Faith Hope and Love

faith hope love

Elkanah Cheboi

There are some crucial essentials in life that God wants all his children to know so as to live a life full of life. That is, a life that is fulfilling while delighting in God.

While addressing issues on spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ at Corinth, Apostle Paul mentions three important things that should remain in the life of a believer. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13. These three are what the church and individual believers should be known for. Let’s have a look at each one of them.

Faith

We all have faith either on a person or a thing. But again we desperately need faith that is firm and that is put on an object that is trustworthy. Biblically, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we…

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SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO PRAY IN LIGHT OF TERRORIST ACTIVITIES AND GROUPS

SOMALIA MILITIA
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We live in times when terror activities are happening at escalating rates in different parts of the world. How should we respond as Christians? The Bible teaches us to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44), and focus on the Sovereign God. The answers to the challenges we face today can only be found by focusing not on ourselves but on God. And so like the disciples of Jesus we need to ask God to teach us how to pray, Lk 11:1. In our prayers we need to praise God for who He is, give thanks for the things He does and promises, confess our sins, and present our petitions to Him.

PRAISE THE LORD GOD

  • Praise the Lord of Hosts who commands armies of the heaven.
  • Praise Him who is the great Warrior; for his great power to subdue his enemies.
  • Praise him for the victory he gives to his servants and the church.

GIVE THANKS

  • Thank God for the hope he gives even in the midst of confusing times.
  • Thank God for he is accomplishing something new to those who love him even through terrorism; Rom 8:28.
  • Thank God for the remnant saints in those terrorist stricken areas; and the fact that despite numerous challenges and persecution the gospel is growing and bearing fruit everywhere in the world.
  • Thank God for the victory he promises to his loved ones.
  • Thank God for those heroes of faith who have courageously stood strong till the end.

CONFESSION

  • For the times the church has not lived up to its mission to the world as it should.
  • Ask for forgiveness of sins- Many times a talk on terrorism generates a lot of emotion toward particular groups. Some negative emotions can lead us to sin in our speech, thoughts, and views by expressing hate and resentment.

SUPPLICATION-

Pray for the defeat of these terror groups– Pray the lament (like Ps 28, 70) prayers and imprecatory (like Ps 35, 109) Psalms. Don’t fear to pray for God to judge and repay the wicked for their evil. Pray for the defeat of God’s enemies as promised in scriptures (Ps 2).

Pray for ‘Damascus experience’ to the terrorists– Terrorism is a problem of the heart. No one was born a terrorist. Terrorism is a deception of the devil and zeal without knowledge. Pray that the light of Christ will shine upon the individual terrorists destined for salvation.

Pray “Your kingdom come” and “your will be done”– In Christ’s incarnation and inauguration of the church the kingdom is come in part. Pray Maranatha, for the full revelation of Gods kingdom- a kingdom that is characterized by justice, righteousness, joy, peace, and justice. Pray that God’s will be done even with the immigration situation today.

Pray for the universal body of Christ– Pray that the church will continually be strengthened, grow, faithful to its mission, and have endurance.  Pray for the unity of church and believers.

Pray for the government (s) to assume their divine role– Pray for that the government in its efforts to stop radicalization of young people, and bring to justice criminals and terrorists. Pray for the government as it seeks to accomplish its God-given mandate as an, “agent of wrath to bring punishment on the evil doer” Rom 13:4.

Pray for security forces in our cities and countries– Pray for their protection, effectiveness and more so their families. Pray for true security from above, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” Ps 127:1.

Pray for the victims of war– Many innocent lives suffer while others perish, families are separated, property destroyed, vulnerable people displaced and forced to be refugees in foreign lands. Pray that in hopelessness that they will find hope in Christ.

Pray for missionaries and other humanitarian workers in “risk” areas– Pray for protection and sufficient grace to those who have risked their lives to serve in war zones.

Pray for young people– That they will not be lured to the Islamic radicalization. The evil one always seeks to establish a stronghold among the young generation.

Pray for our love as Christians to increase- Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, Matt 5:44. Obviously, it is easier to pray for a friend than an enemy or someone who derives joy from murdering innocent people. Pray that the love of believers will abound more and more in knowledge and deep insight.

Pray for spiritual wisdom in understanding the times– Pray for Christians to have knowledge of the times (evil times, Eph 5:16) and understand how to respond; to be like men of Issachar who, understood the times and knew what Israel should do, 1 Chron 12:32. Pray that our inner eyes be opened to see the things God is accomplishing amidst prevalence of evil. Pray that God fills his people with the knowledge of his will. Pray that believers will continue yield to the Spirit and live lives worthy of the Lord and please his in every way.

Pray that Christians will pray– This sounds out of context but it is important. In perplexing times, it is very easy to respond with fear, unbelief, worry, and pessimistic attitude and forget the role we ought to take. Pray that the church will be vigilant in prayer. “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil4:5-7.

