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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Farewell, Dr John Anderson

It is now one week since the remains of my dearest friend, Dr John Anderson, were interred in the graveyard at Newhouse Baptist Church in England. I am now objective enough to reflect on what that man meant to me while the Lord lent him breath. Sorry the post is long!

The beginning of our friendship

Having a meal with John in the UK in 2007
John sprang into my life in 1991. I was about to make my first overseas visit the following year and, as part of the preparations, I wrote an article about the start of the Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia in the Grace magazine of the UK. John read it with great interest.

The reason John was interested in the story I wrote about the Reformed Baptists in Zambia was because he had been coming out to Zambia to stand in for doctors who were going on furlough at a rural hospital in Katete called St Francis Hospital, some 600 km east of Lusaka.

Thus far, he only knew of the Reformed Baptist church in Chipata but had not known that there was another one in Lusaka. He kept the magazine clipping, in his characteristic way, and on his next visit to Zambia he made sure he invited me to meet with him.

In those days my form of transport was a bicycle. So, I cycled to Ridgeway Hotel where John was staying and we had a meal together. He kept a notebook where he took copious notes as we talked. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until God took him to glory!

John’s labours on my behalf

John offered to organise the itinerary for my coming UK trip so that I could visit as many churches as possible to preach and share the story of what God was beginning to do among the fledgling Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia. I gladly consented.

Upon returning to the UK, John shared with his church, Newhouse Baptist Church, about our need for hymnbooks. They bought and sent us enough brand new Grace hymnbooks. On my first visit to the UK, I visited this church and became friends with his pastor, John Woollam.

I have never forgotten John’s first visit to Kabwata Baptist Church. The hymnbooks had arrived and were in use during our worship service. John’s eyes were wet with tears as we sang, “Revive Thy work, O Lord,” from the hymnbooks he had organised for us.

Two years later, in 1994, I had another overseas trip coming up and again John offered to organise my UK itinerary. By this time, we had acquired a plot of land to put up our church structures. John asked the churches I was visiting to contribute towards our building project.

Newhouse Baptist Church committed itself to support our building project with a sizeable annual amount, which gave us quite a push once it was converted to the Zambian kwacha. John also opened a UK account, “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church.”

All UK support towards Kabwata Baptist Church’s building project went into this account and then John would remit the funds as and when the money was needed. He would send the bank statements to us regularly so that he kept all the dealings above board.

Until the work was done

John was a medical doctor but his heart for Africa, and Zambia in particular, went far beyond the physical well being of our people. He wanted the saving faith of God’s elect to be known among our people. Thus he gave people like me all the support that he could garner.

John Anderson’s notebook became the place where more and more Zambian Reformed Baptist churches were being scribbled for prayer and practical support. Before long, John would speak about the various Zambian pastors and churches as if he lived in Zambia.

Every so often, John came to St Francis Hospital for his tour of duty. He made sure that on each visit he included Kabwata Baptist Church. He took his usual copious notes and photos, which he used when he went back to the UK to raise support for our building project.

John swapped his Ridgeway Hotel accommodation for my little home in Libala on his future visits to Lusaka. This really melted my heart. He loved my family and became part of us. My children grew up knowing “Dr Anderson from the UK” who often visited us.

The support from John Anderson’s church, Newhouse Baptist Church, lasted for as long as our building project continued. We built our church manse and church auditorium while their support flowed from the UK. We will remain ever grateful for their kind gesture.

My eyes are teary as I write this. I became a pastor in 1987 at the age of 25. Ten years later when I clocked 35 years, Kabwata Baptist Church moved into its new building. It was but four un-plastered walls and a roof but I knew we had crossed a major milestone.

A friend not to be forgotten

As John’s strength began to wane due to old age he would often say to me, “Conrad, this may be my last visit to Zambia. I am praying that I will find someone with a heart for Zambia to take over what I am doing.” His prayer was answered in the person of Andrew Alsop.

