What is the Mystery?

[This is a sermon I preached on August 20, 2017 in Nairobi Chapel Karen]

Introduction – THE MYSTERY-EPHESIANS-1.jpgGood morning everyone! This month we are beginning a new sermon series exploring the letter to the Ephesians. I am calling it The Mystery. As we get into our exploration of Ephesians, let me share with you two major ways for us to engage with the Bible. One way is for us to look at the big picture, to seek to understand the Bible as a whole. This requires you to read large sections each day, several chapters, to get the entire picture of the Bible, and the whole story. If you have never read through the entire Bible, I would really encourage you to do so, and to do so within one year, because that gives you the story, and when you are finishing you can still remember a bit of the early books, what you were reading at the beginning of the year. If one year is a challenge, you can also do it in two years, and this way you’re sure you have read every book and every chapter of the Bible. For many years this is the way I would engage with the Bible, and I used to read through the entire Bible every single year.

But I have found there are some downsides to reading so much. When I read 4 or 5 chapters, by the time I’m finished, I don’t always remember the first chapter I’ve read. I guess I’m also getting older than I used to be… Sometimes I’ve found myself reading for the sake of checking it off my list, and then later in the day I try to remember what I read in the morning, and I remember hardly anything. One way to help with this is write down the highlights and a summary of what you read, to aid in your comprehension. But there’s also another way to read the Bible – to focus, to take one book or even one chapter, even a few verses, and to saturate yourself in that text.

Over the last few months, that’s what I did for the book of Ephesians. I have studied it before, but over the last several weeks I read it again and again, a few times all six chapters in one sitting. I read it in more than 21 times all the way through, in several different translations.

I am also in the process of writing down the entire text of Ephesians in my prayer journal, from chapter 1 to chapter 6. This can really you to see the flow of a letter, and be able to circle and underline words and sections that seem especially important as you write them out. As I have been reading and writing out Ephesians, I was trying to look for repeated words and phrases to give me an idea of what Paul is trying to say in Ephesians, of what the main ideas are. There was one that really jumped out at me – the idea of the ‘mystery’. That word is actually almost the same in Greek, musterion, and that is where our English word comes from. It comes from the root word ‘to learn the secret’, like when Paul says in Philippians that he has learned the secret of contentment in all things. This word mystery is used 6 times in Ephesians: 1:9, 3:3, 3:4, 3:9, 5:32, 6:19. It is tied with 1 Corinthians as the two books with the most usage of that word, each with 6 occurrences. This concept of mystery will provide a major theme that will guide us in the weeks ahead as we work through the chapters of Ephesians to understand what Paul is saying.

Background – Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities both in the Roman Empire and in the New Testament. It is both an ancient Greek city with a lot of history, but also a Roman capital city of its province, so wealthy and important. During Roman times, the population was approximately 250,000 people, about the size of Nakuru today. It was the main port for its region (modern day Turkey). Here is a map showing the location of Ephesus. The houses had running water, an amphitheater that could seat 25,000 and still stands today. It had a major library that is also still partially standing today. It also hosted the temple of Artemis, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus is considered a center of magical practice related to worship of Artemis.

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I’ve had the amazing privilege of visiting Ephesus, and it was a wonderful experience. For our honeymoon, BG and I did a kind of reverse Paul’s missionary journey, going from Rome to Athens to Ephesus and also Crete, all places that Paul also visited. Here is a picture of us in Ephesus, standing in the front of the remains of the old library. David + BGI will never forget how it felt to be in the same place and walk over the same streets and the same stones that those heroes of the Bible walked on thousands of years ago. Here’s another photo that gives a higher view of that library and the street. Also on that note, I’d also like to issue a word of caution, that if you’re a young lady here who is looking for a potential husband, just be very careful that your interests are generally compatible with your fiancé. Especially if you are considering marrying a pastor, and sometimes you don’t even know, because I wasn’t even a pastor then. Otherwise you may end up on a honeymoon like ours…so be very careful. That’s just on a light note.

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In the New Testament, Ephesus plays a very prominent role. As we go through the book of Ephesians this month, please take time to read Acts 19, which tells about Paul’s three years of ministry there during his 3rd missionary journey. The ministry I used to lead at Ngong Road was named Tyrannus Hall after the building in Ephesus where Paul instructed new believers in their faith for two years. 1st and possibly 2nd Corinthians were written from Ephesus. Colossae is close to Ephesus and the letter to the Colossians is very similar to Ephesus. 1st and 2nd Timothy were written to instruct and encourage Timothy in his ministry in the church of Ephesus. Finally, Ephesus is one of the seven churches who are addressed in the book of Revelation. Clearly, it will be well worth our time to spend the next month going through the letter to the Ephesians.

