Thursday, March 22, 2018

Four dangers facing the church in Zambia

The people of God have always faced opposition both internally and externally. Christ assured the disciples that challenges of all sorts will follow them because of their decision to follow Him. And throughout her history, the church of Christ has faced and fought battles of all kinds, and that is the status quo today. Though there is nothing new under the sun, dynamics change from time to time, and it is therefore a healthy practice to take stock of the dangers that are with us now and those that are on the horizon. I am not a prophet neither am I a son of one, but I see four (among many) challenges that the church in Zambia should be prepared to face.

A love for the world in the church
The first challenge is an internal one. Believers have always battled with the love of the world, however I sense a different kind of worldliness within the church that seems to be creeping in at an alarming rate. The worldliness I am talking about has come as a result of what may be termed “a revolt against the traditional positions of mainline Christianity.” Some of these positions are regulations that the church has espoused and talked about (strongly) that are not necessarily the teachings of Scripture but the convictions and preferences of men (issues like music, drinking, tattoos, worship styles, etc.). So as most believers (particularly the younger believers) have become enlightened about what Scripture actually teaches, they have reacted by choosing to be the opposite of mainline Christianity and the end result has been a daring worldliness. The church has to begin to have honest conversations about some of these issues and be willing to admit what the Bible actually teaches without conceding the fight against sin. The moment the church becomes worldly is the moment it loses its testimony and witness to the world.

Charismatic teachings and practices
When an average Zambian hears the term pastor, they often think of charismatic preachers: self-exaltation, fancy (often colorful) dressing, dream explainer, tongue speaking, motivational speaker, miracle worker, demon slayer and lover of money. Gone are the days when pastors are merely viewed as teachers and preachers of the Word of God. The charismatic movement is a cancer in our country, and its teachings and practices must be aggressively exposed and uprooted before they eat up the entire church! These practices include: deliverance services, altar calls, the viewing of pastors as mediators between God and man, hierarchy of offices not taught or practiced in the Bible, the making of pastor’s wives into assistant pastors, Christ-less gospel and sermons, worship services designed to entertain, unity that ignores and compromises the truth of Scripture etc. What makes the charismatic movement appealing in Africa is that it resonates with our African worldview. This is a challenge that should not be faced head on. If there was ever a need for faithful preachers of the Word of God, now is the time.

A rise in atheistic thinking
While there not many atheists in our country compared to other countries, the number is rising. Atheistic thinking is more common than we care to admit. The number of people that deny the existence of God either in word or deed is alarming. Popular motivational speaking for instance is largely based on evolutional thinking. Man is no longer a created being who is totally sinful, but someone who is inherently good who just happens to be in the wrong place with the wrong people. Another result of atheistic thinking has been the battle of the races and sexes. White supremacy and male supremacy has led to a reaction where you have blacks and females pushing for their own supremacy. Atheistic thinking is becoming very popular among young adult college students because it is viewed as progressive and intelligent. In light of this danger of church cannot afford not to be clear about matters of origin and the implications of the gospel in peoples lives.  

A denial of the sufficiency of Scripture
Most people believe the Bible is the Word of God, and it is good and helpful for your spiritual wellbeing. However, not many people believe the Scriptures are sufficient for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). As a result, the truths of Scripture are constantly under attack especially in the recent times when the Bible is generally viewed as out of date. It is therefore not uncommon to find people who are committed to church and do not apply or even think about what the Scripture says about an issue. This is often reflected in marriage, family, births, funerals, education, entertainment, work and business and our involvement in politics.  For most people the Bible is for Bible studies and preaching sermons and not for “actual” life. The church cannot afford to be wishy washy about this issue. Now is the time for preachers to raise their voices in proclaiming thus says the Lord!
These and many other challenges will batter the church from all angles. And the temptation to succumb will be great, and sadly many will fall along the way. However, now is the time for the church to take its stand and not waver from upholding the truths of Scripture; now is the time for courageous preachers who will preach the Word with boldness and clarity. Now is the time for Christian homes to unapologetically be biblical. Dear friends, against unnumbered foes, let courage rise with danger. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Bearing fruit in keeping with salvation (Part 4)

The world has for many generations been striving for peace. Peace treaties, summits, conferences and all kinds of meetings have been convened to promote peace among nations, communities, and even between individuals. However, despite people’s best efforts the world is not peaceful. Tribalism, nepotism, racism are rife. Furthermore, on an interpersonal level peace does not characterize many relationships and conflicts are ongoing. Sadly, most of us live with inner turmoil and chaos in our hearts. In what ways then do we need peace in our lives?

