Monday, 23 September 2019

Not so with you

Monday Updates - September 23, 2019. 

Last week we run induction training for our new staff. It was a good to spend time being reminded who we are and what we are about. I was asked to lead the devotion on the Friday and as we were coming to the end of the training, I found it appropriate to go to Mark 10: 35 - 45 under the heading – not so with you. 

In this passage, we come across a very interesting story. John and James come up to Jesus with a special request. At first, they ask Jesus to commit to do whatever they ask him to do. When Jesus asked them what it was they wanted done for them, they said to sit on either side of Jesus in His (Jesus’) glory. Jesus goes on to help them appreciate the cost of glory (pain and suffering), something the brothers are willing to pay. Finally, he tells them it was not in his place to assign positions in the father’s kingdom. This whole conversation cause the other ten disciples to be indignant and Jesus gathers them all together and teaches them about servanthood. They were not to seek power through the worldly means but actually through service in following after Christ’s own example. Here were some of the highlights/observations; 
1. It is a legitimate thing to want power and glory. It is interesting that Jesus does not chide the brothers for wanting special positions. They wanted high positions in the kingdom – perhaps they had in mind an earthly kingdom where Christ may rule and they wanted to be very close to that power. I observe that Christians are rather restrained in their talk about power and glory and yet I opine that these are genuine needs/aspirations. We all like some measure of power – some ability to be in charge. We like JDs and contracts because they empower us – giving us certain privileges and certain responsibilities. We also like to shine, to stand out or to excel and that is exactly what glory is. Our idea of glory may have been observed more in aversion as we are those who do not want to ‘share in God’s glory’ and we tend to imagine that means taking credit for ‘spiritual manifests’. God has his glory which is His God-ness but glory in this sense points more to shining or outstanding, legitimate things to actually desire especially in the context of work.  We can be sincere in asking our loving father exactly what we want.

2. The request was not outrageous. ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us, whatever we ask of you’. At first instance, this sounds a bit cunning. If anybody told you that, you would be very careful before proceeding with that conversation. John and James come up for a beating every time because it seems they went behind the backs of the other disciples and were trying to strike a deal with Jesus. Perhaps the fact that they were brothers did not help matters (or the possibility that it was their mother who actually voiced this request as recorded in Matthew’s gospel). No wonder they were ‘indignant’ verse 41. But actually, it was ok to ask Jesus whatever we want. The very same John tells us Jesus encourages believers to ask whatever they want – John 15:16. May be some of us need to be encouraged to ask more boldly and confidently. Jesus can handle our requests, however ‘out-of range’ they may be. These two brothers know exactly what they wanted and they asked the Lord for it.

3. There is a cost to 'power' and 'glory'. Jesus’ response to the brothers was that they did not appreciate exactly what they were asking for. He asked them if they were willing to to drink the cup he would drink and be baptized in the baptism that he would be baptized. The brothers answered in the affirmative and the Lord told them they will indeed suffer and possibly die a martyr’s death, but it was not for him to grant positions in the father’s glory. One might be forgiven for imagining John and James to be naïve but actually, they seemed to have counted the cost of glory and were willing to pay the price. We live in a generation that like to have something for nothing (an earlier generation called that cheating), we like to get to Cannan before the wilderness or to enjoy fruit without the attendant labour. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it cheap grace: ‘Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”[1]  Sometimes we might be tempted to want glory before the cross, power without responsibility, a say without commitment.Often this is expressed in a sense of entitlement, or a demand for rights without responsibilities.  

4. The Lord is sovereign in all things. Jesus does not grant the brothers' wish. He is firm and clear that it is not his place to grant positions in the father’s glory. Hizo viti ziko na wenyewe. There is a sense in which that answer settles the matter once and for all but also leaves a question – who are those to whom positions are reserved? Well, the answer is not given but it seems evident from the text that the fathers overruling sovereignty is the final answer to the question. There is no discussion beyond that. The father has determined certain things and you and I need to be at home with that reality. It might mean that our prayers are not answered in the way we had hoped, or we are not where we had hoped we might be but the father is in charge of everything. You and I need to rest in the assurance that He knows better and has ordered everything for His good pleasure. Do I always like it? I don’t have to but I do need to rejoice in His sovereignty at all times.This has massive implications for you. Think about it. 