Please turn with me to Ephesians chapter 1, from verse 3 to 14. The letters of Bible times generally began by saying the author of the letter, in this case Paul, then the recipient of the letter, and then a prayer of thanksgiving. What we are about to read is both a prayer of thanksgiving and an introductory summary of what his letter is about, the themes he will unpack in the chapters to come. Let’s read it together.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

To understand our passage better, I’d like to point out that in the original text verses 3 – 14 is one sentence! Can you believe that, the entire passage I just read was originally one sentence in Greek. In English, it would be very hard to read that way, so almost every translation has broken it up into many sentences. This must be one of the longest sentences in the Bible. Literally it begins in verse 3 by saying ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ and that is the main verb, the main clause, and all the rest of the sentence is explaining why God is blessed, and what he has done for us through salvation.

Our message today is called ‘What is the mystery?’ Today we are asking why Paul uses this term, and why does he repeat it 6 times within this short letter? Let’s review verses 8 and 9 again: “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to use the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” It sounds like this mystery is pretty important, if it can bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth.

To define what Paul means by mystery, we will need to look at chapter 3. Chapter 3 is where Paul gives the clearest definition of what the mystery is. Please turn with me to chapter 3, and I’m going to read from verse 4 to verse 6.

4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Eph 3:4-6 NIV)

At the time Paul was writing, this was still a ground breaking development. The Jews had been the chosen people of God for generations, hundreds and hundreds of years. In order to receive the promises of God in the Old Testament, it had to be done through the Jewish revelation of God. Many people, including Rahab, Ruth, Cyrus, and others, and participated in God’s promises in various ways, but it was connected to the Jewish people and the work God was doing through Israel.

God revealed this mystery through the apostles and prophets, leaders such as Peter, Paul, John and others, and the focus of the entire New Testament is to unpack what this means, and how we live because of it. Do we need to be circumcised? Can we eat pork? Do we need to observe the Sabbath and the Jewish feasts? Can we eat with Romans and Greeks and other heathen non-believers? These are the questions that dominate the New Testament. In this passage, Paul is trying to explain and answer some of these questions.

Main Point: The mystery is that salvation has been given to everyone.

I believe that many of us probably take this for granted, but this was an amazing development that we need to understand and appreciate. Most likely none of us in this room right now are Jews. And yet all of us have heard the message of salvation, and we all participate in the promises originally given to Israel. Did you know that you participate in the promises made to Israel? Notice exactly how Paul explains it in chapter 3 verse 6. He gives three things:

  • We are heirs together with Israel
  • Members together of one body
  • Sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus

Being an heir means that you have an inheritance – it means God has set aside certain things that are designated just for us. All of us are eligible to receive the Holy Spirit when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are all entitled to the gifts, the fruits, and power, the intercession, and the enabling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul explains that the Holy Spirit is actually a deposit, a down-payment to guarantee that the rest of our inheritance is coming. You know when you move into a new house, and you have a pay a deposit first? Or when you’re buying a car and you make your first payment, with a balance remaining you can pay off later? God has given us the Holy Spirit as His first payout of our inheritance, and He is promising that once everyone has been redeemed, He will deliver all the rest.

If you are wondering what else our inheritance includes, I would encourage you to review the promises given to Israel in the Old Testament, especially in Jeremiah, Isaiah, and some of the other prophets. In the Old Testament, God promised Israel many things, including an everlasting King, and a time of peace, stability, and prosperity. We are still waiting for many of these promises. God promised that the lion would lie down with the lamb, that our weapons would be beaten into tools of agriculture – that all war would end. We haven’t experienced that yet. We are also waiting for the promise of eternal life, after our death.

God promises that there will come a time when we don’t need to do any evangelism – because everyone will know God. Can you imagine that? We won’t need plugin, or Man Enough, or any of the teaching or discipleship courses we do. Jeremiah says that they will not teach any more about how to know the Lord, because everyone will know the Lord. We haven’t gotten there yet, but because of the mystery we are the ones who will inherit those promises and others.

Paul says that we are members of one body. Next week I am going to talk about how difficult it was to join the Jews and the Gentiles, who were very deeply divided and opposed to each other. Bringing together these two groups was even more difficult in many ways that unifying Kikuyus with Luos, or Hutus with Tutsis, or blacks with whites. Next week we will look at chapter 2 which explores this topic in greater detail. For the rest of our time I’d like to explore three ways that we can apply this mystery. Here is the first one.

Application

1) Our salvation is a precious gift.

God has chosen all of us, and He has initiated and begun the work of salvation in us. Paul mentions thanksgiving a few times in this letter, and I hope that all of us can develop the habit of regularly giving thanks to God for His grace is extending the gift of salvation to us.

Our salvation is the result of thousands of years of prophecy to Israel, and the fulfillment of the promises to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so many others. God sent His own Son, His only Son, to live and to die for us. Jesus overcame centuries of prejudice and division to extent salvation to the Gentiles and lay the foundation for the gospel to reach all people and nations.

