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!

Monday, August 29, 2011

We are finally grandparents!

This is a rather belated announcement. The Lord was pleased to give us a grandson on Saturday, 13th August, 2011, through our daughter, Bwalya, and her husband, Vernon, whose wedding we celebrated last year in September (see blog). The delayed announcement of the baby’s birth was due to two reasons. The first was that, whereas the new grandfather wanted to announce this news to the world with a photo of baby and mother, the mother did not want the world to see her so puffed up. And you know how women feel about how they look!

The second reason was that we were waiting for the official naming of the child. Though we had already heard the rumour, we knew that it was the prerogative of parents to name their child and so we waited patiently. Finally, last week the name “Mapalo” was formally announced as the baby’s name. Thus, with the mother’s beautiful face almost back to normal and the child’s name officially announced, we were ready for the photos and the blog post.

The news of Mapalo’s birth got to me while I was preaching at the Evangelical Church of Zambia (ECZ) annual midlands conference. Not having a wristwatch, I was using my cell phone to tell the time. Also, because the meeting was in the open air, my cell phone functioned as a weight to keep the pages of the Bible from fluttering in the wind. I cannot remember at which point I was in my sermon when an SMS arrived from the latest father in town. In his characteristically cool manner, all he said was, “She has delivered a baby boy.”

The bundle of joy--Mapalo Kapoma
For me, that message is one that should have been written in bold, capital, underlined, and italicised letters with font size 100—if that was possible in SMS—and with three exclamation marks at the end. I had difficulties keeping the train of my thoughts for the rest of that sermon. You can’t blame me; we were grandparents at last!!!

Felistas and I became Bwalya’s foster parents in 1990. My wife brought her from the village after she got high commendations from my father-in-law. The job of parenting her had its ups and downs but we persevered. As with all our sons and daughters, we had two prayers for her. The first was that she would get saved from sin through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ at a tender age and the second was that she would find a truly godly husband. All other requests—including that of education—were secondary. We knew that many issues in her life were going to hang on these two.

One day in 1993, while she was doing her household chores, Bwalya announced to me that she wanted to be baptised. I told her that only those who have repented of their sins and put their trust in Jesus are fit candidates for baptism. Her response, which greatly warmed my heart, was that she had done precisely that. I got my fellow elder in the church, Dr Roland Msiska, to interview her for baptism and church membership. He came back acknowledging that she had a very clear testimony of the work of grace on her soul. Thus, Bwalya was baptised and became a member of the church. Since then we have seen her grow in grace.

Happy parents--Vernon and Bwalya--holding their baby, Mapalo
Then six years later, in 2009, she announced to us as her parents that a young man in the church was hovering around her home like an eagle about to land. We knew who he was because we had found him there a few times. We sniffed around to find out what kind of young man he was. All we heard were good reports. In the church, he took his membership responsibilities seriously and was even leading one of the home groups. He also participated in preaching at various outreach points where we were planting churches. So, before too long we gave her a thumbs-up. It was with great joy, therefore, when Vernon’s relatives “brought the plates”. We knew that our daughter was going to be in good hands.

Well, that is now history. In this blog post, we are thanking God for making us grandparents by his grace. Mapalo was born by Caesarean section because he was very big (4.5 kg). For my blog readers who may not be familiar with our culture, from now on my designation has changed. I am now Shikulu Mapalo and Felistas is now Nakulu Mapalo. Let me explain. In our culture, there are three very important events in a person’s life, and they are acknowledged by the way that person is called from that point onwards.

1. When you marry (or get married) people stop calling you by your first name and start calling you in relation to your spouse. Hence, on 2nd January 1988, I became Muka Felistas and Felistas became Muka Conrad.

Happy grandparents--Conrad and Felistas--with baby, Mapalo
2. When you have your first child, your designation changes again. People start calling you in relation to your first child. Hence, on 24th September 1988, I became Shi Mwindula and my wife became Na Mwindula.

3. When you have your first grandchild, your designation changes again. People start calling you in relation to your first grandchild. Hence, on 13th August 2011, I became Shikulu Mapalo and Felistas became Nakulu Mapalo. 

(Different tribes and languages have different words. The ones I have used are mainly in the Bemba language, which is my mother’s and my wife’s language).

If we were in the village and someone called me Conrad today, people would think he just fell from outer space. Doesn’t he know that God has taken Conrad through three important blessings in life—the blessing of being a husband, a father, and a grandfather? How then can he still be calling him by his first name as if he has just begun the race of life? Or is he just being deliberately and maliciously disrespectful? (Since most of the readers of this blog are not “in the village”, do not worry; you may retain the way you have called me all along).

Thank God with us for the blessing of a grandson. We never deserve not even the least of the Lord’s mercies—let alone the gift of life. To God alone be the glory.

Yours truly,

Shikulu Mapalo!

