Enrolling Into The School Of Christ.

When the Israelites were about to crossover to the Promised land, and Moses was giving them the last speech in Deuteronomy, there was a caution concerning the desire to be like other nations in terms of rulership, law and governance. In chapter 17.14-20 moses said:  “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’  Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel. 

Moses understood that the Israelites had a likelihood of imitating those other nations: heathens. This was not the only thing he cautioned them against. Intermarriages, worship, faithfulness in weights, boundaries and so on. They were faithful enough in failing to follow the admonishment of God through Moses which led to their enslavement every now and then (in Judges) and ultimately the one to Baylon. After the leading of Samuel as a judge they went to him and demanded for a king – 1Samuel8:1-22. Samuel reminds them that their demand is the rejection of God’s leading as their king – Theocracy. They wanted a king who would  lead them to war, a king whom they could interact with, a physical king. God tells Samuel in verse 7 that it is him, God, whom they have rejected. Samuel reminds them that their sons and kings will be required of the king for servanthood. He reminds them that there will be a cost to sustain this kind of leadership. The cost would include blood and resources as well as families. Mtoto akililia wembe mpe- sometime when an individual persists to do a thing with a prior warning, let them do so and learn from the consequences.

Worth noting is the fact that with Yahweh as their king, things were okay. All people were equal. Victories, success, prosperity would tag along. God had called them his people and he was their God and Father. That had come to a pause. With the reign of Rehoboam they cried foul – 1 Kings 12. Mwimba wa kujidunga hauna kilio – you can’t claim a lash is painful if you’re the one lashing yourself.

Paul in writing to the Romans, 12.1-2, says:…I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. This is exactly the call that God was calling the israelites to in Deuteronomy 17. He wanted them to set the standard under his guidance. He wanted other nations to learn from them. It is C.S. Lewis who said: There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says “All right, then, have it your way.” In this case, Jehovah executed the latter. 

If there be a time when the church has been drawn to the worldly standard, it is in our generation. Prosperity gospel will often navigate throughout the sermon every time the preacher gets to the pulpit. The world’s measure for a blessed person is the person whose level of income is high, owns several vehicles-from 1, big house or living in a good estate with a lot of luxuries, having the best meals, kids going to good schools – group of schools and so on and so on. The ability to spend high is equated to being blessed. Materialism is the measure of being blessed in our generation. And that is okay if that is what the world determines. The people of God are also engaged in this rat race. No race of possessions has been set forth but many are in it by comparing themselves with others in terms of who gets what and when and such yet the other individual is not aware. And if one does not own as much as their neighbour, they will petition God asking the very question: Why me? Mind you advocating for laziness or prayer alone; it is a call to have a broader category in the standards and view of God.

We are so much into pursuit of material blessings till we forget to pause and reflect on the journey we have come through and appreciate the faithfulness of God. When did good health cease to be a blessing? Or joy, peace, happiness, salvation, goodness, etc? Jim Carrey stated: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Our coming to Christ Jesus was an enrollment to a school whose ideology is against that of the world. Fame, desire to have a name and own more and be above all and so forth are the ideas that the world would like all to embrace but the call of Christ is to demonstrate forth his glory. Godliness with contentment is great gain – 1 Timothy 6.6-10…Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world,and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. It is the uncontrolled appetite that has led many to engage in vices like corruption, unfaithfulness, laundering, etc while some have fallen prey to preachers who are hyenas in sheep wolf who by all means introduce statements like ‘someone is holding your star’ or ‘panda mbegu (plant a seed of particular amount)’ or ‘you have a curse and need anointing oil or bloom or holy water’ etc. Such gymnastics will never miss on our tv screens- almost all Gimmick pastors own a station- and it will never amount to raising and nurturing believers who can have an effect on the current generation. This is false hope whose aim is to help the victims be at par with the world whereas in reality they are languishing more. Unfortunately only the ‘MAN OF GOD’ seems to ‘prosper’ – materially. 

This translates to sermons of faithfulness, worship, holiness, prayer, bible study, integrity and accountability, consistent discipleship, justice, truthfulness, godliness, etc being scarce. Speakers and preachers of such sermons are quite unpopular as well as their subscribers. They are termed as the boring pastors, boring believers, boring churches, etc. Christianity, if it is to make an impact, christians themselves must live a life that is Christ centred. That the scriptures, in totality, must become a part of our life. We must shift the bar and live our lives in accordance with Biblical standards. We must let the world copy from us, the believers, but not  vice versa. Jesus says that we are light set on the mountain top to light the world as well as salt to give flavour to the world. When the world penetrates the believers, we become corrupted and dance to their tune and so is the reverse. However, when the latter occurs, there is joy, there is prosperity for all, there is growth for all but when the former takes effect:there will be wailing and lamentation.

