What! A Living Sacrifice?

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1)”

  One time while on mission outreach in Kotido, we went to preach to one of the village churches on a Sunday. We were surprised to find no building, no shelter – the church would simply congregate under a tree. An old jerrycan whose top had been sliced off was placed near the tree; As people gathered, I noticed each came bowed before an old jerrycan; this surprised me, and soon I would inquire what this ritual was all about. Then I was informed that the jerrycan was the offertory bag/basket, and it represented the altar. In the absence of a building with clearly designated spaces, special seats and a table, the offertory basket was enough to set apart the ‘altar’ space. That shows the importance and centrality of sacrifice in our worship.

Sacrifice is a concept that is well understood among many peoples – whether sacrificing to various gods or to the Almighty Sovereign God, it is the very heart of worship. In one of his books, Prof Edison Kalengyo surveys Sacrifice in the Letter to the Hebrews, where the ultimate is presented. But first let us take note of the counterfeit: in Satanic worship, if chicken and goats are good offerings, then bulls are even better ‘the bigger the sacrifice, the better gods are appeased, invoking greater miracles; when an even bigger prayer must be made, it could call for a living sacrifice ‘a human being! Children’s blood may be shed at that level; but later a more worthy and important person must be sacrificed – one close to your heart like a mother or a brother! I hear some people do these things to get and maintain earthly wealth and power.

In authentic worship, sacrifice is required to make God happy and bring life to the people. In Hebrews, the epitome of sacrifice is presented 􀀀 the ultimate living sacrifice: ‘But when Christ came as high priest… he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:11-12). Now that all that could be achieved by sacrifice has been achieved by Jesus Christ, what remains for us?

‘Present your bodies as a living sacrifice’. God continues to demand our hearts and lives, living to honour Him and walk according to His leading. This is the most we can do to appreciate the eternal redemption, but this worshipful lifestyle is also the reason God created us. Joyfully bring your gifts to God; and support all development agenda – there are many projects at hand even now. But most importantly, the Lord needs your life, not just your gifts; he requires full surrender to Him, and He will direct your path. In this season of Lent, may God lead you to recapture the importance and centrality of sacrifice in our lives before God; and so to worship in truth and in spirit.

 

 

Humility in Prayer

 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

 Brothers and Sisters in Christ: Since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and Resurrection and prepared for this by a season of penitence and fasting. By carefully keeping these days, Christians take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

Lent season began on Ash Wednesday 06 March and ends on Saturday 20th April 2019. There are 40 days of fasting – all days except Sundays. The season may be observed with a partial fast (skipping one or two meals a day) for all the 40 days or selecting some days every week when one fasts; on the day of fasting, one may take only water if it is not a dry fast. Feel free to ask and read more details about types of fasting as you require. In his teachings, Jesus Christ said, ‘And when you pray… when you pray… And when you fast… when you fast….’ (Matt 6:5-6, 16-17); this clearly implies that  prayer and fasting are part of a believer’s lifestyle. Fasting is not for a selected few – perhaps the pastors, intercessors, or leaders; The discipline of prayer and fasting is important for every Christian to cultivate. Lent provides the opportunity for you to try if you have never fasted, and to grow from one level to another. Make it a point to fast every week during this season.

While fasting gives this season a physical feel, remember deeper devotion that must accompany the fasting for there to be meaning: self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. By these actions, bodily desires that lead to sin are put to death more and more, while one is drawn closer to God.

In Luke 18, Jesus Christ delivers two powerful teachings about prayer: Prayer needs persistence, and prayer needs humility. In using familiar illustrations – of the persistent widow and of the two who went to pray in the temple – the Lord brought home lessons that we ignore at our own peril! It is not a time to show off who is stronger and can fast more, nor is it a time to show who is more ‘spiritual’ than the other(s). It is not a time to look down on the other as weaker or more inferior in faith. It is before God that we humble ourselves, and it is only by grace that we can enter His holy presence. No one can stand and walk with the Lord if it is not by God’s grace. ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’ And it is in that humility that we trust God even for things for which we are still waiting until He answers. Prayer needs persistence, and prayer needs humility.

