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Self-care: Know your capacity and do all you can

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There is a fantastic book by J C Ryle called Christian Leaders which I’d put in my top five must reads. The meat of the book is a series of eleven biographical sketches of the key preachers of the eighteenth century revival in the UK – the days of George Whitefield and John Wesley.

One of the lesser known figures who Ryle sketches is James Hervey. The whole chapter is very well worth reading all through but what really struck me is how he was used by God despite his much lower physical capacity compared to some of his contemporaries.

Different capacities

Hervey was born around the same time as Whitefield and Wesley. Like Wesley (and many of the other revivalists) he was a clergyman before he was a Christian (still quite possible today). It was largely through the friendship, letters and sermons of Whitefield that Hervey was finally converted from self-righteous moralism to a joyful acceptance of the death and righteousness of Christ. He joined the small ranks of those who preached a humble, bold, plain, strong, glorious gospel that had been all but lost in England.

But while Whitfield and Wesley travelled tens if not hundreds of thousands of miles in their itinerant ministries, Hervey didn’t move far from his birthplace his whole life. While Whitefield and Wesley preached an absolutely astonishing number of sermons – sustaining a rate of around 1000 times a year for decades – it was all Hervey could do to preach once a week to his church.

Whitefield and Wesley were clearly given by God immense physical capacities. Ryle, speaking of Whitefield says:

“One cannot but stand amazed that his mortal frame could, for the space of near thirty years, without interruption, sustain the weight of…long-continued, frequent, and violent straining of the lungs… Who… would think it possible that a person… could speak in a single week, and that for years, in general forty hours, and in very many weeks sixty and that to thousands; and after this labour, instead of taking any rest, could be offering up prayers and intercessions, with hymns and spiritual songs, as his manner was, in every house to which he was invited.”

In contrast Hervey:

“Willing as he doubtless was to go forth into public and do the work of an evangelist, like his beloved friend Whitefield, his delicate health made it quite impossible. From his youth up he had shown a decided tendency to pulmonary consumption [T.B.]. He had neither voice nor physical strength to preach in the open air, address large congregations, and arrest the attention of multitudes, like many of his contemporaries. He saw this clearly, and wisely submitted to God’s appointment. Those whom he could not reach with his voice, he resolved to approach by his pen. From his isolated study in his Northamptonshire parish he sent forth arrows which were sharp in the hearts of the King’s enemies.”

Doing what he could

Notice – he wisely submitted to God’s appointment. He accepted his physical capacity. But that didn’t mean he resigned himself to uselessness or used his lack of capacity as an excuse for laziness. He looked at what he was able to do – write for the kingdom – and he set himself to write books (to reach the public) and letters (to reach individuals) packed with the doctrines of grace.

“Delicate and weak as he always was, his pen was very seldom idle, and he was always doing what he could. The work to which he devoted himself required a large measure of faith and patience. He laboured on uncheered by admiring crowds, and unaided by the animal excitement [adrenalin] which often carries forward the wearied preacher. But while health and strength lasted he never ceased to labour, and seldom laboured in vain. Hundreds were reached by Hervey’s writings, who would never have condescended to listen to Whitefield’s voice.”

And like all good writers he was a great reader – especially eating up the works of the Puritans (the seventeenth century evangelicals).

“The ways of God’s providence are mysterious and truly instructive. If Hervey had not been kept at home by ill health, he would probably never have had time for much reading. If he had not had time to be a reader, he would never have written what he did.”

When Hervey did preach he made it count:

“The published sermons of James Hervey are very few in number. It is much to be regretted that we have no more of them. The few published are so extremely good, both as to matter and composition, that one feels sorry he did not give the world a hundred more of the same sort. Of course, he could never be a popular preacher. His weak health, feeble voice, and delicate constitution, made this impossible. He often lamented his inability to serve his people better in the pulpit, comparing himself to a soldier wounded, bleeding, and disabled, and only not slain. He would frequently say, “My preaching is not like sending an arrow from a bow, for which some strength of arm is necessary, but like pulling the trigger of a gun ready charged, which the feeblest finger can do.” This remark was most true. But [despite the lack of striking delivery his sermons] were always full of excellent stuff, excellently put together.”

