Tuesday, January 26, 2021

THREE SYMPTOMS OF A LIFELESS CHRISTIAN

 

One danger for Christians is that one can pretend to be what they are not. It is possible to go through the ceremonies or Christianity rituals' motions and yet be far away from God. One can say with their lips what they do not mean with their lives. It is possible to teach great truths of Scripture and assume because you have taught them you have lived them. Furthermore, it is possible for anyone to actively and faithfully serve and be involved in church programs and yet not know God. Just as it is possible to be free from scandals and still not be walking with the Lord. In light of these truths let me suggest three things that might indicate that you are not walking with the Lord.

Absence of confession and repentance for sin

One reality for a growing believer is the daily realization of his sinfulness due to daily beholding God's holiness (Isaiah 6:1-9). A Christian who is walking with the Lord is never under any illusion of their greatness or goodness; they instead always cry with the apostle Paul "wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death?" However, like Paul, they do not remain in despair because they find comfort: "thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 7:24-25). A mark of Christians walking with the Lord is daily confession and repentance of their sins against God and man. A person who never acknowledges sin nor repents of it is a person whose relationship is not right with the Lord. A red flag should go off when someone habitually justifies, explains away, excuses, belittles, or shifts blame for their sins. You cannot walk with the Lord and not be in the habit of confessing and repenting of sin.

General apathy towards church life

While being active in church is not always a sign of spirituality, apathy toward and a lack of desire to be involved in the church's life is a sign of severe spiritual problems. It is a refusal to heed the exhortation of Scripture:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25.

It is important to note that other people's shortcomings and failures do not justify your apathy. Suppose you are not involved in the church's life because you think other believers are hypocrites (and they may well be). In that case, you are not in the habit of self-examination leading to daily confession and repentance. However, the church is not a community of the perfect—a gathering of disciples of Christ, who are progressively growing.

A critical spirit of other believers

People who do not regularly self-examine in the light of God's holiness often ooze with a rather disturbing self-righteousness in which they are not only apathetic toward the things of God, but they are also critical of those who are faithful in service. They will tell you everything that is wrong about you, inform you of how everything you did was wrong, and then advise on what you should have done.

"Among the seven deadly sins of medieval lore was sloth (accidie)—a state of hard-bitten, joyless apathy of spirit. There is a lot of it around today in Christian circles; the symptoms are personal inertia combined with critical cynicism about the churches and supercilious resentment of other Christians' initiative and enterprise. Behind this morbid and deadening condition often lies the wounded pride of one who thought he knew all aboutGod'sGod's ways in providence and then was made to learn by bitter and bewildering experience that he didn't.[1] 

Guard your heart against a dead Christianity which goes through the motions. Guard your heart against a deadly pride that thinks there is nothing wrong with you and convinces you of being good. Cultivate the habit of seeking God and enjoying communion with him. Do not underestimate the importance of your local church and attending to the various means of grace. Develop genuine friendships that will provide meaningful accountability so that you are daily walking with the Lord.



[1] Packer, J.I., Knowing God. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973, pg 94.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Reflecting on Wedding Committees, Contributions and Communal Living

 Zambian culture is endowed with beautiful tenets and practices that are a residue of God's common grace. These practices should, in many ways, be celebrated and embraced. We are, for instance, a culture that respects our elders, we were raised to practice hospitality and help those in need. However, with all good things involving people, abuses abound. One cultural tenet that has suffered abuse over the years is that of communal living. Particularly when it comes to weddings. Sadly, these abuses are not only true of non-believers but are becoming the norm in churches as well. 

What is communal living?

Zambians are communal people. By that we mean, no one lives in isolation. We live life in a community. We share our joys and sorrows. My neighbour's funeral is 'our' funeral. Subsequently, my neighbours' wedding is 'our' wedding. We weep together, celebrate together, fail together and succeed together. It is no wonder that we have sayings like "it takes a village to raise a child", or "manzi akapwilila nsomba nzikanla pamodzi" (when the river dries up, the fish come together). Our identity and joys are connected to our communities, and individualism is frowned upon. 

Practically, this is seen in various ways; the community will come and celebrate your birth bearing gifts and will generously offer counsel to the new mother. As you grow, they feel obligated to aid your parents in raising you. When you graduate from school, they are on hand to congratulate and celebrate with you. When you are about to marry, it is 'their' wedding! They counsel you and contribute towards the celebration, and yes, they are entitled to attend the function. In fact, in the village, the entire village owns the function and contributes. Therefore, you will have a great function with lots of people, but you do not bear the cost alone. Eventually, when you die, they are on hand to send you off and contribute to the needs of the funeral one last time.

Dangers and Abuses

With every human system, dangers abound, and people tend to abuse even the best of ideologies. One of the dangers of communal living is a false sense of entitlement that people develop. Because what is yours is mine, I have the right not only to ask but also to demand and expect you to oblige to my request. Invariably this promotes laziness in some people who think they can coast through life by riding on other people's backs. Furthermore, there is a danger when it comes to weddings of lack of planning and failing to live within their means. I find it remarkable that someone will insist on having a K 50,000 wedding when they can only afford one for K 5,000. Call it to hope; call it dreaming or blind faith, but it is abandoning all wise judgement on planning and budgeting. 

