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Endurance and the Lies we believe- Part 1

Endurance_Ken

May you be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. . .” Col. 1:11 [ESV]

I love how shocking Paul’s prayers can be especially when juxtaposed with our expectations. Having become used to prosperity preaching, we have come to expect prayers that revolve around having things and position – worldly things. So coming to this verse in the 1st chapter of Colossians is very shocking. Paul prays that the Colossian Christians would “be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might”. This is something we are automatically drawn to – I mean, who doesn’t want power?

I recently had Bible study with the women at church on Colossians 1:1-14 and they too responded to the place power has in our thinking and society. They pointed to power being about control and calling all the shots and how it was something to be desired in this capacity. Yet when we come to Paul’s prayer for strengthening with amazing God-strength, its use is not in calling all the shots and being in control, it’s about endurance! Now there’s a word we don’t really want to be associated with.

I don’t know about you, but endurance for me implies that there is going to be hardship or that I am in some way weak (especially if I am to be strengthened with power to endure). Hardship and weakness aren’t words that I want to be used to describe me or the Christian faith. In my mind, the Christian faith is meant to be easy and smooth. In my idealistic mind, I am strong. Yet the more I read the Bible and get to know myself, I realize that my view of the Christian life and myself are polar opposites to what God says. But our denial of our need to be strengthened for endurance doesn’t do us any favors. If anything it puts us at great risk – like failing to take heed of a tsunami warning. But what is it that keeps us from hearing this call to endurance? Fundamentally, it is an issue with poor or erroneous understanding of what God is saying in His Word. There are five ways I think this happens. But we will only look at two today.

Firstly, we have believed the lie that getting to the end (to heaven, as this is the context of Col. 1:11, see v. 12) is obvious. We have taken for granted that we will definitely endure. This I fear has to do with how poorly we were told the gospel message. We were told something like, “All you have to do is accept Jesus into your heart and you will get eternal life.” The problem with this is that it acts like a ‘get out of hell free card’ – having no present application but good to have for when we die. We think that heaven is ours because of a box we once ticked – like getting a vaccination shot that lasts our whole life and all we need is the certificate to prove it. But getting to heaven is not like that. Getting to heaven is a matter of continued faith and not shifting from the hope laid out for us in the gospel (Col. 1:23). This means that there are things that are going to try to move us from having a steady faith and hope in heaven. We need to be aware that getting to heaven is not obvious! It is something that must occupy our minds now, moment by moment.

Secondly, we have disregarded the foundation for this endurance, the gospel. We have believed in ‘other’ gospels that are not in fact the Christ-centered gospel that we believe in and by which we are qualified to get to heaven. There are many ‘Christians’ who have believed this line, “The message of the Cross is good for unbelievers and new believers. But mature believers move on from it to better things.” In seeking maturity, we have missed it because we have removed the very foundation we are to stand on and grow. This means that we have also counted ourselves out of the very end that this foundation promises – heaven. It is only as we stick to the Cross-centered gospel, steadfastly rooted in it, that we can get to enjoy the precious inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Endurance makes sense only when grounded in the Christ-centered gospel, other gospels have no place for it.

to be continued….

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Do you have the hope of heaven now? – Part 2

hope of heaven

Picking up from where we stopped in Part 1, let’s consider the second fundamental reason why Christians don’t occupy their minds with the hope of heaven now: our view of heaven has been wrongly informed. This has to do with feeding our minds with the wrong things, so that the picture of heaven we have is distorted and wrong. This happens in several ways.

Firstly, many people have fallen for the cartoon depiction of heaven – fat saints and angels seated on clouds playing harps. Having a wrong picture of heaven that falls far short of the real one means we cannot quite occupy our minds with heaven now, for it will not be heaven, as God has revealed it, neither will it work to bear any fruit in us! The heaven described by unbelievers – the pie in the sky, has no appeal and dissuades believers from occupying their minds now with heaven. Painting a picture of something boring_heaven.jpgundesirable and boring makes heaven look so ridiculous that there’s no point longing for it. In fact, although heaven as a destination would be preferred to its opposite, hell, the thing that is most to be desired, according to this narrative, is the ‘good’ life now! But does the journey make sense if we know not, nor delight in our desired destination? Doesn’t that always result in choosing a route that seems the most fun to us but that gets us to a different destination altogether?

