Life Lessons from Makena

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  1. Sleep is the WORST!! Avoid it at all costs. No matter how sleepy you are, as soon as they put you down in your cot, either a). turn it into play time or b) scream at the top your voice. If you are being held in a manner that could get you sleepy, push against the person holding you as hard as you can, and try to crawl down them if possible – otherwise you could find yourself giving in to the sleep temptation. Stay strong!
  2. Any time between 4am and 6am is perfect for conversation. You must welcome each day with loud squeals and excited movements no matter how tired your parents are. If the grown-ups don’t respond to your excitement within a couple of minutes then register your displeasure with equally loud crying.Jamestown 013.jpg
  3. No matter what it is or where it’s been, if you can reach it then you MUST put it in your mouth.
  4. Movement makes everything better. Being rocked is good but it’s much better if the grown-up holding you walks around in circles at least five times, or paces back and forth, before you decide to calm down.Kingsmill 008.JPG
  5. Feeding time is also a great time for sight-seeing. Your mother must compete for your attention with the curtain, wall, or pretty much anything that is not the source of your food. If anyone walks by, or there is any type of noise anywhere close by, it is very important you look at whatever it is immediately.
  6. On that note, meal times are great for practicing martial arts. You must try karate chops and judo hands, fending off the food being stuffed into your mouth, to let the person feeding you know that you’re full. You can also rip off your bib as soon as you are done. Applaud yourself for the eating progress you have made.
  7. Corners and ceilings are especially fascinating and worthy of great attention.
  8. The correct way to play peek-a-boo with someone is to cover your mouth and the lower part of your face. If that is covered, then they can’t see you.
  9. If you would like to share something, when they say ‘thank you’, hold it out to them, but don’t let go – the essence of sharing is to keep a firm grasp on the item being shared. They should understand and appreciate the generous gesture. If protocol is broken and the item offered is actually taken, get it back as quickly as possible.

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10.You must be your own most enthusiastic cheerleader. Any phrase with the word ‘good’ is obviously in reference to you so you must immediately stop what you are doing to clap for yourself. This is most true when they say ‘good job’ because you’re the best at everything!

11. You must also be your own entertainment. It is completely okay to tell yourself jokes and burst out laughing while sitting by yourself in a corner. Singing (humming) to yourself and dancing to your own song also works when you can’t think of a joke.

12. The best way to show affection for something or someone, is to repeatedly pound on it as hard as you can. This also works for showing appreciation for things around you whether it’s a table or your mummy’s face. Especially mummy’s face-slap that with all you have because she knows the more pain she feels, the more love you’re expressing.

13. Pay no attention to the etiquette police. It is completely acceptable to pick other people’s nose. You must however resist any attempt by your parents to clean your own at all cost.

14. Food tastes better if it’s coming from someone else’s plate and not your own. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just eaten; if someone else serves themselves food, you are entitled to whatever is on their plate.

So much to learn from life!

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Special Prayer Service @ NC Karen

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On Sunday August 28, we finished our prayer series for August at NC Karen, dubbed Express Mail, with a special extended time of prayer, during our service. We had five prayer stations: 1) a cross for people to nail their worries and concerns, 2) a map to indicate countries to pray for, 3) a poster of a tree to write and post stickers with areas of prayer for the church, 4) a place with candles to be quiet before the Lord, and 5) buckets with water to put papers with the names of those we are forgiving (submerged with stones on top of the papers). It was an amazing experience! Our focus for the day was Your Will be Done, and that continues to be my prayer both for NC Karen and for my own life.

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Discipleship is Following

IMG-20160403-WA0016[This is the sermon I preached at Nairobi Chapel Karen on April 3, 2016.]

Good morning Nairobi Chapel Karen! Welcome to our first ever service. I am so excited to be here in this brand-new church! My name is David Bawks, and I am a pastor here.

To give a bit of my personal background, I am originally from the US, but I have lived in Kenya for seven years now. I first came to study theology at NEGST, now Africa International University, and that’s where I met my lovely wife, BG, who some of you know. We got married in 2013, and it has been a wonderful two and half years of marriage. We welcomed our first daughter last year in November, and Makena is also here with us. She has been an awesome addition to our family. She will be a pioneering member of our new crèche!

For three years I worked and taught at Carlile College, on Jogoo road, and last year I joined the staff of Nairobi Chapel. Last year we launched the Tyrannus Hall, a new initiate for lay training. It has been a wonderful journey with many exciting opportunities, such as this church.

This is a church plant of Nairobi Chapel Ngong road, and here at Nairobi Chapel Karen or NCK we maintain the same vision of Growing Deep to Reach Wide. However, we also have some unique areas of focus I will explain to us. As a new church, we are seeking to be especially intentional in the areas of community, outreach, social justice, empowerment by the Holy Spirit, and discipleship. Our main topic for this month is discipleship, but before I get there I will touch on the other four briefly.

