Thursday, November 9, 2017

Groups of people the church mocks (Part 1)

Mockery is a vice that is fun to dish out but terrible to be a recipient of. The dictionary defines mockery as “teasing and contemptuous language or behaviour directed at a particular person or thing.[1]”  Granted there is a place for good old banter among friends, so that we can laugh at our folly and idiosyncrasies. There is however a rather unhealthy form of mockery that belittles others and is not in the spirit of love. Unloving mockery is common even among believers and is targeted at particular groups of people. I intend to show in the next three blogs how we who are in the church are guilty of being unloving by mocking particular groups of people. The first group of people who are victims of our mockery are singles.

In Zambian culture, marriage is sacred and highly honoured. Children are from birth raised with marriage as the ultimate goal and rightly so. Marriage is God ordained and is an honourable thing. In our culture however, we not only expect you to be married, we demand it! Marriage has social, economic and religious implications. The marriage of an individual brings honour to the entire family and the lack of it brings shame. We have no place for singles who want to remain single. If an individual becomes of age and they are not getting married, the conclusion is either they have serious problems, or they are promiscuous. There may be other conclusions, but whatever the case our conclusion is that something is wrong with that individual. Here are a few ways in which the church mocks single people.

We assume a single person is incomplete without marriage
One of the common phrases and misconceptions about marriage is that your spouse completes you. And therefore people who are single are incomplete. We quickly run to Genesis, where God says it is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). The question we need to ask ourselves is was Adam incomplete before Eve? And the answer is a clear no; Adam was perfectly complete to live a joyful life that carries out God’s purposes. The Bible tells us that those who are in Christ are complete in Him (Col 2:8-10). The notion that married people are complete comes from the false premise that marriage will solve all your problems, make you a better person, and make you happy. Consequently, people go into marriage with all these false assumptions and end up with false expectations of their spouse. If a person is not happy, the problem is not their marital status, it’s their walk with God. Those who walk with the Lord learn to be joyfully content in whatever state they are in, be it single or married. It is because of such false notions about marriage that we expect our spouses to satisfy us in ways only God can.

We add marriage to the qualification of church officers
It is common for churches to demand that a person be married in order to be considered for a church office. Now there is obvious wisdom in preferring a married person to serve in the office of pastor or deacon, but it should be stated as exactly that, a preference! It is not a biblical requirement. Churches even place marital status before godly character and in the process many biblically qualified singles have been overlooked on account of their status. The qualifications to the offices of deacon and pastor (elder, bishop, these terms refer to the same office) are stated for us in the Bible and marriage is not one of them. Demanding marriage as a qualification is in fact adding to the Scriptures.
Many of us would clearly have issues with the Apostle Paul’s view of singles in the church and their service to God. He says singles are free from relational worries and distractions that marriage brings and have the gift and opportunity to spontaneously serve the Lord with undivided commitment (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Paul is no way suggests marriage is not honorable; he is simply acknowledging that while it is a good thing, a high calling ordained by God, it is also a demanding calling.  

We assume married people are wiser and more responsible
When discussing matters of importance, it is a common consensus that singles must keep quiet and listen. When advice is sought on matters or responsibilities need to be taken up, the married almost always take first precedence. Now that in itself is not necessary wrong, and you cannot deny the fact that people who are married and manage homes have generally speaking picked up a level of know how that one who is single may not have. The problem comes in when there is a deliberate mockery of people and their ideas on account of their singleness, or sidelining them from roles of responsibility.

If we are all honest, some married people are not wise neither are they responsible. It is illogical to assume that a change in marital status will make a person wiser and more responsible. There are plenty of examples of people who have entered marriage and their irresponsibility and foolishness simply got worse after marriage. And yet there are quite a number of people who are single and yet are wise and responsible. The reason this is possible is because biblical wisdom comes from above and is evidenced by righteous living (James 3: 15-18, Psalm 1).

