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!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wherein Lies The Future Of Zambia?

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Yesterday, I cast my vote in the unscheduled 2008 presidential election. As a citizen of my country, I am now waiting patiently to hear what the collective decision of the people of Zambia is. In a few days time, we shall have a new president. He will either be the person I voted for or someone else – ouch! As I await the final verdict of the counting that has already begun, I must remind myself, as I have done so many times before, that the future of Zambia does not really lie in the ballot box but in the sovereignty of God and in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Due to space, I will be very brief in explaining what I mean. (I need to add that the posters scattered throughout this article are in alphabetical order and are not related in any way to the paragraph in which they are found!)

It is true that having “a devil on the throne” will take the nation backwards economically and socially. It will mean that levels of corruption that were beginning to go down will soar once again. It will mean that many investors will withdraw from the country and a downward economic spiral will commence. It will mean that the civil liberties that we were beginning to experience in the nation will slowly get eroded. Yes, it will mean that and much, much more. No one wants that to happen and hence the sense of grief and despair among those who know better if a cheat and fraudster ends up in Plot One.

It is equally true to say that having a godly man of integrity on the throne can only be a blessing to the nation. It would mean greater investor confidence, more fiscal discipline in the public sector and more development for our nation. It would mean a better ambience for the church to carry out its divine mandate of evangelism and missions. So, it only makes sense that if there is such a person among the candidates vying for Plot One, then the hopes of the godly are that in a few days time such a person will be sworn in as Zambia’s fourth president.

I can understand all that. However, we need to realise that ultimately the person who will be our president would have been chosen by God before time began. God is totally sovereign in this matter. He does not only choose the godly but even the ungodly in order to achieve his purpose at that time in history. Sometimes, he wants to bless a people and he gives them a righteous leader. At other times, he wants to judge a people and he gives them a ruler who will break their backs. Yet, this is never out of malice or caprice. At the centre of God’s purpose is the extension of his kingdom through the gospel. You will often find meaning to God’s acts in history by looking at the state of the church at that time. So, whether God gives us a good or bad president will depend on what he wants to do with us as his people today.

We also need to understand that for us to have better leaders in the nation the church must be faithful in proclaiming the gospel. The problem in the world is not bad economic policies but bad hearts and these can only be changed by the gospel, which is the power of God for the salvation of those who believe (Romans 1:16). The gospel has always been the vanguard of civilization and true human dignity. It changes lives in the grassroots of society and, since rulers come from there, in due season it gives us rulers with pure hearts. It is the failure to realize this that makes Christians excited about a new leader coming into power even when the state of the church still leaves much to be desired. That is totally misplaced confidence. Our excitement, rather, should be when a purer gospel finds its way into the homes of our land. That alone is the true hope of Zambia because it produces a righteous people.

Does that mean we were wrong to vote? No, I think we should. God uses our vote to bring whom he pleases to Plot One. But we cheat ourselves if we think that there is a political leader who will bring utopia to our country. Politicians will promise us heaven, but they know that the promises they make are merely to woo voters so that they can get into their much-coveted positions of power. Once they get what they want, history will only repeat itself! Our hope lies in the gospel alone. Christians, even after casting our votes and waiting with bated breath for our new president to be announced, let us get busy with real gospel endeavours, praying that through them God will extend his kingdom in Zambia and even beyond. That is where the future of Zambia lies.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some Advice on Casting Your Vote – and Praying!

“All authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God… The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13:1-4, ESV).

I do not normally give my opinion about elections because in the end I realize that those whom I am addressing are a drop in the ocean compared to the numbers that will finally vote. However, as I have given further thought to this, and in view of my having a blog, I thought that what I would say could be given further wings if those who read my views told their friends and relatives to read my blog. So, I have decided to break with the past and say a few words on the up-coming unscheduled presidential elections set for 30th October 2008.

The question on everyone’s mind is who to vote for – between (in alphabetical order) Rupiah Banda, Hakainde Hichilema, Godfrey Miyanda and Michael Sata. Any political analysis of these men shows that they have their strong and weak points. However, allow me to give two biblical tips to help guide you in making a biblical decision. In the eyes of God, there are essentially three levels of government – self government, domestic government and civil government (being divided between local and national government). These levels are like a ladder. That is why the Bible says about elders, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5, ESV). From this text of Scripture, we can learn two principles to help us determine how God wants us to choose a presidential candidate.

The first principle is that of experience. A home and a church have a lot in common. After all, both of them are households! So, when someone has not had any experience in running a nuclear family, then it is dangerous to give him a bigger “home” (like a church). Experience is a good teacher, however nasty that experience might be. That is why children should learn to listen to their parents, even if the parents messed it up when they were young. Experience has taught them valuable lessons that they want to pass on to their children. This should also apply to presidential candidates. Experience at a lower level should be a stepping stone to taking on a higher task. It is crazy to ask someone to be president of the whole nation, if he has not even had a taste of local government – or has never even run a home.

