A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Don’t you fear God?

The question that was asked by one of the criminals crucified with our blessed Lord Jesus Christ has been on my mind of late. This has been primarily because of the flood of “prophets” that have poured into the church in Africa in the recent past. It is an epidemic!

Here was a man who had done despicable things. In fact, for a while he had continued to sin even after being hanged on a cross next to Jesus. However, somewhere along the way, he came to his senses as he saw Jesus and heard his dying words. His conscience came alive.

This criminal not only abandoned his sinful ways, but also rebuked his fellow sinner, saying, “Don’t you fear God?” He realised that Jesus was unique. Anyone treating him badly would receive God’s hottest wrath. He then turned to Jesus and appealed to him for clemency.

Anyone whose conscience is alive would behave like this repentant criminal upon realising that the one he is insulting is God himself. That is how true believers should react upon yielding to sin in general and especially to exploiting the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I honestly cannot understand how men and women with consciences can continue with impunity defrauding the church of Jesus Christ exploiting their vulnerable congregants sexually. Don’t they have consciences? Do they not fear God?

We are all sinners. I sin. You also sin. That is not the issue here. What makes me tremble is the arrogance and total absence of repentance or remorse in these people. It is bad enough to sin “out there”. When people rob and abuse the apple of God’s eye you shudder for them!

Such people are like Belshazzar who in a drunken stupor started playing with holy utensils from the Temple until a hand wrote on his palace walls, “Tekel, Tekel, Mene, Parsin”. From the untouchable height of power, Belshazzar was reduced to total impotence and shame.

In one sweep, the Lord is able to humiliate his enemies before a watching world. Read church history and see how he has done this over and over again. It is safer to taunt a ferocious lion while you are in its cage than to play into the hands of the living God in this way.

Implications in eternity

Yet for me what is even more terrifying is not so much how the Lord is able to humiliate hypocrites in this life but more so how he will destroy them in eternity. What is a moment’s embarrassment compared to an eternity in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone?

The apostle Paul wrote, “…we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

It is clear from this that one of the chief springs of self-regulation in the heart of the apostle Paul and in the hearts of his fellow apostles was the reality that each one of us must one day appear before God to give an account to him concerning everything that we have done.

At that time, we will receive from him who knows all things and sees all things our eternal reward or our eternal condemnation. He will either say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or he will say, “Get away from me you wicked and lazy servant.”

That moment will truly matter because from that point we will either go into unimaginable bliss forever or into overwhelming misery for all eternity. A person is a downright fool who refuses to reckon with this fact. Our eternal felicity hangs on that one single moment.

If you want to know how God “feels” about those who exploit his people for their own selfish ends go back in history and see what our gentle Lord Jesus did to those who were making brisk business in the Temple. He whipped them, drove them out, and overturned their tables.

Elsewhere, Jesus said, “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (Matthew 18:6-7)

Tremble for these

Think of what this means especially to those “prophets” who are wooing female congregants into the bushes and hills and sexually abusing them in the name of cleansing them from spirits that are interfering in their marriages or preventing them from getting pregnant.

Think of what this means to so-called “men of God” who are fattening themselves and their bank accounts at the expense of their congregations whom they are hoodwinking into parting with their money through misapplied texts of Scripture. I really tremble for them.

Think of what this means to the many pastors whose bad example in this realm has opened the door to the current flood in the church of Jesus Christ. Many are now thinking that the best way to make yourself rich is by becoming a pastor, a bishop, a prophet, or an apostle.

Think of what it will mean on the judgment day for those preachers who have turned many from seeking God to seeking gold, from extoling self-denial to pursuing self-aggrandisement, and from looking up to the cross daily to looking up to them for earthly blessings.

Think of what it will mean for church leaders who have traded in the worship of God for entertainment so that people attending church are thinking of having fun rather than offering to God the praise that is due to his name and quietening their hearts to hear from him.

Think of what it will mean for men of the cloth who are persuading their followers to eat grass, snakes, and rats in the name of the Lord while jumping on them as if they were made of rubber. Imagine what Jesus will do to them when he returns in all his power and glory.

Friends, if you are going to sin, go sin elsewhere. Do not scoop red-hot coals of fire into your bathtub and then dive into it with your eyes wide open. God will punish all unrepentant sinners but he will punish even more severely those who exploit his church with impunity.

I repeat, don’t you fear God?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

50 Kitwe Pastors Pray For Zambian Kwacha

A friend recently tagged me on Facebook to an item on an online news website and asked me what I thought of it. It was the news that more than 50 pastors in Kitwe had gotten together at the Oasis of Love Ministries Church to pray for the weak Zambian kwacha.

The way in which the Zambian kwacha was depreciating was indeed a great worry to anyone who earns money in Zambia. On one day recently I remember hearing of it going from K10 to $1 to about K12 to $1 within hours. If that does not alarm you, nothing else will.

