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Archive for the ‘Matthew’ Category

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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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Why rest?

rest-work-after-millet-1890

It was lovely to send a few days away together at the iServe Re:Fresh Retreat recently. But why rest? Isn’t it a luxury? Isn’t rest for wimps? Can’t we rest when we’re in the ground?

It’s a big issue in our context. Kenyans have a well-deserved reputation of being extremely hardworking. It is very common to get up two hours before light, have a long commute, long hours, evening or weekend classes, an additional part-time job, heavy family responsibilities, Saturdays working, Sundays packed with church, social and financial groups, little if any holiday, two mobile phones constantly ringing, email like an ever-flowing stream, multi-tasking, never stopping, squeezing events into the day as if time is elastic.

Not resting has some serious consequences though. Physically you start getting more colds and flus. Eventually you burnout. It’s not uncommon to hear of brothers who have collapsed through exhaustion. Mentally it becomes increasingly hard to concentrate and make good decisions. Productivity goes down. Emotionally, tiredness often breeds grumpiness and irritability. It becomes very hard to maintain godly gracious relationships. And in terms of spiritual disciplines, the more tired we get, the harder it gets to read the Bible and pray.

What does Jesus say?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Twice Jesus promises rest. Rest. Sabbath. This is one of the very peaks of the Bible. The world had waited thousands of years to hear that word from the lips of its creator. Right at the beginning there had been that rest (Gen. 2:1-3), “God’s rest” (Heb. 4:3-10), rest in an intimate relationship with the Father and the Son. Sure there was ‘work’ in the garden (Gen. 2:15) but it would have been so far from what we normally think of as work as to be almost unrecognisable to us – no sweat, no stress, no sin to overcome, no tears, no toil, no frustration, no exhaustion. Easy work. Restful work! In fact the word for ‘work’ there is a priestly word usually used for service in the tabernacle. Adam was the first high priest in the first tabernacle and with no sacrifices needed presumably his service was simply praising God and enjoying the presence of God (and naming animals!).

Then of course there’s the fall from grace and exile from the Sabbath. Man is burdened with the heavy yoke of curse and condemnation and death and decay and toil and pain and sin. Throughout the Old Testament Sabbath is a hugely important theme. In the Law and the Prophets the whole issue of keeping the Sabbath is massively important. In fact the huge emphasis and the harsh penalties for disregarding it seem bizarre until you recognise the Sabbath as a) a reminder of everything they’ve lost (Ex. 31:17); b) a foretaste of the great coming rest (Heb. 4:9); c) an engagement ring given by God gave to his people (Ezek. 20:12). In the historical books of the OT we look on as it seems that Israel might find ‘rest’ in the Promised Land, it looks good with Joshua, we see the high point of Solomon, finally given rest on every side but at the same time we hear from Psalm 95 and the book of Ecclesiastes that the rest has not yet been entered and the burden is still lying very heavy, even on the king himself.

ecclesiastes 5

Then finally, finally, along comes a man, a king, who says that he will give us rest. Real rest. Sabbath.

But what does that actually mean? What does it look like? How can this help us practically with issues of work-life balance? I think there’s probably a present and a future aspect to this rest.

Present rest

The most important thing to notice about this rest is that it is all centred on Jesus. Rest is found in coming to him and being yoked to him. And because he is the one who intimately knows and is known by the Father (Matt. 11:27), to be yoked to Jesus is to be brought to the Father, to be brought back into the original intimate Sabbath relationship with God.

And it’s not by works. It’s for little children (Matt. 11:25). It’s a rest from our works (Heb. 4:10). No longer the heavy yoke of the Law (Acts 15:10) and the burdens of the Pharisees (Matt. 23:4). The easy yoke. Union with Christ. Sharing in his righteousness and joy and sufferings and glory.

And what happened to all the death and curse and heavy burden? Well there’s an omen in the surrounding verses – Matt. 11:18-24 and Matt. 12 are all about the rejection of the Son. The one who offers only life and rest to man is, perversely, going to be rejected. And paradoxically, at the very moment of his rejection, he will be taking all our burden, drinking all our curse, taking all our condemnation.