The second principle is that of achievement. A person must first prove himself in self-government before he can be entrusted with domestic government. Similarly, he must prove himself in domestic government before he should be given the reins of civil government. So, find out how such a person has performed in terms of governing himself, i.e. in the realm of self-control. Has he been denying himself pleasure for the sake of a nobler goal or is he a slave of his lust? Then find out how he has handled his family life. Has he raised a family that is civilized, respectful and hardworking, or is his family life in shambles? Be sure that a person who has failed at a lower level of the home will not deliver at a higher level of the nation. He may promise you heaven, but in the end he will only give you hell!

You will agree with me that, in the light of the above biblical principles, choosing a president next week will be quite a herculean task. One reason for this is that very few Christians in Zambia involve themselves in social and community programs that lead on to political leadership. We have left this in the hands of unbelievers, who have turned everything into nothing more than a selfish pursuit of power. So, we find ourselves on Election Day with hardly any credible candidate in sight. Instead of us simply bemoaning the lack of biblically qualified men to lead the nation, we must begin working hard at correcting this false dichotomy between the spiritual and the social in the minds of our Christian young people. We must encourage them, right from school, to take up leadership positions in society where they can exercise their God-given gifts and graces. We need to pray that, not many years hence, God will give us a Zambian president groomed in our God-centred Reformed Baptist circles.

Talking about prayer, we need to realize that this divine instrument is more potent than the ballot. So, as we think about who to vote for, let us pray that God will give us a president who will not be a curse but a blessing to the nation. Remember, “All authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God… The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good.” (Romans 13:1-4, ESV). God forbid that he should give us "a devil on the throne". So, to your knees!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pray for the Safety of our Pastors

“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7, ESV)

When I tell people that I hate travelling, they always laugh. I guess this is because my life has been lived largely on the road or in the air. But, seriously, I hate travelling. I have a phobia for travel. Hence, a week or two before a trip comes up, I already begin to experience stress-related symptoms. In fact, that is how I often realize that I have a trip around the corner; it is when I notice these symptoms and start wondering why. Then it hits me that I have a trip coming up soon. Our bodies are truly amazing. God wired them up in such a way that even when we are not consciously processing information, our bodies are still doing so – and even reacting to it. Amazing!

Now, why am I sharing my phobias with you? It is because in the recent past there have been a number of road accidents involving close ministerial colleagues. In fact, in the first case I was the driver! The accident took place in the last week of August as I was taking Pastor Voddie Baucham, our conference preacher, to our Zambian annual Reformed conference. Obstructed by a bus packed in the wrong place, I started driving across the road when a fast-moving car appeared from behind the bus and hit my car on the side. How my car only sustained a few scratches when the car that hit me was so extensively damaged (see picture) can only be attributed to the grace of God. It was a timely reminder that life is uncertain. You may be physically well now, but in the next moment you can be history!

Then, about two weeks ago, Pastor Saidi Chishimba of Faith Baptist Church in Kitwe was also involved in an accident. He was taking his wife (with their two daughters) down to Livingstone to celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. Suddenly, at a narrow bridge near Mazabuka, a truck-and-trailer, overtaking another truck, came into their lane at high speed. They just barely managed to get to the end of the bridge and veered off the road when the truck-and-trailer caught their car and ripped off the driver’s side (as can be seen on the picture, after some basic panel-beating). Saidi and Maureen, his wife, said that they were sure they were gone! They attribute their survival to the grace of God. After a rather lengthy delay, as they brought back their car to some working form, they continued the journey to see the mighty Victoria Falls. As they thought of the mighty power of God in creation, at the sight of the Falls, I am sure they also reflected on God’s mighty power in preserving their lives.

As if this was not enough, a few days ago I received the news that Pastor Wilbroad Chanda of Ndola Baptist Church was involved in a car accident in the USA and is presently undergoing surgery in order to repair various parts of his body. He had sustained a broken leg, a broken hip, some broken ribs, a broken nose, etc (see picture). Wilbroad is in the USA to do some coursework for a doctoral degree. He writes, “The accident occurred on Sunday after church between Vicksburg and Jackson. I was just alone in the car. I blacked out and careered off the road (Interstate/motorway) into the median, hit a few small trees and the vehicle stopped. I had my seat belt on. The paramedics arrived within 2 or 3 mins. I was in so much excruciating pain. I was told not to make any movements. I have never experienced any pain like that in my life.” Apart from asking that we pray for his healing, he also asks that we pray for the Lord’s provision in terms of “thousands of dollars for the medical bills.” (If you are able to help financially, please let me know and I will put you in touch with Wilbroad directly).