PS: “Bringing plates” symbolises the event when a go-between from a suitor’s home comes to your home to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage. He brings two plates which are cupped and with a token amount in them. Once the plates are accepted, no one else can be allowed to bring other plates. A girl’s parents cannot discuss marriage with two suitors.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Final Day at the Zambian Annual Reformed Conference

We finally got to the last day of the conference—a great relief to any organising team but a cause of sorrow for those who are thoroughly enjoying a conference. “Must we part so soon?” was the thought on many minds. Yes, all good things must come to an end, except heaven. Hence, this is a foretaste of what heaven’s fellowship will be like. For the sake of this blog post, I attended the Reformed Family Conference track today.

Jonathan Sims
Jono preached from Matthew 20:12 on the bruised reed and smoking flax. His sermon explained a number of truths about a bruised reed and a smoking flax. Matthew applied this statement from the Isaiah to the Lord Jesus Christ. A bruised reed or a smoking flax is a person who has been awakened to his sinful state and cries to the Saviour for the salvation. Jesus will not break a bruised reed nor put out a smoking flax.

A happy couple (the Mwenyas) on the last day of the Reformed Conference
The ministry of the Pharisees was the opposite. In hypocrisy, they majored on breaking bruised reeds and putting out smoking flax.  Religious people often do this by their impossibly high expectations. Jesus did not operate that way. He did not extinguish the least hope. Rather, he fanned the smoking flax that the Pharisees were extinguishing until the flame turned into a blaze. (Jono gave example after example of how Jesus did this to people against the attitude of the Pharisees when he was on earth).

Jono appealed to those who were discouraged and broken to remember that Jesus will not extinguish them. Rather he will stir the gifts that he has put in them. He urged us to come to the last hope, which is the only true hope—Jesus Christ. God allows us to become bruised reeds and smoking flax so that we can stop trusting in ourselves. Bruised reeds are tender and pliable. That is a good state for God to pour in his grace.

Jono preached in the Family Conference track and the joint evening meeting
Jono said that when we feel weak we should trust the Word of God that he will not totally finish us off. Jesus is not just the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but he is also a Lamb. He does not roar at bruised reeds and smoking flax. Even the best of Christians is a bruised reed—a sinner saved by grace. When you are going through doubts, remember that even the best Christians go through doubts. So, welcome to the Christian life!

Jono said that in every one of us grace is mingled with corruption. It is this corruption that leaves us bruised internally. David committed adultery and murder and it looked like his flax was going to be snuffed out, but God gave him a second chance when he repented of his sins. He did not break the bruised reed or snuff out the smoking flax. Let us depend on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as we meet the challenges of each day.

"Pastor Zulu" preached his final sermon in the Family Conference track
Jono ended by saying that when we get to heaven, all the bruised reeds will be totally healed and all the smoking flax will be ablaze with fire because of the grace of the Lord Jesus.  The reeds will be strong and the flax will be bright to the glory of God.

“From victory unto victory his army shall he lead
Till every foe is vanquished and Christ is Lord indeed.”

Young (Reformed but not so restless) people getting their lunch
Voddie Baucham
After break, “Pastor Zulu” called our attention to the last chapter of Ephesians. He addressed us on the subject of spiritual warfare. He warned us that we would not learn what we have come to associate with this topic today—i.e. casting out demons, etc. We are ever in danger of either over-estimating or under-estimating spiritual warfare. 

“Pastor Zulu” cautioned us that in bringing in the topic of spiritual warfare at this point in his epistle, Paul was not suggesting that the work of Christ had come to an end and now you must fight for yourself. These imperatives were still dependent on indicatives pointing to what God had already done for us in Christ.

Paul Lupunga leading the singing during the combined evening meeting
“Pastor Zulu” then drew our attention to the field of our spiritual warfare. The first under this was our resources—the Lord’s power and the Lord’s armour. Our adversaries are in the heavenly places. In chapter 1:3, 2:6, 3:10, we see that God has blessed us and we are seated with Christ “in the heavenly places”. Our goal is to stand firm.  It is the opposite of being tossed to and fro by winds and waves. Jesus has already won the war and all we are doing is standing firm against his enemies.

“Pastor Zulu” then drew our attention to the fight of our spiritual warfare. The first under this was our uniform. He explained the various parts. The truth was part of our uniform (4:15, 17). Then there was also Christ as our righteousness. We were exhorted to put on the shoes that make us ready with the gospel of peace. Then there was the shield of faith, the breastplate of salvation, the sword of the Word of God, and prayer. These were our weapons and they were all of a spiritual nature.

Ken Turnbull sharing on the mammoth African Christian University project
“Pastor Zulu” pointed to our purpose in this fight. We needed to recognise the body by praying for the other soldiers. We are engaged in a common spiritual warfare. Hence, we are to pray for all the saints. This battle is not to be fought in isolation. He ended by pointing to our victory in this fight. “Pastor Zulu” asserted that the most effective, powerful, and active spiritual warfare that we can engage in is planting churches. This is one of the most effective ways to ensure that “demons are cast out” because wherever the Word of God is regularly preached that is where Satan is cast out.

Jonathan Sims
At the start of the evening meeting, Ken Turnbull shared with us on the mammoth African Christian University project. Ken was visibly unwell but drew on his last strength in order to appeal to us to get involved. Then James Williamson shared on the Copperbelt Ministerial College and the Lusaka Ministerial College, which are training men for the pastoral ministry under the oversight of our Reformed Baptist churches.

