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, October 8, 2019

“Jesus Died for Sinners”: Do Your People Know What This Actually Means?


The longer I pastor, the more I’m convinced that pastors should regularly preach the unsearchable riches of Christ not only for the salvation of the lost but also for the believers’ growth in grace.

But sadly, when dealing with the Savior’s work in saving us from sin, we preachers so often say very little. Because of this, something frightening happens over time: those who listen to us fill in their own meanings to the common words “Jesus died on the cross”—and those meanings can be far from what the Bible actually teaches concerning the death of Christ on the cross.

Here’s an example. In Africa, where the blood of birds and animals is used as a charm of protection from witchcraft, it’s become popular, even among Christians, to see a bumper sticker that declares “Protected by the blood of Jesus.” Pulpits are to blame for this serious confusion.

When the death of Christ is merely mentioned as part of the final appeal in sermons, too much is being assumed. I am amazed at how many people hear, “Jesus died because of our sins,” and understand it to mean that he died to merely show us how bad our sins are. I am equally shocked that many Christians, upon being asked where they would go if they died immediately after sinning, think they would go to hell. Is this not due to failing to understand what really took place when Jesus died?

It is our responsibility as preachers to regularly explain the subject of penal substitutionary atonement so that those who listen to us can come to a fuller understanding of what really took place on the cross when the Son of God took our place and paid our debt in full.

What we emphasize in a sermon will often depend on our text. Thus, there will be sufficient variety as we proclaim the gospel. And yet, we must avoid merely mentioning words like “blood,” “death,” and “cross” without ever unpacking their meaning.

I can think of three truths about the atonement that our preaching must elaborate on so that our listeners can understand in this central act of our salvation. What are those three truths?

1. Jesus suffered the penalty of sin.
From the very beginning of history, God had told Adam that he would die if he ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:17). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). That’s precisely the price that Jesus paid when he died on the cross.

2. Jesus suffered as our substitute.
Because Jesus was born sinless and lived a sinless life, death had no claim on him. His death was in our place the same way that animal sacrifices were made to appease God’s wrath across history (2 Cor. 5:21).

3. Jesus satisfied God in his suffering.
Whereas animal sacrifices weren’t sufficient to atone for human sin, the substitutionary death of the Son of God was more than sufficient. The righteous God is totally satisfied, and as evidence, he raised Jesus from the dead.

It’s beyond the scope of this article for me to open up these points. What I want to say is that these three truths about the penal substitutionary atonement should not be assumed. We must teach them line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept.

There’s a perception in the minds of many preachers that the depth of teaching they got on the atonement during their Bible college days is only for them as preachers, that it would be too deep for the ordinary Christian in the pew. This perception is entirely false. It’s also why, over time and across generations, churches lose the truth. The pastor should ensure that in his regular ministry of expounding God’s Word he is plumbing the depths of the truths he encounters in the sacred text.

A tree with shallow roots will easily be uprooted when howling winds blow. But the ones with deep roots will remain standing. In the same way, individuals with a shallow understanding of Christ’s work on the cross are easily unsettled by life’s trials. They also are easily misled by popular false teachings. This happens because false teachers often use scriptural words but fill them with wrong meanings and interpretations. Only well-taught minds will be able to pick that up and reject the error.

Where much ground has been lost, pastors should consider special Bible studies and seminars on this vital subject. Perhaps host question-and-answer sessions that will equip your people. The materials taught can be uploaded somewhere, printed, and disseminated throughout the congregation.

Brothers, my point is a simple one: let’s not assume that our people know the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Let’s teach it regularly in all its depth as we expound the Scriptures. We must not allow the generation growing up under our ministry to lose such a glorious foundation.

(First published in August 2019 9Marks eJournal)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Birdwatching around Lake Victoria, Uganda


Last year in November, Felistas & I were in Uganda for a few days of ministry. Our hosts gave us a day off to visit Lake Victoria & the River Nile. No prize for guessing what I was looking forward to doing—birdwatching! It was a birdwatcher’s paradise. We saw about 30 different species of birds within 2 hours. Yes, we stood in awe of God’s handiwork!

