Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Prayer Letters - Why Bother?

In an age of so much information at very fast speeds, it may appear as if writing prayer letters is a ritual or a motion one has to go through while in ministry. Self description is not the most natural thing for us to do, not least to the detail that a prayer letter deserves. The fear that nobody really cares or bothers to read our letters can also make us hesitant to write them and this can be evidenced by the far too few responses that we get. Multiplicity of communication tools, especially social media can also cast doubt on the relevance of prayer letters. The truth however is that prayer letters are of great benefit both to the sender and the receiver. I will try and give you 3 solid reasons to keep up this discipline.

1. Purpose. The main reason for your prayer letters is in the name – prayer letter. We to tell the story of your ministry, share our vision and connect your partners to that vision so that they can pray from an informed position. We write prayer letters in order to get buy-in for your desire and decision to serve in ministry. The only way others can come behind you in prayer, gifts and encouragement is if they know what you are doing. People are more driven by vision not needs, passion not person. How clearly you are able to communicate that vision determines how successful you will be in winning their support. A simple, clear and focused prayer letter is a great aid to that end. Whereas it is true that some people will support your work simply because of who you are and how they know you, sustained ministry support over the years will call for more than just familial relationships – A vision for the gospel transcends social ties and is much more sustainable. Your partners need clarity of vision and encouragement that your ministry is worth investing in. Learning to tell the story of what God is doing in your ministry will make them look forward to your letters and effectively participate in what God is doing in and through you.

Learning Point – Focus more on ‘ministry’ rather than ‘personal’ news. It is great to share some personal quips but that is not the main purpose of the prayer letter. Too much emphasis on personal news will elicit wrong feelings. People are supporting you to do the work of ministry not to merely live. Remember they have their lives too. However since ministry is a real life experience, do share personal news – but the weight/emphasis should clearly be on the ministry side of things.

2. Accountability: It is true that when we ‘go’ we don’t do it alone. There are others obeying the great commission as much as we do in different ways – Giving, Praying or supporting in other practical ways. We need to be accountable to them – are we using the resources given for the gospel for that very purpose. They deserve to know how we are doing, the challenges we are facing, the victories we are experiencing and what we might be looking forward to in the near future. The good thing about this is that it keeps you humble – aware of the need for others and your own need to report. Accountability keeps us from a worldly sense of independence [ I am self contained, I work with my own hands, I don’t need anybody] kind of thinking to a gospel-minded sense of inter-dependence [I can’t do it on my strength alone, I need others beside me, this is God’s work that he has called us to do as a community of believers] and it has massive character benefits. For this reason alone, even if nobody reads or replies to your prayer letters, keep writing them. Accountability is a discipline that won’t come naturally to all of us – it is learnt, it is cultivated and nurtured. Hence, the office might insist on so many prayer letters. But like all things discipline – it is not sweet at initial stages but when fully learnt, it has great benefits for the recipient.

Learning Point: Writing Prayer Letters is an important ministry discipline. Schedule a regular pattern of when to do them and even when you don’t feel like doing it – do it anyway. It is very humbling to look back prayer letters from years back and to see the Lord’s faithfulness over the years. Writing things down clarifies our thoughts and focuses our minds way better than a social media post.

Practical Partnership in Action. The last argument I will put in for prayer letters is that it is a practical necessity. This is by no means no less important than the other two but actually shows real value in doing regular prayer letters. Here I gather several reasons;
1)      My partners are encouraged to give – they may drop my support if I don’t send letters.
2)      My organisation requires me to do them. I am in trouble if I don’t.
3)      They help my readers to pray for my ministry, personal or family needs.
4)      They keep communication open as partners write back with encouragements.
5)      They offer a chance for my partners to give practical or technical advice on an issue.
6)      Other Christian workers may offer ministry advice when they read my letters.
7)      My letters could inspire others to join ministry or evangelize where they live.
8)      Regular writing lets me look back on events with new perspective.
9)      Writing openly and honestly keeps me accountable.
10)   Writing regularly causes me to evaluate my own spiritual progress.
11)   Prayer letters can inspire partners with interesting or humorous stories.
12)   They demonstrate God’s goodness, faithfulness and power.