Cue in the committees and contributions. In years gone by, committees used to be the initiative of friends and family who voluntarily sought to help the couple get started in their marriage. The couple was never involved and whatever the committee gave was in addition to whatever the marrying couple had planned. The current trend is anything but voluntary, joyful assistance. You are coerced into committees even by people you last saw generations ago. Then, they demand a minimum contribution from everyone in the group. Besides, as though that is not enough, wedding invitations come with a demand for a set minimum amount of money that you are to give at the function, in essence, you buy the invitation!

Therefore, it has become common practice for people to give grudgingly in the interest of "tachimoneka bwino" (it does not look good). They have to keep up appearances for the sake of the community. Similarly, it has become common practice for people to contribute as a form of investment. They give towards a wedding so that people will give to theirs as well. In many ways, the support becomes self-serving.

Considerations 

1.       We need to radically and urgently shift our priorities about marriage and weddings. We put a lot of time, effort and resources on weddings to the neglect of the marriage. A wedding is for a day; marriage is for life. Indeed, our priorities should be on helping and preparing young couples for marriage relationships. 

2.       Families and churches need to teach the vital principle of living within your means. It is immoral for someone to want a lavish K 100,000 function when they can only afford one for K 10,000. Failure to learn this principle of contently living within your means is dangerous for life in marriage. It is usually the desire to do more than you can afford that necessitates committees and demand for contributions. 

3.       We need to remember that the essence of a gift is that it is freely given. The moment you demand and set price to it, it ceases to be a gift. 

4.       We need to be careful not to throw the baby with the bathwater. Just because abuses prevail does not mean that communal living must be shunned completely.

The Lord designed for us to live in communities. Healthy people seek and cultivate social connections and relationships. Even Christians are called to live in community; we call this the church. Healthy communities lovingly share and bear one another burdens. However, we need to be aware of the dangers and abuses that are prevalent in communal living.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

COUNSEL FOR SINGLE PEOPLE SEEKING MARRIAGE

It is a challenge to get an accurate pulse on our society these days. There was a time when Zambian culture was clearly defined and easily identified. However, our society is a mixed pot of worldviews and cultural practices that it is now made up of all kinds of concoctions of principles and practices. One area in which this confusion has become clear is marriage. Gone are the days when marriage was honourable. Desiring marriage is not as commendable as it was. Many people want the glamour of the wedding but not the grind of the relationship. They desire the rewards but not the responsibility. It is such a society that most single people find themselves in. Here is some counsel to consider.

 Desiring marriage is a good thing

It is right and honourable to desire marriage. God ordained it, and it is He who created us with the desire for marriage. One ought not to be ashamed when they desire marriage. Churches and homes should encourage young people to think about and long for marriage. This encouragement should be done without putting undue pressure on them; however, they should be rightly challenged about marriage. One of the prayer points for church prayer meetings should be for suitable marriage partners for the singles in the church. 

 Pursue spiritual growth

While you desire and long for marriage, pursue spiritual growth. Invest in your holiness and walk with the Lord. Seek to know Christ and serve Him with all diligence daily. Apply yourself to the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, fasting, fellowship, evangelism, service etc. This is important because holiness is essential to a successful marriage. A marriage of two ungodly people is bound to be a miserable one. In many ways, the will of God is often revealed when we are devoted to him. The best gift you can give your future spouse is your spiritual growth. 

 Know what marriage is

Ignorance is dangerous! It is even worse when you think you know, but you do not know. Many single people think they know what marriage is and what it takes to make a marriage work. They have a view of marriage developed from popular chick flicks, soap operas and the trends on social media. However, all those are not the right sources of knowledge. Study what the Bible teaches about marriage. Read Christian books on marriage and learn from godly Christian couples.

 Be clear about your goals & standards

Set your standards, live them out and do not compromise. One has to be very clear about what they want in a marriage partner. What are the non-negotiables and negotiables? The non-negotiables should be foundational matters, a testimony of salvation, a healthy growing member of a church, a clear vision in life and a willingness to resolve conflict biblically. On such matters, there can be no compromise. Beware of majoring on the minors.

Pursue discipleship relationships

The Christian life is to be lived in community. Salvation brings us into the family of God, and that is made visible through the local church. You share life with them and help each other grow in Christ-likeness. As someone seeking marriage, consider developing relationships with some couples in your church. Learn from them, and let them provide accountability for you. This is very important. You have not walked the road of marriage before, therefore learn from those who are ahead of you. 

 Pray

Pray for the Lord to teach you joyful contentment in your singleness. Pray for your purity and endurance to fight temptation. Pray for a suitable marriage partner and wait patiently. Ask others to pray with you and for you.