DOES JUBILEE GOVERNMENT HAVE POWER TO CONTROL CHURCHES?

 

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Recently the government of Kenya introduced new regulations that affect churches, mosques, and other religious groups claiming to be stepping up its efforts to weed out rogue preachers. This is not an isolated case; issuing of regulations by the Jubilee government can be seen in other new regulations that has affected Media fraternity and NGO’s. Seemingly, the state is slowly but deliberately usurping more and more power, and this time round, power to control the church and church affairs. This systematic ploy started a year ago when the government stopped registration of churches.

The Communication Authority of Kenya in a new regulation restrains preachers from using broadcasting channels to convert people to their opinion or faith or ask to get ‘saved’ as they often do in their broadcasts. This is a blow to evangelical broadcasters because a call to be ‘saved’ or ‘born again’ is one of their primary tenets.

Other new rules by Attorney General require clerics to submit certificates of good conduct and their theological certificates from credible institutions of learning that have been reviewed by the umbrella organizations. In Kenyan context, this is a big blow to many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches who have not heavily invested in the education of their clergy. With this new law they risk a closure. Religious societies in Kenya are also required to have its constitution stating its programs, ministries, charitable activities and education activities it is involved in and details of persons coordinating these activities. The rule requires all religious leaders must make a declaration of familial relations with other religious leaders and officers-officers include secretary, treasurer, trustees and committee members. All religious societies are to seek registration and be subject to Registrar’s inspection.

The Religious Societies rules also require branches of churches with headquarters abroad to produce letters authorizing them to operate and also produce letters of recommendation from embassies in Kenya. All foreign clerics in Kenya must get work permits and 30% of officials must be of Kenyan origin. The rules further state that religious societies are required to display prominently their certificates of registration from the Registrar. Clerics who breach the new regulations drafted by AG will be liable for prosecution or sh 20,000 fine.

Once the rules are gazetted all existing religious groups have one year to comply with the new laws.

Church leaders have strongly condemned the regulations arguing that the state harbors ulterior motives and infringing on the constitutional right of freedom of worship. They claim they were not involved in drafting the final document that has been published. However a section of leaders drawn from the mainstream wing perceive it differently. The regulations, they believe, will protect desperate followers and help bring order in many new churches.

The opposition party leaders have also come out strongly opposing the new regulations.

Sustained pressure from religious leaders and opposition party has let the president to direct the AG to further consult with religious leaders.

Admittedly, there are fake preachers out there who are not interested with the true gospel but enriching themselves with “seed” money from their desperate followers. Distortion of the gospel is not a new thing. Jesus, the good shepherd, forearmed the church when he forewarned of fake shepherds who abandon the sheep and runs away when they see a wolf coming, Jn 10:12. Further he warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matt 7:15.

Apostle Paul noted that there are those who “preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely” Phil 2:17. They “pervert the gospel of Christ” Gal 1:7 by preaching a “different gospel-which is really no gospel at all”. The Bible also warns of a time “when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Tim 4:3. So the truth is, there are false preachers but there are also audiences who will always entertain their messages because it suits their own desires.

The government has justified the introduction of the new regulations using the case of Victor Kanyari of Salvation Healing Ministry (who was exposed by investigative KTN journalists to have been faking miracles to enrich himself). This is unsound and misinformed, for the government to use few examples of con men to issue a blanket accusation to all preachers. This amounts to persecution of the church. There are a lot of faithful preachers out there who sacrificially labor, live, and preach the true gospel. Normally, you do not use bad examples to suppress those doing right instead you empower the ones doing right to overpower the wrong. But the case here is the opposite.

I am not advocating that those who manipulate people for selfish ends should evade justice. Rather, cases are better handled individually and due legal process followed. Each one should carry his/her own cross if found guilty of stealing from people.

In my opinion the state has no power to regulate the church. And by seeking to regulate churches, it is overstepping in its divine mandate. Biblically, the state is not the head of the church, Christ is (Eph 1:22). Jesus is the head and the church his body, 1 Cor 12. In addition, it is not the role of the state or even the church to preoccupy itself with separating tares from wheat.

In the parable of wheat and tares Jesus exhorted, that the servants were not allowed to uproot the weeds because they may root up the wheat with them. Instead, they should “Let both grow together until the harvest” Matt 13:30. At the time of harvest, the Harvester will come with “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” LK 3:17. Jesus knows how to purify his church, he has been doing it and he will ultimately do it.

Again, this does not mean that the state has no role whatsoever in protecting those that are vulnerable to exploitation. The point is, on church matters and activities the state need to let the church be. In fact there is no crisis to warrant the new regulations. The church should be left to govern itself. It is able to.

