Friday, 30 October 2015

Seeing Through The Lenses Of The Bible

I recently visited an optician for a routine check-up. As I sat to read the vision test chart, the poor state of my eyesight became evident. The diagnosis: nearsigthedness. The solution: corrective lenses. So now I wear glasses.

Drawing an analogy, the Word of God is like corrective lens. It aids the believer with an accurate view of life
and of themselves. The Word of God delineates the worldview of the believer and of humanity. It is in the Bible we are made conscious of our depravity. In the Bible we appreciate we have offended and continue to offend a Holy God. Humanity, without faith in Christ, is sinful and alienated from God; dead in sin. In the Bible we are told what we have done wrong and what we need to do to restore our relationship with a Holy God(Genesis 3, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 1:12-13, 3:16,Romans 3:23).

The whole theme of the Bible is about God's plan to restore fallen sinners unto Himself. Under the lenses of the Bible, we see well: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."(Psalm 119:105). In an age of self-obsession and numerous self-help strategies, which only deals with the superficial, the Word of God comes as the only trustworthy source of diagnosis of our fallen human condition. Hebrews 4:12-13 gives a proper description of the ability of God's word to reveal our true self to us.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

When I was growing up, I knew of only the x-ray machine as the only machine that can “look” into the human body. There might have been more. But in my small world, it was the x-ray machine. Today, medical science with sophisticated machines can pick up any ailment hidden anywhere in the body. Apart from medical sciences, there are other equally sophisticated scanning devices in other fields that can pick their targets even through opaque objects.

We are advancing in technology and knowledge. However, these advancements have limitations. You can’t use an MRI scan to detect the sicknesses of our spiritual being. In Jeremiah 17:9, God through the prophet, testifies about the condition of the human heart. This is not referring to the organ that pumps blood and sustains our physical life. He is talking about the state of our whole being. He says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” No machine, notwithstanding of degree of sophistication can detect the evil and wickedness wedged in our hearts. Only God’s word can. Not leaving us in utter despair of our state, at the very place where God describes the depravity of our hearts, He went on to further tell us, what He alone can do.

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.(Jer 17:10).

That is humbling. The dispositions of our hearts are laid bare before Him. Nowhere to run for cover.

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.(Ps 139:1-6).

The Psalmist here awes about God’s omniscience: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Nothing, not even our own self can do an accurate diagnosis of the state of our hearts than God can. Through His word, He meticulously searches and reveals the true state of our hearts. Like corrective lenses, the Word leads us in the path of righteousness(Psalm 23:3).  God's Word convicts us, it reproofs, corrects, and trains us in righteousness (2Tim 3:16). God through His Word renews and transform us (Rom 12:1-2). He washes and sanctifies us by His word (John 17:17). Jesus said "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."(Matthew 4:4).

The Word of God is a lens that will not distort our worldview if faithfully studied, applied and obeyed.

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you(Ps. 119:11).

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Three Reasons People Believe The Prosperity Gospel

For a greater part of my christian life, my understanding of christianity was shaped by the Charismatic and Word of Faith movement. The idea that God saves us to bless us with material wealth, divine health and a good life is characteristics of the movement. Prosperity, divine health is my portion! I am walking in blessings and divine health! These are but just a few cliches of the movement.

252px-Ghana_Cedi_banknotesFundamentally, the theology of the movement isanthropocentric, oppossed to Christianity been theocentric. In the prosperitygospel, also known as the "Word of Faith," the believer is told touse God, whereas the truth of biblical Christianity is just theopposite"God uses the believer. Word of Faith or prosperity theology seesthe Holy Spirit as a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wills.

About three years ago, I began drifting from the beliefs of charismatism. The drift was precipitated by a number of books I read by CharlesR. Swindoll. One of the titles that made a difference in my life was; "So,You Want To Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials To Get You There". That book disturbed my theology. My drift however, was gradual, at a snail's pace, as I had not fully grasped what was wrong with the prosperity, health and wealth gospel. Many of my friends held to do those beliefs and still do, and not having the requisite knowledge to counteract it, I kept what I had encountered to myself.

During the same period also, I was exposed to ReformedTheology. My world was thrown into complete chaos--positive chaos if there is a phrase like that. All the beliefs I have held before were challenged. All my "heroes" were been described as false teachers. That was too much to take. But gradually, dedicating myself to reading and studying the Bible, the puzzles started falling in place. I haven't fully grasped all there is to the Christian faith, but I have gained some understanding I believe I can share.

Of prosperity and divine health, I have come to three conclusions of what's behind this heresy.

