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As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I find this prayer greatly convicting …

(A Puritan Prayer)

O God,
I know that I often do Your work without
Your power, and sin by . . .
my dead, heartless, blind service,
my lack of inward light, love, delight,
my mind, heart, tongue moving without Your help.

I see my sinful heart in seeking the praise of others.
This is my vileness–to seek my own glory. It is my
deceit to preach and pray–in order to generate
admiration; whereas I should consider myself
more vile than any man in my own eyes.

Help me to rejoice in my infirmities and to
acknowledge my deficiencies before others.

Keep me from high thoughts of myself or my work,
for I am nothing but sin and weakness. In me no
good dwells, and my best works are tainted with
sin. Humble me to the dust before You. Root and
tear out the poisonous weed of pride, and show
me my utter nothingness. Keep me sensible of
my sinnership. Sink me deeper into penitence
and self-abhorrence.

Break the ‘Dagon’ of pride in pieces before
the ark of Your presence!

Demolish the ‘Babel’ of self-importance
and scatter it to the wind!

Level to the ground my ‘Jericho walls’
of a haughty, rebel heart!

Then grace, free grace, will be my experience and
message. This is my ministry, my life, my prayer,
my end. Grant me grace that I shall not fail

Amen.

A Good Watchman

“Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. – Psalm 127:1b (ESV)”

On several occasions lately, I’ve caught myself harbouring a sense of disdain towards watchmen. This sense of disdain largely stems from catching a watchman asleep when he should be awake to open a gate or something of the sort. It also doesn’t help that you never hear of a lad who harbours ambitions of becoming a watchman when he grows up. However, I recently had the opportunity to study the following biblical traits of a watchman that led to a better appreciation for the role of a watchman, both in the natural and in the spiritual.

A good watchman must be able to both see and listen, and then report. In 2 Kings 9:17-20 we have the account of a watchman who was standing on a tower in Jezreel when he saw a company approaching. Notice both the posture (standing) and the platform (tower) that led to the seeing. Likewise in the spiritual, we must ask the Lord to lift us up and make us stand, to plant our feet on higher ground. We are to stand upon the platform of the name of the Lord, which is a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10), and trust Him to open our spiritual eyes to see. More important than merely seeing, is the fact that this watchman reported faithfully what he had seen. [This reminds me of Caleb, who in the face of the bad report brought by majority of his colleagues (Numbers 13:32), had a different spirit and followed the Lord fully (Numbers 14:24), which led to him being able to give a good report.] In Isaiah 21:6-7, the Lord says “Go, set a watchman; let him announce what he sees … let him listen diligently, very diligently.” Ezekiel 33:7 says, “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” The previous verse tells of the consequences that follow when a watchman does not report what he sees: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.” – Ezekiel 33:6 (ESV) Talk of dire consequence!

A good watchman also “stands in the gap” and pays the full price by putting his life on the line. The word “watch” in watchman can also be translated “keep.” For example, we are familiar with the terms goalkeeper and gatekeeper. A goalkeeper stands in the gap created by the frame of the goalposts, and he takes on full responsibility for ensuring that no ball or puck gets past him. He must keep fit and limber through diet and exercise, in order to cover the goalbox area effectively. A gatekeeper guards the entrance to a place. Perhaps an even better image is that of a bouncer; when a bouncer stands in the door frame at the entrance to a room/building, he is essentially declaring that to get from the outside to the inside, you must go through him. Is it any wonder that a bouncer then needs to have some height and mass in order to be effective? Likewise, spiritually we need to grow in stature and build spiritual muscle by feeding on the word of God and then exercising by obeying that which we have learned.

So the question is: am I being a good watchman? Am I cultivating spiritual eyes and ears? Am I reporting that which I have seen and heard or am I keeping silent when the Spirit reveals something to me? Do I realize the consequence of this? Spiritually, am I growing in stature and building spiritual muscle by feeding on the word and exercising by obedience? Having done all this, we are reminded that at the end of the day, Psalm 127:1 holds true. Ultimately it is the Lord who keeps watch, and while watchmen do need to be alert – to see, listen, report and stay fit – it is all in vain if the Lord is not behind it.

As this new year begins, I would like to give thanks to God for Tim Challies. The Lord has laid it on his heart to encourage his readership towards regular scripture memorization, and I am enjoying participating in this worthy exercise. 