The government could have handled this matter amicably by giving recognition to church bodies like NCCK, Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal churches &ministries, and EAK and the role they do to supervise what goes on within the churches under them. These bodies collectively can come up with biblical interpretation of what the church is, central tenets that define orthopraxy and orthodoxy (like the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds) and guidelines that safeguard the true gospel. This is possible and agreeable. I strongly suggest this can be one of the ways to move forward. These bodies can also be helpful in preliminary process of church registration before they are forwarded to the Registrar of Societies. Again, these umbrella bodies can be point of contact between the government and the individual churches or denominations.

Meanwhile these church bodies should do some housekeeping matters to ensure order in the churches under them. Personally, I think some of the regulations make sense. For example we need preachers trained in theology, and we do not need government to tell us. My argument against the regulations by the government is based on the interests of the wider body of Christ (as opposed to my denomination/ministry) and that should guide the opinion of all church leaders. And so the move to amend the document is welcome.

But how can Christians today define truth from error and avoid external interference? I have argued elsewhere that we need Christian apologists and polemics to arise and expose error and defend the truth. This is one way of helping desperate people to know the truth and not fall prey to fraudsters.

Where is your hope anchored this Christmas?

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Hope is something you must have to continue living. It has been said, “A person can live 40days without food, 3days without water, 5minutes without air, but not a second without hope.” There are two godly persons, full of hope, mentioned in the story of Jesus when he was presented to the Lord in Jerusalem. Simeon and Prophetess Anna. Read the whole story in Luke 2:21-38.

Simeon was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem; and “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel” that is- looking forward to the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. This hope gave him purpose to live each day in expectation.

We are also told the Holy Spirit was upon him and it had been revealed to him that he would not die before he has seen the Christ (anointed one of God).

God reveals himself to those who earnestly seek him. He satisfies the thirst and hunger of those who long for him.

When Jesus was presented to him, he took him in his arms and praised the Lord: for fulfilling his promise, for enabling him to see God’s salvation for his people Israel and Gentiles. He saw beyond a baby; in Jesus, he saw God’s grand plan of salvation.

Having seen his aspiration fulfilled, Simeon asked for one thing: to be dismissed in peace. Jesus was everything that he had hoped for. To him, Jesus is the single greatest treasure that the merchant found and sold everything he had to acquire. The fulfillment of Messianic prophecy before his eyes fulfilled every longing in his heart that he now readily desired death.

The Greek word translated dismiss/depart (ἀπολύεις) has several background that enrich its shade of meaning. It means to release a prisoner, to untie a ship and set sail, to take down a tent, and to unyoke a beast of burden. Death to a believer is a release from the burdens of this life to rest in the next life. Like Simeon, we can only be ready to meet our Maker when we have seen/experienced the salvation of God.

Likewise, prophetess Anna was godly old widow who spent her time in the temple. She “worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” Lk 2:37. At the sight of the child, she gave thanks to God and spoke of the child as the fulfillment of the longing of those who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

It is no doubt that these two godly people lived in a hopeless time. All around them, Greco-Roman context, were empty philosophies, religion was amoral, impersonal and polytheistic. Hope in Roman politics and security was futile and disappointing. Monotheistic religions like Judaism were plagued by the legalism of the Pharisees, withdrawal of the Essence and the half-truths of the Sadducees. These two were examples of few remnants that chose to put their hope in God’s intervention and fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. The two chose to have hope in God’s word.

In a world faced with war, terrorism, hatred, diseases, violence, what should be our hope? When we see evil in the world or even in the church what should be our response? Like Simeon and Anna, we need to focus on living godly lives. In addition, we should live in anticipation to the second coming of Jesus and the revelation of God’s eternal kingdom. That is a kingdom of joy, peace, and righteousness. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come” and Maranatha (Please Lord Come!). Therefore Christmas celebration reminds us to hope in God, to look into the future with anticipation of God’s triumph over evil.

The birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of a promised “seed of a woman” that will crush the head of the serpent

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Christmas is a celebration of the fulfillment of God’s promise to humanity.

In the beginning, Bible records, God created the heavens and the earth. He created man in his own image and to have fellowship with him. He blessed them.

However, the blessedness in Genesis 1-2 was cut short by man’s disobedience in Genesis 3. Man is cursed, banished from the garden of Eden, and the fellowship with God is broken. But with the reality of human falleness and hopelessness, God breathes hope to the human situation.

Right from Genesis, He makes a promise of a “seed of a woman” who will crush the head of the serpent; “and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel, (Gen 3:15). This verse has been referred to as protoevangelium; the first announcement of the gospel.

The restoration of the Baraka/blessings of Gen 1 and 2 was promised. However, this restoration/redemption was not going to be instant, but will roll out progressively.

Sin is serious. Therefore solving this human enigma will require more than human efforts. It must involve divine initiative and intervention for humanity to be rescued its  helpless state.

Sinfulness and guilt was not going to be atoned for by covering oneself with leaves but by subtitutionary death of a life-thing. Meanwhile animal blood (life) had to be shed as it awaited for the perfect sacrifice (the promised ‘seed of  a woman’) who will remove sin once for all. The fulfillment of this promise took several generations; levitical priesthood becoming a shadow of the reality to come in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.