And we have that rest right now. Sasa hivi. We are yoked to Christ, justified by faith, children of God, no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And that helps us in very practical ways:

  1. I’m justified in Christ so I don’t need to prove myself. Research indicates (source: Interhealth) that the number one reason why millions of us don’t rest enough, don’t take holiday we are entitled to, don’t leave work on time, is that we are, on some level, seeking to justify ourselves. Maybe it’s our boss we’re trying to prove ourselves to, maybe our colleagues or employees, maybe our parents, maybe God, maybe ourselves. We instinctively link our status and significance to achievement and performance. For many people it has become a source of pride to have a crammed diary, to have the phone constantly ringing, to be able to say, “I’m really really busy at the moment”. Conversely, not to be busy is not be significant. I fear what people will think if they find me resting. I even fear what I will think of myself if I’m resting. The only way to attack this fear is to preach rest in Christ to ourselves. He has done it all. He has clothed me in his righteousness. It doesn’t really matter what anyone thinks of me, it doesn’t even matter what I think of me, the truth is I am the Father’s child and he loves me to bits. You might feel insecure about resting. You are secure in Christ. You might feel guilty about resting (or be made to feel guilty about resting) but the reality is you are not guilty, you’ve got nothing to prove.
  2. I’m not Christ so I don’t need to try to save everyone. Another reason for overwork and under-rest, perhaps a common one in our context among lovely godly servant hearted believers, is the desire to address everyone else’s problems, to meet every need in the extended family, to stand in the gap for every needy causes, and to hear the church adding to this the urgent call to transform our communities, change the world, save the planet. In many ways it’s a really good desire and I’ve been challenged so many times by the labour of love of many brothers and sisters in Christ whose desire to pour themselves out for others and take on extra jobs simply to be able to give it all away is a rebuke to me. And yet… it can tip over into an attempt to be Christ to people, a Messiah complex, a need to be needed, an attempt to be everyone’s saviour. It’s a very liberating truth to know that Jesus is the saviour of the world not us. He is the one who says come to ME and I will give you rest. We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) but we cannot bear everyone’s burdens and we certainly can’t bear their most significant burdens of curse and death. We are not going to save the world. Often the most loving thing we can do is to say, like John the Baptist, “I am not the Christ; I can’t sort out all your issues; but if you go to Him you will find real rest in Him”.

Future rest

We enter into the Rest now in the sense of union with Christ, justification and relationship with God, but the fullness of Sabbath is still to come. The burden of the penalty of sin and the condemnation of the Law has been wonderfully lifted off us, but the burden of our physical decay, our sinful nature, the frustration and futility of the whole Creation still remains. We have to wait until death (Rev. 6:11; 14:13) or, more importantly, the return of Christ for the real fulfilment of the Genesis 2 Sabbath Land in the New Creation where, like Adam in the garden, we will be with the Lord and joyfully serve him in praise and delight without curse or sin or pain or burden (Rev. 21-22). On that Day Jesus “will give you rest.”

How does that make a practical difference?

