The Boxing Glove

Nicky Gumbel of HTB narrates a story of a visit to a teenage prison and his use of a boxing glove as an illustration of our lives.

I brought in a boxing glove as a visual aid. I dangled the glove and showed how ineffective it was without a hand in it. Then I put my hand in the glove, made a fist and punched the air so that everyone could see the difference it made to the power of the glove. Nicky Gumbel, Bible in One Year, Day 256.

He used this illustration to depict our lives without Christ. Boxing gloves are not as soft as made out in the illustration above. It is true that the glove looks whipped and harmless until it is put on a hand. But not just any hand, I thought.

When David was brought before Saul to prepare for his battle with Goliath, he did not find Saul’s armour very helpful. So I thought, neither would I be any use with that glove.

Muhammad Ali Art. Photo credit: Pinterest

But in the hands of Muhammad Ali. That glove is mighty in the Boxing ring. It is power packed. And so it is with us.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

In Christ, we are new and power packed. There is no remembrance of our former weakened state. Like the gloves in the hands of Muhammad Ali, no one recalls that just a few minutes ago, the gloves were no better than their decorative type. We are faster and mightier. We are waiting but in the real thick of the action. We are not formless, we have a purpose and our destinies are shaped.

Most importantly, we are in the hand of the winner. When He spread his hands out in victory, we are also spread out. We bring nothing to this fight other than belonging to the fighter.

Did you wake up feeling powerless? Allow Jesus to adorn you in His strength that you may be like a boxing glove in the hands of Muhammad Ali.

Henna Blossoms in the Vineyard

Bees. I watched a movie about bees as a young girl that put the fear of bees into my heart. Because those bees were genetically morphed into killer bees. The swarm of bees was a destroyer, they killed every living thing in sight. How terrifying. In my short life, my memories of bees have been to point me in the direction of sweet, aromatic and beautiful flowers.

14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blooms In the vineyards of En Gedi.

Song of Solomon 1:14 NKJV

This beautiful text has held my attention, as an image of luxury. Flowering vineyards would already attract so many bees. Imagine with me scent of grape vines in blossom, and how the air is filled with expectation. The humming of the bees as the move around enjoying the nectar and pollinating the flowers.

This vineyard is near a waterfall, En Gedi. Such a luscious place.The sound of a cascading waterfall. En Gedi is the last fresh water spring before one reaches the Dead Sea. The place is bursting with life in a place close to death.

Somewhere in there, henna blossoms. Henna is commonly used as a dye for human art and hair. Its blossoms are beautifully soft and scented. Not as strong as grape blossoms but strong enough to attract insects.

Why would she describe her beloved in this manner? Because she has found the one whom her soul desires. I recall being sold the story about finding a soul mate. At the time, it seemed credible and plausible but not quite. Your soul wants many things. It has your emotions, it has your mind and it has your will. Most times, these three especially for a woman do not agree. Case in point is chocolate fudge cake. Your mind knows that moment on the lips will be a life time on the hips. Your emotions do not agree at all, because well, chocolate fudge cake is just melts on your tongue-like how good does chocolate have to taste. Your will depending on what time of the day and events may assent to the mind’s suggestion and help you wolf down the cake in the fastest time possible. Or allow you to savor it, forkful by forkful. But for this little conundrum, a mate would suffice.

Her beloved was not just one way and never another. He was henna blossoms- attractive, appealing and pleasing to her eyes. The promise of fruitfulness is held in the Vineyard. It is tended and cared for, not for it’s beauty but,its ability to produce grapes. There is loads of activity, pleasant activity. He smells good, yes. And even though, death may be round the corner, he is refreshing and nurturing. A cool,refreshing drink on any day.

Mates just don’t cut it for this. And it may be possible to find this person, but ultimately, Solomon brings us to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only One who can fully satisfy your soul. Jesus knows everything about you, the good, the bad and the ugly, and He still loves you. Jesus became man so He could take your place in death. His words can bring healing to all the crevices of your soul, no matter how hidden and how dark. Need I add, that He was the Word in the Beginning. So, He is the One we all yearn for.

If you are longing for a luxurious life, the one you do not escape from, Jesus is your cluster of henna blossoms in the Vineyard of En Gedi. He restores your soul. (Psalm 23:3)

The Perfect Bow

The Myth of Retirement. Part III

I love neat bows. They appeal to the perfectionist in me, everything appears to come together when a bow is neatly done. Also, to achieve a neat bow, usually the packaging is neatly done. It takes time, effort and precision to get it just right.