The promise of a “seed” or offspring in Gen 3:15 and the message of blessings that was eclipsed by the fall of man is revived in the Noahic covenant. Again in the midst of human wickedness (Gen. 9:1-4,8-11), God blesses Noah and his sons: Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth (Gen 9:1).

In Genesis 12, God in his redemptive agenda for mankind calls Abraham and makes a covenant with him.  He promises him land, nation and blessings.  The promise, “and all people on earth will be blessed through you” was going to be accomplished through his “seed”. And subsequent generations became inheritors of the eternal promise. Out of Abraham would come a nation (Israel) that will be God’s vehicle of bringing blessings to entire world. The promise of the seed remained.

Later in history, God made a covenant with David, 2 Samuel 7:11-16 and Psalms 89. He reaffirms his former eternal promise of a seed/offspring.  He promised David that an “offspring” after him will establish the throne of his kingdom forever, 2 Samuel 7:11-13 (it does not in strict sense refer to Solomon thought he inherits the throne from his father). These promises are made to David, but David like Adam was a human representative in the covenant.

The prophets also expounded on the promise affirmed to David, In that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious, (Isa. 11:10-12).

Man always broke his part of the covenant but God remained faithful. God further promised to make a New Covenant. ‘New’ does not mean that it deviates from the old covenant but it builds up on it, guaranteeing better thing to come. The New Covenant promises a new heart, the law placed directly within the heart, a responsive attitude toward God’s law (Jer. 32:39). The new covenant takes the redemptive story to a higher level. In the New Covenant, Gentiles would come to know Yahweh, (Isa. 49:6; Ezk. 36:23’37:28).

All the covenants God made in the OT became fulfilled through the seed/offspring in the line of David, Jesus Christ. The incarnation of Jesus decisively dealt with the power of sin, Satan, and death. Indeed, the evil forces tried to strike his heel (in the cross), but he crushed the head of the serpent; triumphing over them by the cross, Col 2:15.

It therefore matters that Mathew in his account (Matt. 1) traces the lineage of Joseph to Abraham through King David; Luke traces it even further to Adam (Lk 3). The promise was specific and had to be fulfilled in its specifics. It was not through a Marakwet (my tribe) or any other Gentile that the offspring would come from but from the line of David.

An Encouragement this Christmas- Promises of God must come to pass- Many generations (around 42 to Abraham) patiently waited for the promises of God to be fulfilled in their times but it never happened. But that did no cancel the promise. The promise remained. God is faithful to thousands upon thousands of generations. He cannot forget his word, or change his mind along the way.  Are you praying for someone/something or patiently waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled in your life? Don’t lose hope even when the fulfillment delays. Christmas season is a reminder that God’s promise stands. Jesus promised to come back soon; it is now two thousand years since the promise was made. The promise remains “I am coming soon!”.

Are you looking forward for the fulfillment of his promise?

The Birth of Jesus Prophesied

prophet

Jesus’ birth was long prophesied before it took place. The prophets, through the power of the Holy Spirit, made specific revelations concerning the Messiah to come. They talked in detail concerning the birth, life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Jesus.

A few examples- right after the fall of man there was a pronunciation of a “seed of a woman” that will crush the head of the serpent Gen. 3:15; David in Psalms talked about Messiah to come (Ps. 2, 16, 22, 69, and 110). It is clear through NT hermeneutics that the full application of these Psalms pointed to the coming Messiah.

Isaiah prophesied about 750 years before Christ. Isaiah 9:6-7 reads, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

In this portion of scripture Isaiah mentioned key things worth pointing. First, Messiah was to be born a child. Second, He will be a ruler over God’s people Israel and the world (also in Zech. 14:9). Third, names are given that describe his character (Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, prince of peace). This is a revelation of both the humanity and divinity of the Messiah.

Fourth, he will rule on David’s throne with justice, righteousness, and peace flowing from his throne. His kingdom will have no end (also see Dan. 7:14,27; Mic. 4:7). Fifth, the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. The realization of this prophecy will be God-driven. It utterly depends on God. Prophet Micah prophesied of a coming ruler from Bethlehem, “whose origins are from of old” Mic. 5:2.

In the OT, there were three offices that God ordained: king, priest, and prophet. No one person in the entire period of OT did occupy all these three offices and functions. For instance, King David was both a prophet and a king but not a priest; Samuel was a priest and a prophet but was not a king. But prophecies indicated that, in one person, these three offices will be fulfilled. Jesus becomes the king of kings, the high priest in the heavenly sanctuary and the prophet.  This is what we exactly get in the NT. The birth of Jesus is with no doubt the fulfillment of the OT.