Community. One of the largest differences between Ngong road and Karen is size. That has some disadvantages, but many significant advantages. A tremendous advantage that we will have is that we will begin as a small church. That will allow us to get to know each other, and to focus on building a strong and intentional community. We will have tea after this service, and we can spend time getting to know each other, and building a meaningful community here that goes beyond Sunday and even into the rest of our week.

For the service, we want to be experimenting with some different things, such as more congregational prayer in our service. We also want to include more discussion and application time during the sermon, so it is interactive, and you are not expected to be passive the entire time. Another aspect of community we will emphasize strong is fellowship through e-groups, so as we grow we will work to make sure that all of us are a part of a mid-week discipleship group. As we continue, we will take more time on each of these concepts, and we’re planning to spend the month of May looking at community in greater detail.

Outreach. Our desire for this church is that we would reach out beyond just those we know, and those who simply bored with the church they are in currently, and reach those who are not a part of a church community and do not have fellowship in their lives. This is a challenging task, and it will not be easy. This requires getting to know our neighbors, which can be very intimidating for some of us like myself. It means having a service and an environment that is welcoming, and not too exclusive or insular. It also means doing evangelism, sharing the gospel with your colleagues at work, with your friends, and in your other circles.

Social justice. We probably associate social justice more with places like Kibera than Karen, and with larger, established churches more than with church plants, but I pray we can represent and focus on justice from the beginning. We know that Nairobi is a place of massive inequality, which is not an easily solvable situation, but the church has been mandated to stand up for those in need and those who are in lack. Many in the larger area of Karen are struggling in different areas. We are looking for partners to work with in this area, and will seek to engage all of us in meaningful opportunities to serve others and be a voice for the voiceless.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit. One of the lessons that the Pentecostal and charismatic movement has given us is how important it is to rely on the power and gifting of the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that all of us would be aware of our spiritual gifts, and would be constantly guided and empowered by God’s Spirit in us. That is what will enable us to make disciples, to reach out, to build community, and to pursue justice and righteousness. Even during our service, we are praying about ways to incorporate the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. We are also planning to have an upcoming sermon series about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and how each one of us can identify, grow and exercise our gifts.

Our fifth area of focus is discipleship, and that is our main topic for today and this entire month. What is a disciple? It actually isn’t an exclusively Christian or even religious term, although that is usually how it is used.  A disciple is a follower and student of a mentor, teacher, or other figure. It is defined as ‘one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.’ A disciple means someone who is following Christ. All of us are disciples. Discipleship means growing in our knowledge and obedience to Christ. At this point, I’d like us to form small groups of no more than 5, and spend a few minutes discussing this question:

Discussion Question:

  • What does it mean for you specifically to be a disciple and follow Jesus Christ?

Let’s hear from a few groups on what you discussed.

Here is a simple definition I will use for a disciple. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus and fishes for men. Please turn with me to Matthew 4:12-25 as we explore this definition.

Matt 4:12-25  When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali — to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the way to the sea, along the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

 the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.” 

 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.

 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. NIV

This passage occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Matthew’s gospel is written by one of the original 12 disciples, also called Levi. The target audience of this gospel is Jewish Christians, as Matthew is explaining to them who Jesus is and how his ministry fulfills the prophecies and promises given to Israel. Matthew is writing from personal experience – if I jump ahead to chapter 9 verse 9, Jesus saw Matthew sitting at a tax booth, where he worked, and he asked Matthew to come and follow him. Just like James and John in our passage, Matthew stood up, left his job behind, and followed Jesus. Matthew knew firsthand what it meant to be a disciple and follow Jesus. He knew exactly how it felt, and how much it cost him.

This passage comes very early in the gospel – so far Matthew has talked about the birth of Jesus, the ministry of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. As soon as Jesus begins his public ministry, he begins calling disciples and forming his team. Clearly, the most important elements of discipleship are following and obeying Christ. But how do we do that? What does that mean for us today? There are three points I’d like us to remember about discipleship.

  • 1) Discipleship is following Jesus – doing what Jesus did.

Following Jesus requires complete submission in every area of our lives, but the temptation for any Christian is to segment our lives into the part for God, the part for church, and then the rest of your life. There is a temptation that many of us have to equate attending church on Sunday with being a Christian. When we think of growing in our Christian life, we might think of reading our Bibles more, making sure we’re in church every week, and being nicer to people. These are good things, but they are not enough in themselves to fulfill this command to follow Jesus. In fact, the danger of coming to church every Sunday and listening to a sermon is that it can train you well on how to be a good church member. You know exactly what to say, where to sit, when to stand up, when to clap, and when to be quiet. You know all the Christian language and words to use. I grew up in the church, so I have learned all of these things from front to back.

But you may not know very much about living your life as a disciple of Jesus where it counts: at home, at work, when you’re stopped by the police, when you’re voting, or paying taxes. When you’re asked to pay a bride, or buying 50 bob movies that are somehow not genuine. That is where true discipleship is demonstrated.