Credit: Pinterest

I learnt to tie a bow in nursery school, it was a coming of age milestone. No longer would I have to wait for an adult to do my shoe laces, I could them all by myself. How exciting this was! I quickly realized that the bow was simply a small part of the process. Some of my caretakers were not as careful with bows as I was and they simply did the bare minimum to ensure the shoe did not slip off my foot. I was horrified to find that the two ends of the bow were uneven, not once, not twice, but most of the time. That right there was not good. So my bow was always lopsided.

How did one go about correcting this. I observed how laces were put in the shoes and practiced, over and over till I got it. This was in the time when we all wore BATA and shoe laces were made out of cotton. Cotton has the amazing ability to do what it is expected. Nylon, polyester and all other forms synthetic fabrics do not always perform to par. So the bow is always lopsided.

As a young person, you are usually given a linear path expectation. You start off in Nursery, then join primary, secondary and later university and get a job. This path loops very perfectly like a neat bow till you get a job. Sometimes it doesn’t, you fail a major exam and cannot complete that section of school. Or you are too ill to attend regular school. Or maybe you lose a guardian or parent and you are unable to pay the school fees. Or you are not admitted to the school of your choice. Or you do not get the subjects of your choice. Whatever it is, the path is not linear. And so your bow is lopsided.

This same false hope is cultivated when you start work, a linear path. You find yourself in a holding pattern, waiting for the Control Tower to confirm that your plane may land. When I finish this set of qualifications, I shall leave this job. When I have this amount of money saved up, I shall retire. When I am done with this project, I shall embark on this and that. The holding pattern begins, because life is not linear. It’s all fine and dandy till you curve balls and bends are littered along your path. And so your bow shall be lopsided.

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

John 19:30 NKJV

Jesus says this on the cross-one of his dying phrases. His redeeming work is complete and He dies. What a way to die, He even finished His work. And said last words. Such a neat bow. Only that three days later, He resurrects and on Ascension day gives His disciples instructions to make disciples of all the nations and take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The laces are undone.

What just happened?’Didn’t He say it is finished?’ ‘Shouldn’t we be chilling in paradise with nojitos?‘ ‘Never ending sunsets?’ Apparently, not, Jesus is still working. We still have work to do. When your laces come undone, get on one knee, re-do the bow, get back to work.

The Gift of Work

The Myth of Retirement. Part III

Usually when facing a job interview panel, one of the questions you must prepare for is ‘Why would you like this job?’ Or it’s variant, ‘Why do you think you are the best candidate for this job?’ As the applicant you then draw from your experience, your competencies and your networks, to convince the panel that you can get the job done. Sometimes you get it right, other times you don’t.

God has placed within each one of us a unique purpose. This purpose is crafted into your DNA, woven into your genes before you knew you, before your mother knew you. You will remain insatiable until you find the work that God designed you for.

When God formed Adam from the dust and pulled Eve out of him, he gave him work. Adam’s work was to tend the Garden of Eden as part of fulfilling the Creation Mandate.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The Creation Mandate, Genesis 1:27-28

Adam and Eve were never meant to live happily ever after in the Garden of Eden. Neither were you created to live in whatever variation of the Garden you imagine. You have been blessed with work so you can be a blessing to the world through your fruitfulness, multiplication and power to subdue. This is latent energy in you.

Since you are made in the likeness of God, your capabilities are immense. Forget your classification as a mammal, your ancestor Adam named all the mammals plus more animals besides. (Genesis 2:19-20). His sons designed the practices of agriculture. Abel without being taught by any priest brought the fat portions of the first born of his flock as a sacrifice to God. (Genesis 4:4). And on and on, till we get to you. Do you feel underwhelmed by the job interview panel yet? No?

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

I Corinthians 15:10 NKJV

Paul explains that he was able to labor more abundantly because of the grace of God. Labor is a synonym of work. Grace is unmerited favor. Unmerited means you don’t work for it. Yes. So how then can the grace of God lead to laboring more abundantly?

Man was created on the 6th day, the last day of creation. It meant that Adam’s first day of work was the Sabbath day. Wait, what? Yes, so on his first day at work, Adam was chilling with God. Compare that with your first day. The familiarization tour. The endless introductions. The numerous forms, IDs, passwords, thumb or retina scans. The new acronyms. The policy documents. Adam had none of that, he learned to work from rest. Rest with God. Rest in God. Unmerited. Who earns a day off on the first day? You, God’s favorite, do.