The gospel authors clearly pointed out that the birth of Christ was foretold by the prophets. Mathew quotes Isaiah 7:14; 40:3-5; Jeremiah 31:15, Micah 5:2, Hosea 11:1 because the birth of Jesus was according to the Scriptures.

In the birth of Christ, we see the fulfillment of prophecy in part; we now await for the fulfillment of the eschatological prophecies. But are we also living in prophetic times?

In 1 Peter 1:10-12, we are told that the prophets who prophesied about salvation and the grace that was to be ours searched and carefully inquired concerning these things. They also longed to see these things happen in their own times but it were not to be so. The revelation belonged to us and the prophets were serving us!

Today, because of our position in history, we are blessed to understand these things better than the OT people, or those who lived in the past  generations. We are blessed to know God’s plan in totality. Therefore we have a great reason to celebrate Christmas! At least we can look back and comprehend what awaits us in the future. #merrychristmass

 

The Birth of Jesus a historical fact

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One of the things that the gospel authors emphasized in their accounts was that Jesus birth did in fact happen at a particular point of time in history. The historical, geographical, cultural, and religious details mentioned can be proved, explained, and/or be verified historically. The record of biblical events happened in real places showing that the birth of Jesus was real. The power of Holy Spirit overshadowed a virgin woman named Mary and indeed she gave birth to a Son, Jesus in Bethlehem in Judea.

According to the Bible, Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2:1). Historically, Caesar Augustus, son of Octavius and Aria, ruled the Roman Empire from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. Again, Jesus was born in the time of King Herod (Matt. 2:1). Historical evidence indicates King Herod the Great ruled until 4 B.C.; the approximate time Jesus was born.

Further, Mary and Joseph are not fictitious but real people. They both traveled to Bethlehem, a town 96Km south of Nazareth, to take census. Roman government took census every fourteen years for both military and tax purposes, and each person had to return to his homeland or where he own a property. Mary and Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea; to Bethlehem, the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David. It is here in Bethlehem that Jesus was born (Lk. 2:4) thus fulfilling OT prophecies. This was while Quirinius was the governor of Syria (Lk.2:1-5). Today, we know of a tax census that was done in 6 A.D under Quirinius the governor of Syria; but Luke’s account seems to indicate one a prior to this.

The evidence for the historicity of Jesus is overwhelming; you can’t deny his physical existence in the face of the earth about 2000 years ago.

But why the historical emphasis?

It is very important not just for unbelievers/doubters to know but also for believers. Luke in his carefully investigated account to Theophilus, and by extension to us writes, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:4). Luke had unrivalled access to the primary sources, the eye witnesses, and that speaks of the authoritative nature of his account just like other gospel accounts. It is also for us today to know that the things fulfilled and recorded in the NT concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus was “not cleverly invented stories” 2 Pet 1:16 but a clear testimony of the truth.

These historical facts may not increase one’s faith but it confirms the fact that our faith is not based on mythologies, human wisdom, or fictitious stories but on a solid  foundation of truth. #merrychristmas

AN EVANGELICAL PASTOR REFLECTS ON POPE’S RECENT VISIT TO AFRICA

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Let me start by making a few observations. First, I share this reflections as a protestant evangelical within the main line church in Kenya. As one rooted in the reformed tradition, I am clearly aware of the doctrinal difference existing between my tradition and the R.C. Church. This notwithstanding, I need to point out that I have close friends serving in the catholic church as clergy and some as scholars whose love for Jesus in their lives continue to impact my walk with the Lord every day. Indeed, the typical stereotype that is common within some of us is the view that see many in the R.C church as nominal Christians. I wish to point out that nominal Christians are equally present within protestant churches. Yet within these two distinct traditions (Protestantism and R.C) there are brothers and sisters who confess our savior and Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, I share my own reflections on Pope Francis based on this visit to Africa as I listened to his speeches and observed his movements.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis has captured the imaginations of the world in recent times.From the moment the world was introduced to the 266th catholic pontiff, Pope Francis has distinguished himself as the most ‘radical’ church leader of our time. Of the Jesuit order, he was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on December 17th 1936 in Buenos Aires in Argentina.Upon his appointment on March 13th 2013 following the resignation of his predecessor,he chose Francis as his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi. Since his appointment, he has spoken on various issues but mainly onfamily, social justice and environmental concerns. His maiden trip to Africa recently saw him visit Kenya, Uganda and Central Africa Republic. Of many things that can be said of this visit, I could draw three major points that stood out for me;