The Promised Land

Getting to this land was pegged to a single command: do obey the Lord God Almighty. This was the determining factor to whether they would get there or not and whether they would continue enjoying the same or not once they got there. That after you have accomplished all these, do not be proud/arrogant and think that it is by your strength that you made it the far that you will be. With obedience comes humility and worship. No wonder their allegiance is called to Yahweh alone and avoid other gods – you’d say like a plague. At Deuteronomy, the judgement that God had established on the 20+ years old had already taken place where they had all died apart from Joshua and Caleb and Moses himself – who was going to die soon- hence not getting to Canaan. These had disobeyed God (Numbers 14.29).

With the departure of Israelites from Egypt, the final destination was Canaan – The Promised Land. The land, according to Exodus 3.8, was not only spacious but also rich and fertile. This was the fulfilment to a promise made way too long to Abraham. Where they were in Egypt was a confinement zone since they were slaves and that made it easy for monitoring and control. The promised land had rivers and springs and underground streams gushing out into the valleys and hills. The land produced wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey (Deuteronomy 8.7-20). It had minerals like copper. They would never be hungry. in this land they would be increased in terms of population and livestock and good infrastructure. They would be rich and wealthy people. This looks like a good city to be in and raises the hope of wanting to be there soon. The land that floweth with milk and honey.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus told the people to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand (Mathew 3.2). He brought salvation to humanity. He brought the everlasting covenant to The Promised Land. ‘For God so loved the world,’ John 3.16, ‘that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.’ The implication here is that eternal life begins the moment we accept Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. God’s call to the Israelites was that He would be their God and father and they would be his people. A more father-son relationship. Jesus’ call to us is for us to have a similar relationship.The everlasting relationship.

This promised land, by Jesus, is similar to the one Abraham was looking for. When he Left his home country, Abram, was guided by God to the city where he would settle and his offsprings thereof. He forsakes all to the city whose architect is God (Hebrew11.9-10). Even Though Canaan was the city of promise to Abraham and his descendants, Israelites, that was just the foreshadowing of the great city which Jesus came to bring closer and increased on the dwellers. It was no longer open to Israelites only but to all the people of the world. The amplified version of this city is that it is a magnificent one. In revelation 21.10-27 it is described as one with light that was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal, great and high wall with twelve gates, The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass, The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst, etc.  The Promised land in the OT to the Israelites was a tip of the iceberg in comparison to this description.

Secondly, in Canaan they were to continue in worship and praise with all loyalty pledged to the most high. This is the same case here. However, in Canaan there was a likelihood of falling into Idolatry whereas in the new Jerusalem there will be but one thing: Worship. No temptation will be there. Canaan had mines where minerals could be mined but in Heaven, the new Jerusalem, the fitting itself is gold and all manner of precious stones. Abraham never lived to see the glory that came later on with the establishment of Jerusalem the capital of Judah but he is a candidate to the glorious city which he eagerly yearned for: Heaven.

The key and the most fundamental rule is on how to get to the promised land. In Deuteronomy 8.19 Moses reminded the Israelites about worship as a lifestyle. Which broadly would be called doing everything as though it is unto God. That all that they engaged in is worship. These were the chosen people. Jesus placed the same call to his disciples (the Chosen) who had knowledge and had accepted him as messiah in John 14.15: ‘If you love me, you will obey my commands.’ The implication then is that if they would not continue in his commands, then they would be destroyed (John 10.10). Therefore, the call is then to Not Only Accept Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour but Also Continue In His Teachings/Commands. It is the call to practical discipleship. This is also to imply that those that have rejected Christ Jesus have chosen to exclude themselves from the journey and destination to this celestial city. The Israelites were allowed to coexist with all that were with them irrespective of them being from other people groups provided they adhered to the commands of God. Meaning that other people groups were given a chance to redeem themselves. This is to mean that Christ has taken that venture and paid the cost and ours is just to accept the call and continue in his school. 

Romans 10:8-13…But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” There is no difference between Jew and Gentile. The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’For Canaan, the Promised Land, it was by obedience to law: and unto Heaven, The Promised Land/City, it is by Grace and all are invited.