Let us never take our salvation for granted. We must push ourselves to understand what it means, to study to understand it, and to make sure that our live matches the standards of the salvation given to us. Next week we are looking at the effects of the mystery to see how this affects our relationship with other people, and then we are looking at how we must live out the mystery of the gospel. Then we will conclude with looking at how we must fight for the mystery. But it starts with our gratitude, with our appreciation of the value of our salvation.

2) We must live a life of mission!

All of us must live a life of mission, of joining God in the work God is already doing around us to bring people to Himself. We must continue to carry on the message, and to make sure it reaches every people group, every language, and every region. Someone gave you the message, and so you must carry it on to those who haven’t heard. Often we need to hear the message several times before it takes root in our heart, so we need to continue praying for our friends and family members who don’t know Christ and continue to share the gospel with them.

We have opportunities for outreach here at NC Karen – we have begun doing a visitation at the Rosewood Manor retirement home on the last Wed of each month. These are people who may not receive many visitors and would greatly appreciate a chance to connect with people who want to spend time with them. We are also working on beginning visitation and prayer at Karen Hospital, we are just waiting for the administration and the chaplain to confirm a few details with us.

We also do Coffee Runs here at NC Karen, which involves offering people coffee, inviting them to church, and sharing the gospel with them. I realise that not all of us are comfortable doing evangelism that involves going up to strangers. If that describes you, I would encourage you to find ways to connect your interests and passion to find someone. For me my biggest struggle is moving out of Christian circles, so what I did last year is sign up for an international group that holds different functions around Nairobi. I’ve attended their business networking events, book club, movie club, and even one evening of drinks, and I am quite sure I was the only pastor who was there, in fact I’m pretty much always the only pastor at every event, and probably one of the few Christians. It takes time to get to know people, but I’ve met a lot of different people, shared what I do and some of what I believe when I have the chance, and have invited them to church.

We are preparing to plant a new church in Dagoretti, focused on reaching the area around the market and slaughter house on Dagoretti road. There is large population there that might not agree to come all the way to Hillcrest for a service, but would be willing to visit a church that is located in their neighborhood and is inviting them on a journey of spiritual growth and discipleship. We’ll be sharing more details about how you can serve and support that new ministry, and if you’d like to support it with your tithe, your networks, your ideas, and your service, please see Pastor Fred about how you can connect with Dagoretti. However you do it, all of us must live a life of mission, to explain and share the mystery with everyone we know.

3) All of God’s creation is important.

In the passage I read earlier from chapter 1, Paul also clearly explains the purpose of the mystery. He says it is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” To bring unity. I find this to be a very interesting idea. What would it take to bring everything in heaven and on earth, all things, to unity under Christ? That would take a ton of work! Right now so many things on earth are in disunity with each other, not to mention the things of heaven. Ultimately this is God’s mission, so we don’t need to worry about how we can figure this out on our own, but part of our salvation is God calling us to join Him in this tremendous task. He has chosen to use us to bring all people into salvation, and through that mystery to bring all things in creation into unity, into peace, into their proper place and proper role.

Here at Nairobi Chapel Karen our mission is to grow deep to reach wide. The WIDE stands for witness, impact, disciple, and establish churches. WIDE. We describe the impact as touching all of the six sectors of society, including education, politics, business, family, media, arts, government, religion, and every aspect of our culture and society. Paul says that bringing together the Jews and Gentiles will result in unity of all things, and there is no way to unify all things unless we are bringing unity in each of the sectors we represent as this church. This means that your business is also part of God’s mission. Politics and running for office is also part of God’s mission.

It means taking care of your yard or your shamba or even your farm upcountry is part of God’s mission. Caring for the environment is such an important part of bringing unity to all things, and it is a part of salvation, of the gospel itself. All of us can help care for our environment through being more careful with trash, how we use our resources, how we use water, and anything else we do that affects the earth. I’m still reflecting on what it means to bring all things into unity, and in a minute I’ll be putting that question for you to discuss.

When all things are brought into unity in heaven and on earth under Christ, we won’t have droughts, or pollution, or trash littering our streets. We won’t have hatred or violence. We won’t have corruption or theft or lack of education or opportunity. God is working in our world to accomplish His purposes, and He is inviting us to join Him. I hope that all of us will do so.

  • Our salvation is a precious gift.
  • We must live a life of mission!
  • All of God’s creation is important.
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Four Lessons in Four Years

[Earlier this year, BG and I preached a sermon together for the first time. We called it Four Lessons in Four Years.]

May 2017 NC Karen (14)

David: Please turn with me to 1 Peter chapter 4. Let’s read from verse 7.

1 Peter 4

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Lesson 1: Marriage is not about you.