James Williamson sharing on the CMC and LMC pastoral training projects
Finally, Jono ended this conference by preaching on the famous seven sayings of the Saviour on the cross. He said that the first saying was, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This was about the cause of the cross. It is about how sinners can find pardon with the living God. He came to make atonement for our sins.

The second saying was, “Today you shall be with me in paradise”. One of the two thieves expressed repentance towards God (in the expression, “Don’t you fear God?”) and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We see in Jesus’ response the compassion of the Saviour.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away

Part of the evening attendance during the singing of a hymn
The third saying revealed the concern of Jesus. This was when he saw his mother and said, “John, behold your mother…mother, behold your son”. He encouraged us about our culture of taking in the orphans and the elderly into our homes to look after them.

The fourth saying records the curse of Christ. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What was happening was so horrible that God literally turned off the lights. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that we could be made the righteousness of God. In that dark hour, Jesus was bearing the curse of sin. God thus forsook him. He bore the full wrath of God for us. Jono warned those who had not yet taken refuge in Christ that they would experience this wrath for all eternity.

Pastor Grave Singogo thanking all for their various roles in this conference
The fifth saying records the condition of Christ on the cross: “I thirst”. He had been scourged before Pilate a few hours earlier. Jono went into gruesome details about what this scourging was like, including the carrying of the cross, the pulling off of his beard, the nailing of his hands and feet, etc. It was as a result of this that he said, “I thirst”.

The sixth saying revealed the complete work of Jesus: “It is finished”. Jesus died to secure the salvation of those whom the father had given him.  On the cross, Jesus did not only accomplish a potential atonement but a particular atonement. He purchased our souls with his blood.

Voddie and his family pose for a photo with part of the Namibian delegation
The seventh saying was a word of confidence: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. Having said these words, he gave up his spirit. He was confident that he would in due season break the bands of death and rise again.

Up for the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph over his foes
He arose a victor in the dark domain and he lives forever with his saints to reign
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!

With these words, the 22nd Zambian Annual Reformed Conference came to an end. The fellowship had been sweet. The preaching was glorious. The cross-centred life had been exhibited. And now it was up to us to rise to the challenge of living out such a life. If the Lord tarries, we look forward to yet another gospel feast at this time next year. Amen!

Friday, August 26, 2011

The 4th Day at the Zambian Annual Reformed Conference

For the sake of this blog post, I attended the Reformed School of Theology track yesterday. Both Voddie and Jono continued their ministries with verve.

Voddie Baucham
“Pastor Zulu” (as Voddie Baucham prefers to be called here in Zambia) preached to us on biblical manhood and womanhood from Ephesians 5. He argued against the modern tendency of teaching men and women their responsibilities using only imperatives without emphasising the indicatives. He bemoaned the fact that in his part of the world they are no longer raising women. They are raising men who are able to have children.

Voddie Baucham and Jonathan Sims having fellowship during break time
“Pastor Zulu” took us to Genesis 2, where Adam was told to work and keep the garden before the Fall. He said that work was part of being a man. Work only became difficult after the Fall. Man was made as an image bearer of God. God said that it was not good for man to be alone. That was how he made Eve. Whereas there are some men and women that are gifted for singleness, it is not the norm. The triune God has made man a social creature—as men, women, and children. Notice the three-some-ness here.

In Genesis 2:24, man had a family of origin and a family of choice. He left the one, only to establish the other. Later, he still had a responsibility to look after his family of origin (his parents) in their old age (1 Timothy 5). We are expected to continue that pattern.

Pastor Kayombo and Kasote Singogo consulting on some Kingdom issues
With that background in place, Pastor Zulu took us back to Ephesians where he showed us the imperative, the analogy, and the indicative. The imperative for husbands is “love your wife”. The analogy is “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her”. The crescendos of the first section of the book of Ephesians are the basis for the imperatives being taught here. The sexual union of a man and his wife is a picture of the spiritual union that will be experienced between the church and her Lord. This rules out adultery, abuse, polygamy, abstinence in the marriage relationship, homosexuality, bestiality, etc. So, all these depend on having a theology that is sound and biblical.

So, “Pastor Zulu” asserted, when you are having problems loving your wife, you are having a worship problem. You do not adore Christ; that is the problem. Thus, you need to repent. Once you restore your relationship with your Lord, it will cause you to restore your relationship with your wife because the latter is a picture of the former.

Anita Weis, sandwiched between two ladies with children studying in Australia
What about the woman? “Pastor Zulu” said that she is a suitable helper to her husband. Her priority must be her home. Whatever she does, her home must not be neglected. She must also maintain her relationship with God, just as Eve was responsible to God in obeying his law. The wife must submit to her husband. In fact, all human submission to God is seen in their submission to God’s human agency.

A woman who has a problem submitting to her husband is a woman who has problems submitting to God. A husband will never be worthy of being submitted to because he is a wretched sinner. So, submission must not be based on worthiness but on God’s created order. A wife’s submission is an expression of her faith in God. It must not be conditional. The only condition is if her husband commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands.