With Andrew and Jo Alsop in the UK recently
Hence, a few years ago, while I was with John in the UK, we went together to close the “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church” account in his town and transferred the funds to a new account opened in the town where Andrew Alsop lived. John was elated.

In two years, God willing, I will have been at Kabwata Baptist Church for 30 years. Many people will be rejoicing at what God has done and continues to do at KBC. If God spares me to be part of those celebrations, I will remember my friend John who has gone to his reward.

How can I forget such a friend? John saw in me what I did not even see in myself! He often assured me of his ardent prayers for my family and my church. When he called from England or when I visited him he would often ask about each member of my family by name.

As John’s health waned, Felistas and I made sure we visited him in his home. He called it his “departure lounge”. When he knew I was coming, he put together all the magazine clippings he had kept of my ministry and gave them to me. They are now in my memorabilia box.

Handing over a book from Kabwata Baptist Church to John
Earlier this year, knowing that John may not have long to live, I made a concerted effort to visit my old friend and found him in hospital. I delivered a book full of messages of love from Kabwata Baptist Church members. I left knowing we will not meet again on earth.

John’s home going and interment

Sure enough, on May 17th, John went to be with the Lord. He has left behind his widow, Dorothy, who stood by his side throughout the years when he used to come out to Zambia. She encouraged him in his support for the Zambian Reformed Baptist movement.

After John died, Dorothy sent me this note: “Dear Conrad, you will be sad to learn the news that John has died, but not surprised I’m afraid…The end during the night of 17th May was very peaceful (I know that sometimes people say the end was ‘peaceful’ when it was not, but it truly was for John).” I am not surprised. The man served his God with distinction.

John’s pastor, John Woollam, also wrote, “We would be grateful for your thoughts and prayers for that day [of the funeral], the preparations for which John had thought about and planned very carefully. Please pray that I will be enabled to carry out everything in a way pleasing to the Lord and in accordance with John's wishes.”

John’s “successor”, Andrew Alsop, wrote me after the burial, “On Wednesday I attended Dr John Anderson's funeral. It was a powerful testimony to God’s saving & restoring grace and the chapel was almost full of people to witness it. When preparing his funeral service, Dr John told Pastor John to ‘tell them about heaven & how to get there’. Pastor John certainly did that with great liberty and honesty…. John was buried in the chapel graveyard on a beautiful sunny afternoon, with birds singing their hearts out. It was almost impossible to be sad, even though many of us were solemnised.”

Farewell, my friend John. Thank you for everything you did for me. Your sun has set. You have gone to your reward. Enjoy the reward of your labours in the presence of your God!

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Men for God Conference

I was in Langley, a few kilometres from Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, where I was preaching at the Men for God Conference from Friday 5th to Saturday 6th June, 2015. The other speakers were Doug Nichols, Tim Challies, and Fletcher Matandika (the host). We were all from different countries—USA, Canada, Malawi, and Zambia. That is how the gospel unites humanity!

Speakers: Fletcher Matandika, Tim Challies, Doug Nichols, and "yours truly"
The Men for God Conference took place at Langley Free Reformed Church and was officially hosted by Joy to the World Ministries. We had over 120 men in attendance largely from Canada but with a few coming from as far as the USA. I appreciated the age range, from young adults to the grey haired (and bold heads). The fellowship was invigorating and the singing was heavenly.

My report is not chronological but summarises what each speaker dealt with and some of the ways the teaching impacted my life.

Doug Nichols teaching on the "Garments for the man of God"
Doug Nichols’ first topic was “Garments for the man of God.” He read from Colossians 3:1-14. The passage deals with our position in Christ and goes on to say that there are five things we must put on—a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, and love. He opened up each one of these. His final message was “Christ in You, the Hope of Glory” from Colossians 1:27-29. He spoke about four things—our message, our method, our motive, and our means. It was vintage Doug Nichols with his personal anecdotes. He shared hair-raising stories from his life and ministry in the Philippines. You cannot doze!