Working Out Our Salvation With Fear And Trembling

Leviticus 19.2.. Say to the community of Israel, ‘Be holy, because I, the Lord your God am holy. The same words are echoed in Leviticus 11.45, 20.26, 21.6, 21.15, 22.32. God has and will always call us to be holy; to have moral integrity, to be free from sin and be sanctified. Peter echoed these same words in 1Peter 1.15 Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy.

In Numbers 6:9-12 is a statement that shows the seriousness with which God treats holiness. The context of the verse is the rules and regulations that governed one who chose to dedicate their lives as a Nazarite; though some were appointed by God like Samson. One was not to defile themselves by consuming grapes and the products thereof. Secondly they were not to go near a corpse no matter who the dead individual was to them. Lastly they were not to shave their hair whatsoever. As long as they were a Nazarite, they were consecrated to God.

Perchance they fell short of the three requirements above, especially first and second, they were unclean and had to undergo cleansing which was inclusive of SHAVING THEIR HAIR, bring sin offering, a burnt offering. That is not all. The individual will reconsecrate their head and rededicate their time as Nazarite and the previous period of time does not count (the already served term)because the consecrated hair was defiled. This means if the individual was to serve for ten years and gets defiled at ninth year, they will start afresh and will end up serving for nineteen years instead of ten. That was the cost of defilement whether intentionally or unintentionally.

In Philippians 2.12 we are admonished to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The call here, similar to that made to the Nazarites, is to be careful, cautious, keen, be on guard and watch the way we live our lives. It is a call to examine our lives and the way we live it. Socrates’ words resonate with this: unexamined life is not worth living. Having been determined to build a house, Jesus illustrates, one must count the cost to completion for you do not want to quit midway. You seek to get the building to completion. He, Jesus, stated in Mathew 6.24 that whosoever want to go with him must deny themselves, carry their cross and follow him. This was the call to that of the Nazarites too, that it was worth evaluating, laying down plans, scheming out what to do, where to be at any particular moment and how to execute whatever they wanted to to avoid being unclean.

Does that then imply that our walk with Christ Jesus is cut short the moment we tumble down as it happened to Nazarites? Of course not. However, we must choose to remain on course. In Mathew 3.8 we are called to produce fruit worth the repentance. We are not perfect but we must choose to remain on the vine (Jesus Christ) if we are to bear fruit (John 15.1-8) as the branches. This then means that like the Nazarites we must be consecrated, not by shaving our hair, but by repentance. We no longer have to offer bulls, doves, lambs for our atonement. 1 John 1.9 … But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our sins (wrongdoing). That means that if we at any moment fall off his glory, Romans 3.23-24, God has established a mechanism through which we can amend our ways. The caution thereby is that we should not abuse grace simply because it has been availed to us. Additionally, it does not translate that because we live in the fallen and sinful world we have to let sin live in us. Simply because we will be forgiven does not mean we take a swim to where sin is or into it.

Just like the olden days, being a Nazarite was a sacrificial manner of servanthood. Chritianity, life in and after Christ Jesus, is a personal commitment. Noone is born a Christian, it is a choice one makes. And at that particular moment, you are consecrated to him. Contrary to their term of service which was time bound as per the willingness of the individual, God expects Christians to hold on until the last day when he calls us home or he returns. It is an eternal calling. It is an everlasting vow of choosing to entrust one’s life to Christ by letting him into our heart. Upon completion of term of service, the Nazarite was walked out in a sacrifice and ritual/ceremony. Contrary to that, in Christianity, one is walked into eternal life the moment they come to Christ and ultimately they will not be walked out but will be walked into the kingdom of the Glory of God (John3.16,6.40, Romans 5.21, 1 John 5.13, Mathew 25.46). In this then, we must stand and be keen the way we live for we do not want to run the race then fail to get crowned for we pulled out of the race by living lives that were out of order (1Corinthians 9.25).

The Call To Justice

Amongst the instructions that God gave to the Israelites was on how to live with each other in harmony. Narrowing to this was the aspect of justice. In Leviticus 19:15 he said …you shall not do unrighteousness in judgement: thou shall not respect the poor , nor honour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness thou shall you judge your neighbour. He, God is not a respecter of persons. He is concerned with all. The race, social strata, gender etc are not a consideration to him. All are equal before him (Genesis 1:27,31). 

In Leviticus 19:18 he said…do not take revenge on anyone or continue to hate him(who has wronged you), but love your neighbour as you love yourself (Mathew 22.39). This would be out of the recognition that there is a system through which differences are settled – like the  judicial system.