 Marriage is good, and those who long for it desire a good thing. However, marriage though beautiful is not a walk in the park. It takes work, patience, humility and grace to make it beautiful. It is, therefore, important that those who desire marriage are well prepared for it.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Four Misconceptions about Church Discipline

 

One of the misunderstood teachings in the Bible is the subject of church discipline. There are several reasons for this including wrong teaching on the subject, wrong practices in our churches, immaturity, and cultural influences. However, though often painful and heartbreaking, church discipline as taught in the Scriptures is good and healthy. With all good things practised by sinful people, mistakes and misconceptions will abound. Here are four common misconceptions about church discipline.

It is only punitive and negative

            Ask a group of Christians if they have ever undergone church discipline and awkwardness immediately fills the room. This is because church discipline is viewed as negative and punitive. In fact, the whole concept of discipline needs redeeming in our culture. People hear discipline and horrific experiences of corporal punishment from school or some brutal parental exhibition of anger flood their memories. If it is not a punitive action, then what is church discipline? In practising church discipline, the church is protecting the name of Jesus by intentionally ensuring they (together) live out the truth of the gospel. When thinking of church discipline, we should think of training one another (in the idea of schools at University) and maintaining order in the church (the idea of raising children). This is both formative instruction (Romans 15:14) and corrective, restoring one who has strayed from the instructions (1Corinthians 5:1-11).

It is unloving

            The common belief is that whoever disciplines, corrects, or points out your sins is your enemy.             Our warped view of love is that whoever loves you will support you and cover for your sins. Hence, the practice of church discipline as taught in the Scriptures is counter-cultural. It goes against the fibre of our thinking. To point out the sins of a brother (Matthew 18:15-18) is considered uncaring. Our culture would rather you leave the person wallowing in their sins to their ruin. Now that is the very definition of unloving! Hebrews 12 teaches us that one act of God’s love is the discipline of His children. Friends who support and condone your sinful and foolish choices and actions in the name of love are wolves in sheepskin. They will “love” you to your ruin. They do not care about your soul and would rather let you live a life that does not honour Christ.

It should only be practised on the big and harmful sins

            One prevailing misconception is that only big and harmful sins should be confronted and dealt with. Sexual sin resulting in pregnancy, theft of church monies, and murder to mention only three. Whether the person is repentant or not, commit any of these and you are gone! This is because in African culture, sin is what offends and brings shame to the community and not necessarily going against the teachings of Scripture. Therefore, confronting someone about his or her greed, gossip or lying is considered as being overly difficult. So people will stubbornly and unrepentantly hold on to their sins and not be confronted and disciplined because the sins are considered small.

It should be practised by the elders

            Another misconception is that the elders are the ones who carry out discipline. Therefore, the common practice is that when brother A finds out that brother C is living in unconfessed sin, they will tell elder D to go and confront brother C. Further, it is common practice in churches for the elders to simply inform the members that brother C has been excommunicated. While this is convenient, it does two things. One, it undermines the authority and responsibility of the congregation. The authority to excommunicate an unrepentant member lies with the congregation (Matthew 18: 17-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-11) and so does the responsibility to confront an erroring brother. The other problem with the misconception is that it turns elders into investigators in the church, who are always chasing up what A said about C and seeking to gather evidence of whether it is true or not.

Conclusion

            These misconceptions make the practice of church discipline extremely difficult in the church. A proper understanding of the gospel and its demands on the believer as well as a biblical understanding of the church is imperative if we are to practice healthy church discipline. The Christian life is radical; it calls for transformation. The Christian life is also a corporate one. It is a group of people coming together helping each other become more like Christ.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Aware but not Prepared

The cold winds of July are upon us. And if you have lived long enough on earth, this was not a surprise, it is the typical July/August weather in Zambia, beautiful clear blue skies, constant pounding winds. It is the seasonal cycles of life that we have experienced for years. However, have you noticed how that despite the knowledge and experience of the seasons, we are still caught by surprise and often unprepared? We react the same way with all the seasons, cold, hot, dry and rainy.

I think of two reasons why this is so. The first is a simple fact that it is one thing to know and another experience. You know the cold winds are coming; it is another matter feeling the impact when they pierce your spine in manner ways that is true of other aspects of life. We are all aware of the challenges, pain, joys and struggles that life brings but knowing is one thing, experiencing them is another. When the seasons come in our lives, we are often surprised and unprepared. 

The second reason is that we have short memories. We easily forget what it feels like to experience the weather patterns. When it is cold, we want it to be hot, and when it is hot, we are desperate for the cold. We somehow suffer from selective amnesia. Again, that is precisely what we do with different spheres of life. When we are single we desire to be married, when marriage comes, we cry for singlehood, we pray for children and when the Lord blesses we wish we were free of them. Some are desperate for jobs but want out the moment they step in. We forget quickly, and as a result, we take our seasons for granted. 

Thankfully, our good Father, in His loving wisdom knows the seasons that we need and ordains them as
such (Ecc 3:1-11). Seasons come and seasons go, but He never changes, He is the one constant in this ever-changing life. So when you are perplexed by the seasons you are going through, remember that God 
“makes everything beautiful in His time” (Ecc 3:11).

So, enjoy and make the most of the season you are in, it is not by chance and keep warm.