We need to remember that God designed the church so that every member may play their role to build up the body regardless of their marital status. Married people have a lot to teach single people, and at the same the married have a lot to learn from the singles as well.

This mockery of people who are in a different phase of life than us actually reveals a deep seated pride that refuses to acknowledge God’s grace for who we are and thank Him for what He is doing in other people’s lives. As a result, you will have married people in the church who fail to see the singles as fellow workers for the cause of the gospel and partner with them in discipleship relationships to the glory of God.

We should thank God for His wisdom in not making a church full of married people or full of single people. He instead made a diverse body with different parts in order for it to function effectively.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Church is no place for Superheroes

Christians have different notions of what church is. We also have more views on how a church should operate and look like. When you do some serious probing you will find that a lot of our views of what the church is and how it should function are often unbiblical. In fact, in a number of cases, those of us who have solid doctrinal statements of the church on paper do not practice what we write, and our true belief is hence revealed in our practice.
One biblical truth about the church that we fail to practice is the reality that the church is the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12-16, Col. 1:18-21, 1 Cor. 12). If you think about it that is a rather vivid and powerful analogy. All one has to do is think and look at how their body functions, many parts with different roles but one body working in unison towards one purpose. This has implications for how we view and do ‘church’.
Christ is the head of church
The church is the body, and Christ is the head. The Bible makes this very clear (Matt. 16:13-19, Eph. 4:15, Col. 1:18). The church has only one head and shepherd, and that is Jesus Christ; every leader in the church regardless of title(s) is a mere instrument in the hands of the chief shepherd and will be answerable to Him on the day of judgement. That Christ is the head of the church means that He is the one who builds and grows His church. No human being is capable of carrying out such supernatural work. But it also means He guides and directs the church. It is important to realise that we do not have to manufacture clever ways of growing the body or clever methods of drawing in the lost, we simply follow what the Head has prescribed, namely preach the Word and live by the Word.
Everyone has a role (you are you for a reason)
Every member in the church is significant in that they have a role to play. Just as every part of the body is significant and plays a role for the whole body to function properly, in the same way, every member of a church has a role to play for that church to function properly. God has placed every one of us where we are for a reason. At a time when partiality, tribalism, racism and all forms of segregation are ripe it is important to remember that no member is more important than others. Regardless of one’s financial and social status, Christ died and saves us the same way. Therefore, no one should think they are indispensable, and on one should think they are irrelevant to the body.
I have heard of people who in their pride would refuse to give as the Lord has blessed them, claiming if they did so the church would suffer after they left because they happened to be the richest person in the church. The Lord has placed you where you are for a reason; serve Him with your all and to the best of your abilities. Stop this nonsense of church politics! If the Lord moves you, He will still build His church.
The body is designed to be interdependent
No one part in the body can do everything. God in His wisdom made different parts with different roles to serve in order for the parts to be interdependent. God designed the church in such a way that its members serve each other. The young and old, the rich and poor, the single and married, the men and women, the parents and children, the couples with children and those without, the mature Christian and the recent converts, the different cultures, tribes, tongues and races blending together as one serving one another—that is the Church of Jesus Christ.
Not only do the different statues in life help us to serve one another but the different gifting as well. No one person can do everything. People who behave like the survival of the church depends on them have a serious level of pride that even my charismatic brethren cannot deliver you from! On a serious note; however, God does not gift anyone to do everything.

This also means that we all should be humble enough to let people serve us. We all need to be ministered to, we all need to be exhorted, encouraged, rebuked, comforted, corrected and helped in time of need. We should be humble, vulnerable and let others serve. As my dear wife constantly reminds me “you are not superman.” I would go further and add, the church has no place for superman or any other super hero for that matter, unless of course they humble themselves and appreciate the beauty of interdependence.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Independence, Patriotism and the Christian

Zambia celebrates her 53rd independence anniversary this week. Like every other year, 24th October brings about all kinds of reflections among us and this year is no different. Suffice to say the reflections are mixed to say the least. What has caught my attention in the last few years is the fact that Christians have become more active in voicing their opinions about national matters. One tune that has really been played is the need to be patriotic to mother Zambia and being proud of who we are and what we have. The right response to that rallying call is a resounding Amen! We should indeed be “proud and free under the flag of our land” as the writers of our national anthem rightly put it.