So, the fact that a few pastors decided to get together to pray about this should not surprise anyone. After all, a currency that heads in that direction is likely to hurt all of us—church pastors included. I would have joined in the prayers if that was all that was going on.

What bothered me was when I read that each pastor was asked to pull out a kwacha note from his pocket and raise it in the air during the prayer meeting. While other pastors were praying in tongues others were now prophesying that the currency should appreciate in three months.

Later, the kwacha notes were collected and taken to “the altar” where some senior pastors who were present continued to pray over the notes. Then the pastors collected their money again and continued to pray over the notes so that the money gains value.

Whereas many people responded in the comments column and simply called this a joke, I responded to the person who sent me the link saying that this was witchcraft. Since the query was on Facebook, someone else asked, “How is this witchcraft?” Here is my answer.

Bank notes are not the economy

As I have already said, there is nothing wrong with people getting together to pray for the Zambian economy. Prayer is basically a humble acknowledgement that we desperately need God to intervene in our situation. So, I commend whoever initiated this—up to that point.

However, when educated people start confusing a piece of paper with a national economy that begins to worry me. What has gone wrong is not the piece of paper in our pockets. It is the national economy of Zambia that is sick. We cannot carry that in our pockets.

What we ought to be praying for is that God will give wisdom to our national leaders so that they can come up with a team of well-trained economists who will put together fiscal policies that will drive the national economy forward. If we need a miracle, that is where we need it.

The thought that simply by pulling money out of our pockets, raising it in the air, collecting it in a basket and putting it on some imagined “altar” is what is going to turn the economy around belongs to the world of witchcraft and not to the world of biblical Christianity.

This is senseless witchcraft

It is the witchdoctor who counsels you to kill a white chicken and put its feathers on the four corners of your home to keep away sickness, even if that sickness is malaria. What has the feathers of a chicken got to do with the malaria parasite that is ravaging your body?

It is a witchdoctor who calls you to his den, then takes you on top of a hill in the middle of the bush so that he can remove whatever curse is standing in the way of your progress. Is this not what is now being done by church pastors, resulting in many women getting raped on hilltops in the bush?

It is this darkness of witchcraft that has now invaded the evangelical church through so many of these ministries. People have stopped thinking simply because “the man of God” has spoken. They have fallen prey to the mentality of African traditional religion.

For instance, when a person says that he has applied for so many jobs but he is not being employed, these “witchdoctor” pastors do not even ask questions about that person’s qualifications. They immediately start prophesying a job for him within a few months.

Similarly, when a person says that his business is not doing well, they offer to go and march around his business premises chanting phrases and sprinkling oil around the place as a way of reversing his fortunes. Of course, he has to part with some “seed money” before they do it.

Is this not what is causing so many women to be raped by these “witchdoctor” pastors? The women go to them to seek help in relation to their troubled marriages. The “man of God” tells them that if he has sex with them the evil spirits tormenting their marriages will go.

This epidemic is inside evangelicalism

Once upon a time, these things were the preserve of cults that were clearly distinguishable from evangelical Christianity. Sadly, today this is the common fair in many “born again” churches while the wider evangelical community looks elsewhere in criminal silence.

Who among us does not know of a relative or friend who has been defrauded or raped by these charlatans? Who among us has not lost a relative to death because the person was told to stop taking medicine since the prayers of the “man of God” had supposedly cured him?

These “witchdoctor” pastors have become an epidemic. In the prayer meeting being referred to, the district commissioner said, “Everyone is a prophet now… They are cursing the land with their fake miracles… They are the same crooks who are raping young girls.”

Yet, arresting the known notorious culprits alone will not solve the problem. We need to see that there is a womb that is giving birth to these “prophets”. It is the growing syncretism of evangelical Christianity with traditional religious beliefs within Charismatic circles.

When evangelical pastors take out bank notes from their pockets and pray and prophesy over them as a way to heal the economy, they are on their way to do everything that the district commissioner was worrying about. It is the same faulty “witchcraft” logic at play here.

The approach of biblical Christianity

True Christianity is first of all about a person’s relationship with God. The foundation of reconciliation has been secured in the person and redemptive work of Christ. Individuals must come to him in genuine repentance and faith for them to be reconciled to God.

As pastors, this is the most crucial question we should ask when anyone comes to us with any problem: Are they reconciled to God in this way? We have no right to turn God into a fetish or lucky charm to bring people goodwill irrespective of how they live. God is holy!

Once we are convinced that a person has come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our task as pastor is not to simply pray for a breakthrough in their lives but to counsel them along biblical principles. People need to learn to think God’s thoughts after him in their daily lives.