Tim Challies speaking on the subject of Pornography
I missed the first the first two sessions on the second day (Saturday 6th) in which Tim Challis and Fletcher Matandika were speaking because I was finishing off work on my own messages. I was able to join the third session where Tim Challies was speaking on “From Bondage to Freedom”, which was an excellent message on pornography. He used a wonderful PowerPoint presentation. He spoke on why Christianity hates pornography and then walked us through three steps to freedom from pornography. The logic was both devastating and liberating! I realised that I need to deal with this topic in my own church.

Fletcher was the human means God used to bring this conference together
I also attended a breakout session by Tim Challies on having “A Porn-Free Family”. He stated that most kids end up watching pornography for the first time by sheer coincidence—they do not go looking for it. He still warned about the need to know that our kids are fallen creatures and will use good technology for fallen reasons. He spoke of the need to talk with our kids about this reality, its damaging effects, and our concern to protect them. I was amazed how much needs to be done to protect the family from the pornography on the Internet.

"Yours truly" expounding Ezekiel 22:30
I preached three sermons from Ezekiel 22:30, which says, “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” My messages were entitled, (1) God’s persistent search for men, (2) God’s gracious purpose for men, and (3) God’s grim displeasure with men. I trust that the Lord enabled me to articulate these points to the edification of the men who attended the conference.

The Q&A session at the end of the conference
The conference ended with a Question & Answer session. It was evident from the questions being asked that the men were challenged about their walk with God and were looking for practical ways they could deal with some of the failures, struggles and weaknesses. The speakers did their best to answer the question as they came. Ultimately, the men will need to go back home, lock themselves up with God, and cry to him to make them "men for God". Amen! What shall we say to all this?


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Where are the men?

I am on my way to preach at a men’s conference in Vancouver, Canada, and this question is bugging me: “Where are the men?” I am not asking where the men are who are supposed to attend the coming conference because I have no idea what the numbers signing up look like.

Rather, I am asking where the men are in the families, in the churches, and in the nation. To be sure, I can see many of the male species in all these spheres but what irks me is that so few of them seem to be rising to the calling that God has given to them as men in society.

The missing men in the world

Look at the family, for instance. Many men are as good as absent. They seem to be content to being served rather than playing their God-given roles of presider, protector, and provider. There is little effort at leading family devotions, home maintenance, and discipling the kids.

In society where men were once dominant, the trend is also fast reversing. Apart from the push from the West to kick women out of the kitchen and put them at par with men in the business world, men seem to see the workplace as a place where you only go to make money.

If that is so, then why should men have a bigger share of the workforce cake than women? What’s gender got to do with it? The fact that women are more biologically wired for the role of home making and baby nursing is not a matter for discussion. Do not even go there.

Thus, we now have men who are content to stay at home while their wives go off to work. It is amazing how many jobless and homeless men want to marry. When asked how they will look after their wives, they look at you as if you are asking them a question in rocket science.

Missing men in the church

The same can be observed in the church. Men prefer to simply drop off their wives and children at church and proceed to their recreational or economic activities. Those who make it to church sit back half-asleep and watch young people and women lead worship.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post entitled, “Is the Evangelical Church in Africa glorifying God?” I asked questions about some disconcerting issues. My last question was, “Are we glorifying God when we have women preachers while men sit in pews and listen to them? The Bible teaches male headship in both the home and the church…all the way from Eden.”

In that post I went on to say, “The Bible teaches that the work of preaching must be carried out by mature and tested males (1 Tim. 2:11-14). Sadly, the number of women going around as pastors in Africa (while their husbands call themselves bishops or prophets or apostles) has reached epidemic levels. Are we sure God is being glorified by this kick in the face?”

One pastor’s wife visiting Zambia soon after I posted the blog post said to me, “Conrad, the problem is the lack of men taking the initiative and providing leadership. My husband wants to use men but as soon as he asks them to do something they disappear into the grass!”

This lady is not the only one complaining. You ask most church leaders and they will tell you that even if their membership roll is half male, most of the men in the church will disappear faster than dew in the morning if you attempt to give them any work. They just won’t do it.