 

 

 

 

Character by Character

“By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice and received what God had promised them.” (Heb. 11:33)

The catalogue of the people of great faith in Hebrews 11 could easily sound hard to reach – almost impossible to join. Yet our Lord’s brother James asserts about one of them, that ‘Elijah was a man with a nature like ours’ – he write this to convince us that  we too can walk in great faith, do similar exploits and even join the list! What was the character of these characters? As one individual put it, ‘be concerned about your character and not your reputation because your character is who you are and your reputation is only what people think of you. Whereas reputation usually varies with people’s perception of an individual, character remains consistent with who one is.

On its face, ‘character’ is a morally neutral term. Every person, from the iconic personalities like Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada and Philanthropists like Mother Teresa, had a character. We use the term character to describe a person’s most prominent attributes, it is the sum total of the features and traits that form an individual’s nature. The Bible presents us with the various characters (people) that are relevant to our lives and circumstances we might be facing at the moment. In the way they executed different missions, exercised their faith and obedience, they left marks of reference in their service to God. If we behold them and imitate their faith, we grow in the character that made them great before God.

It as by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. (Joshua 2:1-10). Many would assume that Rahab, a pagan, a Canaanite and a prostitute would never be interested in God; yet Rahab was willing to risk everything she had for the God she barely knew, when she saved the spies.

In 1Kings 17-18, we find Elijah, a man of humble background who delivers God’s messages and stands against King Ahab’s corruptions and idolatries; and he succeded! In Esther 2, we find a Jewish girl of humble background, and now in a foreign land; she climbs via the ladder of a beauty contest to become Queen. Encouraged by her cousin Mordecai, Esther’s remarkable fasting a prayer saved her fellow Jews from being exterminated; these same prayers led to the execution (by hanging) of the Haman, the enemy of the Jews!

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to fight the armies of the aliens.” (Heb. 11:32-34)

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). During this forthcoming lent season, accept the shaping of your life by the characters that remained faithful in their service to God and people, amidst challenging times. God bless you.

 

 

//Kakumba Readings:

1Kings 17:1-10

Luke 18:1-8

Rejoice in the Lord always

 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice” (Php 4:4)

 The encourager was once rejoicing in this city’s prison after being mistreated! He now writes about rejoicing while in prison in Rome in the dreadful reign of Emperor Nero; he is among strangers, and death is staring him in the face. Paul has all moral authority to tell his hearer to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always!’ Yet in this our world today, we wonder, is it possible to rejoice always? Many times in our lives we can’t seem to find reason to rejoice. All the time, in every circumstance, rejoice! Today, tomorrow, next week, rejoice. In pain, in happiness, in failure, in success, in a heart break, disappointment, job promotion, accidents, healing – rejoice always; always.

You may say, “that is cliché, church language but it’s not actually possible!” Yet the word of God is a lamp to our feet, a light onto our paths, it shows us where we really are in life, who we really are and more than that, the path we ought to take. We neglect it at our own peril. The word calls us to rejoice, not in any other thing, but in the lord. I have come to find that the more we stop looking elsewhere and fix our eyes on the Lord, on the author and perfecter of our faith, the more we will discover great reason to rejoice, in fact, we will rejoice always irrespective of the external circumstance. We ought to pray as the psalmist: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:3,37)

And even in those seasons when we honestly feel we have reached the end of the rope, let us with the psalmist learn to speak thus to our hearts: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

I have been through a season in my life when I was so discouraged. It felt as if my heart was being agonizingly torn into a million pieces daily, my insides being churned out; a time when I dreaded the night for with it came the long hours of fighting with my thoughts for hours… till I eventually gave way to sleep. I seemed to have stepped on an endless spiral path of joylessness, even in the midst of this happy family of Christian friends; until I turned from concentrating on what I seemed to have lost and started looking at who God was, what he had done and what he was and will continue to do. Again, I was struck at how He is a great and mighty God, yet a God of love. I was reassured looking at how much Christ Jesus had done for me; even today He is praying for me. Then I came to the conclusion: whatever happens, I have great reason to rejoice in the Lord, always.

Friend, rejoice in the Lord, always!

 

 

 

Christ’s first Sermon at Nazareth

All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (Luke 4:22)

 From miracles to teachings, God continued to reveal His grand salvation plan for mankind. Jesus’ teachings were simple and yet filled with power, authority and Godly wisdom that quite often lead Him to quote the words of the prophets and their subsequent fulfilment in Him. Whether His audience was a crowd (Matt 5-7), or a single person (John 4:5-42), Jesus taught excellently. His message was always received with mixed reactions though His glory was always revealed.