Is this the reality in our land Kenya? Is justice applied on a leveled ground as it ought to be? Our kenyan national anthem has the statement…justice be our shield and defender that we may dwell in unity… This is what may be termed as empty words, beautifully and systematically composed and scribed. Justice is nowadays traded based on the muscles that one has.

In the informal systems, the poor may experience favour due to their lowly position which is a fault to the law of God. However, the most popular scenario is that the rich and wealth have power to influence the course of justice over the poor. They have a way of calling the tune having paid the piper. Bribery and corruption is rampant and year after year it moves from bad to worse. Perversion, delay, denial and false justice is part of the daily deliverables in our judicial system. It is the case of purchased justice.

But who then is your neighbor? Jesus declared that our neighbours are whoever that is near you (Luke 10.29-37). Whether they be strangers to you, rich or poor, different tribes, different gender, different family, etc , they deserve to be treated with justice and love.

The system in which justice is awarded is full of unfairness. With the sentences, fines, bails, etc awarded, the quantity of the deliverables lets out a sigh of pain. There seems to be a judgement scale for the rich men to that of poor men. If the national anthem words are to be realized, if unity is to be a reality then justice has to be the dipstick. Justice has to be implemented in resource allocation, treatment before the law, policy formulation, rules and regulations implementation, etc. The call to justice is for ALL irrespective of the level on the ladder the individual is and and who they are.

SHOULD I TRADE MY VALUES AND PRINCIPLES?

In studying Genesis 39:1-23, Joseph stands out as such a relevant character in our generation with reference to matters materialism. He has a dream like anyone of us does and this marks the genesis of his story-line that begins with persecutions and climaxes with victory. In the wisdom of his elder brother, step-brother, he was traded for 20pcs of silver in chapter 37. Later he becomes the possession of Potiphar. With and in God’s favour he becomes the prefect over other workers in Portiphar’s house. He, Joseph, was a well configured and handsome guy. This drove his master’s wife to having a desire to have an illicit sexual relation with him.

Joseph response was reasonable enough and a truthful one. My master, your husband, concerns himself with nothing in this house other that what he eats. He has set me over everything else apart from you. HOW THEN SHALL I DO SUCH AN IMMORAL THING AND SIN AGAINST GOD? That was not sufficient to tame her appetite or even draw her away, she remained persistent per chance Joseph would change his mind to which he was not willing to trade his holiness for sin. The woman decided to force him into it where he rescued himself leaving his coat with her. She authors a different narrative to set the young man into the center of the fire which catapults him to jail.

I can’t help but think deeply how this is seen as a bar too high to get to and compromise is the order in our day. Figure it this way: Joseph had few chances of living in this manner, that in committing this sexual sin he would be risking his life would his master have discovered it. And if the master would not have discovered it, then God would in either way be aware of it. Failure to do it was a death warrant since the wife would have made up the narrative she made (God is gracious Potiphar did not act as he ought to bearing in mind that Joseph was a slave). He must have been aware that death was an option in failing to satisfy the gratification of his master’s wife. It was a risk worth taking.

Statements such as brown envelop promotion, skirt/ pantie promotion, boardroom promotion, coffee job, one night stand employment, ‘sponsored’ promotion/ employment, light skin employment/promotion, etc are used to describe the privileges rendered in the wrong manner. Individuals have given themselves sexually to make a living. But the biggest question is that of WHY? Some of the reasons are to maintain status quo, competition with peers in amassing materials, social status, and some will say ‘watoto wakule wapi’ (where will the children feed from)? Does this mean that these desires overwrite our principles, moral values, godliness, etc? That we are willing to trade them for that which can be so huge a day and the next day it is gone?

Joseph was a foreigner, may be the only jew and he risked his life to honour God. If not for anything else, why can’t we trade our lives for him? There are bills to be paid and I don’t have job or the pay is too tiny and bills have to be paid is very popular. With such excuses, we end up acquiring these privileges  through the WRONG CURRENCY FORGETTING THAT WITH THE SAME CURRENCY SHALL WE SUSTAIN THEM; AND IT IS JUST A MATTER OF TIME AND THE CURRENCY LOSSES VALUE AND IS DRAWN OFF THE COUNTER AND REPLACED WITH A NEW ONE. This is a short term solution and so would it have been with Joseph. It may have seemed like a breakthrough would he have given in but it would have ended in him being broken through in a matter of time. Integrity to God and his master mattered.