What is God’s place in your marriage BG

Marriage is not just about you and it’s not just for you. Like most Kenyan girls, I was brought up to aspire towards marriage. In fact, I had a grand life plan – go to school, get a degree, get married by 26, get a masters, then a couple of babies all by the time I was 30! Marriage was basically part of all the accomplishments I wanted to achieve in my life. I remember when I was younger, my grandma would say, just focus on your books and go as far as you can with your studies. Go ahead and get a PhD even! I think she had taken it for granted that marriage would happen somewhere along the way of pursuing my studies. Then when I was doing my Masters, she started saying, “you know education is not everything. You need to also think about a family so you don’t end up a lonely educated woman.” Our society assumes that marriage is a given for everyone. I think one of the most scandalous things you could tell your family is that you don’t want to get married!

Anyhow, my grand plan didn’t really come to pass. Instead of being married at 26, I was breaking up with my first boyfriend and was single for a very long time after that. In that season of singlehood I really prayed for a spouse. I knew exactly what I wanted in a husband because I had made a very long and precise list. The desire for marriage basically became an idol in my life because for a long time that’s all I prayed about. It got so bad that God eventually asked me to tear my list and never refer to it again in my prayers. That was one of the hardest things to do because I felt like I needed to remind God exactly what to give me in case He didn’t get the memo and sent me some weird guy. Another difficult thing I had to do was ask myself, “what if I don’t end up getting married? What does that mean for my identity as a woman? Or as a Christian?” Because marriage had become such an idol for me, God wanted to teach me how to trust Him and allow Him to lead me in that area. Of course I continued to pray for a spouse but I learned to pray that God’s will would be done above my desires.

The interesting thing is that when God was asking me to tear my list, David and I were already friends. But if I had stuck to that list, I would never have considered the possibility of the two of us being married. So anyway, we finally got married! The day after our wedding I was praying and thanking God for answering my prayers and basically rewarding my faith with a spouse. Then God stopped me short and said, “marriage is not about you. It’s not an achievement or a reward for being a good Christian – there are more faithful Christians who are still waiting for spouses. So don’t think of marriage as something you worked hard for, had enough faith for and finally God has granted it to you as a gift. Marriage is a gift yes, but it has to do more with My purpose for both your lives than just you. Your marriage is about both your destinies and my purpose for both your lives. You are part of the fulfilment of My purpose in David’s life, and he is part of yours.” Whoa! I was stunned into silence for a long time. I know that sounds super spiritual but in all honesty, over the past four years I have been able to see how God is using each of us to further the other’s ministry. God has allowed that our individual gifts really complement the other person’s gifts and weaknesses and we do our ministries better together than we did when we were not married.

So if you’re desiring marriage or are already married but have never really thought about a bigger purpose for your marriage besides being with the person you love, I encourage you to begin to pray about it.

David: As BG said, marriage is not about you. Marriage is ultimately about God and his purpose for your lives. If I were to simplify God’s purpose for man it would be this: God has put us here to love him and to love others. Marriage should therefore not be just about the two of you but also reflecting Christ to those around you by serving them.

Even as you make sure that your marriage is strong and well-guarded, you must also make sure that your relationship is inclusive and focused on helping others. As Christians, we can no longer just live our lives for ourselves, and for our own comfort. This is requires a careful balance – making sure your marriage is doing well internally, and also reaching externally.

Marriage is one of the greatest ways that we have to impact the world and serve others. I can tell you some of the married couples who have been a part of my life and have mentored and supported me. They have had a huge impact on my life, and continue to do so. Being married can help you minister to other people in different ways: helping you to see a new perspective, having someone to encourage and support you in your service, and allowing you to serve as a team.

Verse 9 in our passage says we must offer hospitality to others without grumbling. Hospitality is one huge way of ministering to other people, and being a part of their lives. Hospitality can be a means of mentoring, discipleship, and encouragement. It can make sure that you have people in your life, and a community surrounding you.

I have had some friends who got married, and I never saw them again. Other friends got married, but still found ways to include me in their new marriage life, in a healthy way. They still remain my friends today. That is the choice that you have today, as to what kind of marriage you would like to have. I would encourage you to select your friends carefully, don’t keep friends who are negative in your marriage, but be sure to keep some friends and build a community together.

BG and I have sought to build a marriage that is strong and also inclusive of others. We seek to have a date night once a week, and also work to host or visit someone once a week. That requires time and commitment, but it has made our marriage much deeper and stronger because we have other people in our lives. Once a marriage becomes isolated it has a potential to become misdirected and ultimately unhealthy, losing a larger significance and purpose.

And why do we do this, why do we seek to serve others? Verse 11 tells us that it is so that in all things God can be praised through Jesus Christ. God is worthy of honor and glory, and all that we do should lead to His glory and praise. Our marriages should be something that inspires those around us. People who do not know God should look at our marriage and say, that is something healthy and powerful, that is something I would desire to have in my life.

