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Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Tim. 1:14)

We go through 2 Timothy with each new group of apprentices but it is always fresh and cutting. One of the things that’s really jumped out for me this time is the emphasis on both human work and the Spirit’s work. There is fanning of the flame to do but the fire is God’s gift (1:6). We are to suffer… by the power of God (1:8). We need to guard the gospel… with the help of the Holy Spirit (1:14). We are to be strong… in the grace in Christ (2:1). We are to think hard… and the Lord will give the understanding (2:7). We are to instruct opponents… hoping that God will grant repentance (2:25). We are to preach the Word… strengthened by the Lord (4:17).

Some of us may be tempted to speak only of the Spirit and to downplay human effort. In that case the challenge of 2 Timothy is that guarding the gospel will involve a lot of hard work, hard thinking, intentional effort and careful following of the apostolic leadership training strategy (2:2). Others of us (perhaps more of us) are tempted to focus on human activity and practically ignore (or only play lip service to) the work of the Spirit. For us, we need to remember that the gospel cannot be guarded simply through structures and programmes and curricula. As Ken Irungu pointed out, gospel ministry cannot be professionalised. We wholeheartedly believe in 2 Timothy 2:2 – it is one of the iServe Africa straplines – but transmitting good gospel truth to the next generation of Bible teachers for them to proclaim and teach it faithfully to others will not serve to guard and advance the gospel unless there is also a powerful work of the Spirit.

Why?

  1. Only the Spirit can change hearts. Only the Spirit can move the affections from love of the world (4:10) to love Christ and his people (1:7). Only the Spirit can move us from being ashamed of the gospel to unashamed (1:8). Only the Spirit can produce faithful, hardworking, persevering-through-suffering servants who are concerned to please their commanding officer (2:4-6) rather than the crowd.
  2. Only the Spirit can open minds to understand the truths of the gospel (2:7). J.C. Ryle: “The very same person who is quick and clever in worldly things, will often utterly fail to comprehend the simplest truths of Christianity. He will often be unable to take in the plainest reasonings of the Gospel… They will sound to him either foolish or mysterious.”

So please pray for us! Pray for iServe Africa and the young people starting off their ministry apprenticeship year that the Spirit would go out with His Word and change hearts and minds.

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safe

In her paper, ‘Christian attitudes towards financial partnership for advancing the Kingdom of God’, Mary Njeri makes a number of very perceptive observations of Matthew 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents – incidentally a an appropriate one for Tuesday of Holy Week).

  1. The motivation to be about the business of Kingdom investment is entering into the Master’s joy. He is a happy God and those who see that, and steward his gracious gifts now looking forward to that, he welcomes us into his inter-Trinitarian happiness.
  2. The motivation not to be about the business of Kingdom investment is seeing the Master as a ‘hard man’, a joy-sucker, a selfish taker, rather than the Good Sower that he is (cf. Matt. 13).
  3. The character of the non-investor is described as not only wicked but ‘lazy‘. I had not noticed this before. Njeri brilliantly connects this with the analysis of sloth by Tony Reinke in the DesiringGod book Killjoys. There, Reinke shows that laziness/sloth can be expressed in what at first seem very different ways – the sluggard (wanting quick fixes rather than working), the workaholic (working hard but not for the things that matter), and the zombie (sleepwalking through life addicted to distraction and triviality) – all united by a fruitless pursuit of leisure and comfort, a lack of love for the church, the poor and the lost, and a “boredom with God.” The wicked servant in the parable buried his talent in the ground because he was lazy – he had lost his appetite for God’s joy. Whether he was lying in bed or whether he was rushing about madly working every hour to build his career or whether he was going through the motions of life checking his smart phone every 30 seconds – he was not excited about the Master and his Kingdom. And the warning is close to home. As Njeri says, “We are [largely] a desire-less church, unenthusiastic about the kingdom of God. We are caught up in just fulfilling our earthly obligations and then having the rest of the time for our comfort.” The answer is meditation on points 1 and 2 above.

This Tuesday may the Lord, by his Spirit, open our eyes to His Joy, the joy set before us;
may He work in us new desire and fresh grace to labour with all His strength for the fame of His Name;
may He give us creativity and ambition and energy to maximise His gracious gifts for eternal profit;
until the return of the Son.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

You can read Njeri’s whole article in Issue 5 of Conversation Magazine available in hard and also in soft copy…

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

If you’d like to get investing in Kingdom work today and multiplying disciple-making disciples, then why not consider partnership with iServe Africa, locally through MPESA or EFT or internationally through the iServe Africa UK Trust or the Crosslinks iServe Africa Project Fund.

