na Desturi]

  • Earlier this week, we were about to set off on a long journey. A black cat crossed the road right in front of us. Rhodah noticed it and told me. We said nothing, completely ignoring it and proceeded with our journey but she and I knew what black cats crossing your path meant.
  • If you live in Kikuyu town, you know of the Mugumo Tree in the middle of the town. It is a big and rather messy tree in a built up area. Bird droppings from the tree really make a mess for the fruit sellers below. But the tree cannot be cut.
  • If you meet any ‘progressive’ Kenyan their name, they will probably give you only one name even though the average Kenyan has three names. But the friend does not want you to ‘profile’ them by their ethnicity. They are not keen on tribe being seen as their identity.

These three scenarios show us three aspects of culture – fear, reverence and identity. But what  is culture?

Sociologists have wrestled with that question for a long time. It is like a discussion of what is water between fish. This is because is basically everything around us. Our food, our values, interactions, our beliefs, how we live, work, dress, communicate and just about do everything is our culture. Perhaps the most helpful answer then has been – culture is a way of life.

We have been on the sermon series- idols of the heart and today we shall look at the idol of culture as manifested in beliefs and traditions (Mila na Desturi). We notice from earlier sermons that idols are the results of good things made into ultimate things. Instead of God being our ultimate reality and authority, our source of identity and significance, we craft idols to give us those things – Identity, Authority and Significance.

In the passage we have read today we see Jesus engaging with Pharisees and teachers of the law on cultural matters. The discussion in Mark 7 is set in the context of the two miracles of Chapter 6 both of which have echoes of Moses, the great lawgiver and cultural father of the Jewish people. Chapter 6, essentially helps us to see that someone greater than Moses is here, one who will transform our deformed cultures and reform our hearts back to God. 3 things to take away from the passage;

  1. Culture is a good part of creation order. God is the source of human way of life. He created us as male and female and designed how we are to live as men and women, he created government when he gave man dominion over the rest of the created order. He established marriage and family. He assigned places where people should live. He instituted work as a means of production. He gave laws through Moses establishing a culture of how his covenant people are to live. Culture is a good thing. V 10, 17 -20. Christ come into a human culture in a time and space of history.

 

Illustration: Can you imagine of the whole world was mono-cultural? So that everybody was Maasai or Kamba? Or all men? Or there was only one flower? And one animal? And  only one type of food?

  • Application: It is ok to accept who we are. Where we come from. The names we bear. All that identifies us under God. No one should put you down because of your gender, ethnicity, race, tribe or nationality. Tribe is not a dirty word or association for which we should be embarrassed. Real ethnic cohesion, happens not when we delete our tribes but when we acknowledge and appreciate the beauty and diversity of others.

 

  1. All human culture is fallen: The fall in Genesis 3 affected every part of our being. We see the Pharisee as a religious sect of the Jews. The 624 laws they created.
  2. They made their culture (ritual hand washing) the standard. Verse 2 – 5. Culture becomes an oppressive tool to judge others.
  3. They were hypocrites – having an external form of religion but no substance. Culture becomes an outside show but the heart is far away from the Lord. Matthew 23: 7 woes.
  4. Worship is an exercise in vain – teaching human rules. Abandoning the commands of God and holding on to human traditions.

 