Let me also note that what this passage in 1 Peter talks about applies to all of us, not just those who are married. All of us are called to have appropriate boundaries in our lives, and to reach out to serve others through hospitality and the gifts that we have. And that way God will be praised through all of us.

BG – Lesson 2: Learn to harness each other’s strengths rather than magnify each other’s weaknesses.

They say that opposites attract. It’s interesting though how quickly that attraction turns into attack in a marriage. Say you’re a very quiet, laid back person and your spouse is loud, exuberant and outgoing. When you were dating, you probably enjoyed how easily the mingled with people, their loud laugh etc. If someone had asked you, you would have said that they complimented you perfectly. But then somewhere down the line you started getting annoyed that they always wanted to go out. Or that there were always people in your house. You started to find their exuberance and loud laugh irritating.

Or perhaps you’re the ambitious, go-getter type and your spouse is more a background person. When you first met them, you admired how loyal they were, you were amazed to learn that they had worked at the same company for 7 years. You liked how grounded they seemed, how content with their life they appeared. Then you got married and that changed. You began wishing that they were more aggressive like you. You started desiring that they would be more ambitious, seek more opportunities, put themselves out there. And you can’t understand why they are so happy to just stay in the same place. We are hardwired to be egocentric and when you fight about things you would like your spouse to change, you’re probably seeking to meet a personal need for yourself and not really concerned about the other person.

Another lesson we’ve learned from our own experience and from some of our friends is that if you compare what you see as your own strength to what you think is your spouse’s weakness, they will always lose. Rather than fight about the things that make you different, it’s better to harness each person’s strength for the good of the other and ultimately, the marriage.

BG:  David enjoys working on our budget. He has spread sheets and will spend hours sometimes working out percentages and margins, making adjustments and comparisons etc. When we first got married he would try to get me to sit down with him so that we could go through the budget together and discuss all the implications and it just wasn’t something that I enjoy doing. So at first we would fight about it because he wanted me to do it with him. Now, it’s not that I am careless with money and I do know what our budget is, I just don’t get the same satisfaction as he does from doing all the math. So eventually we agreed that since that was his strength and something he enjoyed doing, then I didn’t really need to get involved in the process. We agree on our budget categories and how much money to allocate to each but I just leave the details and execution to him.

David: I’ve found that BG is very good at sorting out issues when I tend to worry and get stuck. For example, when we were trying to decide what approach to take to help in Kuwinda, I talked to BG a lot to determine the way forward. We talk quite a bit about Karen issues and strategy, and I have found her insights very helpful. Making those decisions often come naturally to her, when for me I can agonize over what to do, think through all the possible options, and then at times I have a lot of trouble moving forward. She could easily put me down for my tendency to worry over stuff but she’s learned to step in with her ability to think on her feet and help me solve problems faster than I would on my own.

When confronted with your spouse’s weakness, especially if it’s in an area of strength for you, our tendency is to wish that the other person was more like you. But the truth is that they aren’t, and no amount of complaining or criticism will change that. So rather than see your differences as a challenge, you can turn them into opportunities to serve the other person and build your marriage using your own strength.

Lesson 3: Learn to speak each other’s language of love – BG

How many of us are familiar with the concept of love languages? How many know their love languages? For those who haven’t heard the term before, a language of love is simply an action that best communicates love best to an individual. The third lesson we’ve learned is the importance of speaking your spouse’s language of love.

David: For those that are not familiar with love languages, Gary Chapman has written a book on it and has identified five languages:

Words of Affirmation

If this is your love language, then you feel loved the most when your partner says something positive and verbalizes their appreciation to you. If your partner’s love language is words of affirmation, it means that you have to be a keen observer to find “even the slightest opportunity to offer affirming words.” You could affirm their looks, or a particular ability or just something they do on a regular basis. A husband could say to their wife for example, “I really admire how good you are at managing our finances” Or a wife could say, “I really appreciate how good you are with the kids.” It could be something big or something small as long as your partner can tell that you’re being sincere.

BG- Gifts

This is a little self-explanatory: if this is your primary love language it means that you feel loved the most when you partner gives you a gift. I know a lot of guys (and some ladies too) struggle with buying gifts for their partners because they feel like they don’t know what to get. But the thing about this language of love is that the gift doesn’t have to be something you bought. It doesn’t even have to be fancy. It could be something you made at home, or something silly that reminded you of your partner so you got it for them. It could be something practical that your spouse needs to make their work easier, or something whimsical that they just want to have. One way to discover what kind of gifts your spouse would appreciate is to listen to the desires they express. You could be walking around junction and your husband says, “I think I’ll need to buy new work shoes soon.” Right there is a clue! If you buy present the shoes to him as a gift, it will speak volumes because it will mean that not only have you met a need, but that you were paying attention to them when they spoke.