Secondly, our hopes remain this world centered and not on God and His promise. The world is loud with its talk of “Your best life now”, that Christians have started believing it. This is the devil’s tactic to make us short-sighted. We are distracted by the loud false advertising of the enemy on how great life in this world is. We are tempted to ignore the still, small voice of God’s Spirit-breathed words that tells us of the true and sure promises God has fulfilled and will fulfill; great things that nothing in this world can compare to. We soon fall for the temporary, momentary pleasures instead of waiting for the better, eternal pleasures Yahweh has promised!

The third way the believer’s eyes are kept from the hope of heaven now is through the prosperity gospel . This, it has done in 2 ways. Firstly, it has pointed to this world as the chief place we should wait for and expect the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises. The prosperity gospel has taken promises Yahweh has made and rather than see that their ultimate fulfillment is in heaven, the world to come, has made it a ‘get-it-now’ thing. The proponents of this false gospel therefore join in the devil’s bandwagon of fixing the believers’ eyes squarely on this world and not on heaven. If I am living for my “Best life now”, why would I occupy my mind with a city to come?

The second way the prosperity gospel diverts the believer’s attention from heaven is by painting a weak picture of heaven. Whereas some are out to make heaven seem boring, the prosperity gospeller is out to make heaven all about ‘me’. Rather than heaven being the place Yahweh has made for His own glory and worship, it becomes the place for the ‘believer’ to get all that they want and have always desired. The focus of heaven becomes about having the biggest house, driving the grandest car and living the lavish life. Heaven is simply the fulfillment of all my selfish fleshly desires! It is not about the worship of God, the wonder of intimate relationship with Him (God dwelling with man), the joy of beholding the Lamb who was slain for us or the perfection of a world where perfect righteousness reigns. My preoccupation then becomes looking at what I deem the best things in this life so that I can want them for ‘heaven’. The focus now is therefore growing my envy and covetousness, not my faith or love or hunger for all that is God’s.

Fourthly, I think we have a big view of man and this creation and a small view of Yahweh. This is the result of some of what we have already discussed earlier: a poor knowledge of God’s Word, the blinding work of the devil and from hearing false gospels. But this is also an effect of sin. Right from Genesis 3, the great characteristic of sin is that we want to be God. We want to take His place of authority and rule and do not consider how foolish this endeavor is. Just as with the kings of the nations in Psalm 2 – God only laughs at our vain efforts! We still deceive ourselves of our grandeur and deny God His (what He deserves from us not what He has in Himself). This means we are preoccupied with building things for ourselves, failing to realize that these things will not in fact last to eternity. What we need instead is to despair of our own effort and look to the great God who promises to build us a righteous dwelling with Himself that lasts forever. We can be sure of it because Jesus died and rose again from the dead, the seal of the assurance of heaven!

Heaven_Glorious

Having a wrong picture of heaven means we know not the goodness, bigness, awesomeness and glory of heaven.

Having a wrong picture of heaven means we know not the goodness, bigness, awesomeness and glory of heaven. We know not the promise of its joys, the shine of its glory nor the beauty and safety of its walls. This means that we cannot then desire and long for it. Life now becomes a shadow of what it could be because we will focus on our selfish desires and not realize that it is those things that we prioritize now that will disqualify us for life in the real heaven of God – the kingdom centered in the Father and the Son! Consider the following verses from Revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (21:1-5)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.(22:1-5)

Aren’t these just amazing pictures of that which awaits those who hope in Jesus Christ? Is there anything boring about these pictures? Heaven, as described in these verses, is something I long for. It represents the removal and annihilation of all that I hate on this earth – sin, suffering, darkness, death. But more than that it represents the place where I will finally be able to worship God as He deserves to be worshipped. It is the place of perfect relationship with God, where I will finally be able to remain faithful as He is faithful. It will be the place of perfect, everlasting enjoyment! There will be nothing there to take away our joy and delight! I’m getting excited just thinking about it!