Our goal here at Nairobi Chapel Karen is not to provide you with a comfortable environment to hear nice songs and an inspiring message. We are not interested in people who are just here to check ‘church’ off their weekly list of what they should do. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is not the right place for you. Jesus demanded a lot more than that from his disciples, and he demands a lot more than that from us today. He demands complete and total sacrifice and obedience, as we will explore in the weeks ahead.

At Nairobi Chapel Karen, these Sunday services are a means to an end. They are not the end in themselves. These services are meant to be a time of encouragement, renewal, worship, training and empowerment to go out and serve God. One of the most meaningful ways we can serve God is by making disciples. That is the point of our church, and that is the ultimate goal of our services. When I look at Nairobi Chapel Karen at the end of this year, my biggest measure of success will not be how many people are attending our services. My measure of our success will be how many people are being discipled and are growing in their Christian faith.

Let’s think for a minute about how Jesus did his ministry on earth.

What did Jesus do? The ministry of Jesus included teaching, healing, casting out of evil spirits, and discussions with people. These features are what you would probably expect from a thriving, successful ministry. But a few other features of Jesus’ ministry are less typical. One is that his ministry was very short. He only served in active, public ministry for three years. At Ngong road, that’s just the training period! To be a full pastor at Ngong road takes many more years than that. Personally, I studied for 4 years in the US, and then another 3 years here, 7 years of full time study of the Bible and ministry. But three years was the entire scope of Jesus’ ministry.

Another characteristic of Jesus’ ministry is that he spent the majority of those three years with 12 hand-picked, carefully chosen people, the 12 apostles or 12 disciples. He did ministry to others, including the crowds around him. He did heal, preach, teach, and proclaim the kingdom of God. But most of what Jesus did focused on preparing these 12 to continue this mission after Jesus left. When Jesus did leave, He gave His Spirit and left these disciples to take care of everything to do with the church.

And even within the 12, there is a hierarchy of sorts, an inner circle. The innermost layer is Peter, James, and John. Who was with Jesus during the transfiguration? Who was with Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane? Peter, James and John are included in more of the stories, and have a much higher profile than the other 9. All three of them went on to become key leaders in the church. There is another key point we can learn from this, my second point.

  • 2) Discipleship moves outward.

 In the ministry of Jesus, he had several layers of people around him. There was the 3, the 12, the 70 who were sent out in Luke 10, the 120 who were in the upper room at Pentecost, and the 500 other disciples Jesus appeared to after his resurrection.

The leadership guru Michael Hyatt describes this progression as five-pronged leadership strategy of Jesus, which seeks true depth and long term impact:

  1. He led himself. This is where all leadership starts. Self-leadership precedes team leadership and public influence. If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t (and shouldn’t) lead others. This is why Jesus often withdrew to quiet places to pray (see Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 22:41–44). He battled the devil to prove his character (see Matthew 4:1–11). He knew that his character—his identity—was the foundation of his ministry.
  2. He confided in the three. Jesus had an inner circle comprised of Peter, James, and John. He took them on special outings (see Matthew 17:1). He allowed them to witness his greatest glory (see Mark 9:2–3) and his deepest temptations (see Mark 14:33–34).

He prayed with them (see Luke 9:28f). He taught them things He did not teach the others (see Matthew 17:2; Mark 5:37–43). He even introduced them to His heavenly family (see Matthew 17:3). They were his closest friends and confidants.

  1. He trained the twelve. He chose the twelve disciples to be “with him” (see Mark 3:14a) He taught them and also gave them assignments (see Mark 3:14b–19). However, he also shared with them his daily life. Like the Apostle Paul would do years later, he poured into them his very life (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8). Because of this, he entrusted them with power to do the work he himself had done. In fact, he promised them that they would actually do greater works (see John 14:12–14).
  2. He mobilized the seventy. Jesus had a smaller, more intimate group to whom he gave specific assignments. He sent them out two-by-two. He asked for a BIG commitment. He gave them virtually no resources. Yet he demanded that they perform miracles. He told them to expect opposition (see Luke 10:1–12) and promised no earthly reward (see Luke 10:18–20).
  3. He taught the multitudes. Yes, Jesus had a public ministry. He occasionally spoke to thousands. However, he didn’t pander to these groups or “tickle their ears.” He confronted the status quo, jarred his listeners’ sensibilities, and often taught in parables. Interestingly, he didn’t feel the need to clarify everything. He often left his audience confused and wondering what he meant. His goal was apparently to shift their paradigm and get them to think. http://michaelhyatt.com/the-leadership-strategy-of-jesus.html

After interacting with many leaders at different levels, Michael Hyatt’s observation is that most leaders only focus on the last two strategies, skipping over the first three. They have a public teaching ministry, and they are good at mobilizing groups for specific assignments. However, very few intentionally train a small group of disciples. Even fewer build deep relationships with a handful of confidants. Fewer still lead themselves well. As a result, they do not have the kind of lasting impact they could have. He says, “The older I get, the more value I see in going deeper with a few.”