David: Acts of Service

For some people, the phrase, “actions speak louder than words” is very true. These people feel loved when you do something to serve them. Again, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it could be a small and meaningful act. It could be bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in bed when they wake up because you know they don’t function well without coffee. It could be helping your partner pick out clothes for an interview and laying them out the night before so that they are not delayed the next day. It could be bringing a glass of water to your spouse because you heard them say their throat was dry. Sometimes it might mean taking over some of their chores and responsibilities to give them a break. So if your spouse typically clears the dishes after dinner, you could do that for them. It might even mean doing things for your spouse that they have to do but don’t necessarily enjoy doing like filling in their tax form. One way to find out what would mean a lot to your spouse is to pay attention to the things they complain about and then make a point of doing those things for them so that they don’t have to.

BG: Quality Time

People with this love language value being with their loved ones. But it’s more than just being in the same space with you, it’s about them having your undivided attention. They appreciate doing activities together, taking a walk, watching TV together, or having an in-depth discussion at the end of the day. Quality time is also different for each person – some are fine just reading next to other, being in the same room, and they feel a connection and love through that. Other people require focus, conversation without anything else happening in order to consider that genuine quality time.

For us, my primary love language is words of affirmation and David’s is quality time. The others are also meaningful for us, but these are the major ones. This is an on-going conversation for us because we’ve learned that the best way to love your spouse is in the way that they understand love best. It’s kinda like regular languages….people understand you best when you speak in the language that’s most comfortable to them, otherwise a lot gets lost in translation.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, you can look it up online and find tests to determine your love language. Then you can think about how you can learn to speak your partner’s love language.

Lesson 4: Marriage requires commitment.

David: This might sounds basic but it is a truth that cannot be over-emphasized. Getting married is one of the most life changing decisions I’ve ever made, and I believe it will be the same for you. This person will now be with you for the rest of your life. Not only have you chosen each other, you have also chosen to forsake all others. That is a serious commitment.

The passage we read earlier reminds us the time we have left in this life is short – we don’t know how much time we have. The end of all things is near, so we must use our time well. It is worth doing marriage well. It is worth building your marriage intentionally, setting aside time to invest in a strong, healthy, and balanced marriage. That requires effort and planning. It is demanding but well worth it.

Verse 8 tells us that when we love each other deeply, this love can cover a multitude of sins. Let me promise you that living with someone else will bring a multitude of sin into your life! One of the things I have learned being marriage is how selfish I really am. Before I got married, I did know I could be somewhat selfish, but marriage has made that much clearer for me. Many of your shortcomings become very clear when you are married, and you will also become aware of the shortcomings of your spouse. It goes both ways.

What does loving each other deeply actually mean? It means knowing each other first of all. It means spending time together, talking together, and sharing all of you. It means confessing your failures together. It means forgiving each other whenever you hurt each other or mess up. It means committing to resolve your differences and disagreements.

I believe that a healthy marriage is ultimately about balancing two key objectives. One is to safeguard your relationship, and to put up strong walls around your marriage. The other is to reach out and serve people outside of your marriage. Let me begin with the first one.

One of the most powerful things about marriage I have learned came from a book I read about a couple that was very intentional about their marriage. They built up what they called a shining barrier. This shining barrier was an impenetrable defense around their marriage. They would only share their deepest secrets with each other, and they would never have any aspect of their life that their spouse wasn’t aware of. They would share all of their dreams and goals together, and spend as much of their quality time together as possible.

Something they decided to do was if only one of them enjoyed something, whether an activity or a particular friend, they would both participate in it – because if one of them liked something, there must be value in whatever it is. So if one of you loves watching football, or hiking, or baking, the other person would try it out to find out why their spouse likes it. The goal is to understand each other as deeply and as completely as possible, and to share everything with each other. If one of you has this friend, and you’re like, enyewe that guy, can’t stand him, do your best to figure out what your partner sees in that friend.

But after doing that, sometimes you will realise that some activities don’t work for both of you. Maybe one of you loves to climb mountains, and the other just doesn’t enjoy it. Maybe one of you loves to attend concerts or plays, and the other doesn’t find that relaxing. You have a choice. You can choose to continue these activities with someone else, but you run a risk of bonding more with that person that your spouse. I would recommend that as much as possible, you do your leisure activities together, and that may require reducing or losing some things. When I got married, some of my friendships really changed. It was sad in some ways but marriage does require change.

One of the biggest areas is in your emotional life. Always make your spouse the first person you confide in, the person you vent to, and the one you can unload everything that you are thinking and worried about. As soon as someone else takes that role, your shining barrier has a huge crack, and is likely to come down.