5. Not so with you. The Lord then gathers all the disciples together for a very important lesson on power dynamics in His kingdom. He gives them an illustration from the Gentiles, who lord it over their subjects and exercise authority in a military style (cf Luke 7:8) and warns them 'not so with you' verse 43. Jesus' people will approach power, leadership and glory in contrast to the world. The way up will be the way down – whoever wants to be great must be your servant and whoever would be first must be the slave of all. This turns everything we read in leadership books upside down. Christian leadership must be a daily practice of servant-hood. But how might that look like? Well, Christ gives his own example in verse 45: He did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Whereas worldly power is about influence and affluence, servant leadership is about humility and servant-heartedness, Whereas worldly power is about commands and directives, biblical servant leadership is about patient instruction (2Tim 2:24) and readiness to serve (Luke 12:35), whereas worldly power is about position and entitlement, servant leadership is about gratitude and obedience. (Phil 2: 1 -11)

Go on then dear brothers and sisters and serve the Lord in your placements with all humility, knowing that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (1Cor 15:58).

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; The Cost of Discipleship.

Monday, 16 September 2019

A tale of four women

I had the rare privilege last Monday to drive four young women to a placement in Mt. Kenya, three of them were beginning their first year of apprenticeship and the fourth one is beginning her second. The programmes team is quite thin at the moment and we all stepped in to help where we can. The journey was unique in the sense that I had not done one of those in a while but I enjoyed every bit of it. The girls had amazing stories of their backgrounds, the anxiety about what to expect was evident in their eyes and in the conversations. 

Here are a few reasons that made for the day and perhaps speaks into the year ahead for Evelyn, Ruth, Mercy and Promise. They taught me a great deal about life and ministry.

1. They were ready. Our journey started late from the office. We were to leave very early at 7.00 AM but I had a few matters to attend to, so I was delayed. The girls had been in training for the previous two weeks and when I arrived, it was evident they were ready. All their bags were packed and they were looking forward to the mission ahead of them. I did not have to wait for any of them - not that I would have minded to wait, but I did not need to. They were ready to go. My mind goes back to the illustration the Lord used on readiness. These women were clearly ready - "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning" Luke 10:35 

2. They were organized. Way before the journey begun, the ladies asked that we take the Probox because they had lots of luggage.Clearly these ladies did not travel light. The car was packed out full of anything imaginable - cookers, thermos flasks, shoe racks, carpets and who knows what else. They were not taking any chances about their forthcoming mission and they were prepared to face it. They had had traveled from their homes with almost everything they needed for the task. These were gospel women who understood the task ahead and were well organized to take it on.

3. They knew what they wanted. I think one of the biggest challenges in life is knowing what you want. This is clearly a lesson many take long into their lives and some miss it altogether. After we had driven for nearly two hours (having stopped at Kasarani to pick even more luggage - I really feared the police might stop us and I would have a lot of explaining to do), I thought we should have a snack break so we stopped at Kenol. I asked them to choose what they would like to have for a snack and after some consultation they settled on something that told me they really knew what they wanted. These were not pushover women who were taking an apprenticeship because they had nothing else to do. An array of options had been open to them but being the straight-shooting, fresh graduates that they are, they choose the path of service.

4. They had a sense of mission. We arrived in Kerogoya - ADS Wanguru station shortly after one PM. We were ushered into a hall where a management training workshop was going on. And then the time for introductions came and one after the other they said what brought them here. They were not intimidated by the newness of the place or the people who were there, yet they were respectful. They had come here on purpose and they wanted to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They did not want to waste their lives but wanted their young lives to count for time and for eternity. Mission is in their hearts. Here was a bunch of risk-taking women, leaving behind their homes and dreams and coming out to serve the Lord they loved in a different part of Kenya.