Dr. Eunice Adubango, shares a story about how she started Eunie’s kitchen. Her dad, she says, dotted on her and made sure that she lacked no good thing. He never let her use her airtime to call him. He bought her newspapers every day so she could ace what was not even a major course module for her, communication. When he fell sick, she found that the job she had could not cater for his bills. She could not sit helpless and watch him not get the care he deserved. So she decided to run a paid cookery lesson for ladies. Her social media post attracted many respondents and she was able to carry out the lesson. From her earnings, she was able to give her father access to good health care.

Her starting out was a response to the love her father had lavished on her. Many of us may relate to the desparation of an ill parent, and many times we view the desparation as our driving force. The driving force behind the actions is love. So if we can labor, drawing from love wells of our earthly fathers how much more the love of our Heavenly Father.

That’s why Paul says he labored much more abundantly by the grace of God. The Grace of God empowers and compels us to work. God’s love working in our lives leads us to do immeasurably more than we ever imagined or thought. (Ephesians 3:20) This is the gift of Work.

Never Enough

The Myth of Retirement. Part II

‘You need to save for your retirement,’ became the clarion call for all of us to move to the start of the rat race! The statement by itself maybe right but all information is filtered through the lenses of society and experience.

I finally got round to watching The Greatest Showman and observing the P.T. Barnum, it was like looking into a mirror. He finally lands the deal of a lifetime,Jenny Lind. You know that deal that we are all praying and looking for. The one that will propel us further up the societal curve and land us closer to retirement. The context of retirement in this case is included in an earlier blog. So, he lands this deal, in the form of a tour. And off he goes, he leaves his circus, his family, his wealth and pursues the deal with all his heart, nothing shall stop him.

Your salary is never enough to give you, the retirement you want: the pina colada sipping by the beach- kind, the golf playing by the ocean- kind, the house on acres of land- kind. Armed with this knowledge, we became deal (a.k.a some ka money chasers), what was trending? Could it be sold for profit? What kind of margins would it bring me? If they were good, they were added to the job. In addition to my employment business card, I added another and another and another. If there was money 💰 clinking into the pocket, it meant it was working. Not so?

Well, not quite. The insurance sales man, all dressed to kill, walks in and teaches us a new thing, it’s called life insurance. The compounding effect is unbelievable. Yes, we must do this! What does it entail? More money! So back to the drawing board, how much longer must I work to achieve this? How much more money must I squeeze out of these margins? That’s when, the walls came crumbling down, all these clinks in the back were not money. They were chocolate covered stones. At least there is chocolate, let’s continue!

Back to the rat race! But it was never enough. Doors continually opened. Doors continually closed. Time remained finite even when I dared to defy it. The sun set at the same time and rose at the same time. Every morning carried a work load from the previous day and the day before that and the day before that. Yet, still, each day came with it’s own work load, ‘a woman’s work is never done,’ I quipped and carried on.

Lying on that hard hospital bed, with a canula attached and the whole clinic looking for what was wrong? I slowly came to the realization that this would never work. Either I was going to die trying or simply die. From where I lay, there were no pina coladas, no golf courses, no home baked goodies, just endless white ceiling.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
John 17:3 NKJV

Eternal means never ending. If I have eternal life, I have never ending life. It means that if my life is never ending, I need to live it better. I need to make better choices. It gets better.

Jesus Christ continues to say that life is about knowing God, the only true God and knowing Jesus Christ. Knowing, like knowing knowing? Or knowing like knowing? 😂😂

Thank God for the Greek word, ginóskó that is more definitive. To know experientially, first hand. Like the intimate knowledge of a husband and a wife. Wow.

Repeat it again.

So you mean that eternal life is not living forever and ever. It is, because God is eternal. Knowing God will take you through to eternity.

When Mary, the sister of Martha met Jesus, she decided that her singular purpose in life would be to sit at the feet of Jesus. Her sister, Martha even complained to Jesus about her workload and Mary not lifting even a finger to help, Mary did not bat an eyelid. Being seated is a position of rest, she rested. She found such delight in knowing Jesus that she was the only one privileged to prepare his body for death. Her very expensive perfume (worth an entire year’s wages) was nothing compared to the joy she found using the perfume to anoint his feet and body. This same Mary was the first person to meet the risen Jesus. Jesus Is Enough.