The missing male role model

Where is the problem stemming from so that we can try and address it there? It is in the homes. Many men are brought up in homes with absentee fathers. Either they only have a single parent mother or they have a father whose moral example is a total disaster.

The only proof of the father’s manhood is his adulterous affairs and fathering of their stepsiblings with other women outside the home. The male children in these homes know nothing about a man’s selfless leadership because they have grown up without one.

The only other time they see a man’s strength is when he turns into a brutish beast and beats up their mother. The strength that God gave him to protect and provide for the weaker vessel is instead abused to beat her into a pulp. What kind of men will come out of such homes?

These sons see their dads do absolutely nothing in church except warming their seats. Thus although they themselves may be active in church as young lads, they look forward to their years of “retirement” from Christian service when they also grow up, marry, and have kids.

It is a form of fulfilling the Scriptures that say, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Jer. 31:29 and Ezek. 18:2). In other words, sons are being condemned to an effeminate lifestyle because of the disastrous example of their fathers.

What does God say about this?

It is clear that we have two genders in every species—male and female. Did the Creator have any reason for making two of each kind? He seems to have had a reason for everything else!

In the cultural mandate, both Adam and Eve were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). When the microscope of Scripture goes into the details of their work (2:1ff), it becomes clear that Adam was given charge even before Eve showed up.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat...” (Gen. 2:15-17).

There is no doubt that one vital role that God made man for was that of leadership. When he was about to make the first woman, Eve, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). Eve was made as a helper to Adam.

We can go further. In the 1,500 years in which the Bible was being penned, from Genesis to Revelation, you do not have a single female elder. The Son of God left twelve leaders for the church and not one of them was female. Dare we accuse our Maker of male chauvinism?

The reason why humanity is in chaos and death today goes all the way back to Genesis when Adam failed to play the man. God said to him, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife… in pain you shall eat of [the ground] all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:17).

Adam failed to provide spiritual leadership at the most critical juncture in humanity’s history and we are still paying for it today. Sadly, today’s men are making the same blunder. Women are running the affairs of homes, churches, and nations while they sleep in the backseat.

This criminal negligence by men must be arrested. Men must come out of the shadows where they are hiding behind women and take up the position that God wired them for. They must set an example to their sons of what a mature man is supposed to be. They must start doing so today!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Homosexual Agenda

(My 19th Radio Christian Voice Commentary for 2015)

I continue to be alarmed by the way in which Western funds are being used in Africa, and in Zambia to be more precise, in pushing the homosexual agenda. It does not matter how many times Zambians reject this, the funds continue to flow to make us change our minds.

Non-governmental organisations are the most vulnerable because they depend on donor money for their very existence. They cannot bite the finger that feeds them. Hence, they have to dance to the Master’s tune or face extinction. It is very sad.

Zambians have said a very clear “No” to the homosexual agenda over and over again. We are being made to look as if we are petty, fearful, and backward. We have said that it goes against both our cultural and Christian values. Yet, the pressure continues to mount.

I have a lot to say about how wrong this agenda is and how abnormal homosexuality is. However, too many children are listening to my commentary and so I do not want to defile their innocent minds. How best can I spare them and yet express myself? Let us try this.

In order to move from Point A to Point B in a car you need both a key and an ignition hole into which you place the key and turn it. I think that most adults will understand that. With so many second-hand Japanese cars in Zambia now almost all of us are driving these days.

If a person insists on forcing the key around the gear stick the car will not move, however much he rubs the two together. Similarly, if he insists on using the key in the exhaust pipe he will only make the key dirty but the car will not move. You get me?

Insisting that because the car is yours you can place the key wherever you want is not the point. Someone made the car and he made it for a purpose. Granted, part of the purpose was to give you pleasure as you drive. Yet remember a car is meant to move you around.

When I was a child, we would often sit in dad’s car and pretend we were driving. We would make “vroom!” sounds with our mouths and even bounce on the driver’s seat as if we were going over bumps. It was enjoyable but the car never got us from Point A to Point B.

