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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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father and son

At the last Ministry Training Course we got through the first five chapters of Ephesians but (frustratingly for some of us who like to complete things) we didn’t have time to cover the last chapter. So we’re going to have a go at that here starting with the first bit of Chapter 6:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Well that’s plenty to be getting on with for now. I won’t attempt to unpack all of this. Thousands of full length books have been written on these verses, and some of them are very good. A few resources that we’ve found particularly helpful:

There are various questions we might want to ask about application of this passage, particularly in our East African context:

  • Who is a child? For how long does the obedience relationship continue?
  • Where do you draw the line in terms of a parental command which goes against the qualification ‘in the Lord’?
  • Which is a greater danger in our context – disobedience to parents and rebellion or over-submissiveness and bondage to the expectations of parents? Or both?
  • To what extent are parents, and particularly fathers, aware of their responsibilities as the primary teachers of their children in the Lord?
  • What are the primary goals of Christian parents for their children?
  • How much is our (subconscious) understanding of God shaped by the parenting we received as children?
  • And how much does our understanding of God shape our own parenting style?
  • Do we value parenting and children’s ministry as much as the apostle Paul?

I don’t know the answers to those questions but I throw them out there. I just want to mention two things that puzzled me and then helped me from this text [this is a work in progress so feedback very welcome]:

1. Why does Paul promise obedient children a long life?

“This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth”. Has Paul suddenly become a legalist, a pragmatist, a prosperity preacher? Why is he going back to the Law and saying do this and you’ll get a nice long life? Surely Paul remembers that Jesus died in his early 30s. Surely he remembers holding people’s coats while they stoned the young Stephen. Surely he’s seen Christian children and young people die of accidents, diseases and persecutions all round him. So why is he giving children this promise?

Some commentators suggest maybe he is thinking corporately. I.e. not every individual obedient child will live to 70 years but you would expect a society with strong families to have a higher life expectancy than a society full of rebellion and broken families. Perhaps there’s some truth in that (though the UK??) but it hardly seems enough to inspire the child sitting in the church in Ephesus listening to Paul’s letter being read out.

On reflection I think Paul is thinking of eternal life – life that begins now and continues in resurrection bodies in the new creation into eternity. A few reasons:

  • In Ephesians, death is only spoken of as a past event (Eph. 2:1, 5). For Christians, death is past and we have been raised with Christ. Completely secure in Him, with every spiritual blessing, we await only more grace in the coming ages (Eph. 2:7).
  • In Eph. 1:14 Paul uses the words ‘inheritance’ and ‘possession’, words that in the OT would have always suggested ‘The Land’, to talk about the New Creation / glory.
  • From Paul’s letters and the NT more generally you get the impression that the early church was completely focussed on eternity. They were expecting Jesus to return imminently. In the meantime they were expecting persecution and that they might well have to die for their faith.  Their big Hope and encouragement was the coming of Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 4). They knew that the current age was a valley of tears and pain. It seems that as they read the OT their instinctive hermeneutic was to see the promises and blessings as referring to the resurrection / new creation life (e.g. 1 Peter 3:9-12 in the context of the letter). Completely opposite to us whose default is to apply it all to this life.

There is still a question here about why Paul quotes command and promise – almost as if he is endorsing some kind of salvation by works. He obviously can’t mean this because he’s just made one of the strongest statements in all Scripture of grace not works (Eph. 2:8-9). It could be that the link is not meant to be taken as formally causal (obedience results in eternal life) but more that obedience accompanies salvation, it is fitting, it is ‘worthy of the calling’ (Eph. 4:1), “it is right” (Eph. 6:1). So obedience is a sign that you are on the path of eternal life. Another possibility is that the link is causal as it appears but is more about quality of eternal life – “that it may go well with you” – i.e. eternal rewards over and above simply eternal life (cf. Eph. 6:8).

I think there is another way to resolve it which has to do with the content of what the parents are teaching which the child is to obey. I’ll get on to this in the next point. But for now maybe it’s just worth noting that the obedience of children is supposed to be in light of eternity. Paul sees children as responsible moral agents who are capable of understanding Scripture and fixing their sights on eternal things and being inspired by that vision.

2. Why is provoking to anger contrasted with bringing up in discipline and instruction?

I see a contrast in verse 4. The question is why contrast these things? You might expect, ‘provoke to anger’ to be contrasted with ‘love’ or ‘listen’. Discipline and instruction sound like just the sort of things to provoke anger not allay it.

One answer is that children without any boundaries or discipline almost always end up not only wild but very insecure and depressed. Without boundaries they have no sense of right and wrong, up and down, their place in the world. At first they rejoice in the freedom but eventually they find that a lack of discipline is communicating a lack of concern and love on the part of the parent. They become angry, aggressive and resentful towards parents, authority, themselves.

That’s all true and important. But to go a bit deeper… another way to approach this would be to think more about the content and context of the discipline and instruction. The context is “bring them up”. The word is ‘nourish’ – as in Eph. 5:29. As you feed and cherish your own body; as you feed and tend a tomato plant; so carefully feed, tend and raise your children. This is the parent as servant leader. Just as the husband to the wife, the pastor to the church, Christ to his church – he gets down on his knees beneath his little children to serve them, spoon feed them.

And what is he to feed them? How is he to tend them? “Discipline and instruction of the Lord”. The first word means practical training. It would include physical chastisement but it is much wider. The hands-on service and on the field practical gospel ministry training that we want the iServe Africa apprentices to experience could be captured by this word translated ‘training’ (NIV) or ‘discipline’ (ESV). It is what Timothy was getting as he got blisters on his feet, walking the roads of Asia Minor, serving with Paul in gospel ministry (Phil. 2:22).

When we get to “instruction” I wonder whether we instinctively think of laws and commands. Do this, don’t do this. But how does Paul instruct his spiritual children? Look at Ephesians and his other letters. He teaches them the gospel! There are commands but they are flowing out of the gospel. He is encouraging his children with the gospel, rebuking them with the gospel, inspiring them with the gospel. To obey Paul is simply to swallow more of this gospel.

If you look at the book of Proverbs we find a similar thing. Much of the book is the impassioned appeal of a father to his son. It is a worked example of Eph. 6:4. And look at his commands: “Hear”, “Do not forget”, “Trust in the Lord”, “Get wisdom”, “Do not go down this path that leads to death”, “Go down this path and find life”. The father is not laying a whole load of laws and moral demands on the son he is simply pleading with him not to lean on his own understanding but to lean on the Lord and cling to Wisdom. To obey the father, to receive his words, is simply repentance and faith.

One more example. Ruth chapter 3. Here is a mother-daughter relationship. The mother gives precise commands to the daughter. The daughter obeys precisely. But the commands are very similar to those of Proverbs really: go to the one who will give you Rest, throw yourself at the feet of the Redeemer, ask him to spread his wings over you. To obey these commands is like obeying Jesus’ command in Matt. 11:28. It is faith. (Which maybe makes sense of the instruction and promise to children in Eph. 3:1-3.)

So coming back to my parenting. Am I laying heavy loads on my children that I and my fathers have not been able to bear? Am I hitting them with the Law? (So that like the early Luther they end up angry with God.) Or am I pleading with them to come to Jesus and give him their sins and take his easy yoke? Am I serving my children with practical gospel training and passionate gospel pleading?

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