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:41‭-‬42 NKJV

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Is the phrase, with which Patrick Henry ended his now Famous Speech (a link to a very passionate rendition) at St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia. In August 1775. This is the speech that sealed the resolution of the thirteen colonies to secede from the British Empire. Henry then, began his role in arming a militia that would lead the American revolutionaries to the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776.

Liberty in the United States is even immortalised in the statue of Lady Liberty, or Libertas. A gift from the French people to celebrate American freedom. (the idea was conceived in 1865 and Lady Liberty took her place on Ellis Island in 1886.)

What is liberty? Why is it so important that a man would rather die than live without it? As a young girl, I always assumed that everyone was free to do as they please, within the bounds of the law of course. For as long as what I did made my parents happy, I was free to do as I pleased. My perception of liberty was forged in furnace of my neighborhood and formed on the anvil of school. In school, as long as I did what made my parents and teachers happy, I was at liberty and I never had to die for it. I imagine that if I had read Patrick Henry’s speech in school, I would have been plunged into this liberty discourse earlier.

Permit me, dear reader to introduce you to the idea that there is freedom beyond the law and the anti-thesis; that laws can curtail freedom. The Magna Carta and philosophers of the Enlightenment belabored the anti-thesis- creating alternatives for liberty under the law. Some elevated reason and though they recognized natural laws, they rejected the One who made these laws.

Cogito, ergo sum – ‘ I think, therefore I am,’ has been sang in different variations since the 17th century but it has not lead to liberty. Philosophers like Spinoza, Hobbes struggled with the issue of evil, because if one thinks evil, then they are evil. Without laws to curtail the freedoms of evil people, where would society end? Men would need to give up their liberty in exchange for protection from governments, Hobbes argued. John Locke, on the other hand, believed men created governments only to safe guard their rights to liberty, life and property. It seems then that the role of a government is to protect the liberty of the governed, whether as an exchange or as a ‘social contract.’

Almost two centuries later, after Patrick Henry’s speech, in my own country, Uganda, a group of young lads with 27 guns, took to the bush in 1981 because they were seeking liberty. Their government had not protected their Liberty, so they too took up arms. Today, we commemorate their liberation of Uganda on 26th January 1986.

Seated here, 35 years later, it is evident that we as a people have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The existing laws cannot redeem any man from depravity. We still cry about hunger, injustice, corruption, extra judicial killings, illiteracy, unemployment, violence, rape, fake UMEME, wars etcetera etcetera. Having spent most of my time locked down in 2020, because of a COVID-19 virus pandemic, I am very cognizant of the inability of the government to protect me in exchange for my liberty. Because the virus, bacteria and other disease causing germs do not exchange their liberty to any government, they are at liberty to do as they please. Where does one go when those assigned to protect are unable to do so?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord .”

Luke 4:18-19 NKJV

Luke records Jesus Christ as reading this text written by Prophet Isaiah in a synagogue in Nazareth where he had grown up. The Jews threw him out, for one, they were still under the very oppressive rule of the Romans. He could not state such things and leave them as they are. Secondly, they knew Him. He was their homeboy, he could not be the Messiah.

Well, two millennia later, we know better. But we still need to believe better. Our liberty was proclaimed and Jesus has all the authority in Heaven and on Earth. (Matthew 28:19NKJV) The government is on His shoulder. (Isaiah 9:6 NKJV) He is the One we should run to for Liberty.

Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:7 NKJV

Advent 2020: Living in the shadow of Death

The Christmas season started early at my home. My husband and sons decided that November 1st the Christmas tree should come up, and up it went. It’s been a long year. We have been locked down at home since March experiencing the ‘new normal’, why shouldn’t the Christmas traditions change?

The new normal brought with it, a lot more quiet. A restrictive quiet. A solitary confinement quiet. A naughty corner quiet. The infamous SOPs- wear a mask, sanitize frequently, temperature checks and curfew have made a quick dash to the market or grocery store so inconvenient. The social distance that needs to be maintained at public gatherings means I cannot share jokes with my neighbors, there are no more hugs and handshakes, it’s not fun anymore. I have spent more time online and in quiet nooks looking for the best network signal than anywhere else. Very introverted but it became the perfect setting for the reflection of Advent and revisiting the Christmas story.