The Bible tells us that we are born sinners (Ps. 51:5), and as a result, we are hostile to God (Col. 1:21). Because of our hostility resulting from our sinfulness, God’s wrath is upon us from birth (Eph. 2:3, Rom. 1:18). Therefore, there is no peace between God and man because of our sins. Thankfully, God demonstrated His love towards us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us and paid the penalty for our sins (Rom. 5:8). As a result of this great salvation, sinful man is reconciled back to God, and man can have peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

It is those then who have experienced this peace of God that comes as a result of salvation that have peace internally. It is the peace that comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and you do not bear their burden anymore. It is also the peace that comes from knowing that your life is in the hands of God (Matt. 6:25-34). It is the peace which passes all understanding that rules our hearts (Phil. 4:6, Col. 3:14). The evidence of this peace in the believer’s life is the absence of fear and anxiety. It is not so for those who are not at peace with God. The Lord Himself warns us of this truth through His prophet Isaiah.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace says my God for the wicked. Isaiah 57:20-21

A restless and agitated soul is an indicator of a life that knows no peace with God, and like the waters of the sea that are tossed to and fro, that soul is full of noise and misery.

Peace with God and within one’s soul results in peace with others. As the Spirit of God works in us, we invariably live at peace with all men. The Bible exhorts us if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18). All men, includes brothers and sisters, family, friends and enemies. Those who are spirit filled live at peace with all people because the love of God rules their lives, and they have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:1-5).

Another important truth to highlight about the peace from God is that it is different from the peace that the world preaches. In the world, peace is the absence of turmoil, trouble and all kinds of difficulty. In contrast, biblical peace is actually seen in the midst of turmoil. The words of Christ to his disciples are very instructive for us today, so I leave you with them to mediate on.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bearing fruit in keeping with Salvation (part 3)

The Apostle Paul writing from prison declares to the Philippian believers “rejoice in the Lord and again I say rejoice” (Phil. 4: 4). And in Galatians 5, joy is a virtue of the fruit of the Spirit. Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-filled believers are to be characterized by joy. However, many of us Christians would admit that we are often frustrated, grumpy, complaining and largely unhappy from day to day. How then does a believer live through life with joy?

Relationship with Christ
As recorded in John 15, Christ tells the disciples to abide in Him that their joy may be full or complete. In other words, true lasting joy comes from a healthy relationship with Christ. When one is growing in the knowledge of Him and living according to His Word, he or she possesses a complete satisfaction. Christian joy comes from your knowledge of God through Christ and the many benefits of that relationship. It finds its anchor in the knowledge of God. This kind of joy cannot be manufactured by our own efforts, and it is not dependent on life’s circumstances.

This joy is also contrary to the popular notion of joy and happiness in the world. The world tells us that happiness comes from having all you need and desire, and it comes from the absence of negatives in your life. The popular motivational talk is that if you want to be happy get rid of all the negativity around you and you will be happy. It is this talk that has left quite a number of people frustrated because try as they may, they still do not find happiness because they have not found rest and satisfaction in Christ (Matt. 11:28-30).

Counting your blessings
In addition to abiding in Christ and finding our satisfaction, we cultivate joy by recounting God’s abundant blessings in our lives. We should always go through life knowing God is giving us better than we actually deserve.  Forgetfulness is a human problem. We have the tendency to forget the grace of God and to remember our frustrations. It is therefore no wonder that the psalmist declares:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagles. Psalm 103

There is a common notion which suggests that those who follow and serve the Lord are deprived of joy. This notion portrays God as a party pooper, who is out to sit on your joy. Therefore, it says that true happiness can only be found in disobeying God and living in sin. Such kind of thinking could not be further from the truth. True and lasting joy is found in God through Christ. Those who are in Christ are in indeed complete! Here the words of Isaac Watts in one of his many hymns:

Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known; Join in a song with sweet accord, and thus surround the throne. The sorrows of the mind be banished from the place; Religion never was designed to make our pleasures less.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bearing fruit in keeping with Salvation (part 2)

Christians should be easily identifiable! The Bible makes it quite clear that you know people by their fruits. One such fruit that will be evident is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is a group of virtues or attitudes that should be true of every Spirit indwelt individual. Today we begin looking at each of the virtues in detail. The Apostle Paul states:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
The first in the list is love. Paul is saying those who have been saved from their sins and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit have the love of God imparted to them, and the love of God should be growing in them. So what exactly is this love of God that should be evident in believers? What makes it different from the love that the world gives? Here are a few things to note about the love of God.