Learning Point: Go ahead and do your prayer letters.  

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Raison d'ĂȘtre

 Critical needs that iServe Africa Seeks to meet
A new apprentice recently confronted me demanding to know the real reason why iServe Africa exists. I managed to get a few reasons together to his satisfaction but deep within I knew there was more to say than we could in that short moment. So, Omenda , here is a list of 12 [significant number?] reasons why you should stick through the programme for the [12!] months.
  • The need for ‘taster’ training. Many young people are not sure whether gospel ministry is for them. They need some elementary training and experience that would expose them to what it really means to be a Christian worker. iServe Africa is an ideal place to ‘test the waters’ before  further commitment in Bible School.
  • The youth are at a critical stage in their lives when they are exploring what they would like to do with their lives; it is therefore timely to help them develop a mission vision which will impact whatever they end up doing in life. The immense potential of the youth – full of energy, daring to explore new things, and often available. iServe Africa seeks to tap into this huge potential.
  • Africa is a youthful continent with some countries with over 50% of the population under 15 years old. iServe Africa is therefore a move to invest in the youth if we are to have a strong African Church and African mission in the future.
  • The need for faithful Bible teaching. This has been described as the most urgent need in Africa today. Through the Ministry Training Course (MTC) iServe Africa seeks to equip future leaders with basic Bible handling skills.
  • The challenge of Cross-cultural living. Most Young people grow up in mono-cultural contexts with no experience outside their own. iServe Africa offers opportunities for cross cultural living, helping break down stereotypes and develop social skills. This is especially helpful in fighting tribalism and other forms of ethnic prejudice prevalent in Kenya.
  • Many fresh graduates spend a long time before landing a first job. Such young people have a lot of free time and unfortunately it is not always spent productively. iServe Africa offer a structured way of spending a year out for Christ.
  • The need for trained gospel workers in Africa. This has been a great challenge due to lack of affordable training opportunities. iServe Africa’s Ministry Training Course is a low cost, easy entry and time sensitive programme that offers targeted training for practical use.
  • Young people are "adventurous" - They are interested in having new experiences and are keen to be involved in a variety of activities. Unfortunately there have not been structures in which this energy, skill and time can be properly channeled in much of Kenya. iServe Africa apprenticeships provide constructive adventure for the youth.
  • Churches especially in the rural areas are heavily deprived of resources. The work is huge but the churches cannot afford extra workers. An apprenticeship model is one solution to the problem of shortage of staff, not as cheap labour but as a win–win situation where both the church and the apprentice mutually benefit.
  • There is insufficient ministry to the youth and children in much of Africa. Many young people have become disillusioned and lost focus in life. Many turn to drugs and sects in their search for identity. iServe Africa sees sending workers to work with the young people as one possible intervention.
  • Local Mission: There is a notion that the African Church is thriving.  Many churches are full and this reinforces the impression that Africa is generally reached. As such, mission is not adequately emphasized in the typical church even large swathes of the continent are unreached with the gospel. iServe Africa seeks to encourage apprentices into mission.
  • World Mission: The African church is rising up to the challenge of world mission and slowly emerging as senders.  iServe Africa is a first step into further involvement in world mission. iServe Africa recommends apprentices for further involvement in world missions and exposes them to available opportunities.[1]
I think the list is not exhaustive. Any thoughts?

[1] iServe Africa Concept Paper, 2007. [unpublished]

Monday, 12 May 2014

Decent Dudes, Graceful Girls. [Part 1]

Decent Dudes, Graceful Girls.
From: Practical Medley @ MTC 3, April 2014.

In our day, there is so much casualness and familiarity that we can easily forget values that make for good human relationships. Here are a few that might help us to be better persons as well as live better with others....

Appreciate: Those all-time important words ‘thank you’ are indeed very important particularly if meant and well used. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Thank the cashier at the supermarket till  who serves you, the assistant who packs your shopping, the M-Pesa agent who attends to you, the conductor who gives you change, the passenger who lets you pass, the friend who calls you or that other person who....