That was okay. We were kids. We were imitating our parents. But now we have grown up. We have put childish ways behind us. We know that you need to have a real key and put it into an ignition hole in order to fulfil the purpose for which the car was made.

Similarly, sex is not only for pleasure. It is also for procreation, taking us on the road of partnership in parenting, as we fulfil God's cultural mandate to fill the earth and subdue it. The homosexual agenda flies in the face of all that and wants us to behave like kids. Come on, guys, grow up!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Corruption—a destroyer of souls and nations

(My 18th Radio Christian Voice Commentary for 2015)

I was at a petrol station and had just topped up fuel in my car. I asked for an invoice. The petrol attendant, as we call them, stood next to me with a pen in one hand and an invoice in the other and said, “How much should I write on it?” I insisted it must be what I had paid.

A few minutes later, driving out of Lusaka, I was stopped for over-speeding. When the policeman came over and asked me what I do, I told him I was a pastor. He let me go but added, “Just leave me something for a Coke.” I had a Coke in the car and I left it with him.

I knew what he wanted but I pretended that I did not catch the cue. After all, he asked for a Coke! I am concerned about this. There is too much money going into people’s pockets who have not worked for it. It has become a culture. We call it corruption. It is also fraud.

Corruption is endemic in Zambia—and it is getting worse with every passing day. With so few places in government schools, colleges, and universities, it is not uncommon for the officer processing new students to ask for a bribe. Sadly, many of us give in to this.

We know the language. The officer never says, “Give me a bribe.” He says something like, “Sorry there are no places available. The institution is full. But if you are desperate I can help you. It may cost you a little more. Leave your details here, I will get in touch.”

In Isaiah 1:23 God said to the nation of Israel, “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.” This is what we are dealing with here. No one wants a fair day’s wage. We are all running after so-called gifts.

You may say, “But what is wrong with that?” Money must be given in exchange for an honest service. It must never be given for an apparent favour. Favours are meant to be free by definition. When you pay for a favour, you are guilty of bribery. It is corruption.

Let me go further. In Exodus 23:8, God said, “You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” The problem with receiving money where no equivalent service is given, you feel indebted to the person who gave you the money. You end up doing wrong as a form of gratuity to your creditor.

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. If you find that you are willing to do anything for money, you will destroy your soul and the soul of the nation. It is a matter of time. I implore you to ask God for forgiveness and, if it is possible, return the money you got.

Yes, God is willing to forgive bribery and corruption, if you ask Jesus to cleanse you by the blood that he shed on the cross. When Jesus cleanses you like this, he also gives you a heart that detests corruption. So, Jesus is the answer even to the question of corruption!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Pray for today's persecuted church

(My 17th Radio Christian Voice Commentary for 2015)

Pictures of students murdered at Garissa University College in Kenya

I am currently in Kenya speaking at the Scott Christian University's golden jubilee graduation ceremony. The fact that I am visiting a university in Kenya reminds me of the massacre that recently took place at Garissa University College.

In case you missed the news, about a month ago the al-Shabab Islamic terrorist group from Somalia attacked Garissa University College in the early hours of the morning and killed over 140 students in cold blood. They deliberately singled out Christian students.

The first target was an early morning prayer meeting, where almost all the Christians present were killed. Students were then dragged out of their dormitories by masked gunmen and told to recite Muslim prayers. If they failed to do so, they were shot on the spot.

There have been similar executions of Christians in Libya by ISIS, another Islamic terrorist group. In February it was Egyptian Coptic Christians and more recently it was Ethiopian Christians who were killed simply because they claimed to be Christians.

These are only three recent cases of mass killings where it was obvious the victims were being ruthlessly slaughtered because they were Christians. What are we to think about all this? This question is pertinent because these incidents are increasing by the day.