  1. He is a great communicator and a genius at that– This goes beyond his great and powerful speeches to his actions. There is a way Pope Francis speaks powerfully to many through his actions. His choosing to ride on modest Honda spoke volume of his humility especially to those of us in positions of leadership in the church and society. He has a common touch. He can spot a widow, notice a child and stop to kiss a physically challenged person. By visiting Kangemi slums, he brought hope and life to those marginalized in the society. His visit to a Mosque in C.A.R. will go a long way in strengthening peace and reconciliation initiatives in this war torn country. By reaching those in the periphery, he has brought the church to the poor, and the church of the poor to the attention of the world.
  2. He is not a liberal theologian. This is something the media gets wrong on him all the time.The writer of the New York times on December 2, 2015 writing on the ‘Pope’s Failure in Africa’ accused pope Francis for his silence on gay issue on his visit to Africa. In July 2013 while flying back from Brazil, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist on his position on gay issue to which he posed, “Who am I to Judge?’The media misunderstood him to mean he was sympathetic to gay agenda. Indeed, the pontiff was simply reminding himself and the church, that the cross provided a level playing field for all with regard to sin. No sin is greater than the other. How sobering this reminder is for us as Christians.
  3. He has challenged capitalism that is not controlled. His speech against corruption and greed was a call to check on the excess of capitalism. Corruption is not only stealing from public coffers,but also the malpractices in business that disadvantages the poor hence feeding the gap between the rich and the poor. He went further to locate the seat of corruption as the heart and called for its ‘transplant’. His anecdotes in his Kasarani speech on wealth and the rich clearly issued from Psalm 49.

Indeed more can be said about this charismatic servant. But I share this particularpoints for many of us who are still stuck in October 1517 view of the R.C church. We ought to move away from this textbook view of the R.C church and open our eyes to what God is doing in his church today. Jesus prayed; “may they all be one as you father, are in me and I am in you…may they be one as we are one”(John 17:21-22).

(I am greatly indebted to Rev.Dr John Huffman for his chapel reflections on Pope  Francis based on his close interaction with the Pontiff).

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Mathew Kipchumba is a Pastor and currently attending graduate studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, USA.

 

The Insufficiency of Human Wisdom and Sufficiency of the Wisdom of God -1 Cor. 1:18-31

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I once read a book and at the back cover of the book one person recommended, “If you don’t have this book consider your library empty!” In the same vein, godly wisdom is important and if you don’t have it, I dare say consider your life to be empty!  A wise man in the Bible fears God; wisdom leads to life, bounty, blessings, sustenance, and security. A fool is by definition someone who says in his heart there is no God, Ps 14:1.

Bible talks of two kinds of wisdom: human wisdom/wisdom of the world, and wisdom of God. We do not just need any kind of wisdom but wisdom that leads to life, wisdom from above.

Wisdom of the World/Human Wisdom and its insufficiency

Basis- Human wisdom has its foundation in the cleverness of speech, persuasiveness of words-wisdom of words. The danger to this is that words can be used manipulatively, hypocritically, deceivingly.

Human wisdom is temporal– “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world” where is their power? Where are those who declared ‘God is dead’? has not the living God finally declared them dead. Where are those who mocked God/persecuted believers? Where is their wisdom? You will realize that their human wisdom and pride came/comes to nothing.  Within a twinkle of an eye, they are no more; they will be blown like chaff.

Insufficiency– The wisdom of the world is about sagacity, natural wit and only head knowledge; it consists of knowledge of natural things. It has a general knowledge of God and not specific in reference to the person of Christ; not for of lack of facts and information but lack of faith. In Rom 1:18ff, men failed to know God who has revealed himself in the universe, in man and in history. They essentially knew God but not as exhibited in Christ. It is true that not all intelligent people are wise- Jer 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:18-21. That is why salvation depends on faith not on wisdom, “to save them that believe”. It is not by human reason but by revelation. The physical cannot in itself comprehend the spiritual unless enabled.

The intellectualism of our day is insufficient in reaching God because God has made foolish the wisdom of this world. As a matter of fact, the philosophies of this world, however appealing they are, are hollow and deceptive, Col 2:8. At best they give birth to: atheism, materialism, rationalism, agnosticicsm, and refined selfishness.

We therefore need a better wisdom…

The Wisdom of God

Basis– The wisdom of God rests on the power of God- not dependent on what we know, or our eloquence, linguistic proficiency or polished accents, thoughts or our skill in exposition. It has a foundation on the gospel, the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, Rom 1:16.

The wisdom of the world leads to atheism, materialism, rationalism, or agnosticicsm but the wisdom of God leads to from a righteousness and justice, truth, peace, joy, love. When God’s wisdom is present it is evident for all to see, Gen 41:38,39; 1 kings 3:28; Dan 5:11.

The wisdom of God is about the cross. This message is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is power of to those who are being saved. It is about Jesus crucified on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin. It is about the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ; it about the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It is about the revelation of God’s love. The cross of Jesus is the wisdom of God; on that Friday afternoon it looked like it was a defeat and weakness but on the Sunday morning it was victory and power of God to impact lives. What was hidden was revealed (1 Cor. 2:7); and since then the message of the cross has continued to change lives. Your are a testimony to what am talking about here if the cross of Jesus has transformed you.