For those who may not know Tim, he has conveniently begun the new year by telling the testimony/story of how his blog came about. I encourage you to read these three posts and get to know him:

An Answer to Prayer

Effectual Worrying

A Blog Is Born

Father, thank you for the ministry of Tim Challies that testifies of Your great providence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

On the 3rd day of 2009, I had the opportunity to climb Mt. Longonot for a 3rd time – this time with 40+ young people from my church. We set off at about 8 a.m. and began to climb at about 10:30 a.m. In the end, I was the oldest among the 21 hikers who completed the 20 km hike to the highest peak and back down, with the last of the group finishing at about 5:30 p.m.

We had a great time. Most of all because of the numerous observations, lessons, and analogies to the Christian life that we were reminded/made aware of . Here are a dozen of them:

  1. The closer I drew to the mountain, the larger it “became.” I had actually been looking for a way to encapsulate this truth that has become my testimony over the past couple of months, namely that when I draw nearer to God through prayer and His Word, the effect is NOT that of gaining mastery over a subject, rather I become acutely aware of how much greater God is. My view of Him is enlarged, not diminished, upon learning more of Him.  1b) Conversely, the closer we hikers got to the mountain, the smaller each of us appeared to be. As I draw nearer and nearer to God, my view of self diminishes. It is a great antidote to pride.
  2. While I had made a point of laying aside all unprofitable external weights (save for a camera and water), it would have helped if I had been able to lay aside some of my internal weight of 80 kg prior to the climb. Similarly, when Hebrews 12:1 admonishes us to “lay aside every weight” in this spiritual race that we’re running, I find it easier to focus on external weights such as friendships and activities, whereas there are internal weights that need to be laid aside as well.
  3. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Some of our group started off fast and didn’t make it to the top; others didn’t look like they would be able to make it (based on mere human perception) and yet they were among those who made it to the top. The opposite was true in both cases as well.
  4. Encouragement from those who had not gone the full length of the hike was of little comfort compared to the encouragement from those who did the full hike. I’m glad Christ walked where I walk and He knows my pain – a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
  5. The trail up the mountain was very narrow and not easy, with numerous potential pitfalls to the left and to the right. We are called to the narrow way, and through much affliction we must enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22).
  6. Water is absolutely vital! How much more then the living water that causes us to never thirst again (John 4:14).
  7. Preparation/equipping is important. Several people said that they wished they had been better prepared, whether it was their manner of dress, or carrying more water, or better shoes or better physical conditioning. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us of the various ways that the word of God equips us to be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 
  8. It was helpful to see others make it to the peak ahead of us. Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to draw inspiration from the “great cloud of witnesses” in the previous verses (chapter 11) as we run our race.
  9. The joy of reaching the highest peak caused those who reached to almost forget the pain of getting there. As the song writer wrote: “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seems so small when we see Him. One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase, so bravely run the race till we see Christ.”
  10. Those who made it to the top were easily identifiable. They had the thickest coats of white dust, coupled by the biggest smiles. Matthew 7:20 teaches us that we will know them by their fruits. In other words, true Christianity is always marked by visible evidence.
  11. At the end of the day, it took individual effort to complete the hike. Nobody else could lift my right foot and place it in front of my left and so on until the top of the mountain. However, having fellow hikers with the same goal and commitment certainly helped! So it is in the Christian walk. We each have our race to finish, but it helps to have like-minded pilgrims alongside us on the journey.
  12. The mountain hasn’t changed or moved since the last couple of times I was there. It has been constant. Each and everything that I came to learn and acknowledge was the result of a change in my understanding/perception,  not a change in the mountain. In the end, those who called the mountain a hill from a distance came to acknowledge that it is a mountain. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). One day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). If I find that I am not as close to God as I once was, guess who moved?

The following day I challenged the same group of young people to try and learn as much about God each day as they learned about Mt. Longonot in this one day. Now there’s some fine homework!

New Year Resolutions?

Some of you have seen me wearing a red (actually bright orange) bracelet from http://www.connorwatch.org – a site for people to journey with Connor Williamson, a young man from my church in the US (before I moved to Kenya) who sustained a serious injury this past summer.