Pretty much any organization or group has this same dynamic, including this church. Imagine this church as an onion. Let’s look at some of the layers that we have. In the very middle, the heart, we have the inner core. These are the people who are most committed to the church, and the die-hard volunteers who are a part of every church function. Slightly outside the inner core, we have the core, those who are reliable and committed, just not quite to the level of the inner core. After that we have a level we can call those who ‘lean in’, who are probably in a small group and participate on some level but are not within the core. Then we have another layer, those who ‘lean out’, who are only partially committed to the church but have never deeply engaged or come very far in. Beyond this group, we have the people outside of the church, the wider society around us.

One of my goals as I lead Nairobi Chapel Karen is to identify a core group of people I can personally disciple and walk with over the next two years or so. These are the people I pray will continue to spread this discipleship to others, so we can build a multi-generational church of disciples. These are the people I pray I can hand-over to at some point down the road, since I know I will not remain in Karen forever.

  • 3) Everyone can disciple someone else.

 Sometimes we believe that only mature, long-standing experienced Christians can make disciples of others. But that is not true! Discipleship is the means to reach maturity, not the other way around. If we were to wait for all of us to be mature in the faith before we can disciple someone else, we would miss out on so many opportunities. Every single one of us in this room can disciple someone else. For each one of us, there is someone in your life who can learn from your experience and your understanding of God. Now some of us may be more skilled than others, and experience does help, but the best way to get experience with discipleship, as with anything else, is simply to do it.

Last year at Ngong road we read a book on discipleship called Wikichurch about the story of Victory Church in the Philippines. He takes about new believers, who may have accepted Christ yesterday, being asked to disciple someone who accepted Christ 5 minutes ago. The first guy might say, what do I have to offer? What would I say? But he has a whole day’s head-start on the second guy. As long as he stays ahead in terms of growth, reading the Bible, and seeking God, he can continue to guide and disciple the newer believer.

The Bible is full of stories about people who didn’t feel ready for God’s call to obey Him. Moses said he couldn’t speak well, and couldn’t lead all the people of Israel. Jeremiah said the same thing. God enable them to become heroes of the faith, and He has given each one of you everything you need to serve Him and disciple others. What remains for you to do is accept this command and obey.

Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1, NIV) I know sometimes when I read that, it sounds a bit presumptuous and almost arrogant. But that is how discipleship works. Is your life a model for other people to follow? Whatever comes to mind when you answer that question is where you need to focus your spiritual growth. If you know that your attitude at work is a terrible example for those around you, that needs to change. If you are reckless with your spending, you need to build more self-control. If you know you are overly flirtatious and don’t keep strong boundaries in your relationships, that needs to be improved. But just because you are imperfect does not mean that you leave discipleship to someone else.

Notice how Paul formulates this when he’s instructing (one aspect of discipling) Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” – 2 Timothy 2:2 NIV. That’s how discipleship works.

Discipleship always has two parts – 1) your own journey of faith and growth, and 2) what you are doing in someone else’s life so they grow as a disciple. The fastest and most effective way to do part 1 is to do part 2. Next week we are looking at fishing, which looks more specifically at evangelism and how we can reach people around us. I want each one of us to begin thinking about who there is in your life you can be discipling. Next week I’ll ask you to write down their names.

What three points have we seen today about discipleship? When we close, we’ll have refreshments available for all of us to share we get to know each other. Please don’t be in a hurry to leave. We also have a special cake to celebrate our first official service!

Over the month of April, we will continue to look at discipleship through the following topics:

Discipleship is Fishing    

Discipleship is Abiding

Discipleship is Death      

As we begin Nairobi Chapel Karen today, I am asking you for two things. I am asking you to step up and be a disciple, meaning 1) I am asking you to follow Christ, 2) to intentionally invite others to follow you as you follow Christ. If you are willing to do that, please stand up, and I will pray a prayer of commissioning over all of us.

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Launch of Nairobi Chapel Karen

NC Karen 5Exciting news – I have received a new assignment for 2016! During the first few months of this year, Nairobi Chapel has started several new churches in Lavington, Karen, South C, Roysambu and Parklands. I have been given the challenge and opportunity to lead the church in Karen. Karen is the neighborhood of Nairobi where BG and I lived and studied for three years at AIU/NEGST (about 15 min from where we live now). In January we were commissioned and prayed for, and began by inviting members of the Nairobi Chapel congregation who would like to be part of the new church plant for a vision-casting meeting – more than 40 people came! I am working with a team of ten members of our staff team and we began our services on April 3. This is an amazing opportunity for us and we are very excited to see what God has in store for the church! If you stay in that area and are interested in joining us, please let me know. We meet from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm at the Bunks and Biddles School on Hillcrest road, behind Hillcrest School off Lang’ata road. You can find more updates and pictures on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/nairobichapelkaren/. Pray that God will go before us and guide us in this huge ministry.

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Navigating the NT – Week 2

One of the courses I facilitate at Tyrannus Hall at Nairobi Chapel is Navigating the New Testament. If you’re curious what that course looks like, here is one week taken from the course notes.

Before next week, complete the following reading and assignment.

