Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Is God really in charge?

Some years ago, I came across a prayer posted on Facebook by some prophet praying for the President, and since then I have seen several prayers of such a nature. The prayer said in part:

“Let every COFFIN they have prepared for the President catch fire right now and burn to ashes in Jesus mighty name. Let every shrine and every evil altar bearing the President’s image catch fire in the mighty name of Jesus. May the place they are monitoring him from catch fire and collapse in Jesus name. Every coven assigned to monitor his life with whatever gadgets they are using be stricken with blindness in the name of Jesus. May every spell, sickness or disease manufactured from the underworld that will seemingly appear as a genuine medical problem expire by fire in Jesus name.”

Prayers like this one have an underlying theology, and they force us to ask the all-important question: who is in charge? Is it God? Is it the devil and his evil spirits? Is it man? Who exactly is in charge of the happenings of life? Who determines what happens, when it happens, how it happens and to whom it happens? People who see the need to declare and decree even death clearly believe the devil is in charge and in control of what is happening on this earth. They are convinced that the devil can frustrate the purposes of God, and therefore, they have to help God by unlocking his power!

Thankfully God has not left us in the dark on this matter, for the Bible is very clear on who is in charge and in control on the earth. The following texts show us that God is indeed sovereign:
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

“Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

God is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords…to him be honor and eternal dominion” (1 Timothy 6:15, 16).

Our God has both the authority and power to do as he pleases, and no one can stop him. Furthermore, nothing happens on this earth that is outside of God’s purposes because whatever happens in this world has been decreed by God. God’s decrees include:

TIME OF DEATH: “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5).

GOVERNING OF NATIONS: “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).

APPARENTLY ACCIDENTAL SMALL DETAILS: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29, 30).

NATURAL DISASTERS: “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6).
ELECTION UNTO SALVATION: “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call” (Romans 9:11).

ULTIMATE DESTINY OF THE WICKED: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).

The fact that God is in total control of the all the affairs and happenings of the world is both a comforting and humbling truth. It is comforting because I know that all that happens in my life is in His hands and nothing can or will happen that God has not allowed. It is also comforting to know that the devil and his minions are not on the rampage doing as they please. At the same time it is humbling to think that such a great and mighty God should love sinners such as us and shower us with His amazing grace.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Characteristics of Cults

When people hear the word cult, the stereotype notions include: a group that worships Satan, weird rituals involving blood, people cutting themselves, people chanting iffy slogans, etc. In the broadest sense of the word a cult is simply a group of religious people who adhere to a set of rules and rituals. In a Christian context, the definition of a cult is, specifically, “a religious group that denies one or more of the fundamentals of biblical truth. A cult is a group that teaches doctrines that, if believed, will cause a person to remain unsaved. A cult claims to be part of a religion, yet it denies essential truth(s) of that religion. Therefore, a Christian cult will deny one or more of the fundamental truths of Christianity while still claiming to be Christian”
This fine-tuned definition is very important because it means that people who think they are Christians may actually be part of a cult. So what are the characteristics of a cult?
Extra biblical revelation
Cults do not hold to the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. They often have some leader who started the movement after having an encounter with God, seeing a vision, having a dream and/or receiving a prophecy from God. Cults will often have another book in place of the Bible or in addition to the Bible that they consider as equally authoritative and inspired.   
Selective teaching of the Bible
Another trait of a cult is that they do not teach the whole counsel of God. They have a tendency to focus on one portion or genre of the Bible, and it is often the part that teaches what they emphasize. So there are groups whose primary teaching is based on the first five books of the Bible (the law), then there are groups whose main preoccupation is the prophetic books, etc. What these groups forget is that “all scripture is… profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  
Salvation based on works
Cults also teach a works salvation. For them salvation can come by human efforts such as adherence to the law, baptism, good deeds and sacraments. They cannot stomach the words of Jesus Christ in John 14:6 where he declares “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one can come to the Father except through me;” nor the charge in Romans 3:21 that the righteousness of God is revealed apart from the Law, through faith in Christ Jesus.
Salvation is not assured
As a result of a salvation based on works, members of cults cannot find assurance of their salvation. If salvation is based on the good you will do, who knows whether God will approve of your life or not? People in cults have no hope and are enslaved to meet the demands of their system.
Human mediators
Another characteristic of a cult is that they often have human mediators. They teach that no one can have access to God apart from some super spiritual human being. So either their prayers are offered in the name of another human or they need a fellow man to stand in for them before God. This they do despite the Scriptures telling us that we have one mediator before God and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), and through Him we have access to the throne of God. (Hebrews 4:16)
Preoccupation with new doctrine or revelation  
This comes as a result of their belief in extra biblical revelations. These groups feel the need to invent new doctrines each passing day. They are not content with the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These new teachings come in different forms. For example, there are some who are so preoccupied with the details of the last days that they have on a number of times identified a person to be an Anti-christ only for that individual to die, and they without shame move on to another person! There are others who come up with all kinds of teaching on prosperity or visions and dreams.
False doctrine of Christ
The mark of every cult is their unbiblical view of Christ. Some will deny His deity, others will deny His humanity, yet others will deny His finished work on the cross. As a result, cults will often reduce Christ to a prophet, an angel, a good man or to a name that you use to end a prayer or unlock your breakthrough. They refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the bedrock of Christianity and everything else is held together by Him, and it is through him that growth takes place (Colossians 2:8-19). If Christ is not your Lord (the master of your life to whom you submit) and Savior (the one trusted for the forgiveness of sins) then you are not a Christian, and any church that does not teach this truth is a cult.