We must remind ourselves, Jesus warned his disciples that this was going to happen to them after his departure. He said in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

From the time of the martyrdom of Stephen recorded for us in the Book of Acts all the way to the conversion of Emperor Constantine around 300 AD, Christians were hunted like wild animals. It is a wonder that the Christian Faith continued to spread despite all this.

What is happening today, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, should not surprise us. Many of us are sheltered from this harsh reality. We think it strange that our brothers and sisters live each day under the threat of martyrdom. It should not surprise us!

Having reminded ourselves that this is the normal Christian life, we must pray for the persecuted church. No doubt, they themselves must surely be praying for their circumstances to change. We must join their cries to God that he may quench the flames of persecution.

Sadly, this is rarely happening. Our prayers are still about God fixing our broken toenails. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 12:26, if one member of the body suffers then all suffer together. Or as Paul said to the Colossians in 4:18, “Remember my chains.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

Zambia's nationwide power outage

(My 16th Radio Christian Voice Commentary for 2015)

It rarely ever happens that a whole country is plunged into total darkness for over three hours. And so the fact that this happened across Zambia last Monday, except for two provinces, has caused the whole nation to pause and think. What on earth went wrong?

The Zambia Electricity Supply Company (ZESCO) has informed us that there was a system failure at its Kafue Gorge and Kariba North Bank power stations. How that can happen at two power stations at once is still a subject of further investigations.

The sudden loss of power is dangerous. There have been reports of vital institutions like hospitals being affected and obviously lives have since been lost. Individuals were trapped underground in the mines and in other places during this period.

The economic loss to the nation during those hours of power outage will probably remain uncalculated but it certainly goes into millions of dollars. So, everything must be done to avoid this situation ever occurring again. We must all agree about that.

The absence of electric power, and the darkness that results from this, reminds me of an even worse darkness that the Bible often warns against. It is the darkness that results from the absence of the word of God. This has far worse consequences that losing electric power.

We read in Micah 3:5 to 6, “Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray…. It shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them….”

Why is the absence of the word of God likened to darkness? It is because at night you need light to see where you are going. In the same way, life is like a journey. Without knowledge you cannot tell where you are going and, in the end, you would be totally lost.

Human beings are sinners under the wrath of Almighty God. We have an eternity in hell or heaven awaiting us. Our greatest need is to know how we can be reconciled to God so that we live in a way that pleases him. This knowledge is only available in the gospel.

Sadly, we are living in a day of prophets who lead people astray. Religious cults and false prophets in thousands are peddling a false gospel all around us. In other words, we are surrounded by pitch-black religious darkness and we do not even know it!

So, we must seek solutions to ensure Zambia is never engulfed in darkness again. The church must also combat false teachings that are engulfing our nation. The lack of electricity may result in the loss of lives but the lack of the true gospel will send people into a Christ-less eternity. That is a million times worse than the power outage we recently experienced.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Xenophobia—South Africa's ticking time bomb

(My 15th Radio Christian Voice Commentary for 2015)

I have been listening carefully to commentaries and news items on the terrible xenophobia crisis in South Africa. One piece of information seems to be missing. I am not hearing any news on why black South Africans are killing foreign Africans in their country.

Somewhere in the fine print I finally found the reason. It is lack of employment. Black South Africans at blue-collar jobs level feel that Africans from north of the Limpopo River are taking away their jobs on the farms, in the factories, on construction sites, etc.

This begs the question: Why do South African employers prefer foreigners to indigenous South Africans? It is because foreigners are harder working, more faithful in their jobs, and more satisfied with low salaries. That makes a lot of business sense, doesn’t it?

That is happening all over the world. Go to the USA and you will find almost all blue-collar jobs taken up by Latinos. Go to Western Europe and you will find almost all hotel cleaners are from Eastern Europe.  They are harder working and that for less pay!

The reason why there is less xenophobia in the USA and Europe (notice I said “less”) is because unemployment levels there are almost zero. Now go to South Africa and see the tens of thousands of people from the townships standing by street corners begging for work.