Assigned Reading: 1st Maccabees, chapters 1 – 4 (pages 517 – 526, attached as an appendix and as a PDF). Go through the reading with the following questions as a guide, and you write down the answers to these questions as you read. There will be a short quiz on the reading next week!

Week 1 – D 1-2 Maccabees pp 517-526

Reading Questions:

  • In what year did Antiochus Epiphanes become king? (518) _____________
  • What are the two basic responses the Jews had to the culture and nations surrounding them? (518-522)
  1. First Response: __________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________

  1. Second Response: ________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________

  • Describe some of the ways that Antiochus Epiphanes persecuted the Jews (519-521)

_________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

______________________________________

  • How did Matthias and his family respond to the persecution? (520-524)

____________________________________________________________________________________

  • What does Matthias identify especially as causing him the most grief? (520)

____________________________________________________________________________________

  • How are the Hasideans described? (521) _________________________________________________
  • What is the name of the son of Matthias who succeeded him as leader of their movement? (522)

_____________________________________________________

  • What was the outcome of the battle between Judas and Apollonius? (522) ________________________
  • How did Judas and his men respond when they were facing opponents of overwhelming strength and numbers? What was the outcome each time? (523-525)

____________________________________________________________________________________

  • What did the sons of Matthias do after their military victories? (525-526)

____________________________________________________________________________________

Assignment. Read Hebrews 1:1-4. Following the four steps of interpretation listed above, spend some time writing down your findings. How can this passage help us to understand the New Testament?

____________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________

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Week 2: Inter-Testamental Period; The Apocryphal Books

Learning Objectives:

By the end of this session the participant should be able to:

  • Explain the major events in the years leading up to the time of Christ
  • Understand the significance of the cultural legacy of the Greeks
  • Describe some of the main aspects of the Messianic expectation of the 1st century Jews
  • Relate the example of the Maccabees to our own spiritual life and devotion to God

Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son….” God did not select this time randomly, but carefully determined the right time to send his Son. The events of the Hebrew Scriptures had all built up to this coming, as well as what had been happening in the world of that time. For us to understand the New Testament, we must understand the culture and situation of that time. Many of us do know the story of the children of Israel, and have read the Hebrew Scriptures. However, between the prophet Malachi and John the Baptist, there was around 400 years in which no new scripture was written. This is called the ‘inter-testamental period’, the time between the end of the Hebrew Scriptures and the beginning of the NT. This was a significant and often overlooked period, which plays a major role in laying the foundation for our understanding of the NT.

A number of empires ruled over the Near East between 600 BC and the coming of Christ. The powerful Babylonian Empire collapsed in 539 BC and was replaced by the Persians, led by King Cyrus (Thompson, 1986:299). Israel had lost much of her power and influence, and over the next several centuries her fate was largely to be determined by the shifting dominant empires of that time. The Persians retained control for just over 200 years, but lost to Alexander the Great in 333 BC at the Battle of Issus. Thus began the Greek empire (see the map). [1]

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Alexander the Great’s most enduring legacy was the spread of Greek language and culture around the Mediterranean and throughout his empire. This is referred to as Hellenization, turning the world Greek, and reflected his desire to unify the world in terms of language, philosophy, business, learning, folk heritage, and cultural practice (Sproul, 2014). Widespread use of Greek is why the NT was composed in that language as opposed to Hebrew or Aramaic. Alexander was quite accommodating of those he conquered, and allowed the Jews to continue their religious practices. This would not last, however, and after Alexander’s death his empire was split into four sections by his generals.[2] The two most significant were the Ptolemaic line over Egypt and Palestine and the Seleucids over Syria and other areas. The Ptolemies continued to control Palestine until 198 BC, when Antiochus III defeated Ptolemy V and took over the Holy Land (MacArthur, 2003:281). Things became to get worse for the Jews. Antiochus began to emphasise Greek customs more strongly and restrict the Jews’ religious freedom.

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Go through the reading questions above.

Summary: A group of Jews emerged who resisted this Greek influence and sought to maintain their Jewish purity. They became known as the Hassidim or “the pious ones” (Sproul, 2014). We still hear of Hassidic Jews today. The Pharisees also emerged during this period. The year 175 BC is marked by the ascension of Antiochus IV to power. Thompson vividly describes how terrible his reign was for the Jews:

Those attempts [of subjecting the Jews] became more sinister and forceful when Antiochus IV came to the Syrian throne in 175 BC. He called himself ‘Epiphanes’, God-manifest. He was a Seleucid, and his dynasty, which had suffered heavy defeat by the Romans in 189 BC, was also warring against the Ptolemies. The Romans extracted heavy financial tribute from Antiochus, and he began to covet the wealth of the Jews. In order to acquire some of it, and to buttress himself against the Romans, he attempted to force Egypt into subjection and to Hellenize the whole region.