Kettie Mwila busy selling books to conference attendees in the bookshop
“Pastor Zulu” listed some arguments against this teaching. One was that of “mutual submission”, another was that we are now simply brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal 3:28), and yet another was that submission was a result of the Fall and Christ had redeemed us from it. He answered each of them in his characteristic apologetics way.

Jonathan Sims
Pastor Jono took us to that wonderful passage about God’s love for his people in Micah 7:18ff to show us the cross-centred life. In Micah, he said, God reveals the fact that Israel would be overrun and then be restored. How does this relate to the cross of Christ? Zachariah applied Micah to the Lord Jesus Christ. So, the cross is the fulfilment of the promises of God to Abraham and his children.

Some international attendees enjoying refreshments during break time
Pastor Jono emphasised that in this passage we see God’s heart. Micah asked a number of questions. The first was: “Who is a God like our God?” (7:18). In other words, “What makes Jehovah unique among the gods?” The answer was, our God pardons iniquity.

God had a controversy with Israel. They were guilty of idolatry and witchcraft. Humanly speaking, God ought to have abandoned them. Yet God decides to pardon them of their sin. Yes, they were going to be chastened but ultimately God was going to pardon them. No other God had provided love and righteousness. Our God delights in forgiving sin.

Thandika Chirwa leading the singing in the Reformed School of Theology
Micah then contemplated the atonement. “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depth of the sea” (v.19). Richard Sibbes says, “There is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us.” Jono emphasised the word “again”. It shows God heart. He has compassion on us again, and again. He subdues the sins of his people and pardons them. There is no God like this.

Finally, brother Jono asked, “Why does God allow an atonement?” Micah’s answer was that it was because of his immutability. He was faithful to his promises to our spiritual forefathers in Christ (see v.20). Matthew Henry called this the Ancient Charter.

Jerran Phiri leading worship during the evening combined meeting
Evening Meeting
The evening meeting began with a few presentations prior to the preaching of God’s Word. The first was Paul Mumba who spoke about the Zambian Baptist Historical Society. Then Bruce Button spoke about the Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary. Both of them ended with challenges to us about how we can be involved in these institutions. Nathan Nyirenda, one of Zambia’s most accomplished gospel music artists, then sang a solo: “Jesus keep me near the cross.”

Crossway Publications in the USA had donated 900 ESV Study Bibles, which were given out to almost every person who attended the conference. “Pastor Zulu’s” church paid for shipment. So, we took the opportunity to have a group photo where we were holding up the Bibles we had received. It was truly a great gesture of partnership in the gospel.

A congregational photo in the evening meeting (with ESV Study Bibles)
Voddie Baucham
“Pastor Zulu” then proceeded to preach from Ephesians 2:11ff. He argued that the second half of the second chapter shows the importance of the church and our being members of it. In it Paul addresses the issue of racism and prejudice. It is interesting that in dealing with this issue, the apostle Paul does not address the oppressors but the oppressed. He destroys any inferiority complex in the Gentiles who are in the church.

“Pastor Zulu” stated that if you suffer from a spiritual inferiority complex then you undervalue what Christ has done for you. Paul wanted the Gentiles to remember who they were (v.11-13). It is only in realising your former circumstances that you will appreciate your current circumstances in Christ. The Jews were glad to see the Gentiles worshipping Jehovah, but they did not want them in the place where they themselves worshipped him. They were to remain in the outer court. Paul was saying that they were no longer to be in the outer court. The blood of Christ brought them near. This is the highest status that anyone can have before men and God. Don’t undervalue that!

"Pastor Zulu" preaching during the evening combined meeting
Secondly, if you suffer from a spiritual inferiority complex then you make light what God has done for them—i.e. the Jews (v.14-18). The Jews also needed to be saved (see Romans 2:17ff). What they had in their ethnicity, culture, and religion was not enough. Their problem was a sin problem and so they needed the blood of Christ to save them.

Thirdly, if you suffer from a spiritual inferiority complex then you are accusing God of using some inferior materials in building his church (see v.19-22). Paul here uses construction language. That which is being built is a holy temple. As with any painting, the excellence of the painter is what dignifies materials that he uses. Remember, that the builder is God himself. Thus a chief will sit next to a slave and worship the Lord singing, “In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever…” This will be even more evident when we are all gathered with the Saviour in eternity. At that point what will matter will not be ethnicity but only the cross. This is what the cross-centred life is all about.

As we streamed out of the Lusaka Baptist Church auditorium, it was evident that skin colour, ethnicity, nationality were overshadowed by the power of the cross. Yes, we had come from different tribes and nations across the world but we were all one in Christ. We went home at the end of the day sensing once again that God has been good to us.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The 3rd Day at the Zambian Annual Reformed Conference

Jonathan Sims
Today, for the sake of this blog, I attended the Reformed Family Conference track of the Zambian Annual Reformed Conference. Due to the transport rounds I had to do in the early part of the morning, I again missed the prayer meeting and arrived as Jonathan Sims was commencing his sermon. He was preaching on sanctification from Romans 5.