 Having pulled such an act, he was in a position to walk his neck straight whether in prison or later on when he rose to the position of second in command; over his former master if he was still making use of oxygen. It is not for the unprincipled nor the ungodly to to say no when ILLICIT offers are made. It is then a call for the Godly to say NO. Citing an example my friend shared about one of her close friends, a male, qualified for a position in an organization through facing a board in which he emerged the best. Few months down the line a department manager lands in his office during the lunch hour and makes herself comfortable on his desk, facing him (he was sitted on the chair facing the desk) with her legs apart. The message was loud and clear that sustaining that position was all dependent on his ability to ‘sign the open cheque’ in her terms. She was consistent in following up for some days to which made the young graduate to resign and keep his standards. Mind you the gentleman is not a follower of Christ Jesus. He said that he’d rather go burn charcoal in Ukambani other than do such. Where are such principled individuals fading into? Apparently, the guy is doing well where he is; I’m a witness to that. Remember he would have raised reasons of just being a young man starting life, he has no other option, etc.

Integrity is in most, if not all, cases a map to a  rough mountain whose top exposes one to a promised land though climbing the same mountain is not a walk in a park. Joseph is vomited into the prisons where his character still stands and he is again made a prefect. He ends up spending time there, forgotten only for him to rise to the second in command in a foreign land, as a foreigner in Egypt. Is that not encouraging? Being fired for declining sexual proposals and corruption and other vices does not translate to the end of life. It may not be business as norm but deep withing the conscience there will be a testimony to yourself that you did that which was right and truthful. That you can give a moral direction to others, your children, etc. What principles and values do you live with that you cannot trade them out for anything whatsoever?

Love, The Giver of New Identity

John 15:14-16 You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his lord does.But I have called you friends,for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

When we are hiring employees like farm workers, house helps, builders, etc we do vet them to that which we want having stated fourth our terms and conditions. We do expect that they will honour that which has been entrusted to them to execute. We reward them as per the delivery of that which we agreed upon.

We do not ask of their opinion when we are giving them these particular tasks. We never ask our gardeners what they think is better cultivated at a certain portion of their land, we don’t ask for the reason as to why we should dress in a particular way for them to iron our clothes. They work as per our standards, they follow instructions. This is because they are our servants and we are their bosses. A servant could be said to be more noble when compared to slave. This is because slaves have a bigger role to play. Failure to meet the command of the boss is accompanied with anguish, torture and punishment. Slaves work against their own will.

Jesus in telling his disciples that he no longer calls them servants meant a stature and a new identity in place. What defines friendship is truthfulness, openness, care & concern, and so on. Thus, Jesus reminds his disciples that he CHOSE them, He has moved their IDENTITY to FRIENDSHIP and with regards to this He had expectation from them: BEARING LONG-LASTING FRUIT. To a friend, one has no need to hide the intentions of a particular course of action and no wonder Jesus tells them that He has REVEALED everything he heard from God the Father. That means they are beyond slaves and servants and are now friends and no longer in darkness over why God is doing things in certain ways.  The fruit then that Christ calls us to is founded on one main pillar: LOVE.  John 15:17 “I command these things to you, that you may love one another. This then translates to one main command of loving one another. Thus the fruit of love is called to remain. 1Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, and love remain. The greatest of these is love. And this is the response we accord the one who called and loved us first. He, Jesus Christ, has loved us with such a love that is extravagant: John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Are You A Stranger To Christmas?

Luke 24.13-21 Behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was sixty stadia from Jerusalem. They talked with each other about all of these things which had happened. It happened, while they talked and questioned together, that Jesus himself came near, and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk, and are sad?” One of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things which have happened there in these days?” He said to them, “What things?” They said to him, “The things concerning Jesus, the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we were hoping that it was he who would redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.

Often times we quote the statement: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things which have happened there in these days?” whenever an individual is not aware or asking questions regarding a scene, issue or affair that is very obvious and in the public domain. But what seemed to be obvious in this context was not obvious. Thought they had gone to the tomb and verified that Jesus’ body was not there which was a sign of his resurrection, they were either not convinced or they had forgotten. Lu 24:22-24 Also, certain women of our company amazed us, having arrived early at the tomb; and when they didn’t find his body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb, and found it just like the women had said, but they didn’t see him.” Their eyes and spirit were blinded to the fact that the very individual they were conversing with was the very theme and subject they were discussing about. This was so till they shared in the breaking of bread together: Lu 24:30-32 It happened, that when he had sat down at the table with them, he took the bread and gave thanks. Breaking it, he gave to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight. They said one to another, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?”