In 169 BC he bullied the Jews and ransacked the temple treasury. The next year he looted Jerusalem, killing several hundred Jews and demolishing parts of the city wall. Then he built a citadel called Acra and put in a garrison which remained there for twenty-five years. He banned the Sabbath, circumcision and temple sacrifices, and destroyed all the scrolls of the Law which he could find. He built an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the temple and sacrificed a pig there. Altars to Greek gods were erected across the land and Jews were forced by armed soldiers to sacrifice at them. (Thompson, 1986:301)

Hundreds of years earlier, Daniel prophesied of the abomination of desolation, generally understood to be the sacrifice of the pig, an unclear animal, in the temple itself, which is unspeakably offensive for a Jew (Dan 11:29-32). The entire eleventh chapter of Daniel is helpful in understanding this period.  Under the rule of Epiphanes, observing the Sabbath and possessing any scriptures was a capital offense, and the Jews were forced to eat unclear meat and offer unacceptable sacrifices (Sproul, 2014; MacArthur, 2003:282). This extreme behaviour led the Jews to nickname him ‘Epimanes’, the madman.

The Jews refused to accept such treatment, and a priest named Mattathias led a rebellion against these foreign overlords. Mattathias had five sons, and following his death his son Judas Maccabeus took over the rebellion, known as the Maccabean Revolt. They fought for 24 years, and defeated the Seleucids. The reopening of the temple is still celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah. The Maccabees formed the Hasmonean dynasty, and became the high priests of Israel (MacArthur 2003:282).

The Jews lived in freedom from 142-63 BC, when Palestine was again conquered, now by the Roman general Pompey. In 40 BC, Herod the Great was appointed by the Romans to be king over Palestine, now infamous for its instability, in an attempt to maintain Roman control. He is known for his building projects and rebuilding of the temple, and is the Herod mentioned in the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus.

Timeline of the Inter-Testamental Period

  • 539/538 BC – Babylon conquered by the Persians
  • 333 BC – Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the Battle of Issus
  • 323 BC – death of Alexander, splitting of empire
  • 198 BC – Antiochus III defeated Ptolemy V, Seluicids took over Palestine
  • 175 BC – ascension of Antiochus IV Epiphanes
  • 169 BC – ransacked the temple, offered a pig
  • 166-142 BC – Maccabean Revolt
  • 142-63 BC – Jews live in freedom
  • 63 BC – conquest of Palestine by Pompey
  • 40 BC – Herod the Great appointed to be king

 Discussion Questions

 Is it important for Christians to have some understanding of the events that transpired in the four hundred years before Jesus was born? Why might it be helpful to the interpretation of the New Testament?

  • Which four major empires controlled the Near East region from 600 BC until the birth of Christ?
  • What are the two significant divisions of Alexander the Great’s empire? How would this affect the Jews?
  • Think carefully about all these events, and how this would affect the mindset of the Jews. What would the Jews expect their Messiah to do?

Works Cited

Epler, M.J. 2012. ‘The Apocrypha.’ URL: http://earlyenglishbibles.com/miscpages/Apocrypha.html (2.2.2014).

MacArthur, John. 2003. The MacArthur Bible Handbook. Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Sproul, R.C.  2014. ‘Lecture 1, The Intertestamental Period.’ Dust to Glory: A Teaching Series by Dr. R.C. Sproul. Video format. URL: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/dust-glory-new-testament/the-intertestamental-period/?lb=true&format=audio (2.2.2014).

Thompson, J.A. 1986. Handbook of Life in Bible Times. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

[1] Map of Alexander’s empire from https://davidbawks.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/b339c-empireofalexanderthegreatc-323bc.jpg.

[2] Map of divided empire from  http://bible-truth.org/dividedgreekempire.gig.gif.

Parable of the Two Lost Sons

murillo[This is a staff devotion I shared at Nairobi Chapel in November 2015]

As we begin, I have a question for you. What is your favorite fairy tale, or bedtime story, and why?

Stories are powerful. They communicate in a way that is different from just listing facts or giving information. Part of the reason for that is that we tend to participate in a story in an active way. Some of you may know that we’re expecting a baby girl this month, so we’ve been very excited about that. I imagine after she’s born, and when I’m telling her a story, for example I’m telling her the story of Cinderella. As I’m telling her that story, what is she doing? She’s not just listening, but she’s actually imagining herself as part of the story. As I describe going off to the ball, and meeting the prince, and dancing, she’s imagining herself as the princess, and how it would feel to do all of those things. That is why these stories are so popular, and keep being told generation after generation.

When we hear a story, we participate in a selective way, and we almost always imagine ourselves as the hero, not the villain. When I grew up and I watched movies like Indiana Jones, I’m not the Nazis or the other bad guys, I’m Indiana Jones, I’m the who finds the treasure and defeats everyone else and gets the girl. That’s how we participate in stories, and that’s why we love a story where the hero wins in the end.

We do the same thing when we read stories in the Bible. We almost always choose a character in a story to relate with, often automatically without thinking very much about it. When we read about David and Goliath, how many of you imagine yourself as Goliath? How many of you feel sorry for him when he dies? No, all of us want to be David, we all want to win.

Please turn with me to Luke 15. I’m going to read this passage that is familiar to all of us.