Understanding this is what will cause the Zambian church to offer its members who are godly and astute economists to the government to help the nation build its economy on biblical principles for sustained growth. Witchdoctor antics performed on bank notes are utter folly!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bird watching in Cape Town

I was recently in Cape Town for a Sola 5 Conference and took time to do a little bird watching both at the home of my hosts (Winton and Barbara Gibbs) and at "the water front". I captured quite a few of them on camera and posted the photos on Facebook and Twitter. It crossed my mind afterwards that although Facebook and Twitter get a lot of immediate attention, in the long run hardly anyone ever fishes out your old updates and photos. Blogging does not get as much immediate traffic but the visits continue in trickles for a very long time. In the light of the comments I got on the photos, I thought I might as well preserve them here. So, for those of you who saw these photos on Facebook or Twitter, you might as well go on to other business. This is for those who did not!

I like to think that my bird-watching is done in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ who said, "Look at the birds of the air..." in Matthew 6:26. He wanted us to learn from them how they went about life without anxiety or worry. I also look at them in order to admire the beauty that God has put into the bird-kingdom. The beauty of some of these birds is breathtaking!

Last year I was asked by a book publisher in the UK for permission to use one of my bird photos, which they saw on this blog. It was one that I took of the African Sacred Ibis, while Felistas and I were on our 25th wedding anniversary in Livingstone. This has compelled me to conclude that this must be the final resting place of the bird pictures I took in Cape Town. Here they are!

* * * * *
Apart from attending the Sola 5 Conference in Cape Town, I enjoyed the beauty of God's creation--especially the bird kingdom. My hosts—Winton and Barbara Gibbs—have a bird paradise in their yard and so I took a few pictures. Here is one of them, a Cape White-eye, enjoying a drink.

Below is a male Cape Weaver. Male Weavers make the most brilliant nests in order to lure females to themselves. If you have seen one you know that they are incredible! I keep one of their creations in my office.

Above is a photo of a male Cape Weaver. Some of you may have begun to wonder what the female Cape Weaver looks like. Here she is! Below is the female Cape Weaver, with one eye on me making sure I do not pull a fast one.

If you want to be visited by birds, one of the small investments you should make is that of a bird-bath. Birds love to come in for a bath after a hard day's work! Here below, a Cape Bulbul had one eye on me while enjoying a good bath. The Bulbul is common back home in Lusaka, Zambia. However, the white eye-ring is a unique characteristic of the Cape Bulbul.

Okay, after a few photos of birds that are named after the Cape, here is a nice break. Below is the White-backed Mousebird. It's white bill and red legs set it apart from other Mousebirds. I first saw this bird in Namibia in the 1990s. It did not endear itself to me!

Below is another "Cape" bird. This is the Cape Spurfowl, which is in the family of the tasty guinea-fowls that we enjoy in Zambia. The Cape Spurfowl has a red bottom bill and a dark grey top bill. They are normally seen in pairs, and so if you look carefully you will see the other one. What amazes me about them are the details in their feathers. Look at this!

The Olive Thrush is a common bird in South Africa, especially on the southern and eastern areas of the country. We do not have it in Zambia. Here it was sneaking in for a bath but watching me very closely...

In an effort to see more birds in Cape Town, we went to the sea front. Below was one of the birds I found relaxing there. It is the Little Egret, named thus in comparison to other Egrets. It is also found in Zambia. Egrets, like Herons, have long legs and necks, which enable them to stand in water and by quick action grab under-water creatures for food. This one was making its way into deeper waters "to go fishing" when I captured it on camera.

The next photo was by far my best shot as I continued my bird-watching. This is the Hartlaub's Gull caught in mid-flight. Sea gulls are fairly common around the world, wherever you have seas or large fresh waters. This species is found along the west coast of southern Africa. Perfect shot!

This next one is a young Egyptian Goose paddling away in a pond near the sea front in Cape Town. Adults have more colour in them. Ducks and geese were certainly created for water bodies by God. He gave them webbed feet for swimming and their feathers are totally waterproof. What I loved about this photo was the fact that I could see its paddling feet in the water and at the same time see its reflection clearly. You usually only achieve one or the other!

Below is my final shot from Cape Town. You can breath now! Here is another bird that makes the Cape special; it is the Cape Sparrow. It is very much like the House Sparrow that hangs around Zambia, except that God has given it a little more colour. It is fantastic! That "C" formation of white around its black head is also its unique characteristic feature. Well, that is all the photos of birds from the Cape that I had for you. I hope you enjoyed seeing them!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The tragic loss of the doctrine of sin

I started writing this blog post on a flight across the Atlantic. I was disturbed. I left the USA on the same day that the Supreme Court there announced the legality of same-sex marriages. I had intended to write this post about a month ago but it now seems the right time to do so.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, the more I think about it the more I am persuaded that many of the world’s philosophical errors and its failures in practical solutions and resolutions are primarily because of a faulty understanding of the awful thing the Bible calls “sin”.