We are in the Christmas festive and in a few days will be Christmas day. Hopefully, you and I are not strangers in the town, country, world and universe at large. It is in the public domain that this is the festive where we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ though it doesn’t mean that that is exactly the date and month of birth. Like these two disciples, majority may think that they are not strangers to this fact but ironically the level of blindness is so high. Like Cleophas and his friend, majority know theoretically that Christ Jesus was born to save the world, he died, resurrected, ascended to heaven and his very present lives with us as God Emmanuel and that he is coming back to judge the world. That is very obvious. But is that all? Other than knowledge alone, we are called to believe. Other than merry and festivity, it is also a moment to reflect in the relationship we’ve had with him. 

When Cleophas and his colleague were asking ‘THE STRANGER’ about the occurrence of the time, they were ready to continue with the conversation but it turned out that they were the uninformed ones. If the same question will be asked during this festive season, why is everyone happy and marrying around? The answer of one being a stranger or not will depend on which side of coin one is for. To some it will be: This is a tradition, the Christmas festive where we always come together and celebrate together, eat together, exchange presents, and drink and so on.  Others will answer that it is a moment to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we evaluate our walk with him, visit the less fortunate, celebrate together, etc. when these answers are weighed against the scriptures, it then when we can determine who the real stranger is and needs to be advised and informed. Lu 24:31 their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight. Until we feed of his body and blood by accepting Him as the lord and Saviour of our lives, we remain aliens and foreigners to the very covenant he has established. We remain strangers till we accept Christ Jesus. Christmas will only be a sensible celebration if you have Christ born in your heart. Romans 10:8-13 But what does it say? “The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart”; that is, the word of faith which we proclaim; because if you confess the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Everyone believing on Him shall not be put to shame.” For there is no difference both of Jew and of Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call on Him. For everyone, “whoever shall call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The invitation is that of a welcome to the family where you’re an heir, not a stranger.

The Cost Of Shifting The Paradigm

One of the hardest experiences that we face is the adoption into a new scheme or role with reference to the set guidelines, that is, commitment to a thing that is contrary to the rules we are used to and that have dire consequences once broken. Mary the mother of Jesus found herself in such a situation.

She was of Jewish origin. She subscribed to the Mosaic law that punished them that had sex before marriage by stoning. She, being a female, had to be committed to purity even more. Upon receiving the news concerning her getting pregnancy, she asks a question of  “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”(Luke 1:34). 

Mary risked a couple of things from her conversation with angel Gabriel in Luke chapter 1: first she risked being stoned for getting pregnant before consummation of their marriage since she was just betrothed to Joseph. Secondly reputation is of importance to the people from East and thus the reputation of the family was at stake. Lastly she risked being divorced, by Joseph, if the stoning would not have taken place, which was their custom – breaking a betrothal was by divorce. It was a hard task trying to explain the mode through which she became pregnant.

Mary, in her response, must balance between the law, the role/ responsibility and the outcome/ consequences. At last she would have to take a risk to honour the responsibility and role midst the law and its outcome. Imagine explaining to Rabbis that she is carrying the son of God, that she is pregnant through HolySpirit, that regardless of the pregnant she is sexually pure amongst other questions smashed upon her. Introducing the Trinity: that God the Father chose her to carry the son, Jesus Christ through HolyGhost to these teachers of the law was not a walk in the park. These were real questions demanding real answers.

She was certain with the word of the angel that this was the real deal. She had to accept the call to be the medium through which God would physically come to the world. She counted her cost. Mathew 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Mathew 10:38-40 He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me. He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. She preferred to face the consequences and was ready to advance the goal and vision of the master regardless of the risk that it would have costed her. You and I are often times faced by such situations and we are torn apart as to what really should we do. There are moments that we are faced by life, career, family, friendship, social, economic, etc threatening situations whereby the door of making decisions stops at us and there is no way to bypass it. Not forgetting we are aware of the law and set guidelines, our responsibility and the thereof consequences. We, being believers in the saving grace of our Lord Jesus by faith are but called to do that which is truthful, right and pleasing before God. The response of Mary stands true: Luke 1:38… “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word.”…The development of the occurrence of events is that Mary and Joseph went through their gestation period, gave birth and so on and so on true to angel Gabriel’s word. There comes no time when we shall be wrong in doing the right thing. The Bible says: 1Samuel 15:22 And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. Going contrary to the traditions of men, society, etc when weighed against the conviction from the Bible will summon our attention to the threats and repercussions which we must rise over and above in knowing that he who started good work in us will ultimately bring it to a conclusion. 2Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. I will presume she knew the law and at that particular moment when she was conversing with Gabriel, the opportunity wasn’t long lasting for her to make the decision. She must also have heard the prophecies about the coming of the messiah. She had to make a decision. Similarly, we will be faced with such circumstances and what will count is the conviction to follow and act in truth. Based on God’s word, we will have to allow it to speak to us and authorize the course to take, say, act upon, execute and implement. For anything contrary to God’s word is all but fall from Grace. 