I shared the photos I took of the birds on Facebook that same day. Now that I am back to blogging, I thought of keeping some of the photos here as well. Here they are:

Malachite Kingfisher
A male Black-bellied Sunbird

Black-eyed Bulbul

Openbill stork

White-eared Night Heron

Little Egret

White-breasted Cormorants

Bronze Mannikin

White-winged Black Terns

Openbill Stork

Male breeding Reed Cormorant

Hadeda Ibis

Pied Kingfisher

Breeding Great White Egret

Male non-breeding Reed Cormorant

Pink-backed Pelicans (with Sacred Ibis)

Black-headed Heron

Eastern Plantain-eater

Sacred Ibis

White-throated Bee-eater

Male Masked Weaver

Marabou Stork

Yellow-billed Stork

African Darter

Common Sandpiper

Little Egret

And finally...two Crested Cranes (normally male-female pairs), the national bird of Uganda

Monday, September 9, 2019

“Ba Mirriam” has become a celebrity!

The whole clan—parents, children, spouses, grandchildren and dog—with "ba Mirriam"
Two weeks ago, our family held a surprise party for our house keeper (maid). She is popularly called “ba Mirriam” by all of us in the home. The party marked her working with us for 20 years. As I often do, I shared pictures of this event on my two Facebook accounts.

To our utter amazement, my official Facebook page (which keeps a counter) showed that by yesterday the posting had reached almost a quarter of a million people, with over 600 individuals sharing it with their own Facebook friends. News has it that this event was also featured on radio and television. I readily admit that we did not expect such popularity.

Every party must have plenty of food and eating!
We must have gotten onto something here. I have personally read each of the comments. Most of them are either grateful to God for also having virtuous maids or complaining of having landed themselves with irresponsible gold-diggers. Let’s face it, such is life.

Many wrote on behalf of maids who have had a raw deal and have been ill-treated by their employers. The cry was very loud in many of the comments, basically saying, “If we treated maids with more dignity and honour, they would give us the best of service too.”

Every party must have plenty of food and eating!
We are glad that while the post was “trending” we gave the nation a chance to air their views on this matter. As long as sin remains in human nature, we will never reach perfection in employer-employee relations. However, talking about it helps us to re-examine ourselves.

Many thought we are a great family. I hurry to say, we are not. We have all the flaws that any human family has. Any semblance of good about us as a family is a fruit of the grace of the Lord Jesus in our lives. We try to obey God but have also failed lamentably many times.

A 20th anniversary cake being cut by "ba Mirriam" and her sister
When an institution organises a party to acknowledge the longevity and excellent work of an employee, the limelight is not on the employers. Rather, it is on the employee who has given so much to make that institution what it is today. That is how we feel as a family.

It is not our family that must get any glory here. It is ba Mirriam. Thanks for each of those 4,000 likes and 800 comments that have made her day. Since I recommenced blogging recently, I decided to share some of what our children have said to her on this occasion. Their comments speak more eloquently of their appreciation of the now famous “ba Mirriam” than my wife and I could have done.

"Ba Mirriam" and Mrs Mbewe hug
BWALYA: Ba Miriam, congratulations for working for 20 years. I remember I was in grade 9 when you joined us. You have been very hardworking and neat especially in cleaning the house, washing and packing clothes. Now that I am married and managing my own home, I wish I can have someone like you because such commitment to work is rare. You should come to my place to help me when you are next on leave!

MWILA: Ba Mirriam, thank you for your love and excitement. I remember how when I started my first job you were excited for me. I also remember when I first moved out of our parents’ home, you excitedly cleaned my new home for me. And recently, when I moved into my matrimonial home, you excitingly wanted to clean it all by yourself. Oh, ba Mirriam, may the Lord bless us with 20 more years with you!

"Ba Mirriam" also hugs "yours truly"
MWINDULA (“BIGGIE”): Ba Mirriam, I remember how committed you were to ensuring that my school uniforms and shoes were always flawless when I started Grade 8. I ended up getting the award for "Cleanest boy in school" at the end of that year. That really was your award! You are now part of the family and we dearly love you. As an honorary member of the family you can rest assured that we will always be there for you!

MWANSA: Ba Mirriam, you have been more than a housekeeper; you have been a friend. We have shared so many jokes and laughed together from the time I was in primary school as we talked about school to the times when you always had hope for the Zambian national football team. Indeed, we finally saw them win the AFCON. The years have flown past and we have so many good memories because of you. Thank you!