According to the Bible, sin is not only the wrong that we do but it is also the root cause of the wrong that we do. We seem to have largely lost the second aspect of the definition of sin and are only grappling with the first part. We talk about the shoot but totally forget about the root.

The modern understanding of human beings is that we are essentially good and are only made bad by outside forces, e.g. the abuse of drugs and alcohol or a bad neighbourhood. The more “spiritual” ones add generational curses and demons to the list of corrupting outside forces.

That is certainly not the biblical concept. According to the Bible we are essentially bad. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created they were good. However, when they sinned against God in Genesis 3 they became guilty and a moral degradation took place within them. Their hearts became sinful. They became enslaved to a foul power called sin.

There is perhaps no better treatment of the experience of sin as a foul power within us than is found in Romans 7. The apostle Paul said, “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:7-8).

Sin is here pictured as a factory of evil, producing all kinds of covetousness. It makes us desire what we have no legitimate right to. That desire can be overpowering, as overpowering as an addiction is to an addict. This is what made Paul realise that he needed salvation.

This foul power within us not only craves what is wrong but its craving is heightened when it is confronted with a command that forbids what it desires. The apostle Paul wrote, “It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Romans 7:13).

Paul is here referring to what took place within him when he came across the command of God that said, “You shall not covet.” The command is good. However, this foul power filled him with all kinds of covetous desires as soon as he became aware of this command of God.

We learn something else, therefore, about this foul power. It is rebellious. It hates being under authority. It must have its own way. It pushes boundaries. As soon as it hears, “You shall not…” it goes, “I will!” It seizes an opportunity through the commandment to do evil.

This foul power is also present in Christians. The apostle Paul testified in the present tense as a mature believer, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:15-17).

Paul had explained earlier in Romans 6 that when we become Christians the reign of this foul power is broken. However, he is under no delusion that we are totally free from its influence. It is still present within us, waging war against our renewed humanity (see Romans 7:21-24).

I am very concerned that much of modern evangelicalism has lost this clear biblical teaching. We seem to see the source of sin purely in terms of the devil and the world. We see ourselves as good people who are victims of outside forces. We fail to see that we are born fallen.

This tragic loss of the doctrine of sin has left us unable to explain what is happening in our world today. The argument of Romans 1:18-32 is that where God is truly acknowledged, he puts a restraint upon this foul power of sin. However, where people think they can manage pretty well without God he removes his restraints and this foul power takes full control.

Paul argues that the first pillar that goes down when this foul power is let loose is sexual purity (Romans 1:24-25). The second pillar that goes down is sexual sanity (Romans 1:26-27). So, homosexuality is a fruit of this foul power demanding what is contrary to nature.

Finally, this foul power brings down all the other pillars of morality (Romans 1:28-31). It does not stop with pulling down our pants; it runs amok and pulls down anything and everything in its way. Society becomes filled with every kind of irrational wickedness.

In the goodness of God, he has provided civil government in order to restrain human beings from falling headlong into this abyss of total depravity. However, when civil government gets obsessed with rights rather than responsibilities it becomes complicit in the downward spiral. It gives approval to those who practice obvious irrational wickedness (see Romans 1:32).

This is what is happening with Western civilisation. God was kicked out long ago. Civil government is so drunk with so-called rights that it is even willing to redefine marriage. We are told sex must have no boundaries as long as those involved are two consenting adults. If you try to talk about the elephant in the room you are shouted down as a religious bigot.

In case I am seen to be throwing stones across the Atlantic Ocean, let me quickly add that this is also the Achilles heel of the growing deliverance movement in Africa. It blames all human moral failure on generational curses and demons. If a man is adulterous it is because there is a curse or evil spirit on him that makes him chase after skirts. He needs deliverance.

I was at a meeting yesterday where this was played out. A bishop was praying for Africa and he alluded to the USA Supreme Court’s judgement. “We bind the demon of homosexuality. We refuse this spirit here in Africa,” he prayed. You should have heard the hearty amens!

This popular movement in Africa has lost the biblical doctrine of sin despite being within evangelical circles. There is no effort to explain to people that we are all born fallen creatures with desires that are morally warped. You are born bad. I am born bad. We are all born bad.

What we all need is not deliverance from some external curse or spirit through the prayers of “men of God” but salvation and sanctification through Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit. Jesus supernaturally subdues this foul power as we submit ourselves to the word of God.

“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.” (Charles Wesley)

It was because the apostles of Christ knew this that they refused to concentrate their efforts on feeding widows. They knew that this foul power in human hearts could only be brought down through preaching Christian truth in the power of the Spirit of God (Acts 6:4).

The modern bane of motivational speaking that has taken over the Christian pulpit, where sin is not even mentioned, is as useless as shooting peas at a charging lion. It will certainly not arrest this foul power within us. We must restore powerful biblical preaching in our pulpits.