LIFE STYLE PREACHING: PRINCIPLES THAT DEFINE US

Often there is a challenge that is posed once in a while during conversations: WALK THE TALK. I bet the challenge there is to have ones action testifying more to the words that the individual is giving. The call is to the adherence to consistency.

When we examine our lives, we find something worth to live for. In his preaching and time on earth, Christ Jesus emphasized of our lives being consistent. That is, the call to produce fruit worth of the very testimony we profess (Mathew3:8). 

There are situations whereby the principles, values and actions we adhere to speak more louder than the word we would have spoken. The power thereof cannot be assumed. An old testament character by the name Daniel and his 3 friends are portrayed as men who walked the talk. They spoke less and the effects of their courses of actions are overwhelming.

Having been taken to Babylon at his youth age and given a place to learn the Chaldean philosophy, he had just but one principle…Daniel 1:8:… And Daniel had come to the decision that he would not make himself unclean with the king’s food or wine; so he made a request to the captain of the unsexed (Eunuchs)  servants that he might not make himself unclean. He would not engage in that which was to make him impure. Running through chapter 1-6, he is presented as one who won the hearts of the kings of Babylon to the point of proclaiming Yahweh as true God.

First, he feeds from a diet that he was certain that there was no way it was defiled since meat and blood could easily defile him; either they be from beasts prohibited, offered to idols first or even defiled during slaughter due to blood. And at the end of time he is found wiser and intelligent than all.

Secondly, he reveals to the king his dream as well as the meaning. This is so after the king has ordered the execution of all the wise men; which he was a part of. Differently, the so called wise men were sorcerers and witchcraft while himself and his three friends worshiped and consulted Yahweh. He in the process saves the lives of these dark-powers devoted men.

Thirdly, his three friends have their faith on test. An idol is prepared and at the sounding of the trumpet everybody is supposed to bow to it. Their accusers find enough evidence to accuse them for defying the order. Their explanation is that THEY WILL NOT BOW TO IDOL no matter what: whether God rescues them or not. They had seen, during the captivity of Jerusalem, God not coming through and thus they were open to whatever way He, God, would respond but their loyalty to Him would not shift. God comes through for them and as a result Nebuchadnezzar heart is shifted to God’s way.

Lastly king Darius is trapped by schemers who were malicious of the level to which Daniel had risen to in the ladder of leadership, that is, leader of all chiefs. They were all answerable to him. They said in their hearts…Daniel 6:5…We will only get a reason for attacking Daniel in connection with the law of his God. They made a proposal to turn the king to a god but Daniel, being aware of their scheme, continued with his devotion to God. By the time the king was realizing, he had made a decree that could not be amended and he knew that Daniel was a devoted man and that all this scheme was meant to cripple him. This pains the heart of the king to the point of not eating. Daniel gained the favor with king Darius and Cyrus and finally vengeance, though crooked because the wives and children of the leaders were not involved.

In all these instances, Daniel is committed to doing that which he had learnt such that all these kings keep on elevating him from a level to the other. He coexists with them peaceably in-spite of their spiritual difference to the point that they make confession and acknowledge Yahweh’s hand. With doing the right thing and in the right way, we cannot be wrong irrespective of the people we work with or live with. Being a foreigner, depending on God with unwavering principles, he managed to serve under the various kingdoms for the 70 years of the captivity of Jews. Many are the times the name of Jesus has been tarnished due to our conduct in that we preach water while taking wine. It would be better if people saw us taking water and when they inquire why we take water and not wine we can be in a position to explain. More than 50% of our testimony and preaching is through lifestyle than with talking. And the big question at the end of the day is: IS THERE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO CONVICT ME FOR BEING A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST JESUS?

The Poison Contained In Reputation

The concern to have a good name is so real and if it is not to all, then it is to majority.   Fascinatingly we want to have a good name in the eyes of them that we know and know us and strangers alike. 