What Hervey’s physical weakness could not prevent was his holiness, generosity, kindness and gentleness. In fact, as with the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 4:7-11; 12:7-10) his weakness accented the grace and power of God and, mixed with the gospel, produced a beautiful humility.

“He never considered himself as James Hervey, the celebrated writer, but as a poor guilty sinner, equally indebted to divine grace with the lowest day-labourer in his parish. To two malefactors condemned to be hanged, he said: “You have just the same foundation for hope as I must have when I shall depart this life. When I shall be summoned to the great tribunal, what will be my plea, and what my dependence? Nothing but Christ. I am a poor unworthy sinner; but worthy is the Lamb that was slain. This is my only hope, and this is as free for you as it is for your friend and fellow sinner James Hervey.” On publishing his famous Fast-day Sermons, he observes: “May the Lord Jesus himself, who was crucified in weakness, vouchsafe to work by weakness, or, in other words, by James Hervey!” When near his death he wrote to a friend: “I am fearful lest I should disgrace the gospel in my languishing moments. Pray for me, the weakest of ministers and the weakest of Christians.”

In fact he did not in any way disgrace the gospel in his death. It’s a feature of Ryle’s Christian Leaders (and of many of the old Christian biographies) that he devotes several pages to the final hours of each man’s life. The point comes through clearly that these guys died well. For Hervey in particular his physical weakness had been a preparation for this passing to glory:

“His life had long been a continual struggle with disease; and when his last illness came upon him, it found him thoroughly prepared. Invalids have one great advantage over strong people, at any rate a sudden accession of pains and ailments does not startle them, and they are seldom taken by surprise. The holy rector of Weston Favell [Hervey’s parish] had looked death in the face so long that he was no stranger to him; and when he went down into the cold waters of the great river, he walked calmly, quietly, and undisturbed. Those glorious evangelical doctrines which he had proclaimed and defended as truths while he lived, he found to be strong consolations when he died.”

Where he died at the age of 45 these were some of his last words (from Psalm 73:26):

“Though my heart and my flesh fail, God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.”

 

Lord God give us grace to follow Hervey in his love for Christ and for others, his heavenly mindedness and earthly usefulness, his deep appreciation of the doctrines of grace and of his own weakness, his acceptance of his physical limitations but also his selfless labours with all the strength that you did give him.

Amen

 

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By Scripture Alone (with the church, experience and common sense)

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One of the big things we celebrate today – 31 October 2017 – Reformation Day – is the rediscovery of the Word of God as the supreme rule of life and doctrine.

Scripture Alone

The Reformation was a question of authority but it was also a question of freedom and life. To exist with anything else as your ultimate guide is to be enslaved to a harsh and unstable master who cannot give you life. Only the Truth sets you free. Only from the mouth of God are the words of eternal life. Only the Word is the powerful seed that brings a hundred-fold harvest.

  • As Martin Luther came to see, the church of God had been enduring a long captivity to itself – a bondage to the rules of men which was nullifying the Word of God and obscuring the grace of God in Christ (Mark 7:1-13). He saw himself as cutting through an overgrown thorny thicket of tradition to get back to clear pure Word of God.
  • As for our hearts, passions, emotions, Luther saw clearly that they were utterly wicked and deceitful, a source in themselves only of filth (Mark 7:14-23). He certainly wouldn’t have had a lot of time for the modern obsession with ‘following your heart’ or judging everything by our experience of ‘what works’ or waiting for an ‘inner voice’ before we do anything – that is slavery to ourselves. The Bible is where we hear God speak.
  • Also reason, which Luther saw as the highest of human faculties, is deeply corrupted (Rom. 1:21). Luther personified human thinking as ‘Madam Reason’ a prostitute who leads humanity staggering astray, intoxicated by thoughts of our own brilliance. Only in Scripture did Luther find light piercing the darkness of the human condition, “assertions more sure and certain than life itself and all experience” (Bondage of the Will).

Praise God then that five centuries years ago, like King Josiah 2000 year before them (2 Kings 22), many men and women in Europe (you can read the stories of 31 of them here) rediscovered the Word of God – life-giving liberating saving divine truth. As these neglected ancient pages were read and translated into the vernacular and unfolded in pulpits across Europe, the face of God was seen (2 Cor. 3:15-4:6) and the voice of God was heard (1 Thess. 2:13).