Jonathan’s concern was to show the cross-centred life being about a Spirit-empowered handling of suffering. He pointed out the fact that “tribulation worketh patience” (“suffering produces endurance”—ESV). Difficulties build endurance in the lives of believers. Where there is no pain there is no gain. Therefore, we ought to rejoice in our suffering. This is bearing the cross in obedience to Christ and following in his steps.

Jonathan Sims preaching in the Reformed Family Conference track
We went up one more step: “Patience (produces) experience” (“Endurance produces character”—ESV). We all need people who have been trained by suffering because that gives us confidence that God will see us through also. “Experience [produces] hope” (“Character produces hope”—ESV) simply means that our previous experience of God’s upholding grace in suffering builds up within us a sense of hope that he will do it again for us when the chips are down.

Jonathan then showed us that this hope keeps us from being ashamed. In the midst of all this, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts”. This makes us not ashamed to speak with confidence concerning God despite our present suffering. Thus we can even speak of God’s electing love even in suffering. This does not mean we should go looking for suffering. Just live for Jesus and you will have enough suffering to handle in your life.

“Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”

Misheck Kumwenda leading the singing in the Family Conference track
Voddie Baucham
After break, Voddie Baucham came over to the Family Conference and it was clear that he was continuing the series he had been taking in the School of Theology. He began by giving an overview of what he had covered the day before. It was familiar to me because that was what he covered in the School of Theology yesterday.

In this message, he commenced with Ephesians 4:25, where Paul deals with the need for Christians to be truthful. It is evident from this passage that the imperative (“speak the truth”) is dependent on the indicative (“for you are members of one another”). He went on to point out that anger is a God-given emotion that must be expressed against sin and done to God’s glory. Yet it was possible to be angry to the point where you sin. Voddie gave at least three ways in which this often happens, e.g. being made angry at work but coming home and pouring your anger on your innocent wife and children.

Voddie Baucham preaching in the Reformed Family Conference track
 In the same way he expounded Paul’s injunction not to steal and not to allow corrupt talk to come out of our mouths. He ended by explaining how we grieve the Holy Spirit. Refusal to forgive is refusal to obey a direct command from God. It is hypocritical. How can you fail to forgive when God has freely forgiven you? It is, finally, dishonouring to the body. But what is forgiveness? It is the cancellation of a debt that you are owed.

Voddie dealt with a number of myths related to forgiveness. The first is that you only forgive those who ask for forgiveness. He used the example of Joseph in Genesis, and that of the paralytic whom Jesus forgave without asking for forgiving, and the example of Jesus on the cross. He ended by arguing that if God dealt with us on this principle, then we would never have a permanent assurance of salvation because we do not always remember to ask for his forgiveness when we sin against him.

Part of the congregation in the Reformed Family Conference track
The second was the myth of “forgive and forget”. Human beings were not created to forget. Human beings only forget when their brains are malfunctioning. To fail to forgive is like drinking poison, hoping that someone else dies. He dealt with two other myths, but I failed to catch them as I was still processing the previous two myths in my head.

Voddie ended by saying that the fact that you have forgiven someone does not mean that you should not report him or her to the authorities. Also, if you forgive someone who sexually assaulted you, it does not mean you should send your daughter to his home without supervision. That is folly and not forgiveness!

A small boy processing his own thoughts during our hymn singing
The afternoon was spent listening to reports from churches about how the Lord has been dealing with them. There was a report from Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, and Botswana. Then there were reports from newer works within Zambia—Monze, Kapiri Mposhi, Solwezi, etc.

Jonathan Sims
In the evening, “Brother Jono” (as Jonathan Sims is affectionately called) preached from Galatians 6:14. He told us that he had come to boast in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said the context in which the letter was written was a combating against works of the law (e.g. circumcision) instead of relying on Christ’s finished work on the cross.

Kabwata Baptist Church choir singing a hymn during the evening meeting
Paul gives four reasons to boast in the cross of Christ. The first is that only the cross can overcome the world. It accomplishes a twofold crucifixion. Crucifixion hangs someone up until he dies. Paul was crucified to the world and the world to him. By “world” he means the sinful system of this world. It is totally antithetical to God and to Christ.

Jono pointed out afresh that the cross also makes the world no longer attractive to the Christian. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. You cannot love both God and mammon. The cross ensures that even the Christian despises the world. We need to regularly go back to the cross and taken inventory. Has the world become crucified to us and are we crucified to the world?

Jonathan Sims preaching during the evening combined meeting
The second reason for boasting in the cross was that only the cross is able to make us into a new creation (v.15). The third reason was that only the cross gives life meaning and purpose (v.16). This fills us with peace and mercy from God. The fourth reason is because only the cross identifies us as belonging to Jesus (v.17). We carry the stigma of Jesus. We are bond slaves of Jesus Christ. This is an act of grace from our great God.

Again, a wonderful day ended with our souls ravished in the things of God. What a privilege we have to be the elect of God! Through the cross of Christ, he has given us everything that we need as we journey to heaven. What shall we say? God is good!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 2nd Day at the Zambian Annual Reformed Conference

After doing the transporting rounds, I settled down in the Reformed School of Theology. For those of you who might not know, the Zambian Annual Reformed Conference actually comprises two parallel conferences. The first is the Reformed Family Conference and the second is the Reformed School of Theology.