Today we are delighted to reflect on His first sermon at Nazareth. It was a dramatic declaration of His global purpose of the salvation for this world as He struck at the core of the Jewish erroneous world view. Luke records that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom.” He was handed the scroll, He unfurled it to a particular passage – Isaiah 61, and He began to read. Fascinated attention is on Him in verse 20, and open admiration in verse 22. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, He goes on to remind them of the story in 1Kings 17:8-24, of the time when there was famine in Israel, and God had sent the Prophet Elijah to a Zarephath to sustain him. I still wonder why amongst all people in Israel, God sent this great prophet to a woman who was a widow, Gentile (Sidonian), was poor and miserable with a very genuine excuse (1Kings 17:12).

Unmoved by the widow’s excuse, he kept insisting that He should be given a small meal of bread. The widow’s response is of great faith and obedience to God, and through this God restored food and water, oil and wine to the people of Israel. Zarephath didn’t square in the Jewish value system, why if anyone ought to be singled out as a model of faith, it ought to be one of the prominent men of the community, not some poor widow up north.

Jesus brought forth another example of a gentile (2Kings 5), Naaman who was an army commander of the Syrian army and a leper. He was cleansed by the power of God when all other lepers –all Hebrews were left unclean. All the Jews cared about was that vengeance had to be poured out in its fullness to the Gentiles. Jesus isn’t trying to offend the Jews but He is emphasizing to everyone the beginning of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah that a New Creation has begun in which there is good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind and liberation for all those who are oppressed. The Good News isn’t a gift for the Jews to hoard for themselves but a responsibility for everyone to share graciously with others.

Jesus reminded the Jews and us of Zarephath and Namaan so that we might pick lessons of how He reveals His glory to anyone at any time regardless of social status and level of ambition. Simply believe His great teachings, and you will realize His glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ’s Glory Reveled through Miracles

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:2)

Still in the season of Epiphany, we revisit the manifestation of God’s salvation to different peoples – now through miracles. Over 20 miracles are recorded in the gospels! And at each, peole are amazed and recognize the Messiah more and more. Back in Mark 6 we read about Jesus feeding 5000, and now in Mark 8 we come to a very similar miracle, the feeding of the 4000. You may wonder, why did Jesus perform this miracle twice, and why did God choose to have Mark record them both? If the whole point was that Jesus is able to feed many people with just a little food, didn’t he already make that point with the 5000? And besides, although feeding 4000 is pretty good, it’s not as impressive as feeding 5000. So what is the point?

Jesus says, “I have compassion on the crowd”. This means that “His heart went out to them”. Compassion is “sympathy coupled with a desire to help”. He was moved by their need and He decided to do something about it. I praise the Lord that we serve a God who genuinely cares about the needs of His people. We should never hesitate to bring our needs to Him! He knows our situations (Job 23:10), and He cares about our need (Psa 34:15). He cares about you!

This miracle also reminds us that Jesus is the universal Savior. When Jesus fed the 5000, in Mark 6:35-44, the crowd was made up of Jews. When this miracle is performed, Jesus is in a part of the country that is mostly Gentile. He wants His disciples to know that He came to save people from every “nation, and tribe, and language, and people” (Rev. 14:6). No person in the world is off limits to the Gospel message. As religious Jews, the disciples had been raised up to consider Gentiles excluded. They had been taught that they should have no contact with someone who was not a Jew. Jesus wanted them to understand that He came into the world to save His people, wherever they might be found.  He is calling upon us today to do the same. Yes, Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah, but He came for all humanity, regardless of religion, nationality or race.