  1. We are not yet in the Perfect Rest so I need to physically rest now. Because we are still under the burden of the Fall to a large extent, in weak, perishable bodies, daily facing sin and frustration within and without, we do still need to make time to stop and rest or we will burn out and fail to go the distance in the marathon of gospel ministry. There is a super-spiritual attitude which says that as a born again Spirit-filled believer I can work every hour and go without sleep and go without food and it won’t affect me at all because the Lord will sustain me. But that is over-realised eschatology. In the New Eden there will be restful, joyful work but for now it is still hard toil. In the New Creation there will be endless day but for now there is still day and night and sleep as a reminder of our mortality. One day we will have glorious resurrection bodies but for now we need to accept our weak, groaning creaturely-ness and sleep 8 hours and take at least a day off a week and eat healthily and not flog our bodies into an unnecessarily early grave.
  2. We are not yet in the Perfect Rest so I need to keep an eternal perspective. We’ve been thinking a lot at iServe recently about the danger of a lack of eternal perspective, the lack of teaching on the return of Christ, the Now-focus of much of our preaching. Everything in us and in the world is pulling our eyes down to the here-and-now. And so our hearts end up desiring simply the things of this world, our gospel is neutered and we lack the great Hope which is supposed to sustain us in our pilgrimage. It needs great discipline to fix our eyes on Christ’s coming, a future beyond this world in the perfect Sabbath. And that (as we mentioned above) was part of the point of the Sabbath day in the Old Testament – a time for the people to stop and fix their eyes on the Lord and his coming and long for Eden and an eternal Sabbath. It’s not Law for us as NT believers to take a Sabbath every week in the same way it was for the OT people of God but I don’t see why we wouldn’t need the same discipline of taking at least a day every week to disengage from the world and consciously fix our eyes on our coming Lord and the glorious prospect of Rest with him.

(Some practical stuff of work-life balance from Interhealth here.)

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10,000 talents

I was preaching on Matthew 18 v23-35 the other day and had some very useful feedback afterwards that I hadn’t spent enough time explaining and bringing home the reality and nature of our vast debt. It was a fair criticism. And it got me thinking. Why is the debt so huge?

Kerviel10,000 talents = 200,000 years wages. In other words you would have to work for two hundred thousand years to pay off that debt! The closest example I could find was that of Jerome Kerviel – a trader in the bank Societe Generale who managed to lose the bank 4.9bn Euros (about 570 bn KES in today’s money – half the entire national budget of Kenya). It was the biggest banking loss of its kind in history. On 5 October 2010 Kerviel was convicted by a Paris court and found guilty of forgery, unauthorised computer use and breach of trust, sentenced to five years in prison and – amazingly – told he must also repay the full damages of 4.9bn Euros which the bank lost through his risky trades. It was reported that on the basis of his current earnings Kerviel would need about 180,000 years to reimburse Societe Generale in full. (The following day Societe Generale released a statement saying that it would not pursue full repayment.)

Why the massive individual debt in Matthew 18? In the past I have thought it signifies some combination of a) my debt of giving God what is God’s (cf. Matt. 22:21; 21:34-35), all the millions of times I’ve failed to give him the praise and glory and honour he’s due (Rev. 4:11), failed to live for him and bear fruit for him; and b) the debt of the unpaid penalty for all my sins and guilt reckoned in monetary terms (cf. Exodus 22; Lev. 5:14-6:7). So basically sins of omission plus sins of commission.

Maybe that is it. But now I’m wondering whether something deeper is going on in Matthew 18. Three things to note in the parable:

  1. The king is settling accounts with his servants (v23). Not simply his subjects. His servants. It’s a similar set up to Matt. 24:45ff; 25:14ff; Luke 16ff. The servant has been entrusted with at least part of the king’s fortune and estate and now there is an accounting. It is actually very like the Kerviel situation. How can you run up a debt of 4.9bn Euros? Because it’s not your money you’re playing with.
  2. “When he began to settle… one was brought” (v24). The accounting has only just started and straight away, the very first guy the king has to deal with has this astronomical debt. The first one. The first man. Could this be Adam? The servant of God, entrusted with the whole world, entrusted with the infinitely precious blessing of bearing the image of God.
  3. He and his wife and children and all that he has are ordered to be sold into slavery (v25). In other words, when he goes down he takes his wife, his descendants and all over which he has dominion down with him.

If this parable has at least an echo of Adam in it then maybe when it comes to looking at my own debt it’s not just reminding me of the extent of my sins (plural) but of original sin. Even if I live as righteously as Job, even if I am a newborn baby, I still carry this enormous debt as a son of Adam.