Pardon me for sharing all these gory details with you and for, probably, spoiling your day. I have done so because I want to ask you to pray especially for the safety of our pastors. I am not suggesting that their lives are more precious than those of other church members. However, I think that in the light of the three accidents involving pastors that have occurred in such a short space of time, with each event getting worse than the previous one, it only makes sense that I ask for prayer for pastors’ safety. Also, we have to bear in mind that our pastors are often on the road due to their call of duty. Every so often the phone rings and even before the person calling says anything about why they are calling, the very first words are, “Pastor, come quickly...!” – and we are back on the road! But one more reason for praying for the safety of pastors is the effect that the sudden loss of one pastor has on an entire congregation. The words of Scripture are often fulfilled: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7, ESV). Once the person who regularly occupies the pulpit is no more, an entire epoch in a church comes to an end. So, for the wellbeing of our churches, let us pray for our pastors that the Lord will keep them safe on our roads. Amen!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Marriage – A slice of heaven on earth!

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right…Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22-6:4).

Felistas and I were guests at a wedding anniversary dinner of our uncle and aunt, Patrick and Petronella Chisanga (seen below on their wedding day), last Saturday evening. They were celebrating thirty years of being together in marriage. It was quite an honour to be among the thirty carefully chosen couples invited to this occasion. Those who know them will understand when I say that their guests were a dignified assembly. Uncle confessed that it was a daunting task to reduce all the family and friends to a list of just thirty couples to be invited. Well, we are very grateful that we survived the editor’s scalpel!

Marriage is God’s greatest gift to mankind (apart from salvation). It is the most intimate relationship that any human being can ever experience. It intertwines two lives inextricably together in a lifelong friendship of love and trust. It is also a school of perseverance and forgiveness. It is the cradle in which the next generation is nurtured and finally released to take up the responsibilities of a very demanding world. The welfare of entire nations depends on it. Marriage is what makes the phrase “home sweet home” so full of warmth. It provides protection for both parents and children in the midst of the howling storms of life. So, any opportunity to show support for this institution deserves our heartiest commitment. Hence, attending this thirtieth wedding anniversary was a great honour.

One of the greatest challenges in marriage, after the initial bumpy adjustment process, is the task of child-upbringing. It demands the best even from the best among us! Usually, you can tell how well the job was done by looking at the final product when the children leave home to set up their own homes. God blessed the Chisangas’ thirty-year union with three children (pictured below at Mubanga's graduation) –

  1. Mubanga (the female graduate on the photo, who now lives in the USA),
  2. Changala (the gentleman at the back in a red shirt, who also lives in the USA, is married to Caroline and they have two children), and
  3. Patrick (the gentleman in a suit on the right, who came back from the USA recently, having completed his tertiary studies there).

Of the three of them, only Patrick (affectionately known as “Junior”), was present for the occasion. The other two sent messages expressing their appreciation of the parental care and guidance they have enjoyed. The one statement that kept coming up in their messages was that of the values that their parents inculcated in them. That is what parenting is all about – the passing on of values that enable a person, when he finally leaves home, to deal with the temptations and trials of life. These values are inculcated by consistent parental example and exhortation. As I look at the children growing up in my home, I pray to God that he will help Felistas and me to excel in this awesome responsibility!

Every marriage has its four seasons – winter, summer, spring and fall. I say that, not simply because of my own experience, having been married now for some twenty-one years, but also because a lot of my work as a pastor has to do with crisis marriage counseling. Every so often the phone rings and a spouse sounds as if the end of the world has come. A few words from Scripture to restate God’s blue-print for marriage soon show where the error that needs to be rectified is. And, as long as the erring party is willing to make amends, you meet the couple a few days later looking as if the sun always shines in their marriage! It is the capacity to keep getting back to the Creator’s modus operandi for marriage that makes for thirty or forty or even fifty years of wedding anniversaries. Like the rest of us, I am sure the Chisangas have their fair share of such tales to tell. May we all keep going back to God’s blueprint for marriage in order to joyfully remain married until death parts us.

This is where the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ comes in. The relationship between Jesus and the church stands as an abiding example for the way in which marriage should be lived out in order for it to be a little heaven on earth (see the biblical passage quoted above). Also, those who fail to play their part honourably in this glorious relationship of marriage may pray to the Lord Jesus not only for forgiveness but also for spiritual empowerment so that they can live up to its demands. Jesus is a Saviour. He delights in bringing wholeness where there is confusion and despair. Indeed, he heals broken hearts and broken homes. His grace is sufficient for all of us. May we all (the Chisangas, the Mbewes, and all the readers of this blog) turn to him again and again for grace upon grace to help us in our times of need so that our marriages may truly be a slice of heaven on earth. Amen!

So, to Uncle Patrick and Aunt Pettie, happy thirtieth anniversary! Let me end by citing the beautiful poem that Mubanga sent for your anniversary, because I think she speaks for many of us! –

“I can't repay the lessons that you taught when I was small.
Or give you gift for gift the daily treasures I recall....
I can't return encouragement and loving words of praise,
In quite the way you did for me through all my childhood days.
But there is one gift I can give; it's all the love you've earned.
For love is what you always taught.....and love is what I learned.”