5. They adorned the gospel. It is not everyday that I get to ride in car with four young women in their early twenties and the conversation is enriching. These girls were not chatting away on Instagram or tweeting. They engaged in meaningful conversation. They had been very patient with me and seemed to have confidence that I will deliver on my promise to take them to their placement. They were respectful and there was not a hint of familiarity even after spending the better part of the day together. As I was leaving in a rush to try and beat Nairobi traffic on my return leg, they all came to the car to express their thanks for the ride and a day well spent. A friend had once told me that at the heart of sin is ingratitude. Most, if not all of our relational struggles even in ministry result from an ungrateful heart. Not so with these young women. I left thinking what gifts these young women have? How they beautifully adorned the gospel (Titus 2:10, 1 Peter 3:1 -6) and what fruitful ministry lay ahead of them if they carry on in that path?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Monday Updates - 13th February 2017

Last Sunday I was invited  to speak in what was dubbed ‘pre-valentine service’ at St. Faith Church [yes, St. Faith]. A largish Anglican church in the middle of Rongai township. At first I really struggled with what to say to Christians, who were gathered for spiritual feeding, about Valentines – a rather awkward feast for a lot of people.  I knew from the vicar’s brief that they wanted his people to hear about love for each other and for God but just exactly how to frame that was the problem.  The ‘go to’ method is to simply begin with definition of terms, trace their classical or antiquity roots and then move towards modern (or postmodern) interpretations and applications. But you can’t do that in a sermon, neither can you use those categories of thought or even the words if you are aiming to be helpful.   After all, when we arrived I noticed the bulletin had quite a bit of background on the origins of valentines so there would be no point repeating that and worse still my host’s source and mine were different (there are different theories as to the origins of Valentine and not one is definitive) so I had to steer clear of that. The last thing you want is to appear to contradict your host – even on an issue open to interpretation.

So I did what I think any of us in iServe would do – stick to the passage. During my preparation I had been torn between Song of Solomon and 1 Corinthians 13. I feared that SoS might be too risqué for the comfort of most people in the congregation (including our 3 boys) and after all I would not be the best person to teach on that aspect of love that the Greeks called Eros. I was also alive to the fact that there are many voices out there, not least late night radio shows that teach a lot on love and expression of the same. I was also hesitant about 1 Cor 13 as I feared it might be too cliché given that it is the ‘go to’ passage on the subject of love. If I went for Solomon, the congregation might receive it very well especially because the book is rarely preached on. If I went for Paul, I might not meet my host’s expectation of a guest preacher. I had to decide and get down to actual prep before it was too late. In the end, I settled for 1 Cor 13 – I had nothing new to say except the same old message of the cross. Probably not the most romantic picture, but the greatest demonstration of love.

But Paul is so meaty. Within those verses, he has managed to pack 15 attributes of love  and also dispelled the notion that gifts are of more value. I divided the passage into 3 sections as

1.       Introduction
2.       Section 1 : Love as a measure of spiritual maturity v1-3
3.       Section 2: The nature of agape love v4-7
4.       Section 3:  The supremacy of love above all virtues v8-13.
5.       Conclusion.

In the end I preached God’s love for us in Christ and his call for us to love our neighbours. What I had not fully appreciated however was that I needed to say the same in the Kiswahili service. By purely God’s grace we got through the second service but not without a few words in English thrown in to support a point or two. I found it helpful also to use an illustration in the second service and went for David’s kindness to Mephibosheth.  I really felt I needed to preach God’s grace and the cross and I hoped that the illustration brought the point home. Oh the pains of sermon preparation and delivery!

All is well at the office. We are now well settled into a routine and everyone seems to know their place. TransformD guys will take a break next week so they will go away for a week. TransformD is a residential programme so quite intensive. Once they are back, they will then do another five weeks of learning and then a month of mission experience in Samburu.

Last Saturday we had a great time with Alumni during their annual mbuzi. It was great to catch up with folk who served those many years ago together with their loved ones. We danced to our fill and then played a game of volleyball – which my side obviously won.  This week is bit quieter save for a staff meeting possibly on Thursday. We are however beginning to shift focus towards recruitment of September apprentices and second year options for you guys. Planning is also happening for the upcoming MTC.