Reputation cuts across all people: the rich and the poor, the old and the young, male and female, parents and siblings, leaders and subjects, employees and employers and so on. Infact, reputation or a good name, is a source belonging too. It takes a popular individual to embrace a product, item, tool, behavior, character trait, etc. for everyone else to follow. Talk of influence. Talk of sales if it happens that your product is the one that is embraced. But, with similar magnitude can the effect be if the same individual ‘scrutinize your product or service’ and decide to take you back to the ground level.

This phenomenon of wanting a good name didn’t originate in our generation. It has always been there. Its popularity has been gaining muscles and popularity over time due to the advancement in technology and connectivity. King Saul, a Biblical character, of Israel is displayed as man, a ruler who had an audience to please, to gain acceptance from and a name to protect. His reputation was important to him. His description is given in 1Samuel 9:2 …Saul, a specially good-looking young man; there was no one better-looking among the children of Israel: he was taller by a head than any other of the people. What a wonderful creation. He becomes the king and a few chapters later his kingdom is at war with Philistines, whose gigantic warrior mocked and caused the army of the Israelite to shiver and cower a lot. David, a young man is led of God and finally overcomes the warrior raising the hope of Israelite’s army and nation at large. The Israelites women burst out in praise and unconsciously accords King Saul THOUSANDS and David TENS OF THOUSANDS. This clicks into the mind of Saul that he’s being demeaned yet he was the king. Enmity between the two was birthed there (1SAmuel 17 &18). prior to this Saul had failed to execute the Amalekites as dictated by God and instead allowed king Agag to live and allowed the people to bring the fattened animals with them. He was seeking acceptance to please them and not to offend them (1 Samuel 15). Similarly in 1 Samuel 13 he offered a sacrifice he was not supposed to. It was the mandate of the prophet Samuel and the answer he gave as to the cause of his action was that THE PEOPLE WERE SCATTERING AWAY. 

Bringing it home to the political arena, places of work, leadership and governance and all places where we live and work acceptance and reputation still disturb us. It so happens that with the technological advancement we experience it even in our private spaces. The world is interconnected and social media is the main sniper in our generation. With Facebook, Instagram, Snap-chat, Twitter, etc. we socialize and become antisocial at the same time. It is in these sites that in the name of seeking for approval, acceptance and followers that enmity have risen. For example take a photo of two individuals and let them upload it Instagram whereby one gets 100 likes while the other gets 1 like and see if the latter one won’t develop a negative liking towards his/her friend. But the question that begs a serious address is: WHEN DID LIKES, RETWEETS, COMMENTS, SHARES BECOME THE INDICATOR FOR APPROVAL? It is with such that hostility, enmity, broken relationships have risen including suicide. Many have gone ahead to embrace foreign character traits, immorality, nudity, drug abuse etc. all for the purpose of making a name for themselves, becoming popular, becoming acceptance and so on.

However, the story doesn’t have to end or take this course. The problem comes when we use the wrong standards: COMPARATIVE LIFESTYLE – wanting to be like the other person, having many followers, likes, shares, etc. These likes and shares and so on are not evil but the problem is when we fail to understand that the opinions of others may shape you but the ultimate standard is God. No wonder the bible says in Genesis 1:26… And God said, Let us make man in our image, like us: and let him have rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every living thing which goes flat on the earth. No man was a design plan for the other BUT ALL HAVE A COMMON DESIGN: GOD. King David had an understanding of this concept no wonder he writes in Psalms 139:14…I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well. This is the same man who dances unto the LORD when the ark of covenant comes back from the land of Philistine till his ROYAL ROBE fells off and his wife despises him. He gives a very profound answer in reply to her question in 2 Samuel 6:19-22… So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD.” At the point of dancing his reputation was of no importance compared to the GLORY OF THE ALMIGHTY. The one thing we often forget is that I may dismiss your photo, thought, post on social media but I don’t know you which begs the question: WHY SHOULD A STRANGER’S OPINION SINK ME INTO A DAMPNESS THAT IS UNNECESSARY? EVEN IF WE KNOW EACH OTHER, ARE FRIENDS NOT ALLOWED TO GIVE CONTRARY OPINION? Many more questions do arise.

But here is my opinion: every thought, view, action, etc. must be COUNTER CHECKED against the correct standard: GOD. And how to do it is to check what his word says concerning us: human being; I included. At the end of the day, that will count more on what I post and share and what I get back. BOTH the shared and the feedback information must be checked with respect to the BIBLE if the reputation is to be said to have no poison. OTHERWISE, THERE WILL BE POISON IN THE REPUTATION.