Mwila soothes "Ba Mirriam" as she is overtaken with emotions
MWAPE: Ba Mirriam, thank you for being the addition to the family we never knew we needed.  Thanks for being “furniture” in our lives. I can’t describe any season of my life that you weren’t in. You’ve been with us that long and I’m so grateful to God for you and your servant heart. I love you so much that I’m carrying you with me to my house. That’s where you’ll do your next 20 years. Haha!

MWINDULA (“SMALL”): In the 8 years I have been in this home, I have come to learn much about ba Mirriam. I have learned how she started work here, how she has provided guidance where needed, how she has seen each one of us grow under her watchful eyes, her struggles with health, her relationship with the church, and her relationship with each family member. All that can be said is that we have been BLESSED to have her!

If you want to see the Facebook post, click here.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Praying People—2019 Sola 5 Conference


A glimpse of the attendance at the conference
The 2019 Sola 5 Conference in Manzini, Swaziland, has come to an end and we are all getting ready to head home. The theme of the conference was “A praying people: The centrality of prayer in the life of the church.” We are still processing the bountiful spiritual meal we have feasted upon. From him to whom much is given, much more shall be required. These are sobering thoughts…and rightly so.
 
"Yours truly" with Karabo Msiza at break time
Karabo Msiza (of Central Baptist Church in Rustenburg, South Africa) preached on the pattern of prayer on the opening night (on Wednesday), using what we call “the Lord’s prayer” from Matthew 6. The following morning, Chipita Sibale (my fellow pastor at Kabwata Baptist Church) preached on the purpose of prayer from 1 Timothy 2.

Chipita Sibale preaching on the purpose of prayer
That evening, Charlie Ramfumedzi (from Christ Seminary, Polokwane, South Africa) preached on the priorities of prayer. Essentially, he dealt with what issues we need to address as a priority in order to ensure answered prayer, e.g. genuine repentance from sin, faith in God, forgiving others, and a pure heart.
 
Charlie Ramfumedzi preaching on priorities of prayer
Today (Friday), was the last day of the conference. In the morning, Richard Peskett (from Nelspruit Bible Church, Nelspruit, South Africa) preached on the people of prayer. This was the only session I missed because I had to work on my newspaper article and send it in to beat the deadline. References to it afterwards confirmed that I missed a rich meal.
 
Richard Peskett preaching on the people of prayer
Thankfully, there was a second preaching session this morning. It was handled by Desmond Cramer (from Coastal Bible Church, Muisenberg, Cape Town, South Africa) and it was on praying in the will of God. He expounded the experience of our Saviour in Gethsemane.
 
Desmond Cramer preaching on praying in the will of God
Finally, this evening, Desmond Venter (from Grace Baptist Church, Amanzimtoti, Durban, South Africa) preached from Psalm 25 on peace through prayer. He showed us from this psalm how trust encourages peace, obedience breeds peace, grace ensures peace, hope awaits peace, and faith petitions for peace.
 
Desmond Venter preaching on peace through prayer
On Thursday, prior to our lunch break, we held the Sola 5 annual business meeting, which gave us a bird’s-eye-view of the last one year in terms of both activities and finances. We also voted in 4 new member churches and saw two new individuals voted into the steering committee to replace two others who were cycling out. Churches shared about their church-planting and revitalization efforts. I had the opportunity to share about the African Christian University during this slot. Finally, we heard about sister churches that had pastoral vacancies.
 
Chris Mnguni sharing about progress in Daveyton, South Africa
Before each sermon, we heard church planting and church revitalization reports from various parts of southern, central, and eastern Africa. This was in addition to the ones we had heard about during the business meeting. It was most encouraging to see that the churches were not just talking doctrine but were indeed busy extending the kingdom of God through such efforts.

Dubeka Milandu sharing about church planting in Tanzania
What I found most refreshing was that at the end of all the preaching sessions, we divided up into small groups and spent time praying for one another, for the missions reports and for the messages that we heard. So, we not only heard about prayer, we actually prayed!
 
Stuart Chase making announcements at the conference
Let me thank the steering committee of Sola 5, and Stuart Chase as the coordinator, for putting together such a short and sweet conference. Manzini Fellowship Church also went out of their way to look after all of us in terms of transport, accommodation, and meals.
 
Conference attendees enjoying a meal together

Next year’s conference will be in South Africa in the first week of September. The specific venue and theme of the conference will be announced in due season. I cannot wait for yet another soul-enriching time. Until then, au revoir!