Voddie Baucham
At the Reformed School of Theology, I found Voddie preaching on the cross-centred life through the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. He gave us a wonderful overview of the epistle. He argued that the first half was about the indicatives (what God has done for us in Christ) and the second half was about the imperatives (what God wants us to do in the light of what Christ has done for us).

Voddie Baucham preaching at the Reformed School of Theology
Voddie showed that there were three crescendos in the first three chapters, with the third and final one being the crescendo for the whole first section. The first crescendo at the end of chapter one was Christ’s headship over his body. The second crescendo, which is at the end of chapter two, was the unity in Christ’s body. The third crescendo, which is at the end of chapter three, was the glory that the body gives to its head.

Voddie went on to show that chapter four had general and practical imperatives. These were based on the indicatives of chapter one to three. Hence, Paul kept bringing in the indicatives again and again even when he was dealing with the imperatives in this second section of the book. He asserted that once you forget the indicatives, your Christian life goes into works-righteousness instead of grace-righteousness. It is the latter which is the cross-centred life.

Pastor Binwell Chibesa (Mongu) leading in the School of Theology
Voddie ended today’s message by pleading with pastors to preach the gospel. He said that we should not just preach against sin. To stop there is to produce legalists who not only still sin against God but also steal his glory because they are seeking to keep the law by their efforts. We must also preach the cross because it makes people seek righteousness based on what Christ has done.

Jonathan Sims
After the morning break, Jonathan Sims came over to the Reformed School of Theology. He expounded Philippians 2:1-11.  He asserted that the context of this passage was unity in the church. Therefore, as rich as it is in doctrine on person of the Son of God, we must not lose sight of its main thrust. The radical steps that God took to reach us are the same radicals steps we should take to reach one another. The cross of Jesus Christ is our supreme example for unity in the church.

Jonathan expounded the doctrine of the pre-existent Christ. Jesus had no beginning. He was equal with God. He is very God of very God. It is this Creator who became a creature.

Jonathan Sims preaching at the Reformed School of Theology
Jonathan then expounded the doctrine of the humiliated Christ, beginning with the incarnation. He asserted that this was a mystery. We cannot fully comprehend it. Jesus did not insist on keeping his “rights” as God, but humbled himself. We must be like him if we are going to ensure church unity.  Jesus made himself of no reputation. He was not forced to do so but he did it willingly. Yet we are too concerned about what people think about us. If we could only take care of our characters, God would take care of our reputations.

While still on Christ’s humiliation, Jonathan asserted that Jesus was found in fashion like a man. He did not cease to be God but became a man. He did not stop being what he was but became what he was not. He did all this because he wanted to become a sympathetic Saviour. If God was willing to go to such lengths for us, then we too must go to such radical lengths for the wellbeing of others.

As Jesus reached the bottom of the ladder, Jonathan painted the horror of the suffering of the Saviour, especially in the hours leading to his final death. In the light of the display of such love and humiliation, he pleaded with us to also go to the uttermost to display patience and tender-heartedness towards one another.

George Kafukwanya leading worship during the combined evening meeting
Jonathan pointed out that God also used the glorification of Jesus Christ as a further motivation for unity in the body of Christ. In the light of Jesus’ deity, his incarnation, his suffering, and his return, he asked us how we hoped to justify your insistence on having your own way—even when it destroys church unity.

In the afternoon, after two hours of lunch and siesta, we had a number of seminars at the Reformed Family Conference. There were two seminars on church-based ministries and two on marriage and family. Then the Reformed School of Theology had a panel discussion where a number of Zambian pastors answered questions from the floor related to the life of the church. I will skip the details of all this to avoid this blog post becoming too long.

Voddie Baucham preaching at the combined evening meeting
Voddie Baucham again
In the evening, the Reformed Family Conference and Reformed School of Theology come together for a plenary session. This evening, Voddie Baucham addressed us. He preached about the various approaches the world gives to solving the problems that human beings face. The world thinks that man’s problem is outside himself while the solution is inside him. The Bible teaches the reverse, that man’s problem is inside him and the solution is outside him.

Man’s basic problem is his alienation from God. God said, “Dying, you shall die.” This was the judgment of God. Sin brings shame but we still try to justify it. We are aware that what we are doing is wrong. As our consciences get hardened, we go from justifying sin to approving it and finally celebrating it (Romans 1:18ff).

Part of the congregation during the combined evening meetings
Voddie showed that beyond degradation there is death. The first type of death was that of Abel in Genesis 4, caused by a sinful action. The second type of death in Genesis 5 was that of Adam himself, after almost a thousand years (giving the impression that God may have forgotten to carry out his judgment against him). The third type of death was in the flood of Noah when God killed all sinners but eight. The message from heaven is very clear: God is just and he must judge sin.

This is why the cross is inevitable (Genesis 3:15). The promise of God in this text shows that man cannot save himself. Human beings cannot improve themselves. God alone is able to provide the way out. In this text we also see the violence and the victory of the cross. There is a crushing and a bruising (Colossians 2:13). God has provided a Saviour (not a nation, a deliverer, a conquering general, a judge, a kingdom, or a king) and he is the only answer for our problem. He deals with the greatest need, which is inside us. He alone can deal with it. Therefore we must determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. His cross is what Zambia, Africa, America, and Europe. We all need Jesus.