These men often return home jobless and hungry. The few who get jobs find people there who cannot speak Xhosa or Zulu. The message is clear: These foreigners are the people taking our jobs. The rest is bloody history. As we say, a hungry man is an angry man!

We have a similar situation brewing in Zambia with the tens of thousands of Chinese nationals who are taking up jobs as watchmen, cleaners, drivers, construction site and farm workers, etc. Sadly, the voices that are saying, “These Chinese should go!” are getting louder.

Notice, we do not say that about Europeans and Americans in Zambia because they are occupying jobs that people in the compounds only occupy in their dreams. That, by the way, explains why this xenophobia in South Africa is not against white foreigners!

So, what is the solution? The first is that the government of South Africa should address the problem of unemployment in the country. It should protect its job market. Black South Africans will remain angry as long as they are hungry whether we like it or not.

Xenophobia is a ticking time bomb. Merely condemning it does not diffuse the bomb. Citizens must have jobs. So, job-creation must be high on the minds of our leaders. Sadly, African politicians spend too much time thinking about themselves and not their citizens.

The Christian church in South Africa should also educate its members and the general public about the biblical teaching on human beings made in the image of God. God will demand an accounting for every person whose blood is shed. We must never forget that.

Church services that comprise hours of singing and dancing to endless and mindless choruses followed by popular “witchdoctor” sermons that promise people jobs if they “sow a seed” will not stem the tide of xenophobia. We must help our people to think biblically!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Que Sera Sera

(My 14th Radio Christian Voice Commentary for 2015)

Woman weeping during the Garissa University College massacre in Kenya
I have been thinking this week about how we can make Africa a safer place. We are losing too many lives. It is almost as though we have made a death wish. Every day we are waking up to the news of hundreds being swept away by death. What has gone wrong?

The whole of last year was spent battling Ebola in West Africa. Thousands of lives were lost as a result of this epidemic. The number of infections is now going down but we must still sorrow with the many families that have lost loved ones due to this virus.

Then it was only a few days ago when we heard about the massacre of students at Garissa University College in Kenya by the Al Shabaab Islamic terrorist group. The pictures we saw of some of the 147 students who were murdered in cold blood were traumatising.

Well, that is west, north and east Africa. Further north, we have continued to hear of boats full of illegal immigrants trying to make their way from Africa into Europe capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea and killing almost all the hundreds who are on board.

Now closer to home, we continue to experience road carnage that is robbing us of thousands of lives. Just this week we received the news of a truck in Mazabuka that crashed into Shoprite killing over twenty individuals on board, including the driver.

My concern is that in Africa we seem to have become immune to these tragic events. We seem to think in terms of,

“Que Sera Sera
Whatever will be will be
The future's not ours to see
Que Sera Sera
What will be will be”.

Surely, that is wrong.

Visit our hospitals—especially our government ones. They have become a highway to the grave. Most deaths are clearly preventable but they still happen due to insufficient and unmotivated personnel, lack of medicines, and out-dated equipment. It is terrible!

In the West, one human death is one death too many. If one car malfunctions, they take thousands of cars back to the manufacturers for testing and repairs. If one airplane goes down due to a suicidal pilot, they immediately enforce new rules for pilots in the cockpit.

That is the way it should be. God has given us the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28, which calls us to subdue to earth. This was given before sin and death came into the world. There is an even greater reason for us to subdue the earth now. We have death to deal with.

We know what is causing these deaths among us—religious extremism, poverty due to selfish political policies, drunken driving, poor roads, corruption, etc. God expects us to address these “yesterday”. One human death is one death too many—even in Africa!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The new birth and conversion—what comes first?

On February 15, 2015, I wrote a tweet in which I said, “We're born again in order for us to repent & believe; & not that we repent & believe in order to be born again. Regeneration comes first!” This caused quite a stir and a lot of discussion ensured from it. One person asked me to explain and I promised to do so. This is what I am doing now.