In this miracle, Jesus used what the disciples already possessed, that is, seven loaves and a few fish. The ingredients of the miracle were provided by the disciples. Have you ever thought that solutions to gigantic problems (like global warming, terrorism, poverty, AIDS) could be within your reach? Politicians, scientists, entrepreneurs and spiritual leaders cannot solve these problems alone, though many look up to them. Jesus is asking, “How many loaves do you have?” Most importantly, Jesus is the bread of life, and if you have Him you have the most important ingredient. If you let Him use what you have and what you are, the world is not only happier but will also see the glory of God – His salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Whatever you do: Disciples’ Discipline

 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 

knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24)

 School and University going youth are the target of many philosophies, ideologies, false prophets and cults. Jesus warns in Matt 7:15 – ‘watch out for false prophets’. Paul on the other hand calls upon you to ‘think of yourself with sober judgment’ (Rom 12:3) and to exercise the disciples’ discipline. Whether you have committed yourself to follow a great manifesto or a great master, this always requires discipline. Many dictionaries will define discipline as ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.’ Discipline is more positive than that: in the Bible it refers to moral discipline – the strenuous cultivation of the righteous life, or simply “sobering”. It is therefore of great benefit to be in deliberate control of your direction with purpose and a clear goal. Without discipline, one staggers and sluggishly and stagnantly rotates around the same place, to staleness, or even to false teachings!

The word ‘disciple’ means a learner, or in the widest sense refers to those who accept the teachings of someone, not only in belief but in life; the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he is also in practice an adherent. The disciple needs discipline to successfully learn and live, to follow and reach the goal. The apostle Paul gives believers encouragement to exercise the disciples’ discipline when he speaks to Colossians that had received Christ Jesus as Lord:

  1. a) Walk in Him: Call upon Him in the morning and in the evening, meditate on Him constantly to make your practices conformable to His principles; think about and consult Him while in that valley of decision; when your conscience convicts you of straying or sin or indecency or money dealings, yield to the will of Christ your Lord – walk in Him. In whatever you do, focus on serving and pleasing Him, not just people.
  2. b) Rooted and built up in Him: He is your anchor without whom you will wander and get lost in the sea of the world; he is your foundation without whom your faith will collapse at the slightest wind of deception; he is your fertile soil, your source of water, minerals and nutrients without whom you will dry up and starve spiritually and die; he is your reference point from whom all your values spring.
  3. c) Abounding in thanksgiving: first and most importantly for the saving revelation of Christ as Lord and Saviour, in whom you have put your faith; and then many other reasons for thanksgiving – numerous gifts if you care to count.

Whether as a new or continuing student, or in political leadership, strategic management or just in our daily lives, the need for discipline cannot be overemphasized. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can give you the power to keep the focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace for God-given assignments

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8)

 The seriousness with which an assignment is treated depends on who the master is. This shows the respect accorded to the master and the satisfaction and prestige that comes with achieving for that master. Assignments from lesser masters will all be dropped in order to give priority to assignments from the greater master – partly because of the prestige and partly because the greater master facilitates and pays better. As much as this applies to our business and political affairs today, it applies similarly in the Kingdom of God. All mature Christians ought to recognize that they have mandatory God-given assignments.

Baptism is a sacrament in which, by repentance and faith we enter into God’s salvation: we are united with Christ in His death; we are granted the forgiveness of sins; we are raised with Him to new life in the Spirit.

In Confirmation, we come to be filled with the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands and to be strengthened with His for worship, witness and service, as mature Christians.

We need the Holy Spirit to carry out any God-given assignment successfully. The theme of this year is ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’ (Exod 2:9), drawn from the story of Moses’ childhood. One thing I tend to believe is that Moses’ mother must have taken extra care in raising this boy because the assignment was beyond her being that natural mother; the assignment was from the Palace – from the princess, who also promised to pay her wages. She was raising a prince! By divine extension, she was actually raising a prince for the Kingdom of God. He went to Pharaoh’s palace and was equipped for great deliverance assignments; but when he tried to do the work, he was overcome by fear and the laws of the land; he was not yet sufficiently empowered. He ended up in exile in Midian. There he would later have a life-changing encounter with God; this was the empowerment Moses needed to overcome the Egyptian powers.

As for the disciples that Jesus commissioned to be witnesses, they too required an encounter with God in order to be sufficiently empowered for the assignment. Jesus expressly instructed them not to leave Jerusalem until they “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come”. They received this encounter on the day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit’s power drove them to evangelize the world, the odds notwithstanding.

Two truths remain: Every mature Christian has an assignment from God and ought to receive and perform it with enthusiasm. Secondly, we need the Holy Spirit’s power to be able to perform any God-given assignment. Sometimes we are lost for direction and other time we are discouraged, but with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you are sure to perform that effectively.