That’s why the Bible is central to all we do at iServe Africa and to the apprenticeship experience. We want to be reading and feasting on the Bible. We want to be praying Bible prayers. We want to be preaching through the Scriptures and helping each other do that as faithfully and winsomely as possible. We want our training programme to be guided by and full to bursting with the Scriptures. We want the Bible to be getting into our hearts, flowing through our veins, changing our priorities and vision of God, ourselves and the world.

Scripture Alone is never alone

We need to be careful of a misunderstanding here. When the reformers 500 years ago declared ‘Sola Scriptura’ they were not saying that the Bible was the only source of all that can be known (a non-Christian scientist can discover something true about the universe). They were talking specifically about salvation through Christ alone by grace alone. This gospel cannot be discovered by human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:21). Salvation is revealed by Scripture alone, top down.

Also, they were not saying that Scripture is the only authority. They were saying that it is the ultimate authority. This is very important. ‘Sola Scriptura’ meant that all other legitimate authority (particularly church authority) is a delegated authority exercised under and in conformity with and through the Word of God. Scripture is to be the ‘norming norm’ (the rule by which all other creeds and claims are tested and corrected); the transformer and undergirding of all power relationships; and the sanctifier of all areas of life and sources of truth.

This is very important because it means that there is still a place – an important place – for the church, our experience and for common sense.

  • The Bible itself lifts up the church as the centre of God’s plan and the apple of his eye (Eph. 1-3; Zech. 2:8). The church is God’s mission agency. The church is where we are to grow together in Christlikeness (Eph. 3:18; 4:12-16). The letters of the New Testament are almost all written to churches with the ‘you’ being a plural (nyinyi) not to individual Christians. That’s why iServe Africa loves to partner with local churches and serve the local church and connect apprentices to local churches where they can be nurtured and grow and experience mutual blessing.
  • The Bible itself points us to experience as key to Christian growth. Timothy was tested and proven through practical service on the field with Paul (Phil. 2:22). Paul himself talks about the intense trials he endured forcing him ‘not to rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead’ (2 Cor. 1:9). Then he talks of how he was given a painful lingering trial ‘to keep me from becoming conceited’ (2 Cor. 12:7). These are things that you cannot learn in a classroom. Paul knew his Bible extremely well but he needed physical experiences to push his heart into a deeper practical experience of his own weakness and God’s great grace. He needed to be humbled. This is why the practical service component of iServe Africa is so crucial. You can do Bible studies on servant leadership but it’s all theory until you actually get on the ground and have to serve under less-than-perfect leadership and experience the rising indignation in your heart and have to wrestle with pride and submission. There, in the rough and tumble of human relationships, that is the crucible where the Lord will work on you to make you more like the Son. Certainly the Bible-work is essential. Without that we won’t be able to interpret our experiences and will just react to suffering in a natural human way. But the experience is also vital. Together – word and experience – is a powerful change greenhouse.
  • And finally the Bible also leaves room for sanctified common sense. God has given us a mind and he wants us to use it. Certainly human wisdom and rational thought can never reach out to God but there is such a thing as common sense and sometimes the children of the world have more of it than the children of light. Proverbs is full of it. For example, it is not faith to continue in a business venture that is clearly failing, imagining that tomorrow God will bring a breakthrough – that is foolishness (Prov. 22:3; 28:19). Luther, despite his mocking of Madam Wisdom, was perfectly happy to use common sense logic arguments throughout his writings and would often give his friends very earthy practical wisdom. At iServe Africa, we try to clear away some of the mystical and super-spiritual nonsense that clouds our thinking and to give apprentices some useful wisdom and practical ministry skills.

So at iServe Africa we want to be people of one book – the Word of God – and that very book sends us to the church, out into the world to serve and grow, and to common sense.

If you’re a fresh graduate and want to be part of the iServe Africa apprenticeship programme then why not apply for our December/January intake.

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God’s Big Picture

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Book review by current iServe Africa apprentice Onesmus Onyango:

A lot of us struggle to point to Jesus from the Old Testament. In that regard this book has been one of the most mind-blowing inspirational resources I have ever found!