First, let us get our vocabulary straight. There are many words that are used both in the Bible and in normal Christian vocabulary to refer to the new birth. These are words like “born again”, “born from above”, “born of the Spirit”, “given birth to”, “made alive”, “regenerated”, etc.  They all refer to the matter that we are dealing with in this blog post.

The new birth secures conversion

The new birth is an act of God whereby he infuses spiritual life into spiritually dead sinners. It is this spiritual life that enables sinners to sense the danger they are in (i.e. the wrath of God) and to see the sufficiency of the Saviour to save them from sin. These two realities become as true to them as the physical world that they see around them.

When a person senses his danger and sees the sufficiency of the Saviour, he subsequently repents from sin and calls upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save him. So, in the order of salvation the new birth precedes conversion (i.e. repentance and faith). Rather, it secures conversion, which is something we do. We repent. We believe.

The Bible also says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:1-9).

This must be obvious. Without this act of God, we cannot believe the gospel. The Bible says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). A man must have the Spirit first in order to accept the gospel message. This happens in regeneration.

In the Gospel of John, the Bible says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).

Notice the order. The ones who were given the legal right to become children of God are those who received Jesus Christ and believed in him. Yet, they were not born by a human decision. They were already born by a divine decision. They were born of God!

The analogy of physical birth

The use of the word “birth” in the Bible should be sufficient to convince us of this order, that the new birth precedes conversion and is not a product of conversion. Even in the physical world, we do not do something in order to be born. It is our parents who do something that results in our conception and our birth occurs nine months later.

It is because a baby already has life that it cries for oxygen upon being given birth to. We call it “the cry of life”. This cry is inevitable because the baby is already alive. If a baby does not cry at birth it means that it is born dead. It is not the cry of life that gives it life. It is because the baby is already alive that it cries.

This is why when Nicodemus asked whether he should enter his mother’s womb in order to be born again, Jesus said that the new birth is not something a human being does. Jesus said, “Flesh can only give birth to flesh. It is the Spirit that gives birth to spirit” (see John 3:6). The new birth is something you experience, not something you do.

And, as if that was not enough, Jesus went on to say that in this matter God is totally sovereign. We cannot predict whom he is going to give the new birth to. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

The instrumentality of the Word

The means that God uses to bring about this new birth is the Word of God, the gospel of our salvation. Thus we read in James 1:18, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (NIV). It is a sovereign act of God (“he chose”) but it is through the instrumentality of “the word of truth”.

This is not something that only James taught. The apostle Peter says, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God... And this is the word that was preached to you" (1 Peter 1:23-25). Nothing can be clearer than that!

Even an Arminian like Charles Wesley believed and taught this when he wrote in his famous hymn, “O for a thousand tongues to sing”.

      “He speaks, and listening to his voice,
      New life the dead receive,
      The mournful broken hearts rejoice,
      The humble poor believe.”

Notice the order. Jesus speaks. New life comes into sinners. We rejoice and believe. This is why salvation is all of grace. It is because God makes us alive while we are dead (and cannot do anything for ourselves). Then as a result of this being made alive we are enabled to repent and believe. Salvation is the work of God and not of ourselves.

Some implications for preachers

Since God uses his Word as an instrument in his regenerating work, it does not render preaching irrelevant. We do not sit back as preachers and say, “Well, since God regenerates those whom he wills and whenever he wills to do it, there is no need for us to preach the gospel.” No! We pray to him before and after we preach that he may use the preached word to give life to the dead. When he does so, we know they will believe.

Since the new birth is an act of God, it keeps those of us who preach the word of God humble even when many people get converted through our ministry. We realise that the power to convert sinners is neither in us nor in our preaching. As Paul puts it, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

Again, since the new birth is a sovereign act of God, it keeps those of us who preach the word of God from using tricks—dimming lights, playing music that can cause a rock to shed tears, etc. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.

On the contrary, we know that (1) Our gospel is veiled to those who are perishing because the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel, and (2) It is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who makes his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. So, all we do is to preach the gospel faithfully, pleading with sinners to be reconciled to God. God will infuse life into those whom he pleases to save!