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And more reading…

book burning

It’s often said that we’re not in a reading culture. The burning of books on graduation day is often cited (though perhaps less often witnessed). And certainly an academic culture that has little if no place for reading for pleasure may be much to blame. But the common early morning sight of a group of men huddled around a copy of the Nation or seeing the time of night at which people are responding to Facebook posts would suggest plenty of reading is happening. And Biko Zulu seemed to speak for many Kenyans (by the look of the comment thread) when he shared his experience last year of book hangover.

The experience of Mez McConnell and Duncan Forbes church planting in estates in the UK with a perceived anti-reading culture has been that once people become Christians and once they start enjoying eating up the Bible their reading culture changes too and they start to find a new taste for reading, even really hardcore theology [testimony from a former drug dealer].

Daniel Odhiambo gave a great testimony to the transforming power of reading at the ministry training last week. Here were some of the top books he recommended:

  1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God
  2. John Piper, The Pleasures of God
  3. J. C. Ryle, Holiness
  4. J. C. Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century

Let’s get reading…

Resources:

7 motivations and pointers to reading:

  1. Switching off
  2. A great cloud of witnesses
  3. Expressing, feeding, shaping, protecting
  4. Wesley: Do not starve yourself any longer
  5. Spurgeon: You need to read
  6. Watson: Warm your heart
  7. Chill out

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noses in the text

The more important thing than hermeneutics is reading. In other words grappling with Scripture is primarily an exercise of attentiveness to One who speaks through a text. (John Webster, Kantzer Lectures, 2007)

Thanking God for the last week of the Ministry Training Course and good times listening at the feet of Jesus. Here are some notes, resources and links for the sessions:

1st year apprentices:

2nd year apprenticeship:

And the video we’ve shared before on the historical impact of young graduates in world missions:

 

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what is the gospel

We have welcomed about 16 first year apprentices to serve with us for the year 2014/2015. We thus have a workshop to clarify expectations, introduce the whole idea of Apprenticeship and get them excited about the year ahead.

We’ve moved to our new premises in Zambezi, several hundreds metres from Sigona on the Nairobi – Nakuru Highway. It was quite a rush trying to kill two birds with one stone- planning for induction and moving offices! It’s still work-in-progress but thankfully it seems we are pulling it off!

We started with Bible Study from Philipians 1:1-30 where we saw the joy of partnership in the gospel.

Andy did exposition of Titus 1- Knowing the Truth that leads to Godliness. The saving God promises even before creation to save a people for Himself and it is in knowing this truth, holding firmly to it, living it out and teaching others also. But coupled with that is refuting those who contradict the truth.

James then took us through ‘What is the Gospel.’ It was a wonderful reminder that it was not about us saving ourselves or starting the process of salvation but it’s God who initiates it.

Man at his best, rejects God. As Stephen Seamands puts it in Give them Christ,

In our determination to be autonomous & independent, to be our own gods, we would go so far as to get rid of God so we could take His place. Here we see not “Sinners in the hands of angry God,” as Jonathan Edwards put it in his famous 18th Century sermon, but “God in the hands of angry sinners”. The cross reveals how hell bent we are & how heinous and horrible sin is.’ But that is the heart of the gospel.

Sammy then took us through the iServe Africa concept. Basically, if you take iServe Africa and squeeze and the gospel doesn’t come out then there’s a very big problem. We are big on gospel- learning to handle the word faithfully and being servant of the word. We are not trying to be professionals but to be faithful servants for, as John Piper says in Brothers, we are not Professionals,

“the pursuit of professionalism will push the supernatural center more and more into the corner while ministry becomes a set of secular competencies with a religious veneer”.

Harrison and Lydia then took us through Communication, Partnership Development and Expectations.

We then finished off the day by watching Distant Boat the movie. It’s such a great way to welcome the incoming team on board and have them think about mission. One comment after the movie was ‘I can’t believe Kenya can produce such quality stuff. This movie resonates exactly with my situation. Am encouraged.’

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Recruiting

apprenticeship ad 2014

If you know anyone who might be interested then spread the word – the recruitment for the September start is almost closed. This is mainly for East African fresh graduates but there is also the possibility of welcoming those from further afield for short or medium term mission experiences in Kenya so do get in touch with the iServe Africa office.

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pile of commentaries

For the iServe Africa apprentices (and anyone else who wants to join us)…

And for those of us (like me) who find the prospect of reading the Bible in a year daunting see some suggestions and resources here.

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