These things do sound out-of-this-world, no wonder it’s so hard to occupy our minds with them now. Yet, we would do well to think through what is keeping us from thinking of them now and seek the remedy. Let’s open our Bibles and ask God to help us hear Him speak clearly about what He is done, what He is doing and what He will do. Let us keep our eyes focused on what God is saying, discarding the lies that the devil will throw our way or the lures of the world and the lusts of our flesh. Let us learn to spend time filling our minds with the truth of what God has promised so that we might bear fruit in keeping with the hope we have – faith in Jesus Christ and a love for the saints!

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Do you have the hope of heaven now? – Part 1

hope of heaven

I’ve been spending some time in Colossians chapter one. After his introduction, Paul says something interesting about the Colossians, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,” (Col. 1:3-5, ESV). Paul in these verses, introduces us to a kind of equation we might not be familiar with. The gospel (the word of truth), tells us of a hope laid up in heaven for those who believe in Jesus Christ, and knowing this hope produces in Christians, faith in Jesus and love for all the saints.

Equation_Hope = Faith + love

But is that how it works for you? I’m not sure I always work through this process or think that the hope laid up for me in heaven is so important that it produces in me faith in Jesus and a love for fellow saints. When I talk to other Christians about what they think about heaven now, for many, it is a future reality that they do not think they need to occupy their minds with now. Yet heaven is a present reality, giving us a certain future hope that has a present manifestation as Colossians 1:3-5 makes clear: hope that bears fruit in faith in Jesus and a love for the saints. So, why don’t we Christians occupy our minds with heaven now?

I think that fundamentally there are 2 main reasons why we don’t occupy our minds with the hope of heaven now. One, is that our view of heaven has been wrongly informed. The second, that we have not rightly informed our view of heaven. Although these 2 reasons sound very similar they in fact point to different causes. It’s like saying that a person is unhealthy because he eats bad food but also because he does not eat good food. Both are similar but very different and valid reasons for the person’s unhealthiness. This is also true for the reason we have an unhealthy view of heaven. I will seek to elaborate on these 2 points in turn starting with the latter in this post and then the former in the next post.

For the rest of this post, I will elaborate on the second point: we have not rightly informed our view of heaven. This has to do with our knowledge of the Bible and what it says. Firstly, we do not know what our Bibles say. Despite living in one of the most enviable times in history, when owning a Bible for ourselves is possible and not counread-bible.jpgstly, we also live in one of the worst times in history for people to know exactly what their Bibles say. What a contradiction of terms! At a time when Bibles are being handed out left, right and center, there are fewer and fewer people who are actually opening them to read for themselves what God is saying. Unfortunately, we live in a time where laziness prevails among Christians in pursuing knowledge of the word of truth.

This then affects how people know the gospel of God and what He has done through His Son Jesus Christ. The grace of God in redeeming rebels and more to that, qualifying them for an inheritance in His perfect kingdom are truths shallowly understood and almost fully ignored. This poor understanding, bordering on complete ignorance means that the hope of heaven is not known, desired or longed for! How then can something unknown occupy our minds now, let alone begin to bear fruit?

“The good food we fail to feed ourselves with. .”

Secondly, I think we have not valued what God has revealed about His priorities. This is a step up from the last point but with the angle that those who are reading God’s Word are not reading it well. Instead of hearing what God, who is speaking, is saying about Himself (the main character in His book), we make is about ourselves. We have not believed God or learnt to love Him and His great plan. This means that our theology isn’t centered on Yahweh, His Work and His plan. What this then means is that heaven, the end that God is working towards, the very reason Jesus came into the created world to secure, is almost completely missed. You have to wonder at people claiming to know and love God when they have little or no idea what He says he’s all about and what He is working towards. This therefore means heaven is not given the attention it deserves in our minds and hearts and that means we cannot occupy our minds with it now.

These 2 points are the good food we fail to feed ourselves with when we consider building up our view of heaven. We should not only be opening our Bibles and reading them, but we should read them diligently to see what God is saying especially about the hope laid up for us in heaven. A taster of what the Bible has to say of what is laid up for us in heaven:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
    the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    the veil that is spread over all nations.
    He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:6-9)

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:17-19)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Doesn’t reading these verses make you long for heaven? It is only as we read these truths and meditate on them that we can begin to occupy our minds with heaven now and for it to begin to produce in us greater faith in Jesus Christ (who has secured all of it for us) and a love for others (with whom we will want to share heaven with).