[NIV] 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Now as I read this story, which character in the story do you identify the most with? Who is the hero of this story? For many of us, we see this story in a particular way: we see ourselves as the prodigal son, God is the father, and this story is a celebration of our salvation. For some of us, this is very true, and this story is a wonderful story of redemption. I know some of us have powerful testimonies of what Jesus has saved us from, and the transformation we have experienced.

However, I believe that for many of us, we are misreading this story. For many of us, we are relating with the wrong character. We are missing a huge part of this story. Let me illustrate this by relating the story in a Nairobi Chapel context.

Retelling the story in our context

I am working in the Oversight department and one of my colleagues is struggling at work and with his faith. He becomes unreliable, and once he even shows up for work drunk. He is put on probation, and warned that he needs to shape up. Then one day he disappears, along with a significant amount of money. We don’t hear anything from him for six months, and then one day he shows up.

He meets with the executive pastors and explains that he had spent the last several months at the coast, spending money, partying, until he came to the realization that God still loves him, but that he was wasting his life. He had a tremendous experience with God, and has seen God working in his life. He knew that what he did at Chapel was wrong, and decided to come to make things right. He says I know I don’t deserve to be an employee, but I am willing to work with no pay until I have repaid the money I stole. But the pastors decide that he has changed and deserves a second chance, and he is given a new department to lead to help those struggling with addictions and other personal challenges.

A few months later we hold an employee awards dinner, and I go in with high hopes of being recognized for my outside work and dedication that year. We come to the main event, the employee of the year. They announce that out of all the candidates, this guy who has come back and rejoined the team has demonstrated the best service, and is the employee of the year. I become so angry that I storm out of the tent, and I go outside. One of the executive pastors notices this and came to find out what is wrong. I am so upset that it is difficult for me to speak, but eventually I say, ‘You know what – this is not fair! I am have been working here faithfully this whole time, coming to work on time, getting my reports done, and doing everything I am assigned to do. How is this failure given any kind of award?!? He shouldn’t even be serving here, but he should be back where he came from, paying back for his sins. I don’t even know if I can work at an organization that rewards and tolerates this kind of behavior. Maybe I should leave and serve elsewhere where my work is appreciated.

The pastor replies, what are you talking about? We know that you are reliable and trustworthy, and that is why you have the responsibilities and the position that you have. We know this guy has really struggled, but what we are celebrating today is his redemption and transformation. His story doesn’t happen every day.

Who am I in this story? I’m not the prodigal son. I never left and did any crazy things. No, I’m the one who stayed the whole time. I’m the older brother. For me personally, I don’t have a very dramatic testimony. When we talked about sharing our story for Inje, with your life before Christ, how you met Christ, and then your life after, I don’t have much to say about my life before Christ, because I have been a Christian my entire life. But if that becomes what defines me and what I rely on, I can be as far away from God as someone who has never even accepted Jesus.

In many ways, it would be crazy for Nairobi Chapel to do what I described in my story. It would be reckless, risky, and inadvisable to allow someone with that kind of recent experience such responsibility. But that’s exactly what God does with us. God gives us responsibilities that none of us deserve to have.

Prodigal definition. You probably assume that prodigal means wayward, sinful, and disobedient. But it doesn’t. It means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” It means “having or giving something on a lavish scale.” In this story, it describes the son, but it equally describes the father. That’s why Timothy Keller calls his book The Prodigal God, but just as the son was reckless with his money, so the father was reckless in celebrating the son’s return, and so God is reckless in celebrating our redemption.

When I look around this tent, I don’t see the prodigal son. I don’t see a group of failed, miserable, outcast and morally compromised people. I don’t see the tax collectors and prostitutes of Nairobi here.  I see respectable, upright, moral people. I don’t see the prodigal son here, I see the older brother. Now I know that some of us have had prodigal son experiences, some of us have been alcoholics, and some of us have overcome other significant failures in our past. But for most of us, that is not what describes us now, in this moment. Most of us are well respected and well thought of.

Two Lost Sons. Calling this story the prodigal son is somewhat misleading, because the point of this story is actually that both sons are lost, just in different ways. In his book, Timothy Keller calls this story the parable of the two lost sons. Why is Jesus telling this story? Look at the beginning of chapter 15. 1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” In response to this comment, Jesus tells three stories, ending with this story. This story is directed straight to them, to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, pointing out that they were unable to celebrate the redemption of those who were lost. These stories are a defense and explanation of the ministry style and ministry focus of Jesus. And this story is also directed to us, as the religious leaders of our day. We are in great danger of doing the same thing. I have two related points I want you to remember.

Never let your desire for justice overcome your sense of mercy.

Never let pride quench your joy of salvation.

Danger of pride. For us who are here now in this space, I would argue that our greatest temptation is not drunkenness, theft, murder, even adultery. Those can be temptations to some extent, but they are not our greatest dangers. No, the great danger for us is pride, especially since that is a sin that is rarely discussed in d-groups, or e-groups, or other accountability spaces. How many of you were asked about pride in your last evaluation? I know that wasn’t something I was asked. For most of us, as long as we are doing our job and meeting our goals, pride isn’t a big concern. But pride can be the worst possible thing to ever happen to us, and it can rot your very soul from the inside.