The eighteenth century preacher George Whitfield was convinced that knowing this debt was vital and often preached on it. In his great sermon on “Peace, Peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14) (well worth reading in full here):

…when conviction comes, all carnal reasonings are battered down immediately and the poor soul begins to feel and see the fountain from which all the polluted streams do flow… and to acknowledge that God would be just to damn him, just to cut him off, though he never had committed one actual sin in his life…  I am verily persuaded original sin is the greatest burden of a true convert; this ever grieves the regenerate soul, the sanctified soul. The indwelling of sin in the heart is the burden of a converted person; it is the burden of a true Christian. He continually cries out, “O! who will deliver me from this body of death,” this indwelling corruption in my heart? This is that which disturbs a poor soul most. And, therefore, if you never felt this inward corruption, if you never saw that God might justly curse you for it, indeed, my dear friends, you may speak peace to your hearts, but I fear, nay, I know, there is no true peace.

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return christ

What really struck me from the last few days of the ministry training course last week was the emphasis that came out on the future, eternity, our great Hope.

I’d never noticed what Fidel brought home so powerfully from 2 Tim. 4:1-2 that the number one reason to preach the word is the return of Christ. We are preaching in the last days a gospel of eternal life in view of the coming Day (cf. 2 Tim. 1:1, 10, 18; 2:10; 3:1; 4:8).

We found that the reason to put to death our ungodly desires (Col. 3:5) is because Christ, who is our life, is about to appear and we will be glorified with him (Col. 3:4).

Sammy reminded us from Job that the end comes at the end, and in the same session one of the apprentices very movingly shared how she had been through times when she desired to depart and be with Christ more than cling to this life. This in turn resonated very strongly with the account we read from John Paton’s autobiography:

At last the child literally longed to be away, not for rest, or freedom from pain — for of that he had very little — but, as he himself always put it, “to see Jesus.”

How badly do we need this powerful injection of eternity into our Christian lives and churches?

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Notes and resources:

Intro to Expository Preaching – Context

Christ-centred youth ministry

Being pro-active in mentoring

Preaching Christ from the Gospels (esp Matt)

How to manage email with filters and folders

2nd year programme:

The church as mission agency

Lessons from the life of John Paton

Doctrine of Salvation (2) – Predestination, Justification and the glory of God

Preaching from OT narratives

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prodigal god series

Just finished a series at church through some parables in Matthew:

  • Matt. 13:1-23 – The Prodigal Sower  (notes)
  • Matt. 18:23-35 – The Prodigal Banker  (notes)
  • Matt. 22:1-14 – The Prodigal King  (notes)
  • Matt. 25:1-12 – The Coming Bridegroom  (notes)

And while we’re sharing sermons – I’ve just been made aware that Munguishi Bible College has now put their Kiswahili audio sermon library online here – do check it out (currently just early Genesis and Luke 17 but growing fast).

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RCLucas

Dick Lucas has this extraordinary way of putting things in such a straightforward, brotherly, commonsensical way that it’s only when you later think over what might have at first seemed almost a throwaway remark that you realise that it represents the tip of an iceberg of research and wisdom, that, if taken seriously, has devastating force. E.g.:

Training for Christian leadership is probably a false trail; Jesus taught his intimate disciples to Serve, and thereby they became the apostles we know. (emphasis original, Foreword to Dear Friends, 2013, p9)

The world is very keen on leadership training. How to manage, how to get noticed, how to get to the top, how to handle conflict to your advantage. Every week LinkedIn sends me a seductive digest of ‘life hacks’, ‘the 5 things Donald Trump doesn’t do, ‘the 3 boardroom secrets that nobody knows’ etc. etc. And in the Church we can copy that – slightly Christianize it with a few verses scattered around – but basically it’s the same stuff – ‘the 5 strategic steps to 360 degree perpendicular church growth leadership’. Because we still, at the end of the day, a) think that the world has all the best answers and b) deep down have an unreformed view of leadership – we still think of leadership as an attractive prospect of being at the top with the power and the impressive title and lots of people running around at our beck and call.

