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 na├»ve 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?