When I first heard of the coronavirus, it was a bug like flu somewhere in China and everyone was wearing masks. China seemed so far away, so distant, totally unrelated to my equatorial corner of sub-Saharan Africa (we are not even in the same hemisphere) and so much less to my own environment. Then the devastation began, with lockdowns and massive death counts. As I was reviewing material for a Sociology lesson, a CNN interview of nurses from one of the worst hit nursing homes in Washington state, I began to observe the devastating toil the disease had on emotions of the nurses and families. To observe through a glass darkly, the effects of quarantine and the immediate need for ventilators. My niece, Keitangaza who passed away on 28th December 2017, needed a ventilator to breathe and there was none available. This took my breath away for a moment. When it hit the Octogenarians in Italy and wiped them out like a plague, the number counter became a siren wail. Uganda still has a very young population but my parents’ generation, most of them are Octogenarians. It was too close for comfort, anxiety set in and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Then it came for us, Uganda managed to contain the deaths and spread. With the gradual reopening, it has come close to home. I know people who have had it and survived and I know people who have had it and died. Such terror and distress.

While reading the Matthew and Luke’s elaborate details of the Birth of Jesus, it soon became apparent that our ‘Christmas spirit’ as portrayed in most of the Christmas movies is slightly off the mark. Actually, if the Christmas movies had been set in 2020, they would have been so on point.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Luke 2:16-18 NKJV

The shepherds, were going about an ordinary day’s work, in a season where Augustus Caesar had ordered a census throughout the Roman Empire. Every man had to go back to his home town. Israel was an occupied territory, and so Bethlehem as one of the towns of Judah must have been packed with so many long lost relatives, Romans, transit travellers, yet the shepherds did not have time for chit chat. They were tending their sheep in the field. God, in His wisdom, found it very important to send a host of angels to these busy men. Not the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away, and not to the Romans who were conducting the census. Rather to shepherds, forgotten like David.

The shepherds, left their sheep and rushed to the place the angels told them and found Jesus lying in a manger. This was exactly what the angels had said they would find. They rejoiced to find the Messiah and shared the news widely. How exciting it must have been to see the Word incarnate.

Christmas is the Season to rejoice for those who like the shepherds have received Jesus as their Savior and Lord- we have received peace and goodwill. Tis the Season to make widely known the good news, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want even in the valley of the shadow of death because ‘our the Christ (the anointed one who saves) was born on Christmas day.’

Later, as a child, Jesus is visited by the Wise Men. These Wise Men make a long journey following a star to worship Jesus. In Jerusalem, where they stop, no one had paid attention to the very same star and no one had heard the news from Bethlehem. The Wise men were warned by an angel not to go back to Herod. And Joseph was instructed to take his family to Egypt by an angel. After the visit, the young family had to flee to Egypt by night. And Bethlehem experienced grief like none other, was it not the Messiah they rejoiced to receive? All their young males under the age of two, were massacred by Herod. The heart gripping pain of losing a young child senselessly, who would console them?

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

Matthew 2:16 NKJV

Within the Christmas carols is one about Good King Wenceslas, who looked out on the Feast of Stephen. Traditionally, that would be today, Boxing Day. Stephen was one of the seven men ‘of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ appointed to handle the Church business so the Apostles could continue with the Ministry of the Word and prayer. (Acts 6).

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 6:8 NKJV

For all this glowing tribute from Dr. Luke, Stephen is the first Christian martyr. He was falsely accused for blasphemy and even when the Council saw his countenance as one of an angel, and were cut to the heart by his words, they did not receive Jesus as the Christ and stoned him death in Jerusalem. His death was witnessed by a young Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, who later became Paul, a bondservant of Christ.

How does one move from gorging themselves on so much turkey and rich Christmas cake to a celebration of martyrdom? One does not. Christianity carries within all its celebration, the death and resurrection of Christ. Christianity also carries within all its death, the life of Christ, eternal and glorious. It is impossible to separate Christmas from Good Friday and from Easter. It is impossible to separate the pain and suffering of calvary from the joy of Christmas and the glory of the resurrection.

It is in beholding the lamb of God, swaddled in remains of priestly garb lying in an ordinary manger that we are able to see Him carry our sins at Calvary and then at last like Stephen, see the Lion of Judah seated at the Right Hand of the Father.

Lord, thank You that while troubles and pain will come, your tender mercies sustain me through them giving me life and peace. In uncertainty and instability, I choose today to re-anchor my life in Your goodness, Your faithfulness and Your mercy towards me. Amen From Lectio365