At the iServe induction workshop we returned to Matthew 20:20-28 and asked:

  • How does the mother understand the Kingdom? Do we hear that understanding of the kingdom in our churches sometimes?
  • Why were the ten other disciples indignant?
  • What is the normal pattern of leadership among ‘the Gentiles’? How are status, power and position linked? How do we see this today in politics, in the corporate world, in the church, in the family?
  • What is so radical about what Jesus says about leadership in the kingdom? What has happened to status, power and position?
  • What sort of God do we have in Jesus?
  • How is Jesus both our salvation and our example? Why do we need both?

Jesus turns everything upside down and then shakes it – destroying all our categories, all the connections we make between identity, authority and position. Gentile leadership models are given no place in his Church. “It shall not be so among you.” A theology of glory and an economy of power is replaced by a theology of the Cross and an economy of service.

Harrison has pointed out before how even the term “servant leadership” can become just another tool in the Gentile leadership toolbox. From at least the 1970s even the secular corporate world has realised that servant leadership works but, although some have tried to keep a pure focus on servanthood (and hopefully in another post we can interact with Robert Greenleaf’s work on servant leadership), often it has become simply another management strategy; another means to an end. So we are aspiring leaders first and servants as an optional pragmatic second.

A biblical servant leader, in contrast, has the servant bit in bold type not the leader bit. The core identity is ‘servant’ – like all God’s people. Like God himself in fact (amazingly). ‘Servant’ does not qualify ‘leader’, rather ‘leader’ qualifies ‘servant’. And the way to train in servant leadership is (to come back to Dick Lucas and to Matt. 20) not to aim at leadership but at service.

Even the Son of man came… to serve

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On the subject… iServe Africa is still seeking funds to purchase some land on which to establish a Leadership Centre (maybe we should call it a ‘Service Centre’ (but that sounds like the place you’d return a faulty appliance or have a car repaired)). Time is running out for this appeal so if you have a heart for seeing fresh graduates and others trained in the gospel, gospel ministry and biblical servant leadership please contact the office to find out how you can partner with the project. And here’s a video about it:

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What is vital?

the sower

I love it when I lead an inductive Bible study and I ask a fairly open question and people come out with answers that are far better than what I was hoping for – they’ve seen things clearer than I did in my preparation. It’s really exciting. God is speaking to me there and then.

We were having our induction workshop for the new apprentices earlier this month, having a session on The Priority of Preaching and particularly looking together at Matthew 13:1-23. As you might have picked up if you follow this blog closely I’ve been a big fan of that passage for several months and preached it or used it in various ways on several occasions. This time it was group Bible study. We looked at the sower, and the seed, and why not everyone receives the seed well, and what the effect the seed has when it does go in. Then we got to this question:

So what does this all tell us about how the kingdom is going to be established? What is vital in mission? What is necessary for true growth and fruit?

I’m expecting to hear – preaching the Word. And we got that answer – mission and gospel ministry must involve actually sowing the Word of God – but there were two other answers that were given first that I’d not thought of but are absolutely brilliant:

  1. Jesus. Brilliant answer! The group had seen that it’s the parable of THE SOWER (v18). It’s all about Him. If he doesn’t turn up there’s no sowing, no life, nothing. The Son needs to come from heaven to earth and die for us and be united to us and be our life. If there’s no Jesus we might as well all go home and give up. Our salvation is Jesus. This was a wonderful reminder to me of what/who is absolutely everything. When I say ‘the Word does the work’ I’ve got to be careful that I know and those I’m talking to know that it’s the Word of Christ. The Word is all about him; the Word leads us beyond itself to life in him; he is the one who does the work, through his Word.
  2. The Spirit. Brilliant again! The group had got the point that the hinge of the passage – verses 10-16 – is all about revelation. Some people have their eyes and ears opened, some don’t. To some the secrets of the kingdom are given, but some are hardened in their hardness. The natural man cannot receive these things, only the one who by sovereign grace is made a new man. The hearts of rock needs to be reborn as good soil. I was reminded of the Spurgeon quote:

We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it – the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.” (quoted in Stott, I Believe in Preaching, 335)

 

 

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