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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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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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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.

Browse more on:

Apprenticeship Program (Fresh Graduates)

TrasformD Program (High school leavers)

Partnerships (Joining hands with us)

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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.

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The virtue of stability (in life, in ministry, in Christ)

There is a time for transition. In fact there is a lot of transition in life and in Christian life and ministry in particular. However, it is not completely true to say that ‘all of life is transition’. We function best as humans when we have times when we are settled in one place or at least clear of our direction and what our work is rather than just in constant flux and indecision. The Apostle Paul was always on the move but he did know his task very clearly (Acts 20), and if you read the book of Acts carefully you find that he was often settled somewhere for a few weeks, months or even years. So here is something in praise of non-transition…
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Stable

We live in a culture where stability, stick-ability and consistency are not really seen as virtues but disabilities. We told that it’s good to be flexible, agile, constantly shifting, morphing, evolving, jumping from one thing to another. Everyone offers us change – politicians, internet providers, management gurus. To stick with one thing, to be the same person yesterday, today and tomorrow is strange, boring, old-fashioned, impractical and probably deadly. Change becomes the new constant, flux and flex the new buzz words.

That culture affects us personally and as churches. And there are some things about willingness to change (reformation?) that are hugely positive. But there are negative aspects to this kind of constant instability. Is it good for customers and companies if employees change jobs every year? Is it good for children if their parent switch their schools as often as their Facebook profile photo? Is it good for pastors to change churches every two years? If I am ‘re-branding myself’ who really am I?

And then we might notice how in business, politics and social networks, my word is no longer my bond, because I’ll almost certainly change my mind or circumstances will change – I’m afraid I won’t be able to do what I originally said I would do. If I say I’ll come to your event that commitment is contingent. It is …unless things change …unless something (better) comes up. This shadow of instability starts to fall over even the most serious promises like marriage vows. The idea of committing to a person or a church or an organisation or a job for any serious length of time sounds strange to the Z generation. Surely better to simply ‘Like’ with the ever-present option of ‘Unliking’. And when I’m actually in church I might find that even here there is a chasing after one gimmick and church growth strategy after another, one conference or best-seller or speaker, blown about by every wind.

I’ve been struck recently by 2 Corinthians 1:12-22. Paul starts by talking about the consistency of his life (v12-17) which moves into him talking about the consistency of his words (v17-19) which moves into him talking about the consistency and sufficiency of Christ Himself and identity in Him (v19-22).

Life (v12-17). Paul is one person all the time – ‘simplicity and godly sincerity’ – he is straightforward. ‘Earthly wisdom’ says “Don’t commit, move with the times, stay flexible and unattached, be a cultural chameleon, have a different face for different people, work people, manipulate.” In contrast the grace of God says, “be consistent, be one thing, be who you are in Christ, a child of God.” Earthly culture is continually changing plans and going back on commitments and promises as better things come up. Paul was accused of that (v17) and he is desperate to clear himself of the charge – “I don’t say Yes, Yes and No, No at the same time – I don’t have my cursor hovering over the “Unlike” or “Edit” icons – I do what I say.” In a culture where we see so much vacillating (and maybe this is a particularly intense problem for those of us in the younger generation) this is a challenge to simplicity, stability and stickability in life.

Words (v17-19). Paul has already started talking about his words in general and now in verse 18 he starts talking about ‘the word (logos) of us’, meaning his message, his preaching. It seems Paul didn’t jump around from one topical series to another following whatever was trending in the culture. As he lived a singular life he had a singular message – ‘the Son of God, Jesus Christ’ (v19). If you went to listen to Paul preaching you could guarantee 100% that you would hear about Jesus Christ. (Can that be said of our preaching ministry?)  Why did Paul and his co-workers keep on preaching Christ? Verse 20: “For all the promises of God find their yes in him”. The Bible is not a promise box – it is a book of promises that find their fulfilment in him. Not a whole bunch of disconnected promises but a load of lines all converging on one Person. So Paul, Silas, Timothy, didn’t open the Scriptures and preach promises of overflowing barns and vineyards and success and riches and the good life – they preached the fulfilment of the promises: the Christ who is good, who is the riches, who is life. So there was a stability to their ministry and it’s focus.