Danger of working in church. I believe there are some of us here for whom working in church is the worst thing that has ever happened to your walk with God. Every since achievement you have, every victory you attain, every objective you meet you become more and more confident in yourself and further and further from God. That is what happened to the older brother. The older brother wasn’t even able to see the prodigal son as his brother, but calls him ‘this son of yours’ when he is talking to his father. His relationality ability has been killed and warped by his many years of working for his father, and his ceaseless obedience to the rules that were set out for him.

Pastor Example. A few years ago a prominent pastor in the US had to step down from ministry, and I’d like to read the statement his church put out. They said he had been “at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe he needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry. He has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.” The interesting point here is that arrogance and pride have been separated from morality, as through morality is only concerning your sexual life. This is completely untrue! Pride is the heart of immorality. C.S. Lewis once said that the fountainhead to all vice is pride.  Every other sin is a mere expression, a symptom of pride.

Pride can cut families apart and destroy relationships. Look at the other two stories in chapter 15. The first is about a shepherd who lost a sheep, and left the 99 to look for the 1 until he found it. Then there is a lady who lost a coin, and searches her house until she finds it. Then Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son, or the two lost sons. Each of these three stories has something lost, something found, and a celebration. But our story has something missing. In the first two stories, someone goes to search for what is lost, and does not give up until it is found. But in this story, no one goes to look for the prodigal son. Who in our story would be expected to do that? It is the older brother. That’s what older brothers do, is look out for their lost and wayward younger brothers. Cain was supposed to be Abel’s keeper, to take care of him as a good older brother. But the older brother’s pride and desire for status and achievement prevent him from doing that, and he would rather have his younger brother lost forever than to welcome him back to the house.

We have a lot of younger brothers to take of. We have a lot of younger brothers in our congregation, in our families, and in our neighborhoods. We have the responsibility of seeking them out, and doing all that we can to bring them back to the Father. With God’s help, many of them are actually more than willing to come, they just don’t believe that they will ever be allowed back inside. But that is the very heart of the gospel, that no one is turned away, and everyone is welcome inside.

Jesus is making a crazy statement in this story. He is saying that working for God faithfully can separate you from fellowship with God. It can destroy your relationship and intimacy with God. We all know that squandering money and living an immoral life can separate us from God. We are all on guard against that sin. But how many of us are aware that serving God religiously and faithfully can be just as damaging to our souls?

How does this story end? You might have noticed that this story doesn’t have an ending. It closes with the Father and the older brother standing outside. If you are the older brother, you can choose how you would like the story to end. You can choose to resist the temptation of pride and status and come inside, to rejoin the feast. You can come back to God, but it means giving up your status of self-reliance, and being good enough on your own. It means you have to be willing to be in fellowship with people who don’t keep the rules, people who are very lost and very broken. But God is still willing to allow us back inside, just the same as he welcomed back the younger brother.

Never let your desire for justice overcome your sense of mercy.

Never let pride quench your joy of salvation.

Meet Makena Mae

Last month we welcomed our first child into the world! Makena Mae Bawks was born on November 18, weighting 2.8 kilos (6.2 pounds) and 53 centimeters long (21 inches). It has been wonderful to have her and we are so happy she’s in our family. We look forward to seeing her continue to grow.

Some News

It’s been an exciting year for BG and I on many fronts, and we have both been busy with work at Nairobi Chapel. We have had a lot of new ministry opportunities and look forward to what’s in store for the rest of the year. Here’s something we’re anticipating…

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As you can see above, there are children ahead! Well, one child for now… We’re expecting! Our first child is due in November. We’re halfway through the pregnancy, and as you can imagine we’re both slightly anxious and highly excited. BG grows more beautiful every day :). We’ll keep you posted!

Our Trip to the US

For the last two months, BG and I have had a wonderful trip exploring the US and spending time with supporters, friends and family. We have met with many people and had a great time reconnecting with old friends. This was BG’s first trip to the US, and I was really glad to show her where I’m from and where I went to college.

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We celebrated our one year anniversary at National Harbor, MD. Above you can see the hotel we stayed at (that would be the small red and white brick one on the left 🙂 ). It is one of my favorite spots in Maryland.

We also got to visit the University of Virginia, and hang out with some cool scientists.

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Our good friend Bob gave us a tour.

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Of course we did some touring of DC and caught the fourth of July fireworks.

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Another place we visited was the beautiful Olympic peninsula of Washington state. My grandparents live north of Seattle, so we got to see them and had a small family reunion as well. We made a family trip out there and also drove down to Oregon.

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We also did a (very) long road trip from Maryland to Chicago where we spend a week catching up with some of my college friends. A group of us spent a weekend camping at the Indiana Dunes.

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That’s our abbreviated version. Now we’re heading back to Kenya. Lots of work when we get back!