Compliment: Appreciate positive traits in others in the right way. Over doing it is unhelpful, not doing it is mean. Learn to compliment in a simple, meaningful way. Detailed explanations in the name of compliments are a No No. But a simple appreciation of another’s piece of dressing is right. Be careful with cross-gender compliments as can be easily misunderstood to mean flirting. Know your limits. It is better to be quiet and clear than to compliment her short skirt and end up in a lot of trouble. Whereas it is good to see good things in others asking prices/availability is considered unwelcome in most circumstances

Smile: Nothing invites warmth of inter-personal relationships better than a good, well meaning smile. Culturally this might be something to learn as most of us do not grow up in smiling environments. A smile is an expression of joy within, not necessarily circumstances without. The good thing with a smile is when you give one; you normally get one in return [holding all factors constant]. Nevertheless, smile away. It calms anxious nerves, settles many arguments, says you value the other person and invites friendship. 

Scrub Up: Be a clean, neat and organised person. For some this comes naturally but for others [unbelievable as it sounds] it is a struggle/discipline. Besides the daily [twice a day?] shower, shave/remove all unwanted body hair.  Have good well maintained shoes. Please please take care of your feet. Smelly feet are uncomfortable things after dumpsites. The reason your feet smell is simple: Fungi or bacteria finding a warm place to thrive. The solution is equally simple – warm water and salt every evening, a good clean towel. Wash thoroughly and dry properly. It will also help a great deal if you have a spare set of shoes so that one pair rests while the other one is on the road. Socks must also be changed daily. Nothing is more embarrassing than having to remove shoes [as is the case in most houses] only for people to choke under your spell. Long nails are a NO NO for men as are unattended long nails for girls. 

Dress Well: Be sure to dress smart in clean decent clothes. No need to be expensive or flashy. Simple is fine – within your reach. Let them be neat, well pressed. Match your colours well so that we don’t have yellow trousers, pink shirts/tops and a blue jacket unless it is a themed event like a colour –clashing bash that you are going to. For gents, old fashioned as it sounds, have a wrist watch. It complements your gentleman look. For ladies, have that purse, clutch or handbag. It is difficult to talk about accessories and remain authoritative but I say keep it simple. Body piercings are still culturally off limits with the possible exception of earrings for girls. I would say tattoos are equally off limits IMHO. 

Smell Nice: Nothing endears/repels people more than smell. The sense of smell is probably the strongest and apparently it even has a memory of its own. Whatever you do, manage your sweat. We all sweat and we all have a unique odour – some are stronger [way stronger] than others. The difference is how we manage it. Have some deodorant/roll on. Be careful with strong perfumes that may affect others. If you must, wear the right perfume for the right occasion. 

Oral Health: Brush after every meal, for at least 2 minutes with a good brush. The dentist ordered a 45 degree angle between your teeth and the brush. Visit a dentist at least once a year [twice is recommended]. Floss – this is removing particles between teeth that your brush can’t remove. Be particularly careful with the tongue and give it a good scrub to get rid of bacteria. A mouthwash helps in eliminating bad odours and this can be done using a commercial product like Listerine or just a simple homemade solution of salt and water.

Conversation: Learn to engage people appropriately. Look at people in the eye but do not stare or gaze at them. Eye contact can be both threatening [who is the top dog here?] or endearing [I really honour and respect you, I am paying attention]. Please make sense in your conversation and aim for clarity rather than sophistication. The biggest part of conversation is probably learning to listen – even to things that you perhaps know better. Use suggestive rather than judgemental words. You might say – I wonder if, rather than I know or perhaps rather than, obviously or I think rather than I believe. The last one is especially helpful in faith discussions or bible study. Faith positions are understood to be final and can be conversation killers. Be careful with sensitive/touchy subjects like age, ethnic stereotypes, politics and religious/denominational/theological leanings. 