These characteristics are obviously not exhaustive and may not necessarily apply to all cults; they are however very representative of what a cult in the Christian context looks like. You may wonder, why is this important? It is important because our country is full of cults that are misleading many and condemning them to hell with their Christ-less gospel. Those of us in the light need to make sure that we proclaim the gospel intentionally and with clarity. Secondly, we need to be ready to give a defense of the faith against the many false teachers misleading the masses.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Danger of secret sins in ministry

People often assume that Christians in public ministry are immune to sin and temptation. Christians in the public eye often face the danger of assumed holiness. By that I mean, we often assume because someone has taught it they have lived it. While there are scandalous sins we constantly look out for in the lives of those who are in ministry such as sexual sins, financial misappropriation, and/or failure in marriage, there are some secret sins that often go unnoticed or unchecked. These often render a man ineffective and unusable in the Lord’s work. What makes these dangerous is their subtlety coupled with the lack of sincere accountability in the ministry.
There is the obvious and disturbing pride that you can smell and sense from a distance in a person, then there is the deadly and subtle one that rarely comes out publically. It is the pride that has to do with one’s motives for doing what they are doing. Consequently someone can do a perfectly good thing and yet their pride is fueling them. In ministry, this pride is seen in two forms:
Glorying in results
In our desire to make a name for ourselves, we are so driven that we want results, and we want them at all costs. And when the results do not come, we are discouraged and want to quit. As a result of this desire for results you find people preoccupied with numbers. How many people came, how many conversions did we get, how much was given, etc. Now obviously statistics are necessary, but numbers do not equal success. One test for not glorying in results is whether you are satisfied and joyfully serve regardless of the numbers. This is opposed to viewing a high attendance Sunday as great and a low attendance Sunday as bad. The problem with glorying in results is that you focus on the quantity rather than the quality.
The second sign of ministerial pride is having a sense of self-importance. You soon begin to feel you are indispensable to the work and trust your ability and experience. You want people to praise you and acknowledge your work and efforts. It’s not uncommon to hear ministers say things like “they do not recognize the work I am doing.” Imagine Jeremiah looking for recognition, such kind of whining can be an indicator you have a higher view of self than is biblical. The other way this level of self-importance is noticed is in our response to criticism or opposing views. Those of us in ministry should remember we are not all knowing, only God is! Be careful of statements like: I agree with you but… or I see your point however… Having said that, obviously there are times you have to insist and hold on to your point because you are right, but if you are always right, then there is a big problem. Ministers should not behave like politicians who have issues with those who oppose or criticize them. Let us have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:1-10).
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.” James 3:14
Pride breeds envy and jealousy. Jealousy is seen in feeling hurt or bothered when others succeed. It is seeing God bless others and questioning His wisdom in giving to others and not to you. Jealousy makes us forget that every good and perfect thing comes from the Father, who gives to all freely (James 1:17). In our pursuit for self-importance we turn ministry into a competition; brothers in Christ sometimes behave like supermarkets competing for consumers and doing everything in their power to tarnish the other’s name. Jealousy and its sister envy hinder fellowship and partnership. Guard against this deadly sin; it ruins your soul. Instead may our hearts thrill with joy and gratitude at the blessings and successes of others. When it comes to brothers and their ministry resolve to be their biggest supporter and not their biggest critic as a result of envy!
“Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him.” Proverbs 10:26
There is a danger of laziness in the ministry because there is no supervisor checking your logins and logouts. Furthermore, a lot of ministerial work is done in the closet, so no one can really see whether you are being faithful or not. It is no wonder that ministers are tempted to do everything but their primary tasks of prayer and the study of the Word. We should remember that laziness does not always mean idleness; it is also means aimlessness. You might be busy and yet you are busy doing nothing! Laziness invariably leads to half prepared messages and poor planning, and before long the minister and the people suffer from spiritual malnutrition.
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” 1Thessalonians 2:7
Gentleness is defined as “sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.” It is this one of the clearest evidences of salvation in a believer. The temptation to be harsh and mean is ever present for ministers. It is easy to get fed up, irritated with people and treat them with contempt. While leaders must be thick skinned, they should have a gentle and tender heart.
The exhortation from Proverbs is one every minister must heed to daily.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Friday, August 4, 2017

Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual warfare is a subject that invokes mixed feelings among people. On the one hand you have those who have made it the bedrock of their entire theological system and basically operate with the belief that people sin because of the devil, while on the other hand you have those whose system of theology seems to ignore the subject of spiritual warfare all together. Both systems of thought are faulty at best and can be detrimental to one’s spiritual progress. Thankfully the Bible has quite a lot to say about Christians overcoming the schemes of the evil one. It is therefore important that believers are aware and equipped for the spiritual battle that they are engaged in. Thomas Brooks’ balanced advice to believers is on point when he says, “Christ, the scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, or happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a watchman, to do my best to discover the fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the great deceiver.” [1]
What the Bible says
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
The imagery in this text is rather vivid. All you have to do is think of how the king of the jungle skillfully picks, stalks and hunts down his prey, and after he has pounced, he tears it apart ruthlessly; that dear friends is our everyday danger. No wonder Peter urges his readers to be sober and vigilant. After all Peter should know. Christ warned him of the impending attack on his life from Satan, and what exactly was the devil’s plan? To sift Peter like wheat. Hours later the over confident Peter was denying Jesus three times.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12
This passage reminds us that (1) spiritual warfare is a reality, (2) our enemies are real, powerful and conniving (3) believers can only overcome if they are walking in the Lord and by His grace. In other words, Christians who are not walking worthy of their calling cannot stand against the schemes of the devil. Spiritual warfare is in essence a battle for righteous and godly living. Invariably those who are striving to live godly lives become targets of concerted spiritual attack.
Possible signs of spiritual attack
Since the devil’s schemes are intended to hinder you from living a godly and righteous life, you can tell you are under attack when your relationships with God and people are not as they should be. It is the devil’s every intention to ensure that you do not walk right with God and that you have ungodly and unbiblical relationships with other people (spouse, friends, family, boy/girlfriends, workmates, etc.) Let me therefore offer four SUBJECTIVE signs of spiritual attack.

1.      Increased and unusual marital and family conflict
The home is the best indicator of people’s spirituality. It is also the most vulnerable to the schemes of the devil, primarily because families make up churches and the state of the family is indicative of the church.  
2.      Increased or sudden discouragement, despair and discontent
Elijah is a perfect case in point. After he spectacularly defeated the wicked prophets of Baal and had experienced the Lord’s hand in a special way, he suddenly became discouraged, discontent and despaired. Nothing had really changed, the enemies were the same, the threats and dangers were the same, but suddenly the courageous Elijah was despairing and ready to throw in the towel. One could argue he was under a spiritual attack.
3.      Struggles to attend to the means of grace
By that I mean struggling to read/study the Bible, to pray privately and publically, to worship, to fellowship with other believers, etc. These are the means by which we grow in godliness and Christlikeness. The devil will ensure that he distracts and discourages us from doing them.
4.      Increase in sudden and/or recurring temptations
Memories of past sins or failures suddenly pop up. Or sometimes there is an unusual increase in the rate of temptations. Remember Job? He was hit suddenly from all angles. 
What is one to do?
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:6-8
1.      Acknowledge your weakness and struggles
You cannot submit to God and seek His grace without humbly acknowledging your weakness and struggles. Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matt 5:3).
2.      Confess and repent of sin
He who conceals his sins will not prosper but he who confesses them will receive compassion. (Proverbs 28:13)
3.      Attend to the means of grace even when you do not feel like it
You will not always feel like praying, reading the Word, worshipping or fellowshipping. Do it anyway. Soldier through it, and you will know God’s grace.
4.      Seek accountability
That is what meaningful friendship is all about after all. We need someone to ask us the tough questions and watch out for us.
5.      Preach the gospel to yourself and others
Yes believers need the gospel. Mediate on what God has done to save a sinner like you and the implications of the gospel then preach it to others. There is something about it that feeds life to your soul.

[1] Brooks Thomas. (1810:10). Precious Remedies against Satan’s remedies. Jonathan Pounders.