Connor’s dad, Eric, is the most prolific writer on the blog and has been a tremendous blessing to me, as he opens up to us and allows us to share in every step of this trying journey – especially his spiritual journey. On the 2nd day of 2009 (and 202nd day of Connor’s journey), Eric shared a post called Dead Man Walking that is the best take on new year’s resolutions that I have read this year. Here is most of it:

Why do we fail so badly to carry out our desires, even when they’re patently very important? And the answer I come up with is “Well, it’s because we’re failures”.

Now traditionally, what I (and many others) would do at this point is say something along the lines of “well, I just need to be a better Christian”. Have you ever heard anyone say “that guy’s a good Christian” or “you sure are a good Christian”? I hear those sorts of things a lot, and after thinking about it, I’ve decided that the idea that we need to be good Christians is a lie from the pit. Why? Because we aren’t called to be “good Christians”; we’re called to be LIKE CHRIST.

I can hear the objections now – “but those are the same thing”! or “well, that’s what I mean when I say “be a good Christian”. And my response is a categorical No. No two things could be farther apart than being a good Christian and being like Christ. What’s a good Christian? One who goes to church every time the doors are open, and who does all the right programs, and is involved in small groups, and is an upstanding member of the community – who keeps all the rules, and looks good doing it. A “good Christian” defines their Christianity by what they do – not by Who they know.

Don’t get me wrong – doing these things isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s when it becomes the end instead of the means that the lie appears. And that seems to be where many, many followers of Christ wind up – sitting in the pew each week, doing all the right things, and comfortable that their good-christian-ness is what they’re supposed to be about. But it’s not.

What should someone who is “like Christ” look like, then? Well, Jesus actively ministered to every person he came in contact with. I don’t mean “witnessed to” or “evangelized” or “invited to church”, I mean “took the time to see the person, determine his or her need, and address it in a fashion which brought glory to God”. While he spent some time in the synagogues and the temple, most of his ministry was in close contact with sinners – whores, and beggars, and people with nasty, nasty sicknesses. And tax collectors too! So I ask myself where I spend most of my time, and if the answer is not “helping the people that are right around me”, then a strong argument can be made that I am not very much like Christ.

So I should make a resolution to be more like Him this year, right? Nope. Resolutions are all about my efforts, and pretty weak ones they are. And it’s pretty clear from the Bible that I can’t be like Christ – Christ has to be Christ inside of me for it to work. Like Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Hey, wait a second – if it’s no longer I who live, doesn’t that mean I’m dead? Yep. Check out Colossians 3:3 – “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. Past tense. If you’re a follower of Christ, you, like me, are a dead man walking. And if Christ isn’t animating all of my movements, then I’m just like one of those shuffling corpses in the B movies from the 50s. Because I “have died”, and if Christ doesn’t live in me, then all I have is a poor substitute for living.

So my New Year’s resolution this year is really more of a decision to give up control rather than try to do more. I want to “let the peace of Christ rule in (my) heart” (Colossians 3:15); I want to “let the word of Christ dwell in (me) richly” (Colossians 3:16).

Only one problem – I’m a back seat driver. In order for someone else to drive, it’s necessary for me to allow them to. So pray for me! I’ll be praying for you…

Amen brother!

Father, in Jesus’ name, help me not to forget that I have been crucified with Christ. That it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. That the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Help me as I seek to let You reign in me in 2009, as I let the word of Christ dwell in me. Amen.

2009 is here!

Praise the Lord for His faithfulness in allowing me to see another brand new year! I ushered in the new year, by leading songs of worship at our church’s watchnight service. Here’s the set we sang:

What a Mighty God We Serve
We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise
Thanks, Thanks I Give You Thanks
Give Thanks
We Thank You Jesus/Asante Yesu
Twasema Asante
Jesus, Thank You (Worship Team)
My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness

In between, we had a time for testimonies, an extended time of corporate prayer, a sermon by our pastor from Luke 13:6-9 in which I was challenged by the dresser’s (Christ our intercessor’s) response in vv. 8-9:

“And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down (emphasis mine).”

The Lord has been working in my life and preparing me for this year. I pray that I will bear fruit as the Lord does the digging and dunging – which may not be pleasant, but is for my own good.

 

A wrong kind of humility

Humility is a virtue, right? Well, yes and no.

Here are some helpful words from G.K. Chesterton via Josh Harris’ blog:

“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason. . . . The new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . . There is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it’s practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy [Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1957], pp. 31-32

Lord, grant that I may quickly recognize false virtues in my life and repent. Amen.
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