Feed your Mind: Get off that social media and get a life. Read a good book. Read newspaper articles. Two old comments from my days in education classes; education is the transition from an empty mind to an open mind, to be educated is not learning everything about something, but something about everything. Well, while you may not entirely agree with those statements, read widely. Read and know your Bible. Read Christian Books. Read fiction, oh yes, there is great value in appreciating art and creativity of others. Go beyond comprehension -analyse characters in books and movies. Go to the theatre to watch a production. Read newspapers. Subscribe to some journals. Follow blogs. Download talks on various subjects and interact with content. This will enrich your mind and broaden your perspective in life. 

Reflect: Put down your thoughts in a journal/scrapbook. We best understand what we write and humanity has known that since antiquity. There are no two ways about it – you have to write. Write odd poems, random thoughts, creative ideas, business plans, family trees, future plans. Write your sermons, bible study notes, anything. If you write for the consumption of others, blog. Put it out there. It does not have to be refined but write. Write to the editors. Write about your town, your area, your people. Social media maybe a good place but care needs to be taken so that it does not become a running commentary on your life. Too much of facebook/twitter may make one come across as idle or attention seeker. Your thoughts in private need to be kept as such.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Biblical Manhood - A Sermon Outline

ACK St. Mark’s Church, Kidfarmco.                                                                Sunday 27th April 2014.

Text: Genesis 1: 26 – 2 1- end,  Ephesians 5.22 -32

Introduction.  What is manhood today?

Simon – 36, is married with 3 children. He Loves football to bits – supports Arsenal. Comes along to church and encourages his family as well. An executive at his workplace. Does not mind serving but finds active church participation more of a woman’s ‘thing’. His wife, Patricia, leads the family devotions from time to time though she secretely desires for him to take the lead role in family worship. Simon is however adamant as he is not so secure in his knowledge of scriptures or songs or making the children attentive. He however supports her morally. Patricia is worried that he takes on too much resposibility for his relatives in the village. He is concerned that he does not own his own home in a good neighbourhood and is hence not living the Kenyan dream – 1 wife, 2 children, 3 Bedroom House, 4 wheeldrive, 5-Star holidays, 6 figure salary. 

Bernard is 44 married to Roslyn and they have 4 children all beyond primary school. He is struggling with his teenage children who seem to be drifting from church and one has openly abandoned the faith. He is a career civil servant and has risen through the ranks through discipline and hard work. Rosylyn, a career teacher has recently been promoted to head a local girls school. They both come along to church. Bernard however, has recently began to notice younger girls in his office, whose skirts appear to be getting shorter and shorter. He is not too happy with his achievements so far.His high school and college contemporaries have all had succesful businesses and even sent their children overseas for further studies. He loves Bible study and communion but longs for a different church experience. His commitment to Investment groups, Chamas, worries his wife.

John is 26 and recently finished his degree in IT. He is now working hard to develop apps for the android market and wants to fund his masters through selling mobile applications. He dreams to grow an IT empire and has a poster James Mwangi [Equity Bank] in his room. Although he is dating Angeline from the Church youth group, he is addicted to porn and cant get his eyes off the x rated sites. He confessed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in high school during a challenge weekend but now he is not too sure about it. He comes along to church, not least to meet Angeline, but also to obey his devoted parents. His mind however easily wanders off the sermon and into the girls around him. He longs for true obedience to Jesus and even confesses every time there is communion. At one point in college, he sought delieverance in a charistmatic revival meeting but his addiction still persists. 

Peter is a fatherly figure in church that everybody loves. He is in his late 60’s and inspires many in the church family, not only for his seemingly well managed family but also for his profesional and business career that he recently retired from. He is a leader of the men’s Bible study in his area and commands respect from everybody in the community. Sadly, he recently lost his wife, Hannah to breast cancer and this greatly shook his faith in God. After all those years of service, how could God be so unjust to take away Hannah from him? He cant stop asking himself what wrong he did to deserve the loss of his beloved wife. He is now wondering whether to re-marry or remain single for his remaining years. He worries about his eldest son, who is an alcoholic but many people do not know. He fears more about his own image than the welfare of his son. He is also worried about a corrupt land deal that saw him earn millions in commission that might come to the public soon. He justifies his actions in the sense  that he gave a good portion of the money to the church.