What a glorious sermon, and what a great ending to a day of spiritual feasting. We have only just begun to look at the cross-centred life. It is evident that we are in for a great feast this year. Join me again tomorrow as I summarise the day’s events. Ala, God is good!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The 22nd Zambian Annual Reformed Conference has begun!

Jonathan Sims preaching at Kabwata Baptist Church on Sunday evening
As this year’s conference begins, I would like to do daily blog posts on it. This is especially for the benefit of those who would have loved to attend but have been unable to do so for various reasons. I got an SMS yesterday, which once deciphered read in part, “I’ll painfully miss the conference because my baby is too small to take a long trip. Please keep us informed on the conference through your blog. Greet brother Voddie and tell him that since I’ll miss his preaching he must come again soon. Praying for the conference!”

The excitement began to grow in Lusaka as conference attendees began to arrive from neighbouring countries. Soon after midnight on Saturday, a car arrived from Namibia with eight people in it. Although they were visibly tired, they were equally excited that they had finally arrived for what had become for them an annual pilgrimage. And, although they had arrived at a very awkward hour of the night, we too were very excited to receive them because over the years we have bonded with them in true Christian love and fellowship. They told us that a similar group had already arrived earlier in the day and that two other fully parked cars were being expected later in the day.

Voddie Baucham and his family taking a stroll before the conference
Our greatest disappointment by the beginning of the conference was the failure to travel by our Ethiopian brethren. They had been denied permission to leave the country on Friday because, according to their own immigration department, they needed Zambian visas before they could be allowed to board the plane. One of our brothers here in Zambia has since worked around the clock to ensure that a letter is written by the Zambian immigration department to their embassy in Ethiopia to allow the four men to travel and only obtain visas at the port of entry into Zambia. As at the time of “going to press” we are anxiously hoping that they will show up on Zambian soil today (Tuesday).

So far, I have seen attendees from Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, the UK, the USA, South Africa, and Kenya—quite apart from those who have come from all over Zambia. Perhaps our oldest attendee, Anita Weis, has joined us again this year—all the way from Australia. She turned 79 this year. I know that in some countries that is still a tender young age! Anita first came to Zambia a few years ago to attend this conference. When she fell ill and missed quite a chunk of the conference, we thought she would never return. Not a chance! Nothing could stop her from coming this year. We are delighted to see her again.

Charles Bota, the conference organising team chairman, leading worship
Thankfully, our two main preachers have already jetted in. The first to arrive was Jonathan Sims on Friday afternoon and then Voddie also arrived on Saturday afternoon, after missing his connection flight in South Africa the night before. One can tell that their engines are raving and so we are looking forward to a great annual feast in the Word. Both of them preached in various churches across Lusaka over the weekend, giving us a foretaste of what this week will be like.

The conference began at 18.00 hours prompt with the singing of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “And Can It Be.” Charles Bota, the chairman of the organising team, led the worship. The singing was disrupted by a power cut even before we could sing the second stanza. However, while Pastor Isaac Makashinyi was opening in prayer, power was restored. Thus, we were able to finish off the song.

Friday Nyambe, chairman of LBC deacons, giving the welcome address
The welcome announcements were made this year by Friday Nyambe, the chairman of the deacons at Lusaka Baptist Church. Previously, this role was assigned to Colonel Phiri, who always made us feel as if we were on Parade Square, as he loomed large in front of us with his tall army-like stature. We will miss him this year.

After singing a few more hymns, I was invited to give the opening keynote address. I preached from Paul’s personal testimony to the Galatians, when he wrote, “I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

"Yours truly" giving the keynote address at the start of the conference
The Lord enabled me to show from this statement that the Christian life was meant to be a cross-centred life. Having shown that the strongest force in the world is the power of love, I argued that this is ignited in the soul of the believer by the cross. And it was the only way to live a life that truly honours God.

We joined Paul as he climbed the stairs showing the chemistry in the soul of a believer that makes Christianity unique in comparison to all the other religions of the world. In this statement we saw (a) The foundation of the Christian life being that glorious transformation that takes place at conversion, (b) The life of faith, rather than legalism, that makes a Christian walk with Christ, (c) The love of Christ that makes a Christian simply want to love him back, and (d) The greatest display of that love being manifested when Christ “gave himself” for us.

Part of the Namibian delegation--they always add colour to our conference
We closed this opening session of the 22nd Reformed Conference by singing together “The Old Rugged Cross.” It was difficult to leave for home, as we saw old friends who had come from across the country and from neighbouring countries. We can hardly wait for what the Lord has in store for us in the coming few days. By his grace, I hope to keep blogging a summary of the events each day. So, keep your eyes here for the next few days. I tell you, God is good!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kanshi, What Killed President Mwanawasa?

“As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years” (1 Samuel 4:18).