  • Illustration: Not supporting parents in favour of giving to God. ‘Corban’. Dowry, an otherwise good value has been commercialized.
  • Application:
  1. Your culture and mine are fallen. Stop making your culture the standard. Watch out for your cultural blind spots. Appreciate other people’s culture. Circumcision, a respected cultural right of passage in some communities, has been reduced to a supremacy contest between those who cut and those who don’t. It is politicized and stripped of all meaning. FYI only about 30% of the world practice it. Repent your cultural supremacy attitudes. The gospel is not calling you to abandon your culture, but to stop idolising it.
  2. Watch out for hypocrisy, an inconsistency between faith and practice. We live in an age that values Form over substance. We care more about the label than the content. We choose a church often more on label rather than the gospel content and truth community we hope to find. We are more attracted to externalities like ‘presentation and packaging’ or professionalism in services rather than gospel content and centrality. Repent from your hypocrisy. Drop your mask.
  3. Worship in truth and spirit rather than forms and rituals. Steer away from fears and doubts about your future or children and raise them for Jesus. At the heart of ATR were rituals meant to protect individuals from evil. If Christ is sufficient then you don’t need any other ritual other than what he has commanded (Baptism and Holy Communion). You don’t need dedications or Redemption of Children, Tithes or Deliverance Prayers, You don’t need to seek ‘blessing’ from ancestors and the community. Turn away from empty rituals and turn to Christ..

 

  1. Christ is the redeemer of our fallen cultures. The problem lies deeper within.

In verse 14 -23 Jesus diagnose the real problem. Culture is only an outward expression of a more dangerous inward condition – the heart is sick.

Essentially what Jesus is saying is Culture is not the problem but actually a symptom. Nothing enters a person from outside makes him unclean. Food and drinks defile no one. Clothes and other cultural expressions in and of themselves are not a problem. The problem of idol worship already exists and lies deep within your heart. What we then see as cultural manifestation is evil thoughts, immorality, same sex relationships, adultery, greed, malice, slander, arrogance, foolishness etc. All these are, by default, dwelling in you and you come defiled.

We need a heart doctor.

In the following two stories we see Christ portrayed to us as the redeemer. A woman of mixed heritage had a sick daughter and he went to Jesus for help. The language of the passage is laced with cultural undertones (and possibly offensive) but the overriding message is Christ is Lord over culture will cross any cultural boundary to heal the broken and the needy. The chapter closes with the healing of a deaf man – it is noteworthy that it is in the region of Decapolis, a predominantly Greek region and heals a man in a rather cultural offensive way. Some observations;

  1. The cultural insiders (Pharisees) are left in their hypocrisy but a woman from Syria Phoenicia is helped. Her humility, rather than cultural supremacy is rewarded and her daughter healed.
  2. A man who was deaf and mute in another region, could not hear or speak like the Pharisees is healed. The cultural supremacists who could both hear and speak are left in their hypocrisy.
  3. The people were overwhelmed with amazement and wondered (Verse 37).

Who then is this man? Mark wants us to keep asking this question? The answer is He is Lord. He is the Messiah, the anointed one. The Lord over all human cultures and traditions – He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. He is Lord – bow dowm your knee and worship him.

 

I close with the words of Paul, warning Christians in Colossae against idol worship of culture and traditions;

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh[b] was put off when you were circumcised by[c] Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you[d] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.[e]

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

 SDG.

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The Death of Death

Sermon Outline

Sunday 18th November 2018.

Text: 1 Corinthians 15: 35 – end.

Theme Sentence: Christians shall rise from the dead in a new body like Christ. Because Christ overcame death, Christians can stand firm and be fully committed to the Lord and His work.

Intro: Let me start today’s sermon on a rather personal note.  on 16th September 2005 I received what was the most devastating news in my life. My father had died only a week after escorting to travel to England to take up a ministry assignment. A few months before (11th March) He had been very proud of me during my graduation and was very supportive of my life and ministry. I was close to him a lot, was his lastborn, went to the same high school, took up the same profession as him (teaching) as him and showed interest in local church like he had. It was too much to take in.

Another death that hit me around that time, though not as hard but quite depressing was the sudden death of John Garang, then the leader of South Sudan on 30th July 2005. It seemed to me, the entire hope of a nation was dashed in that plane crash.

The pain of death of our loved one is very difficult to process. Suddenly life becomes meaningless and not worth living. Our mortality stares at us and we realise how weak we are. We deny, we get angry, we bargain, we get depressed and finally we accept the reality (and finality) of death.