We have too many broken families today, and the main reasons for that are that these relationships are not built on the right foundation, and they are not built with strong, impenetrable barriers.

But this doesn’t mean that you have no life at all outside of your spouse, and that the two of you only exist in a bubble of yourselves. Marriage is meant for much more than that, as we have already seen.

Commitment to personal growth BG

One of the first things you will realize when you get married is just how flawed and sinful you are. Just before or soon after that, you will discover that your partner is not as wonderful as you thought he/she was. It’s possible to get stuck in that realization and become disillusioned either with yourself or with your spouse.

The first commitment we needed to make was acknowledging that we are not perfect, and pursuing personal growth. It’s easy to focus on the other person’s weaknesses but the only person you have the power to change is yourself. Committing to grow as a person means that you have to be willing to receive correction and hear negative feedback about yourself. We have had to learn to not take offense when the other person points out something that needs work.

Conclusion

BG – We’ve learned other lessons as well, but these are the four that really came to mind as we reflected on the last four years. Can anyone say all four lessons?

Lesson 1: Marriage is not about you.

Lesson 2: Learn to harness each other’s strengths rather than magnify each other’s weaknesses.

Lesson 3: Learn to speak each other’s language of love.

Lesson 4: Marriage requires commitment.

KNITTED-TOGETHER

Easter Reflections

This Easter at Nairobi Chapel Karen we held a special interactive service, based around 5 stations of the cross, or events taking place before, during and after the crucifixion. Here is what I shared, along with a few pictures of the stations:

  1. Pre-crucifixion – Peter’s Denial

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-28 at 11.47.40 AM As we reflect on the path that took Jesus to the cross, I hope that as much as possible we seek to participate in what Jesus went through. This has been a long standing tradition in the church for over a thousand years, and there are different ways to do it but basically it is about remembering what happened, mourning the pain and agony that Jesus went through but also celebrating the victory He won for us. It is about our participation in the events that led to our salvation being won.

I’m not totally sure, but I believe that for many of us living in Kenya we haven’t gone through significant pressure to deny Christ. Maybe you were in campus or at a party or somewhere we have felt that being a Christian was holding us back, less trendy, but I believe that few of us have been actually threatened because of our faith or persecuted to deny Christ or face consequences. Of course we know it has happened around us, even in Kenya – people on a bus being asked if they are a Christian, people being shot as the sit inside a church service, but I know that I personally have never been in that situation, and you may not have either. Many of us have never experienced what believers in India, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia and many other places go through every day.

It is easy to look at Peter’s denial with a very dismissive attitude, and think wow he failed so quickly, or how could he deny Christ more than once? But I think it can be difficult for us to truly place ourselves in his situation, and to think how severely he could have been treated if he had publicly taken on a role as Christ’s disciple. He could also have been arrested, beaten, and it is hard to know what kind of punishment he could have faced at that time.

I have wondered before what I would say if a gun is placed to my head and I know that if I say I am a Christian, that I will die. It is not an easy question. I hope and believe that I would stand strong in that situation, that I would not deny Christ, but I know that it is only with Christ’s strength that I can do so. On my own, my desire to save my life is too strong. I believe that all of us have the capacity to fall away like Peter did, but that we can take courage that Peter was restored by Jesus, and went on to take a significant leadership role in the early church. After this experience of falling and restoration, I believe that Peter had a completely different understanding of grace, mercy and love – to see and feel exactly how much God had forgiven him. He would never take that for granted again.

  1. Pre-crucifixion – Pilate’s Trial

The second situation we experienced today was the trial of Christ under Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the representative of Roman power in that area, the governor. The Jews didn’t have the legal power to execute anyone, so if they wanted the death penalty they had to do it through the Romans.

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Jesus was completely innocent, and did not deserve death. One of the most amazing things I find about the trial and sentence of Jesus is that despite this being such a miscarriage of justice, God was able through an act of evil, an act of betrayal, an act of injustice, to accomplish an amazing and wonderful good – the good of our salvation, of salvation for all those who accept Christ as live with Him as their savior and Lord.

Two things come to my mind when I think of Pilate and the experience Jesus had during the trial – one is how I respond when I am treated unjustly. Jesus didn’t call down the legions of angels he could have, but allowed himself to be killed. I’m not saying that we should allow injustice to happen, either to ourselves or to others, but Jesus did not respond when he was accused, and at times we should also respond as he did – which is almost never my response when I am accused of anything.

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The second thing that comes to my mind is do I participate in injustice? When I have read the stories of the trial, I have often felt sympathetic to Pilate, and he tried to set Jesus free, he didn’t want to crucify him. But ultimately he didn’t stand firm in his conviction of Jesus’ innocence, he gave in to the pressure of the crowds and the Jewish leaders. Sometimes we also end up participating in injustice, not because we are setting out to hurt people or do the wrong thing, but simply because we don’t have the courage to remain strong when the pressure comes. Pilate didn’t push through with what he wanted to do, and he will forever be remembered in history as the one who sentenced Jesus to be crucified.