God’s wisdom is seen on the use of the weak to shame the strong. Obviously,  any coach would want to have the best players in his team to win a game. But it is not so with God. Sometimes/most times we feel inadequate but in our weakness God’s strength is manifested. He qualifies the unqualified for his service.

God in his divine ways know how to use the unwise by human standards, the un-influential, the un-noble as his vessels to display his purposes and glory. For the purpose that anyone who boasts should humbly boast in God. Do you feel inadequate for his mission? He refills those who have emptied themselves and surrendered all to him for his usefulness. Think of the disciples Jesus called. Peter and a few others would be the least persons you would want in your team; but thankfully God uses anyone willing to follow him. People noted that the disciples were unschooled ordinary men from Galilee (villages), but they were astonished by their courage and they took note that they were with Jesus, Acts 4:13. Paul in his self-evaluation confesses he was the chief of sinners, 1 Tim 1:12-16. Jesus can totally transform a person; he can make the vilest sinner live. In His wisdom, he can make the unproductive vine productive.

So why has God in his wisdom call us despite our nothingness? First to shame the strong, and second that, “the world does not know him”, he wants to use you in a unique way that will leave the world in wonder.

Do you desire wisdom from God? The wisdom of God is a person: Jesus Christ, God’s self disclosure- “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Wisdom is a person; he is personified in the book of Proverbs. We know/learn God’s purpose and plan of redemption through Jesus, the exact representation of God. We also understand the OT wisdom literature better through beholding Jesus, he is wisdom incarnate. He is the image of the invisible God, Col 1:15.  To become wise is to know Jesus. Christ who is able to save, transform, sanctify.

In comparison, V25, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, God’s “folly” is the highest wisdom; man’s highest “wisdom” is but folly.  The wisdom of the world in its pride and rebellion leads to perishing; whereas the wisdom of God leads to salvation.

On what foundation have we built our lives, families or ministries/careers on? Human wisdom will fail, but godly wisdom lasts. What the human wisdom fails to accomplish God’s wisdom does.

The wisdom of God which is also the word of God (Lk 11:49) teaches us to be humble, that God opposes the proud, not to fear but to be courageous. It instructs us on how to speak, to wait upon the Lord, it teaches us the goodness of God’s discipline, and brings in us the fruit of righteousness, how to live in evil times, how to succeed, and how to understand the will of the Lord. It comes by embracing the word, valuing it and applying it in our lives.

Make God’s wisdom your ally!

 

THE RECONCILING POWER OF THE CROSS: The message of Eph 2:11-22

cross

We have many things that divide than unite us. We can be divided along spiritual, economic, cultural, tribal, social or political lines. What is the hope of unity in such diversity? Paul’s audience faced a similar situation when differences between Gentile and Jewish believers became apparent even in the church. This negatively affected relationships within the church. But should this be the case?

In his epistle to the church in Ephesus, Paul presents the power of the cross as the hope of reconciliation. The message of reconciliation is a powerful message to any person who knows what separation or enmity really is. It is only in Jesus that two (or more) opposing groups can harmoniously become one. This is the message of Eph 2:11-22.

It is doubtless that Ephesians is one of Paul’s most elegant letters. He writes the letter in Rome while in prison for preaching the gospel. The purpose of the letter is to strengthen believers in the faith by reminding them of their position in Christ and the purpose of the church. In the first chapter he shows them the how rich believers are in Christ; in the second chapter he explains how believers have been made alive in Christ.

In verse 2:11-22 he writes to believers in Ephesus showing them that the dividing wall between the Jews and Gentiles has been destroyed in Christ. Jews and Gentiles have both been reconciled because of the cross of Christ.

The reconciling power of the cross brings about:

  1. A New Identity (verse 11-13)

Apostle Paul reminds the Gentile believers who they were formerly (before they came to Christ). They were called “uncircumcised” by “the circumcision” group (Jews). This is how the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) would refer to each other. Jews boasted of circumcision not as African men do (as a sign to mark transition from childhood to adulthood) but as a key sign of God’s covenanted people. This pride highlighted their special status before God in a way that the Gentiles were not.

It is worth noting that the imperative “remember” is the only imperative in chapter 1-3; Paul wanted his listeners to be continually aware of the change that has been brought by their union with Christ. This act of remembrance will further cause them to be filled with thanksgiving.

The Gentiles were not to forget who they were in the past. Formerly, (verse 12) they were:

  • Separated from Christ– As a matter of fact, the Ephesians worshipped the goddess Diana and they knew nothing about Christ.
  • Excluded from the citizenship in Israel– Israel was God’s nation in a way that was not true of any Gentile nation.
  • Foreigners to the covenants of the promise– God did not make any covenants with the Gentile nations but only with the Jews. Interestingly, many of the Pharisees would pray daily, “O God, I give thanks that I am a Jew, not a Gentile.”
  • Without hope– It is said that great hopelessness covered the ancient world. Philosophies were empty, traditions were disappearing, religions were powerless to help men face either life or death. They literally had no hope to hold on to, 1 Thess 4:13-18.
  • Without God in the world– The pagans had many gods as Paul noted in Athens (Acts 17:16-23). But still pagans in their religiosity did not know the true God, YHWH.