 

 

‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’

“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him.”  (Exod 2:9)

 Do you remember the stories about Moses? He is such a prominent figure in the Bible, involved in very interesting drama episodes: his movie has action – he killed an Egyptian enemy of some Israelite, and later led Israel to war with Amalekites and many others; the movie has comedy – he witnessed a burning bush that didn’t burn, and spoke with an invisible being as if he was mad! The movie also has magic – his stick could turn into a snake and it could perform magic (we call them miracles in the Bible), like bringing the plagues in Egypt. There are indeed many interesting stories about Moses, but for today we zoom in into his early years – his childhood especially.

The theme of this year is ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’ (Exod 2:9), drawn from the story of Moses’ childhood. Moses was born to Israelite parents in Egypt. At that time Israelites were slaves and there was a law that all Israelite baby boys should be killed; however, Moses’ parents decided to hide him and later took to leave him in the shrubs by the river. When the king’s daughter came and found him, she liked the baby very much and decided to adopt him as her son. It is at this point that she found an Israelite woman (who actually was Moses’ mother) to take care of the child until he grew up, then Moses would be brought back to live and belong to the Palace. ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’: when you think more deeply about these words of the Princess, many ideas and action points come to mind:

Children belong to the Palace. Children belong to God, who is the King. The Bible clearly says ‘children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD’ (Psalm 127:3). Moses’ Israelite parents turned out to have played only a limited role of producing and nursing the boy, but legally he belonged to the king (Pharaoh); we see later that Moses actually ran away and found where he truly belonged – to the King of kings, the LORD God Almighty, who called and revealed himself to an older Moses. What does it mean to belong to God? As a child, a youth or as an adult, it is important to consider how to live as one that belongs to the King of heaven. Also as a parent, it is important to consider how to care for children and youth who legally belong to the LORD.

We need to give every Child an opportunity to grow and excel in their God given gifts and potentials. For elders and parents, respecting the image of God in every child demands a Christ-like response to nurture them intentionally. We will spend more time this year drawing lessons form nurture stories in the Bible.

 

 

Epiphany: Christ the Wisdom and Power of God

“but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  (1Cor 1:23-24)

 Epiphany is the moment of sudden and great revelation or realization: for the wise men recorded in Matthew’s second chapter, a provocatively bright star led them to this – to find and worship the new-born King; for the celebrants at the Cana wedding, turning water into wine drew their eyes and minds upon this miracle worker; for John the Baptist, the heavenly dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit rested on a man who John now identified as the Lamb of God. All these were Epiphanies – the revelation of Jesus Christ as King. Such Epiphanies continue in personal, community and national contexts: Think about Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, when “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” (Acts 9) – a total conversion ensuing out of this great revelation. Follow this man to Corinth for another Epiphany.

Who were the Corinthians? When it comes to the task of preaching the gospel, there are places that are very hard – the gospel does not easily penetrate; plenty of birds are present to eat up every gospel seed that falls there, and the rock is so hard that any remnant seed just cannot start growing; or the thorns are so aggressive that any seed that dares germinate will be chocked immediately. Such was the city of Corinth – eminent among all ancient cities for wealth, and luxury, and indulgence. It was a signal illustration of the grace of God, and the power of the gospel, that a church was organized in that city of gay, fashion, luxury, and immorality; put simply, even Corinth experienced an Epiphany!

This shows that the gospel is adapted to meet and overcome all forms of wickedness, and to subdue all classes of people to itself. If it could happen in Corinth, there is not now a city on earth so gay and so reckless that the same gospel may not overcome its corruptions, and subdue it to the cross of Christ.

Albert Barnes’ introduction points to the possibility that ‘Sosthenes, who was the principal agent of the Jews in arraigning Paul before Gallio, was converted, and perhaps some other persons of distinction; but it is evident that the Corinthian church was chiefly composed of those who were in the more humble walks of life’. The two categories of people here in this city are the Jews and the Gentiles, some of high ranks in society, and majority of poor and lowly lowly status. Paul asserts that no matter what the story of Christ’s Cross sounds like to Jews or Gentiles, from both peoples have come a thrid category: those who believe, to whom the truth about Christ has been revealed. And to these that believe – those who have experienced the Epiphany – Christ crucified is the wisdom of God and the power of God. He is the same today – open your eyes, behold and embrace Christ the Lord in your life.