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Endurance and the Lies we Believe- Part 2

Endurance 1

Back to where we left off. . .

The third thing we misunderstood is who exactly gets to heaven – not those who simply believe in Jesus Christ but who believe in His work. This I think might be the most shocking for many people who think they have secured a place in heaven. Many people have heard the gospel taught and out of fear of judgment have accepted that they need salvation and Jesus will do. But theirs is a kind of intellectual acceptance of the need for salvation from eternal judgment, not the conviction of the ever-present need to have a Savior who has done a necessary and lasting work, and who demands fruit in us from now on to eternity. Heaven isn’t for those who made one decision about accepting Jesus for salvation, but those who daily (even hourly) believe, boast in and remain anchored in Jesus’ powerful, once-for-all work on the Cross.

Part of this misunderstanding is also in disregarding that heaven is a reward not for lifting trophythose who started the race but for those who finish the race according to the rules! Heaven isn’t like the t-shirt you get at the beginning of a race, it’s the trophy enjoyed by those who finish the race according to the rules. There are those who might think that how we run this race doesn’t matter but it matters a lot! The Kenyan runner Elijah Kemboi got disqualified from a race in which he had a medal standing position because in the middle of the race he slipped and stepped outside the running track. In the end, it didn’t matter that he had run and positioned well, it mattered that he hadn’t run according to the rules! Heaven is therefore for those who persevere in the faith by sticking to the gospel of King Jesus – not simply whatever seems to work to get them to the end. A pragmatic man-made gospel is no gospel at all and it breaks the rules of the race. Be careful you are found clinging to the true gospel, running the race as is laid out in it.

Fourthly, we have misunderstood how we get to heaven. The way this world works tells us that mostly, we get what we earn. Unfortunately, a lot of people bring this understanding to the gospel of King Jesus (and then change it from being good news of grace). Some of us think that Jesus’s work is to cleanse some of my sin and then I work hard to get to heaven. Whereas I am advocating for the perseverance of the saints, this is all meant to be rooted in the work of the Father through the Son. Col. 1:12 goes ahead to tell us that we are to give “thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] for an inheritance with the saints in light”. We get to the end because of what God the Father has done for us in the work of God the Son. Our endurance is actually to persevere in this knowledge and assurance, being sure to let go and disbelieve any persuasion that says we get to heaven by any other means!

Fifthly, we have misunderstood what heaven actually is. We have too small a view of heaven. Many Christians have fallen for the comic strip depiction of heaven – saints and angels sitting on clouds playing harps. A good number of us see it as the boring end to what could be a fun life. This is why so many Christians have no qualms about the ‘You Only Live Once’ (YOLO) hashtag. We have spent little to no time getting a clear, Bible-centered view of heaven and therefore it is no surprise that we have not learnt to love, prize and long for heaven. It’s no wonder therefore that we will not work to endure. We only endure and wait with patience for what we believe to be precious and worth the wait.

So, now that we’ve looked at these 5 ways in which we misunderstand what God says about endurance, how can we begin fixing our understanding on endurance? I think we must begin by acknowledging that we lack the proper understanding because we cannot apply a lasting remedy to a problem we refuse to acknowledge. After this, we need to go to God in prayer and ask for His forgiveness of our ignorance and His help in helping us see and rightly understand what He is saying, in this case about endurance. We then go to God’s Word and spend our lives hearing what God is saying clearly and in context and learn from Him what we are to know and think and how we are to live our lives as pleases Him till we get to the end. This is a life-long work of storing up, chewing over, believing and living out the truth of what God says. It’s a work of endurance and steadfastness!

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Welcome to iServe Africa

 

 

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Thank you for visiting iServe Africa homepage.

We have lots for you.

You will find more about Raising future Gospel workers and how you could be part of this growing work.

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Book Review – The Reason for God

This is a Review by Margaret Achieng. Maggy is on the staff team of iServe Africa working with Gerald Mwangi managing our growing residential discipleship programme for high school leavers (TransformD).