Christ (v19-20). I all comes down to the stability of Christ himself. When the mountains and sky have fled away he will be there in all his eternal, unchangeable, dazzling glory. All the promises of God have been fulfilled in him and he has died and risen and will never die. And wonderfully God has ‘established’ (lit. made firm) us ‘in Christ’. Our lives are hidden in the most stable thing in all eternity. Not only that we have been ‘anointed’, ‘sealed’, ‘given the Spirit’ as a ‘guarantee’ – all words expressing the same reality of the Spirit’s closing us into the security of Christ, words of great firmness and comfort about our true identity.

Now if you have an identity like that you don’t have to be constantly vacillating, trying to please everyone, trying to be a cultural chameleon, trying to get an ‘edge’ or ‘leverage’. You have that stability in Christ to be one thing and preach one thing and stick at that.

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A call to spiritual reformation

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When we’re thinking about reformation we can easily focus exclusively on the ministry of the Word and forget the desperate need for prayer – or rather the desperate need for God expressed through prayer. In one of the best books available on the subject of prayer, Don Carson shows us how Word and Prayer go inseparably together. iServe Africa apprentice Ann Mwari reviews this must-read book.

A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and his prayers

D.A. Carson writes “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” with the aim of working through several of Paul’s prayers so as to help us hear God speak to us today and find strength and direction to improve our praying, both for God’s glory and for our good.

The writer begins by highlighting the urgent need of the Church – the need to have a deeper knowledge of God. He argues that one of the foundational steps in knowing God and one of the basic demonstrations that we know God, is prayer  – spiritual, persistent, biblically-minded prayer. In chapter one, the writer cites some of his Personal Lessons from the School of Prayer. This is followed by The Framework of Prayer in chapter two, focusing on 2nd Thessalonians 1:3-12. The writer gives Paul’s framework, majorly thankfulness for signs of grace and confidence in the prospect of vindication. In chapter three he highlights some worthy petitions made by Paul in 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-12.

In chapter 4 the writer brings out the aspect of Praying for Others, which is followed by A Passion for People in chapter 5 (1st Thesssalonians 3:9-13). The writer then gives the content of A Challenging Prayer in chapter 6, based on Colossians 1:9-14. In chapter seven and eight he gives some real life Excuses for Not Praying and helps with Overcoming the Hurdles (Phil. 1:9-11) respectively.

Chapter 9 of the book explains the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, highlighting the need to pray to him with the view of His sovereign yet very personal nature. This is extended in Chapter 10 (Praying to a Sovereign God) with much focus on Ephesians 1:15-23. In chapter 11, Carson helps us understand how to Pray for Power based on Ephesians 3:14-21. Surprisingly (compared to what we might think we need power for), this power is meant to help us grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ. Finally, he highlights on how to Pray for Ministry focusing on Romans 15:14-33.

These detailed yet clear explanations of some of Paul’s prayers have been helpful to me on understanding how to pray biblically. Besides explaining how to use the Scriptures to pray, the writer has also highlighted some excuses we use for not praying and given a few remedies for this lethargy. This is very helpful for the Church today, where most of us can talk about prayer and even read books on prayer yet still fail to pray.

This book contributes to meeting the need to grow into a deeper knowledge of God through a Biblical life of prayer. Therefore, I recommend it to every Christian, for growth in the knowledge of God and consequently in prayer.

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Building a RAFT: transitioning well

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I don’t know if it’s a good idea to write this post when I’m going through transition myself… Or maybe it’s the perfect time to remind myself of these things… Anyway, here goes…

 

When Duncan Olumbe led an excellent session for us at the September ministry training course on transition, there was one thing that he mentioned but didn’t have time to go into detail on: building a RAFT.

The idea of building a RAFT comes from the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds but it’s applicable to anyone moving on, whether adults or children, mzungus or East Africans. The basic plan is Reconciliation-Affirmation-Farewells-ThinkDestination. It’s not only practical and proven but it also fits well with the pattern and teaching of the apostle Paul, someone who certainly knew what it was to go through a lot of transitions.

Reconciliation

Deal with conflict before you leave. Forgive and ask for forgiveness. We can easily sweep conflict under the carpet. Particularly when we are leaving it’s very tempting not to bother dealing with unresolved issues. But 2 Corinthians is a letter that testifies to the great desire of the apostle Paul for reconciliation.