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. (Matt. 5:17)

Many people only see Jesus and salvation in the New Testament from the point where the gospel writers describe His birth. I am one of these people who many times read the Old Testament but only see Him perhaps in the prophecies. The truth of the matter is that God’s rescue mission is a predestined agenda that He laid before the foundation of the earth. He is all knowing. The animal skin used to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness is a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice who is Jesus Christ who will be slain to cover man with His righteousness.

Vaughan Roberts clearly starts by drawing the picture in our mind of how God will completely unify the whole creation back to Himself through Christ Jesus who was from the creation of the universe (Col. 1:15-20). Jesus did not come in the New Testament, He was in the beginning with God (John 1:1).

The Bible is a chronology of the supremacy of God’s kingdom and the unfolding of the perfect salvation that is only found in Christ Jesus. Roberts tries to envision Christians with an overview of how different parts of the Bible hold together and point to the ultimate agenda of God, to bring man to Himself. I think this is one of the points that we mostly tend to miss out as Christians and Bible ministers. He brings out very clearly that you cannot segregate different sections of the Scriptures but they are linked one to another and must be handled as a whole. My tendency to always treat different parts of the Bible as ‘stand alone’ portions has been diminished by reading this book.

I was also helped to get a wider picture of God’s big picture of making His creation a perfect creation with its completeness in His Son Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). The final new creation will be even more glorious than the original pre-fall creation (Rev. 21-22). The resurrection body will be more glorious even than the natural body created in God’s image and likeness (1 Cor. 15:4-49). And this perfection will only come through the God-man Jesus Christ, his blood and resurrection.

The Bible study questions that are inscribed at the end of every chapter of the book are really helpful to drive home the insights of the book. They also clearly prove that Roberts is not talking words from his own mind but they are supported from the Bible; you can see these things for yourself from the Scriptures.

I recommend this book for anyone with a vision and passion to let Christ be known. It will help you point to Him as the great means and ultimate end of the kingdom of God. It will help you see and speak of God’s big picture which is to see everyone come to have a total communion with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. You read it once; you will still have the urge to read it again. The book has been helpful to me and even helps me prepare sermons for Sunday school telling the children the importance and need to have Christ in their lives.

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Training Wednesdays 2017-18

Reloaded

We’ve started a new year of special weekly training sessions with the second year apprentices, extending and stretching on faithful Bible handling, gospel theology, servant leadership, engaging other cultures and practical ministry skills. Here are some resources from the first few sessions:

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TransformD recruiting now!

Pioneer TrannsformD team 2017

TransformD is the newest programme in iServe Africa. It is a six-month residential aimed at transforming the lives of high school leavers between the ages of 18 and 21 years into Christ-centred individuals who are:

  • Devoted to the Word
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Disciplined in following Christ
  • Dependable in Christian ministry
  • Deployable to do good works among others

Interested in joining yourself or sending your child or a young person you care about?

Basic requirements:

  • Single man or woman between 18 and 21 years of age.
  • Christian with living faith.
  • Fresh from high school.
  • Keen to serve and grow.

There is only one intake every year starting from January: BOOK YOUR PLACE NOW!!!

If you need more information or help filling the form, please contact us.

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4 patterns of master-slave relations

Here are 4 different models of interaction between masters (leaders) and slaves (employees):

Oppressive master and submissive slave

This tends to be the pattern in settled traditional societies and modern totalitarian societies. Hierarchy is strong – the pyramid model. Those at ‘the top’ very much see themselves as ‘above’ others and those at the bottom know their place and submit. Leaders are dictators who cannot be questioned, ‘big men’ who make harsh demands and place heavy burdens on the people ‘under’ them, accumulating resources, power and status for themselves (1 Sam. 8:11-14; Neh. 5:15; Eccl. 5:8-9). In this model, leadership is the privilege and power to make things better for yourself. It is certainly not servant leadership. This pattern ‘works’ in a sense in that people often want a ‘big man’ in charge and there is a kind of peace and stability but because the rulers and bosses are driven primarily by self-interest there is a lot of corruption and nepotism, projects are rarely completed efficiently, creativity is stifled and the vulnerable and peripheral sections of society are neglected or oppressed. An ugly model.