My only cause for concern is what one may call a lack of objectivity in this call and desire to be patriotic which has at times simply fueled strife among believers and at times made Christians embarrass themselves before the watching country. This lack of objectivity I believe springs from a lack of clear definitions i.e. what it means to be a patriotic citizen. In our country patriotism has come to mean supporting the characters and polices of the ruling party without questioning or debating anything. To disagree with people in power is therefore deemed unpatriotic. No wonder it is common practice to have politicians jump from party to party depending on who is in government. In fact I know of very few politicians who have stayed in the same political party (but that’s a discussion for another day). The reason is simple, our patriotism is not tied to values but personalities. And because rulers change, our patriotism follows suite. However if someone’s patriotism is tied to unchanging values and principles, they will hold on to them regardless of who is in power! As Mark Twain put it “patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it”.

Patriotism is a funny thing, two people can claim to be patriotic to the same country and yet be at loggerheads with each other. For instance, in the USA, Obama rallied people behind him and called them to patriotism with his “yes we can slogan” Trump equally rallied the people to patriotism with the “make America great again” slogan. Both claim to be patriotic and called others to be and yet they are polar opposites in character and policies. Hence, the only objective way you can judge patriotism is by the values a person holds on to, not the people they agree with or support. This is why I particularly like the pledge of allegiance that the pupils at our primary school recite;

 “I pledge allegiance to the Zambian flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice all.”

These are the values we should all stand for and fight for at all cost. It is for these same values that our freedom fighters were willing to sacrifice their lives. We dare not belittle their sacrifices by making patriotism about partisan politics and tribalism! Henry IV of England once said “patriotism must be founded on great principles and supported by great virtue”. The pupils also recite another pledge which has far greater importance and eternal value. This is a pledge to the Christian flag;

 “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the savior for whose kingdom it stands, one savoir crucified, risen and coming again with life and liberty for all who believe”

The ultimate independence is freedom from the power and captivity of sin, which only comes about through the life, work, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And those who believe in Christ need to realise that they are Christians first and therefore citizens of heaven. Our Zambian citizenship is temporal for we are only passing through this land. Yet while the Lord keeps us here, we are called to be salt and light and to make such an impact that on lookers will say, ‘these Christians have turned Zambia upside down with the gospel!’

 Happy independence to all. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

When Christians fight to be worldly

My good friend Sandala Mwanje posted on his Facebook page the other day saying “[it] seems there's a generation of young Christians who are on a mission to bridge the gap between Light and Darkness. Good luck! i.e., if you come out alive!!!”[1]

His observation struck a chord with the feelings of my heart. Maybe he and I are just doomsayers and need to lighten up a bit (or as we young people would say “take a chill pill”). But the truth is the line between light and darkness gets thinner by the day. Christians seem to be on a mission to outdo the world in living sensual lives. Or as they would put it, become like them to win them over. What is even worse is the desire to justify the worldliness and to attempt to do so with the Bible (at least by abusing it). Others have simply resorted to waging war against the Bible itself and denying what it teaches or trying to discredit it, in an effort to simply not live holy lives. This trend reveals a serious lack of understanding of what the Scriptures teach. Particularly the meaning of salvation and its implications.

Let me begin by making a proposition and then show it from Scripture. Anyone who has been saved from their sins will live a transformed life such that they will be distinct from the world they live in. Regardless of your worldview, traditions, or culture, obeying the words of Jesus sets you apart from the world you live in. And no I am not talking about isolation (isolating yourself from the world, if it is even possible is not biblical either), nor perfection (none of us will ever be perfect while on earth) and neither am talking about taking up another culture (every culture is sinful). However, the Bible calls us to holy living (set apart, distinct) because the God who has saved us is holy (1 Peter 1:15-17).