Love takes the initiative
The love of God is unique in that it is not dependent on the worthiness of the recipient but on the choice of the lover. God chose us and demonstrated His love towards us in that while we were sinners Christ died for our sins (Rom. 5:8). God took the initiative not because we were lovable or deserving of the love but because He chose to. In fact, left to ourselves we would not have chosen God because sinful man does not desire or seek after God (Rom. 3:10-18).   
This is the same love we should be showing and giving to people around us, unconditional and sacrificial love. Love without strings attached; love that does not look for what it can gain from an act or relationship; love that does not wait for others to love. It is love that takes the initiative, and it is love that will cost and inconvenience. Everyone who is a Christian must be a dispenser of love.

Love forgives the offences of others
God forgave our sins in Christ Jesus, and He promises us that He will always be faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness if we humbly confess our sins before Him (1 John 1:9). Love bears the cost of others and holds no record of wrong. It is then no wonder that the Bible commands us to forgive one another as God has forgiven us (Col. 3:13-15).

Love is action and not simply emotion
Love is more than just being nice to each other or feeling nice about each other. It definitely involves emotions, but it is more than feelings because you are to love even when you do not feel like it. No wonder we are commanded to love; you could not command someone to feel. Love is a command because it is a choice you make, and it is seen in action. For instance, God demonstrated (action) His love towards us. Christian love is more than just mere words and more than just feelings because it culminates into action. This is why the Bible urges us to love our enemies and strangers. No one ever feels like loving his enemy, but a transformed heart chooses to love his enemy and to do good to those who do evil to him.

It is for this reason that Christ told the disciples that love is the essence of Christianity. It is by our unique love that the watching world will know that we are Disciples of Christ. Hear the words of the Lord:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Bearing fruit in keeping with salvation (part 1)

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that salvation is exclusively by grace through faith in Christ and not of anyone’s works (Eph. 2:6-9, Rom. 3:19-26). Sadly, many people still hold to, practice and preach a salvation by works deceiving themselves into thinking they can earn their way to heaven despite the teachings of Scripture that salvation is in Christ alone (John 14:6).

While salvation is not by works, biblical salvation certainly produces works. In a sermon Tim Keller says, “We are not saved by fruit but by faith and not fruitless faith.” In Ephesians 2, Paul argues that we were all dead in our sins and were therefore unable to awaken ourselves but thanks be to God who made us alive in Christ Jesus. He further states that the result of God saving us from our sins (making us alive) is that we will fulfil the purpose we were created for, namely his workmanship, created for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It then becomes clear that where salvation has taken place fruit is produced. The farming analogy is quite replete in the Bible. The righteous are often likened to a tree that bears fruit while the wicked are the fruitless plant. Salvation brings life, and life produces fruit that is in keeping with living organisms. That therefore means that this fruit is real and organic as opposed to fake and mechanical. Fruit in keeping with salvation is not mere behavioral change or conformity to a system. This fruit comes about because there has been a radical transformation in a person’s life. They were once dead, but now they are alive; they were blind, but now they see.

The Bible speaks of different kinds of fruit that believers should be producing in their lives. It speaks of leading others to faith (Rom. 1:13-16), righteous behavior (Phil. 1:11), offering praise to God (Heb. 13:15), and godly attitudes/graces or the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It is the latter of these fruits that I intend to focus on in the coming weeks. A few notes of introduction will suffice for now.

It is important to notice in Galatians 5 the contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Work of the flesh carries the idea of strain, toil, draining effort and being dead. While on the other hand fruit carries the idea of freshness, beauty, attractiveness and life. Secondly, the fruit of the Spirit is a present continuous idea, meaning it is ongoing. In other words we should continuously produce the nine virtues of the fruit of the Spirit. The third point of introduction is that the fruit of the Spirit is singular, it is the fruit and not fruits. Finally, the nine virtues must be true of each one of us. We are not meant to pick and choose as we please. The fruit of the Spirit produces nine virtues not two or three.  The nine make one, and therefore these graces should be true of each one of us as believers.

I will leave you with the Galatians passage to meditate on.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:22-24)