But all these have changed! They are no longer what they used to be. This is introduced by the contrast “but” in verse 13. They were “far away” but were brought “near” through “the blood of Christ”. The cost of destroying the enmity was the blood of Christ. The Gentiles who were formerly separated from God (because of sin) now belong because of the blood of Christ.

Reconciliation that Paul talks about is not brought about by works (2:8a) but by the gracious act through the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is what made the Gentiles citizens in Israel, partakers of the covenants of the promise. It is through the blood of Christ those who had no God encountered God and those without hope found hope. To Paul this was worth remembering.

It is very easy to forget where we have come from, or who we were as opposed to who we have become. I don’t know why we forget things we ought to remember and remember things we ought to forget! But what happens when we forget? We lose focus of who we are and what we are becoming. It is important, as a Christian, to have “stones” that serve as “memorial” Josh 4:6-7 to the things God has accomplished for you.

Apart from receiving a new identity, the reconciling power of the cross also brings us,

  1. Unity/oneness in Christ (verse 14-15)

unity

The two opposing groups (Jews and Gentiles) have been brought together in Christ. As a result there is now a new identity and a newfound unity. Paul points out that Jesus Christ who is “our peace” brought unity. In Christ, the vocabulary of circumcised and uncircumcised ceases. It is now possible for “them” to be “us” because of Christ who is “our” peace.

 In order to bring this unity Christ was able to:

Make the two one– Practically, how can two become one? Mathematically it can only happen by subtraction; but in Christ two can become one without subtraction. In God’s economy, two can become one through the Person of Christ. The separation between Gentiles and God, and the Gentiles and Jews required peace. And that peace is Jesus Christ. Jesus “our peace” makes us be one with God, and others. Again, you will remember that in Jn 17:21 Jesus prayed for believers that they may be one. Unity is important in any relationship.

Destroy the barrier/the dividing wall of hostility– Christ was able to do this through his body when he died in the cross for all people. The “wall” here could refer to the partition that hindered Gentiles from going to the holy place in the temple. It could also refer to the curtain in the temple that separated the holy place from the holy of holies. Either way, the dividing wall has been broken. By implication, there is literally nothing that can once again separate believers based on race, culture or whichever background. All in Christ have been made one.  In addition, Christ also abolished the law with its commandments and regulations. As a result, believers are now not under the law but under grace. As a matter of fact, barriers hinder unity; and so they have to be destroyed.

The key question to ask ourselves: What barriers of hostilities have we possibly erected as individual believers or as a church? Could these barriers be tribal barriers, educational, spiritual, political, or socio-economic. Definitely barriers create unhealthy distinctions of “us” versus “them”. But these barriers need and should be destroyed by Jesus Christ for peace to prevail in our relationships. One of the problem today is that there are many people who do not see schism as a sin or unity as important. Therefore as a believer you need to decisively, through God’s grace, deal with issues that create disunity and strife among God’s people because you now know that it is God’s will for unity and peace to prevail in our relationships.

Thirdly, the reconciling power of the cross brings,

  1. New Community- the church- (verse 16-17)

one people

The purpose of the oneness that Christ brings is to create “one man/one people/ one body”.  The “one body” or the church results from the reconciliation of all (both Jews and Gentiles) into one man through the cross. Reconciliation was achieved through the cross; it is where the hostilities were nailed. Therefore the cross is the sign of reconciliation. This speaks so powerfully of the power of the cross.

What comes into your mind when you see the cross? Is it shame, failure, defeat or victory and power? Apostle Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God 1 Cor 1:18. The cross is the power of God. God’s reconciling power is at work in the church and through believers. God’s purpose of forming a new community/church is not in futility because Apostle John in his vision observed, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…” Rev 7:9.

Finally, the reconciling power of the cross brings,

  1. Access to God (verse 18-22) –

In Christ we not only have a new identity, unity, and a new community but also an access to the Father by one Spirit. Both Jews and Gentiles now have access to God through Jesus Christ, by one Spirit. This access comes as a result of the destruction of the former walls of hostility.

The Gentiles are no longer foreigners and aliens but are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. In the OT the only division in the temple was between priests and laity (1 Kings 8:41-43), but by Paul’s day architectural barriers had been introduced for non-Jews and for women. Paul claims that these barriers are destroyed in God’s spiritual temple.

The role of Jesus in the access is vital. God’s people now are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises up to become a holy temple/dwelling place in which God lives by his Spirit.

The power of the cross to bring reconciliation in our relationships is available to every believer. This is a message that transforms individual lives, families, churches and society. The transformational power of the cross is what we desperately need today in our world full of divisions, separation and conflict.

Life of Abundance