Last Sunday we were reminded that, for the Christian death is not the end of the story. This life is not all there is – we shall be raised again to eternal life just like our Lord was raised. Today, we shall continue in that theme of resurrection and the implication for believers.

  1. We shall resurrect in glorious new bodies like Christ V35-53
  • A tale of two men.
  • Be found on the right man.
  • What passport do you hold?

 

  1. The death of death – Verse 54 – 57

– Death mocks us today.

– In Christ we shall mock death when Christ gives us victory.

– I am the resurrection and the life.

 

  1. Stand firm and serve! Verse 58
  • Let nothing you, not even death.
  • Give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

 

Close.

 

The Grace of Giving

2 Corinthians 8 & 9 are radical texts that confront our traditional views on Christian giving. This is especially because NT giving is different from the OT system of assorted sacrifices, tithes and offerings,. Paul tells us in verse 5 of chapter 8 that the Macedonians had first given themselves to the Lord and then their gifts followed.

We live in a world where gifts are an easy form of manipulation. People give in order to receive (the whole panda mbegu philosophy, peddled around by prosperity gospel preachers rides on that). When a gift precedes a relationship, a few questions emerge – is this genuine love or manipulation?  Is it an advance payment for an expected ‘blessing’ or an expression of gratitude for the gospel and hence a willingness to serve the Lord with our Time, Talents and Treasures?

Sadly, we bring these worldly views into our worship of God with our treasures.  We use tithes and offerings as ‘check boxes’ of our godliness or as means to another end rather than an overflow of gratitude for our relationship with the Lord. When relationship (redemption) comes before the gift, then quantities and ‘labels’ [tithe, offering, first fruit etc] do not matter anymore.  The gift can be everything (Acts 4:32ff) or almost nothing (2 Cor 8 2). It can be a tenth, a third, a half, everything or nothing.

Let me illustrate this. For two lovers, a straw of grass given will be treasured dearly just as a huge bouquet of roses. It is never about the size of the gift but a matter of the heart.  Sadly, we can be tempted to go about our relationship with God by sending our gifts before our hearts.  The Macedonian church teaches us otherwise. For God so loved that He gave

You might want to evaluate your own generosity in light of this. Verse 9 is a helpful reason for all that Paul had said before…’For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ….’ this really is the basis of all our stewardship. I call it the ‘acid test’ of our giving/serving motives. If it is not done in light of the gospel, then perhaps it is not worship.

Excel in this grace of giving.

Killing Sin

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

Last Sunday we were reminded that our Christian journey is comparable to running a race. It calls for much self-discipline and commitment. And yet those are two words that hardly survive in our modern vocabulary. Discipline is almost a dirty word that many people would rather not talk about unless they are referring to children. Commitment is almost an alien word in our world today where everyone seems to be concerned about their own interests.

The gospel is however counter-cultural. As we learnt last Sunday, the gospel calls us to live differently to the culture around us in order to stand out and win others to Christ. It also calls us to identify with the culture – being all things to all people, in order to win others for Christ.

But the overriding message is one of ‘beating our bodies into subjection’. It is a call to kill sin and it is a call to every believer in Christ. In our journey of sanctification, we will need to know and indeed fight the three enemies of every Christian – the flesh, the world and the devil. The most insidious of these however is the flesh and we need to be aware of that. An old theologian called John Owen paraphrased those words of Paul in Romans 8: 12 as: Be killing sin or it will be killing you.

But how do we go about killing sin? Paul tells us exactly how in Colossians 3: 1 – 17

  1. Setting our hearts and minds on things above. V1
  2. Living in light of the coming judgement V6
  3. Putting off worldly practices v8 -9
  4. Putting on the new self v10
  5. Bearing fruit of the new self v11-14
  6. Letting the peace of Christ reign in your heart. V 15.
  7. Being grateful v16, 17
  8. Letting the word dwell richly in you. V16
  9. Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs v16
  10. Acting in the name of the Lord. V17.

 

Go on and fight sin in your life.