  1. The Cross – Crucifixion

It is very difficult for us to truly appreciate the cross in a fresh way, since for most of us we have seen crosses around us our entire life, and it has become such a widely used symbol that even rappers, musicians, movie stars and other non-Christian celebrities will wear a cross, even if they have no idea what it means, or if the music they make and the life they live is a complete repudiation of the cross. Familiarity can be the greatest enemy of wonder. But the cross is an instrument of death, plain and simple. That is all it is. It was a way to torture and kill criminals – just like a noose, or a firing squad, or an WhatsApp Image 2017-04-28 at 11.46.18 AM.jpegelectric chair, or a fatal injection. The cross was not an ornament, or a decoration, or a nice symbol to hang up in your house or your church. It was something that people feared and hated and avoided at all costs.

Jesus calls us to each carry our cross, and that serving Him requires that we all take up a cross. Not all of us will die for being Christians, but we all have a cross to carry. All of us must crucify our old self, our sinful nature, the evil designs that try to take over our lives, and we must kill them, destroy them, annihilate them from ourselves completely. We must practice radical amputation of everything that remains of our sinful desires. We must also replace these with the new things of God – seeking His will, doing righteousness, doing justice, and helping others.

  1. Torn curtain

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From the time of tabernacle, God’s dwelling in Israel was represented by a physical place, first the tabernacle, and then the temple, built by Solomon and then later rebuilt after the exile. Within the tabernacle and the temple, was a special area, designated as the Holy of Holies. This was a place that no one could enter, on pain of death, except for the High Priest once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Even when the high priest went inside, they used to tie a rope to his foot, so that if anything happened, and God struck him dead, they could remove the body without putting themselves at risk. The curtain marked the entrance of the holy of holies, and was a very significant barrier that no ordinary person could ever hope to enter.

During the time of the law, ordinary people could not approach God directly. You had to reach God through the priests, who would offer sacrifices and offerings on your behalf, to forgive your sins, and to keep your clean. When Jesus died, He completely changed how we relate to God. For once and for all, as Hebrews tells us, He took care of our sin through His sacrifice and His death. We no longer need to offer lambs and goats to cover our sin, because all of our sin has been covered! All of it. We are free! Our victory has been won.

It is only a few verses in the gospels, but the tearing of the curtain is among the most significant events of the entire New Testament. The curtain tore from the top to the bottom, signifying that God initiated it, that He Himself personally removed the barrier, opening up access to the Holy of Holies – not only to priests, not only to Levites, not only to Jews, but to all people. No longer was God restricted to the Holy of Holies, but God now resides within us, since we are described as the temple of the Holy Spirit. For those living before Jesus, that very idea was crazy – you being the temple? It would be considered blasphemy to even think such a thing, but God opened up the access to Himself, and as Hebrews tells us, we all have access to the throne room. All of us can access the throne of God himself when we pray.

Heb 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. NIV

  1. Empty tomb

Finally, we experienced the open tomb, which represented the resurrected Christ. After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea took him to a new tomb, one that had never been used. A tomb is a place of death, and it is a place that ordinarily, you cannot ever escape from or depart. Once you enter a tomb, throughout human history, that is it! Tombs don’t have doors, once you are in the entrance is sealed. People don’t come back.

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But when Mary and the other women came to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away, the tomb broken into, and Jesus was not inside. He had overcome death to defeat the devil and the powers of evil once and for all. We now live because of an empty tomb two thousand years ago. When we face death, we can now face it with hope that God has given us eternal life, and that death no longer has any hold over us. The open tomb is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion. That is what baptism is all about, that we die with cross, are lowered into the water, and then rise up again in new life. As Paul says in Galatians, I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I now life I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. My hope and my prayer is that you have also been crucified with Christ and that you now live through the power of His son.

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As we close, I’d like to invite anyone who desires to experience God’s resurrection power in their life to come forward so I can pray with you to receive Christ in Your life.

Let’s pray together.

We moved! New venue for NC Karen!

This actually happened a few months ago, but in Jan we moved to a new space – Hillcrest International School! This gives us a hall we can meet in, as well as more classrooms for our kids, larger parking, and an awesome courtyard for us to take tea after our service.

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At the same time we moved, my friends Dom and Trey visited us in Nairobi! We went to Wheaton together but I hadn’t seen them in like 7 years. Trey preached for us during our first Hillcrest service on January 15, and we had a great tour of Naivasha as well. Here are some pictures of the occasion.

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And a few Naivasha pictures:

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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.

NC Karen 2

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NC Karen 28

 

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]

empireofalexanderthegreatc-323bc

 

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.

dividedgreekempire-gig

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.