Which of the 4 gentlemen do you most identify with? None of them? 

Peter, John, Bernard and Simon is all of us.

1. The Creation Call
a. Imago Dei – Representation, Relationship and Responsibility Genesis 1: 26 ff
b. Created Equal but Different V 27. [A Helper – 2:18, 23]
c. ‘Blessed’ to multiply, increase, have dominion V 28.
d. Provided for V. 29 – 31, but also called to Work – Responsibility Chap 2 Verse 15.
e. Perfect Relationship – Naked but not ashamed. The beauty of the marriage covenant.

2. A Broken Relationship – The fall [Gen 3]
Result – Death in Relationship with God, each other and creation.
A Begining of blame game. Naked but now ashamed.
Curse – Pain, Suffering & Death in the world.
-        Strife in gender relationships > Your desire will be for your husband, he will rule over you. [Manipulation Vs Domination]. Who wins in the battle of sexes? Which man can resist the attraction of a woman? Which of us does not melt at the sight of curves, hemlines and wily smiles? Which woman can resist the attraction of power, wealth and influence?
-        Marriage became an exercise of power and control. This extended to culture and behaviour.
-        Perverted relationships – Polygamy, Homosexuality, Beastiality, fornication, Adulterly etc.
-        The Rise of Feminist Movement – 18th & 19th Century.
-        Men & Boys – An endangered species?

3. A Redeemed Relationship: Christ on the Cross.
Jesus came to redeem and restore all that sin has damaged and marred, including marriage.  Where we could not live out God’s plan for marriage, Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s standards.  Jesus loved the Church enough to die for her. He perfectly submitted to the plan of God the Father. Jesus is the complete and perfect fulfilment of God’s design.
-        Jesus’ counter-cultural view of women.
-        Early church’s inclusion of women in ‘ministry’.
-        Equality of status; difference of roles.

Marriage is designed  to be a visual representation of Christ’s relationship with his bride, the church (Ephesians 5).  God created men to lead and women to help.  From the moment our first parents chose to follow their own desires rather than obey God, sin entered the world and we’ve been seeking after our own way ever since. Sin destroyed God’s plan for marriage. Instead of seeking the good of one another, we demand our own way, seek after our own desires, and expect our spouse to give to us without us having to give anything in return.

Application: Christ the Redeemer of Godly, Biblical manhood and womanhood.
-        What shapes our manhood ideals – Mens Health, Business Daily, The Enterpreneur or The Bible?
-        Who are our heroes – Barrack Obama, [Chivalry] Wrestling Champions, Uhuru Kenyatta,  David Moyes, Arsene Wenger, Naushad Meralli, Chris Kirubi?

Christ Calls us to lead by loving - Sacrificial love. Ephesians 5
-        Love and Submission are to be understood as mutually exclusive/not dependent on @other.
-        Women thrive when men take on leadership.
-        An ongoing conversation.
1. Family leadership is a call to Love – love your wife, love your children.
2. Leadership is about Vision and Direction, not necessarily speed.
3. Leadership is not a call to exercise power but responsibility.
4. Roles are not superior or inferior – they are different. Perspectives. 
5. Christ restores broken human relationships. 

The ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is summarised in his 3 offices:
Offices of Christ
Application to the godly husband
Priest: Speaks to God on behalf of the people, offers sacrifices [His own perfect, once and for all sacrifice], is people’s mouth-piece before God.
Godly men will want to mirror a priestly role in the family. Leading the family in worship and intercession.
Prophet: God’s mouth-piece bears the word of God and delivers it to the people. He is indeed the word of God [John 1:1]
Husbands can mirror the prophetic function of leading their families in devotions, teaching the children in godliness [Eph. 6].
King/Prince – Christ was a ruler in the biblical sense of a leader, an arbiter [judge], a protector and provider for his people.
Men are called to head their families through sacrificial love as Christ loved the church. To provide, protect and lead as servants.

Closing Remarks: A call for faithful search and obedience to scripture.

The promise of a new heaven, a new paradise of God. Rev 22 when human relationships will be fully restored.

-        Harrison Mungai Macharia.

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