Oppressive master and rebellious slave

This tends to be the pattern in societies that are undergoing change – times of economic, social or political turmoil (e.g. the UK in 1381, France in 1789, Russia in 1917, the US in 1967). The older generation continues to demand respect and subservience and clings to the levers of power. The working/under class (and/or middle class) are fed up with this and revolt, refusing to respect their leaders, demanding equal rights, by force if necessary. In this situation, the slave actually becomes a mirror of the master – both become proud, forceful and demanding. As many have noted these sort of revolutions tend to end up not with a dismantling or subversion of the power hierarchy but a simple replacement of one ruling class with a new ruling class who operate in the same oppressive way. Yesterday’s oppressed slave becomes today’s oppressive master. Another alternative is that there is not full scale revolution or at least not a successful one. In this case things continue in a state of bitterness and conflict, unhappy workplaces, unhappy families, political tension. An ugly model.

Servant leader and rebellious slave

This tends to be the pattern in societies that have been heavily influenced by the gospel and a Christian worldview for many years. It is also possible in individual Christian organisations and gospel ministries. Here the truth of equality before God is taken for granted. Hierarchies are flattened. The expected and culturally acceptable model of the master has become someone who is not proud or full of himself or self-seeking but who values and involves colleagues, invests in people, makes decisions collaboratively and shares credit. However, the slave in this model is not humble. He doesn’t address the boss in a respectful way. He is unwilling to take orders or even advice. He is not grateful for the servant leadership and care of his master but takes it as his right and insists on ever more rights. He takes advantage of the lack of micro-management or harsh demands to be lazy and sloppy in his work. An ugly model.

Servant leader and submissive slave

This is the beautiful biblical model. The master is a truly gospel-humbled person who sees himself not as ‘the big man’ but as a little child (Psalm 131). He fears God and exercises his authority for the genuine building up and flourishing of those who have been entrusted to him (2 Sam. 23:3-4; 2 Cor. 10:8). Like the Son of Man, this leader seeks not to be served but to serve his brothers and sisters. And the employees, younger people and those who are being led, do not take advantage. They also seek to serve and work hard, with all their heart, for the Lord, even when they are not being supervised (Col. 3:22-23). In their speaking and obedience they graciously submit themselves to their elders and give full respect to the authority over them (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 5:5a). In this model there is humility on both sides (1 Pet. 5:5b). Conflict can be resolved, creativity can be unleashed, leadership can be exercised and the whole body built up in love.

 

Related resources:

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Kanisa ni nini?

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It’s an important question. If we are looking for a faithful church to be part of. If we are looking towards being involved in pastoral ministry. If we are wanting to be good members and servants of our church week by week. We need to know how to approach this thing which is the centrepiece of God’s eternal plan, the bride of Christ, the agent of mission, the great means of grace and growth for God’s children.

There are various different ways to express the key marks of a healthy, biblical, God-honouring church. Tony Merida a pastor a trainer in the Acts 29 network gives the following in Nature, Marks and Purpose of The Church:

  1. Headship of Christ
  2. Rightly appointed leaders equipping the saints for ministry
  3. True believers
    1. gathering regularly
    2. worshipping
    3. hearing the gospel of Christ preached [see Merida, Christ-Centered Expository Preaching – Merida]
    4. receiving the sacraments rightly administered
    5. under the exercise of church discipline

To these Merida adds that the Nature of the church is ‘called out’ people and the great Goal of the church is worship (to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light) which will happen as people from all nations are brought to the joyful worship and obedience of disciples (the great commission).

A somewhat overlapping list of marks is given by Mark Dever in his Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. His emphasis is not so much on the essential nature of the church but on those aspects of church practice which are most in danger of being lost in the contemporary church:

For a short explanation of each mark with Bible references and a video see the 9Marks site. Dever has also floated a possible tenth mark – Church that is outward-looking.

iServe Africa does not seek to be a church or take the place of a local church or distract from the local church. Rather iServe Africa seeks to serve and partner with local churches. Pray with us for the churches of Kenya and for our pastors. Pray for faithful Bible teaching and servant leadership in our churches. Pray for a concern for the lost and for leadership development. Pray for spiritually healthy churches and spiritually healthy members.