Over the years things had become increasingly tense between Paul and the Corinthians. There were misunderstandings and hurts (2 Cor. 1:17), there were painful visits and painful letters (2 Cor. 2:1; 7:8). He could easily have given up on them and walked away but Paul’s whole letter (which we call Second Corinthians) is a heartfelt attempt to bring about reconciliation in advance of his third visit so that it will not be another painful one (2 Cor. 7:2; 13:10). He finishes in 2 Cor. 13:11 with a bunch of quick fire exhortations: a) rejoice (joy and bitterness cannot co-exist); b) aim at restoration (literally to ‘mend what is broken’); c) agree with one another (share the mind of Christ); d) make peace (take the initiative to concede, cease fire and instead cultivate, live and speak peace), finishing off his sentence with the great empowering promise that ‘the God of love and peace will be with you.’

Above all this, the most important thing that Paul does in seeking reconciliation is to affirm his love for the Corinthians…

Affirmation

Throughout 2 Corinthians Paul affirms his love for the Corinthians in the strongest possible language. “I do not love you? God knows I do!” (2 Cor. 11:11). He explains that the reason he wrote the hard letters that he did was out of “the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Cor. 2:4). He says that if you could look at his heart you’d find the Corinthians engraved on it (2 Cor. 3:2). He is desperately concerned for their spiritual life – if they are going well he is overjoyed, if they are drifting away he is gutted. He has the concern of a betrother (2 Cor. 11:2) and the love of a father (2 Cor. 12:14-15). The whole letter is dripping with love.

We talked the other day in a second year class at iServe Africa about this passage and the different ways in which we can affirm love for one another. And we saw that there are a lot of cultural aspects to this. Paul commends a ‘holy kiss’ (2 Cor. 13:12) whereas we might have other non-verbal means of affirmation more appropriate in our cultures – e.g. giving and receiving of gifts or preparation and eating of food (we affirm love for our mother by eating a big plate of her food) or visiting and receiving a visit. Then there are indirect verbal ways of affirming one another – e.g. taking greetings from someone to someone else or publicly praising someone to someone else or associating ourselves with someone in affirmation of their ministry (you see Paul doing all these often at the end of his letters e.g. Romans 16).

But on top of all these is the (counter-cultural) example of the Apostle Paul to actually directly verbally affirm love for one another. Someone in our discussion at iServe pointed out that it is usually the congregation who affirm their love for their pastor not the other way around. But here the Apostle is saying directly and repeatedly (in writing) to the Corinthians that he loves them. [Note to self: remember to write emails, cards, messages.]

Farewells

Paul’s letters always end well – with a grace-filled prayer of gospel blessing – e.g. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Cor. 13:14)

Closure is important. When you write an email it is good to sign off in appropriate way. If there is no greeting and sign off then we wonder whether you’ve hit ‘send’ by mistake and there was more to come or it simply comes across a bit cold. A relationship without a farewell is a bit like that.

As Duncan told us, leave time for goodbyes. Don’t be packing and heading to the airport thinking of those you didn’t make time to meet up with. List those you need to say goodbye to and plan how you’ll do it. You won’t do it perfectly. You will miss some people. You will find there is sometimes a mismatch between how important someone is to you and how important you are to them. Some goodbyes will be awkward. Sometimes they’ll be painful. But they’re worth doing well. The classic goodbye in Scripture is Paul’s to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20). He reminds them of his pattern of gospel ministry, he charges them and warns them, he commits them to God and the word of his grace, there are floods of tears, physical contact, all very un-British! Not all goodbyes need to be that dramatic but there does need to be closure and a right sort of sadness.

I remember a meeting many years ago where someone asked the great New Testament scholar Earl Ellis why there was so much crying at Paul’s farewell in Acts 20 (“that they would not see his face again”) when surely all of them believed in eternal life and the resurrection and were confident of meeting again. Earl paused and then told us about his meeting with an old Christian friend some months before and they were both very aware that this friend would soon die and that they would not see each other again in this life and there was a right grieving of that loss.

Think Destination

The final log of the raft is turning your thoughts towards where you a transitioning to. This might include getting information (internet, reading, talking to people), a pre-travel orientation, moderating expectations (not too low or too high), and making practical arrangements (not just for travelling there but for the first few days – picking form the airport, accommodation, making calls, getting cash).