Image result for the reason for god

During one of the Ministry Training Course, I decided to sit in in an apologetics session and that was where I began thinking hard about the topic. I honestly do not like reading sophisticated books or engaging in such conversations, probably because I don’t like thinking too hard; it is too much energy which I usually don’t enjoy. This excuse has often made me to avoid certain kind of books/authors/people in the past. After the session, the facilitator proposed that we read Timothy Keller’s book “The Reason for God (Belief in an age of skepticism)” as a way of helping us think more on the topic.  I decided to take up the challenge. I read the book during the Christmas holidays thinking it was going to turn out as I had always thought. To my surprise! This was actually the first Apologetic book I read and it turned out to be a very good one for a number of reasons.

First, I liked how Keller uses such simple language to explain this difficult topic that many tend to shy away from including myself. I found myself go from one chapter to another which is unlike me with many books. He uses very simple language that is very easy to understand which makes it a very encouraging read. His vast wealth of experience also helped me to be able to know how to answer some of the hard questions. The book felt like a conversation flowing very well from one argument to another. He uses some of the questions that different people have asked him and answers them in this book.

Secondly, the structure of the book is very clear. He has divided it into two big parts: “the leap of doubt and the reason for faith.” He deals with questions/doubts of faith in the first part and gives the answer/reason for the Christian Faith in the second part. Keller first begins by humbly admitting some of the historical mistakes/injustices that Christians have made. In his chapter “the church is responsible for such injustices”, he says, “Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality and must be addressed and redressed.”  He does not defend the church in its wrong-doing but helps the reader understand the right approach to Christianity from the Bible which he does much in the second part where he says: “Christians are people who let the reality of Jesus change everything about who they are, how they see and how they live”. It does not mean that Christians do not do wrong or commit sin but rather that they are called to make every effort to strive to live a holy life that is pleasing to the Lord. In doing so, he was able to battle with some of the big questions about God that some atheists have asked.

The church that Keller leads is in New York, one of biggest cities in the world with diverse people and who are well educated. A common aspect with such a literate society is that people are curious to know it all hence leading to lots of questions. Most of us, especially in our context, may not know how to engage with people when asked questions like “why do you believe in what you believe?” This could be because we think it unspiritual to question the things of God and as we have been brought up to think; questioning authority is rude, what they say is final! Yet David in most of his psalms asked questions when he was devastated and Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 says: “… always be prepared to make defence to anyone who asks of you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”. This is exactly what and how Keller does in his book, with gentleness and respect for other religions. However, Keller challenges his readers not to make others feel more sinful than they are, while they sound self-righteous, insensitive and harsh rather than humble, sensitive, loving and understanding as Christ is.

So what exactly does he address in the first part of the book? He examines the beliefs beneath the doubts/objections that people have in this day and culture concerning the Christian faith for example, ”How can God allow suffering?, “The church is responsible for so much injustice”, “how can a loving God send people to hell?” and the common claim by atheists “ there can’t be just one true religion?” Most of the time we never think about such questions but Keller grapples with them not to make us doubt our faith but rather to help us know the reason for God. This was really a good challenge for me and I think it will be for all Christians to want to get deeper in their faith and to ask ourselves those hard questions. Keller challenges believers to wrestle with their personal and culture’s objections of faith which will help them to hold their faith position with both greater clarity and greater humility. One thing that stood out for me is the fact that most people who doubt God is because of their background or their interaction with Christians.  In this first chapter, Keller also talks about other religions and their belief and how Christianity is different from them.

In the second part of the book, he gives reason for the Christian hope. Keller argues for where the Christian understanding comes from, he looks at what is wrong with man and how his wrongness/sinfulness can be fixed. In one of the chapters, he says to those who do not believe in the existence of God that “It is dishonest to live as if he is there and yet fail to acknowledge the one who has given you all these gifts.” That we all want to be acknowledged for what we have done or we acknowledge people when they work well and yet we want to deny God with all the clues we have of His existence.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed reading this book. I highly recommend it to all Christians especially those who struggle with the existence of God hoping that it will shed light to their doubts and give them reason to trust God as the ultimate creator. Though one has be careful when reading this kind of  book not to think it is the book/knowledge that will change their hearts hence the need for prayer and studying of God’s word for transformation. Also one has to been keen not to find themselves in unhelpful debate hence we should aim to say the good news of Jesus in clarity and joy trusting the Spirit will convict the hard hearts. It will also be very helpful to Christians who would want to be involved in such apologetic discourse.