A little reminder however is for enhanced efforts in PD. Friends, however big our ambitions for God and His kingdom are, we will never be able to realise them without resources and the way to raise those resources is PD. This is an important ‘home truth’ that we all in ministry need to hear – It won’t happen without money. Sorry to be blunt but I need you to know that under supported workers are ineffective workers. The vicious cycle of poor PD goes like this;  Bad/Poor attitude to PD -  Poor/weak PD – Low Stipend – Discouraged Gospel Worker – Few Prayer Letters – Poor/Weak PD – Negative Attitude to PD/Ministry as a whole.  The virtuous cycle however goes like; Positive Attitude to PD – Good effort/Hard work in PD – Encouraging Results in PD – Good Stipend – Happy/Enthusiastic/Encouraged worker – Frequent Prayer Letters – Even More PD – More Partners on Board – Happy/Positive Disposition to PD/Ministry in General.  If your PD is 40% and below of your target so far, then it is too low. Between 40 and 60% then it is average 60 to 80% is Good and beyond 80 commendable. Work towards exceeding of your target by the time you finish.

I wish you a great week ahead and pray for your well-being especially at such a time when our country which is fraught with many problems. May you know that the centre holds – The Lord reigns.



Monday, 13 February 2017

Monday Updates - 06 February 2017


After a bit of a break it is time to resume Monday updates. I think the last one went out at the end of November and then we met at the MTC and then it was Christmas and then it was January with all its demands. Before I knew it, it was February - more than two months before I sent out what is ideally a weekly briefing.

We are keeping well at the office. January was extremely busy for all staff and it is only now that we are catching our breath. As you may well know, we have two teams that joined us last month – The TransformD Discipleship Programme team of 13 ex candidates and a short term mission team of 8 girls from the UK, courtesy of  Crosslinks. Halfway house has been buzzing with activity ever since mid-January. Administratively, we had to secure extra accommodation, expand our support staff and enhance security. During the month, we also had two incidences of crime – in the first one, a night guard from our contracted security company made away with quite a few items from the kitchen and Berea Hall and in the second one, the house where we accommodated the visitors was broken into on a Sunday morning when the girls were away for church. Sad incidences which remind us of the world we live in.

January also saw us welcome and deploy 3 apprentices who are joining us for the calendar year 2017. Christopher Muraya and Josphine Makena are placed in the new Anglican diocese of Kisii, teaching in a school called Misambi Secondary School in Sondu, South Nyanza. Joseph Tsuma is placed in the office and is helping to support TransformD. These guys seem to have settled in well in their posts and we wish them well in their ministry apprenticeship for the coming months.

At the TCP site there have also been developments. We started off by receiving a massive donation of books for which we needed storage. We set up a temporary structure to keep them even as we await to grow our own library there once the project is complete.  That kept us busy for quite a while. Later on in January we began the works on a water tower as we awaited approvals from the county government to commence construction of the main structure. The water tower is progressing well as well as a little guard room at the gate. I reckon by the time you come for MTC, there will be some visible progress on the main structure. We continue to seek funds for this project and covet your prayers.

As the days roll on, we find ourselves navigating in unfamiliar waters. This comes with great joy and new anxieties as well. Though not entirely unexpected, the staff team does find there to be a lot more to do, lots of new relationships to grow and indeed shifting dynamics in the workplace. Through it all, we have been encouraged every day particularly in reading John. We began with the gospel, then the epistles and now we are working our way through Revelation. There was such a strong message on identity as God’s children, how we should live as such and our future hope. We desire to be that community of love and brotherhood guided by a strong historical witness of our Lord’s life, death and resurrection and a clear perspective of the eternity to come.

Last week I thoroughly enjoyed visiting our apprentices in Samburu – Okiki, Jessica and Pontive. Though the terrain is tough, these dear ones are so encouraged to keep serving and loving the local community. It was amazing to see how they have thrown themselves at the task – counting their lives as worth nothing for the sake of the gospel. I enjoyed every moment I had with them from riding the rough roads to sharing the top of a range rover for the night. I came back quite challenged and maybe more encouraged in the ministry than those I presumably went to care for.

I wish you a great week ahead and look forward to hearing how you are doing from time to time.