We need to understand that before salvation we are lost, sinful and under the wrath of God (Romans 1:18-19, 3:10-18). We were enemies of God and hostile to him and his ways (Colossians 1:20-24) because as the Bible describes us, we were dead in sin, totally unable to please God (Ephesians 2:1-3). But thanks be to God, he made us alive, and saved us from our sins through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now if you ever needed an example of radical transformation, a dead person made alive is as good as you will get! In Romans 12, the Bible commands us, in light of our salvation, to not be conformed to the world (do not pattern your life after the world) but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (consistently changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ).

In other words, those who have been truly saved from their sins will not continue living in their former lives. They put off their sinful (worldly) ways, they renew their minds (cleanse and change way of thinking), and they put on the new man (take on Christ like virtues); this change makes them distinct from the world. It is in fact this distinctness that brings about persecution from the world but also serves as a powerful testimony to them.

To be saved and remain worldly is to claim you are dead, and yet remain buried in the cemetery. To be saved and remain unchanged is to claim God’s work of salvation is not effective and does not bring about change. To be saved and remain in sin is to call God a fraud because he boldly declares that he will wash us white as snow (Isaiah 55) and further tells us we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6). Furthermore, it is illogical for believers to want to win unbelievers by acting like them; how exactly are you supposed to win someone to a different way of living, if you yourself are not living in a new way but are living exactly like him? Like I said, I am not talking about perfection; Christian’s do sin; however, when they do they humbly confess the sin and repent of it, no explanations, no justification, just humble, honest acknowledgement of sin.

Hear the words of Scripture exhorting us to holiness before the watching world, so that we may glorify our Father:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:11-12.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Antidotes for a Discouraged Soul

I recently noticed that I was becoming disinterested in the events of life, my responsibilities, church meetings and people. I further noticed that I was getting mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually tired. So there I was busy with life and work, yet tired, disinterested and wondering why I should keep going. And the fact that everything was by and large going well simply deceived me into thinking all is well. However, the restlessness and the disinterest was not ceasing. Then one morning it hit me, I was discouraged! When I did a diagnosis, I found the cause was a combination of little things (i.e. persisting illness, failed plans, unmet needs/wants, etc.). I prayed to God and quickly reached out to a few godly friends and mentors. So here are some antidotes that began the healing for my discouraged soul.
Repent of Pride
One brother called me to enquire what was going on, and after hearing me out said to me “you need to remember that you are dust and if you drop dead today, this world will go on just fine.” In another words, do you part and rest. There will always be something that needs to be done, but just because it has to be done does not mean I am the one who has to do it. Christopher Ash in a sermon preached at a pastors conference on burn out says, “There is only one savior in the world and it is not you.” He later says, “God has already appointed his messiah and it is not you.” In my pride I was beginning to think I am the god of my life, and if I did not get things going or get things done then the work will fail. I was rebuked to repent of my pride. As my dear wife likes to say, “stop thinking you are superman and rest!”
Remember and Savor the Goodness of God
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136:1-3
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:1-5 (Emphasis added)
Meditate on the Gospel
We are often guilty of a narrow view of the gospel. Preaching through the book of Romans has given me a greater appreciation of the wonder and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the gospel we (condemned sinners) are saved from the penalty of sin and the just wrath of God. Through the gospel we are reconciled to God and have peace with him. The gospel liberates us from the power of sin and the law and secures us in Christ Jesus. Paul then asks, if God gave us his son what else can’t he give us by his grace? He ends chapter 8 by assuring us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even those times when trails are raging, the love of God is ever with us.
Take time to Sing
I love singing, and I find meditating on the great truths of the Scriptures through song can be quite encouraging for my soul. Jonathan Oatman’s old time classic was a song in season. Listen to the first stanza.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.