The late president, Levi Patrick Mwanawasa
Tomorrow will be the 3rd anniversary of the death of our late president, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa. One question I often ask is, “What killed President Mwanawasa?” We all know that since his traffic accident in 1991, his health was never in optimum condition. Thus he earned the name “cabbage” from his political foes—a name which initially angered him but which he later joked about whenever he trumped his opponents.

Let me share with you some thoughts around this question and some lessons that I have learned in answer to my own hypothesis.

Our former president suffered a stroke on 29th June 2008, while attending an African Union meeting in Egypt. And this is the stroke that finally led to his death on 19th August 2008. Despite the assurances we got from the acting president, Rupiah Banda, he never recovered from it. Thus far we are on solid ground. These are well known facts.

Two causes of strokes in human beings
But, what is it that caused this stroke? In my reading on this medical subject, I have learnt that a stroke is caused by shortage of blood going to the brain due to rapture or blockage of a vessel. And one of the causes of such rapture is sudden stress. So, what is it that could have caused President Mwanawasa sudden stress on 29th June 2008?

Again, a little reading around this subject soon revealed that bad news could cause sudden stress, which in turn could lead to a stroke. So, what bad news could President Mwanawasa have received on this date? What major events took place on 29th June 2008? A little investigation soon revealed that this was the date on which President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was declared winner of their last presidential election. Could this have been such bad news to Mwanawasa as to cause him to have a stroke?

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe
This question is best answered if we can prove that Mwanawasa had such personal interest in this subject as to be passionate about it. And, I think, the answer is in the affirmative. At the time of his death, Levy Mwanawasa was the chairman of SADC. And as chairman of SADC, Levy had pulled no punches over the Zimbabwean election crisis. He was outspoken about the fact that the elections taking place in Zimbabwe were not free and fair. He had in no uncertain terms told President Robert Mugabe not to go ahead with the second run of elections because of the level of intimidation and violence that the supporters of his main rival, Morgan Tsvagirai, were being subjected to.

When a person is thus emotionally attached to an issue, bad news in that area will have a serious effect on him. Take our celebrated soccer commentator, Dennis Liwewe, as an example. When he heard that the whole Zambian national soccer team had died in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon, he collapsed and was admitted in the Intensive Care Unit of the University Teaching Hospital. We almost lost the man. He almost died. It was not because he was related to any of the players. Rather it was because of his passion for the game of soccer generally and for Zambian soccer in particular.

Dennis Liwewe (not old Eli)
Someone who was less fortunate was old Eli in the Bible. He was a priest in charge of the Tabernacle. At a time when the nation of Israel was in battle with the Philistines, the army decided to take one of the items in the Tabernacle with them into the battlefield—the Ark of the Covenant. They wanted to use it as a kind of lucky charm to help them win the battle. Eli’s emotional attachment to the Ark as it was taken into battle is spelt out in the words, “His heart trembled for the Ark of God” (1 Samuel 4:13).

Unfortunately for him, the Philistines won this battle and carried the Ark of the Covenant with them. We are told that when the news reached Eli, he collapsed. Perhaps he would have still survived the stroke despite a lack of Intensive Care Units in those days, but he fell backwards and, being “old and heavy,” he broke his neck and died. Bad news is very dangerous. It can kill you, especially if your health is already compromised.

Could it be that President Mwanawasa got the news on 29th June 2008 that despite his very strong counsel to Robert Mugabe not to go ahead, he had still been announced as winner of the fraudulent elections and had been sworn in as president of Zimbabwe? Could it be that he was so affected by this bad news that it caused him to get so stressed up that he suffered a stroke? Could it be that it was this stroke that finally led to his death a little more than a month later? I am simply asking, “Could it be?”

The Gabon Disaster coffins laid out during the national day of mourning
If my hypothesis is correct, what can we learn from this? What can we learn from what happened to Patrick Mwanawasa, Dennis Liwewe, and Eli?

To begin with, we would be wrong to say that the lesson is that we must not be passionate about anything. Mwanawasa took his political role very seriously, Liwewe has taken football very seriously, and Eli took the fate of the Ark of God very seriously. That is not wrong. Men and women who were passionate about something have always been the ones who have achieved greatness in human history. Those who are lukewarm about things that really matter in life are the bane of humanity.

Rather, the lesson that we learn from all this is that those of us who are bearers of bad news need to be mindful of the emotional effect our news is likely to have on the people we are going to share it with. We must be mindful that if their health is already compromised, we could actually finish them off. We are carrying acid and should ensure that the vessel we are about to pour it into is well insulated.

The Ark of the Covenant
This is the thinking that took place among Joseph’s brothers in the Bible when Joseph demanded to keep his brother Benjamin from going back with them to their father before he identified himself to his brothers. They appealed saying, “As soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the grey hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol” (Genesis 44:31). “We can’t do that,” they said. “This bad news will kill our father.” Let us learn from their wisdom.

The final lesson we learn from all this is that our lives are interconnected. The once famous slogan, “It’s my life; it’s my choice,” is terrible. If you engage in fornication or adultery and catch HIV, your death will affect others. Our lives are interconnected. Our actions affect other people and so we should always factor this into our decisions. God will hold us accountable on the judgment day for the effect our lives had on others. Let us keep this in mind as we remember the death of our beloved former president.