Paul was certainly very clear where he was headed (or at least clear of his intentions). He set his face to go (like Jesus) to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22). On another occasion he planned to go to Rome and then on to Spain with clear intentions of gospel work in both places. He didn’t live in the past but in the present and future (Phil. 3:12-14). He may not have know the details of what was going to happen to him in the cities he visited (Acts 20:22-23) but he had certainly moderated his expectations – great opportunities to ‘finish the task’ along with ‘prison and hardships’ (Acts 20:23-24).

One other practical take away from Paul’s example – as he thinks destination he writes ahead to prepare people for his coming. That is what the letter of 2 Corinthians and Romans and Philemon are for – emotionally and theologically and practically preparing people to receive him.

 

Of course God is sovereign in all this. Paul’s story shows us that sometimes (often) his transitions went hugely differently to how he expected or intended. He was torn away from people without a proper goodbye (1 Thessalonians). He was prevented from entering some places. He finally turned up at Rome as a prisoner. At one point everyone deserted him. But at least, by God’s grace, he did the reconciliation-affirmation-farewell-think thing as well as he could. And in all things he had that great confidence that can be ours too: that God goes with us, that his grace is sufficient in our weakness (felt more strongly in transition), that he rules over shipwrecks and visas, that he will get us where he wants us and eventually bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom.

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The prayer of a man heading into pastoral ministry

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We always praise God when iServe Africa apprentices head into the corporate market place as servant leaders or into school teaching committed to discipling or into medicine as a mission field or into godly marriages that picture Christ and his Church. One of the rediscoveries of the Reformers 500 years ago was that all these can be places of ‘full time Christian ministry’. 

But be also praise God when some decide to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). There is a huge need for godly Bible teachers, a huge need for gospel-hearted pastors for God’s flock, a huge need for kingdom-minded quality workers in the harvest field. So it’s exciting when we receive a letter like the one below from a young man who has decided to head towards a life ministering the gospel of Jesus. But even more encouraging than his desire to go into pastoral ministry is the heart that you see below – the heart we all need – that turns from self to Christ, lives in the light of eternity, prays Your kingdom come, Your will be done.

The prayer of a Christian going to pastoral ministry

I am the son of a small poor village, the son of separated parents trying to make ends meet and have a better future. I am a graduate from a good university and with good grades. But I don’t see myself pursuing my career unless as a means to serve Jesus better with the gifts he has given me.

I believe God has given me, as a member of his church, teaching gifts. I have had the privilege of extensive training that has helped me get a better understanding of his Word, know Jesus more, be clear in my understanding of the Gospel and enjoy serving his people with the Gospel. I know now that I am more than a son of a farmer; I am one of the sons of God, born to him by faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus.

I’m not sure how the near future may turn out for me. Who knows, I might live long and serve Jesus for a long time. Praise God if he grants this. On the other hand I might not have a long life or a successful ministry for that matter. I know I can expect suffering and that actually that suffering may give me more joy in the hope of God’s glory and delight in knowing Jesus who will one day bring the perfect world. That life of joy in suffering might be a good testimony for others. Praise God if that happens.

Whatever my life may turn out to be I know one thing for sure: this I am convinced of, that Jesus has won me eternal salvation and no one should trade this for anything else. I will live for him now, use that which he has given me to serve him, teach others about him as I seek to know and walk with him myself.

I may seem to be talking like a man of great faith yet that is not really the case; it is just that I have found that when you live under the instruction of God’s Word and see his amazing eternal promises, see what Jesus has achieved, then you will want more than anything his reign and to live for him now in this world ahead of the glorious new creation where he will reign forever. A man who believes this truth, the truth of God’s Word, will have the resolution to live in service to this King, want to know Him more and serve Him with his life according to the portion of their gift from our King to His church.

I want to be this kind of man who hears, believes and responds to the amazing call of our king, Jesus. May the Lord be glorified with this one life and bring fruit for his work through the gospel. And may the joy of serving King Jesus not fade no matter how the near future turns out to be. May the hope of God’s eternal glory always remain in front of me when the enemy of my soul tempts me with earthly temporal  and vain pleasures or scares me with earthly pain and even death.

This is my prayer.

Anonymous Brother

 


 

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