1: A Depraved Mind Deprived Of Truth

1 Timothy 6:3-10

There is no place in the Bible believers are promised prosperity and divine health. To believe God saved us to prosper us is a sign of a depraved mind. The proponents have corrupt minds and corrupt the minds of their followers. They are greedy. They pry on the innocent, using their position of influence to lead people astray. They are robbers who fleece the sheep for selfish gains. They are deprived of truth not understanding the truth of God's word. Anyone who believes and accepts the prosperity and divine health nonsense is clearly guilty of thinking godliness is a means of gain.

The Bible clearly warns the love of money is the root of all evil. Yet, point this out to the proponents of the prosperity gospel and they will in turn inform you "it is the love of money that is evil not money". Very well said, money indeed is not evil, but the love of it. But how can one have money at the root of their theology and yet deny they love money? If you believe in the prosperity gospel, you love money! However you try to look at it, you love money. At the root of your desire for riches, is the love of money. You want to be rich, and you desire that so much, don't you? The diagnosis: you love money.

2: A Low View Of Scripture

To believe Jesus Christ died to make you prosper and successful is a blatant lie. It is a result of under valuing the weight and glory of Holy Scripture. Much of the proof texts used to propagate prosperity and divine health are complete mishandling and distortion of the word of truth. I will examine two popular ones:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.(2Corinthians 8:9).

(i) "Though he was rich,yet for your sake he became poor"...This in no sense speaks of material prosperity. The riches been spoken about here is the glory He left behind in heaven, putting aside His divinity to live the life of a human being. If we are to interpret the riches here as something earthly, the question we must answer is that, where He came from, i.e. heaven, was there transactions of money which makes Him rich? No, the riches is the glory He laid aside to become human and live amongst us. (Phillipians 2:5-9).

(ii) "so that you by his poverty might become rich" All human beings by virtue of our sins are wretched and separated from God's glory (Rom 3:23). To be separated from God's glory makes us poor and souls deserving of God's wrath. But Jesus stepped in, He descended from His glory to make us who will believe in Him, rich, not in terms of material blessings; but reconciliation unto God and restoration from from our sinful state to live lives glorifying to God.( Eph 1:3-4) When we read riches as material blessings, we under value what God did for the Christian through  His death and resurrection. He died to reconcile sinners to God, not to make sinners rich.

The next popular representing divine health is a little phrase "By his wounds you have been healed" which is pulled from "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness . By his wounds you have been healed.For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."(1Peter 2:24-25).

Now, "By his wounds you have been healed" is another blatant abuse of the text to say what it is not saying. That phrase in the context it appears says nothing about physical healing.  The healing in the context is simply forgiveness of sin in Christ. The context is so clear, I wonder how we twist it. Sin is a disease, a disease that separates us from God. And by Jesus' wounds on the cross, we were healed of the disease of sin and brought back into fellowship with God.

3. Disregard For Sound Doctrine

Sound doctrine--rightly dividing the word of truth has been replaced by messages to entertain and stimulate itchy ears. In the last days, we are told "people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."(1Timothy 4:3-4).

We indeed are living in the days and the descriptions above fits many church folks. What their Pastor or spiritual leader says is the truth and they won't hear anyone else, not even when you point them to the truth as revealed in the Bible. Paul admonishes Timothy to "...flee these things"(1Timothy 6:11). Why will you not flee from that which will lead you "...into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction."(v9).

In conclusion, we must indeed  work and be good stewards of what God blesses us with. We must however not approach God with the false notion of prosperity. God doesn't owe us anything. But if by His Sovereignty and Providence, He gives us riches to enjoy, we must live our days in gratitude and generosity:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.(1Timothy 6:17-19).

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Standing Firm In God's Love

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth(2Thessalonians 2:13).

3051-13In my Bible, the verse above opens with the heading, "Stand firm". This is an indication this portion of the epistle was written to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians to stand firm in their faith. In 2Thessalonians, Paul addresses the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, a message we seldom hear in our days. In verse two and three, he tackles a false belief amongst the Thessalonians purporting the second coming has already happened:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way...(v1-3).

This was a church enduring persecutions and suffering (2Thes 1:4-5) hence a lie of such magnitude will unsettle them. They might be contemplating; "If the second coming has already occurred, what are we then suffering for?" "Is our faith not in vain?". You will notice Paul addresses specifically, the possibility of losing one's faith and uncertainty that such a lie can produce. He wrote, "we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed". Notice also that, some have actually believed the lie of these false teachers. God allowed them to believe a lie because they were unwilling to believe the truth.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.(v9-12).

Falsehood has the capacity to lead believers astray and we must at all times guard our hearts against deception. In stabilising their hearts, Paul speaks of a truth--the doctrine of election--which is the reality of every believer: "God chose be saved". The believer is chosen of God; handpicked and set aside to be a recipient of God’s love. Salvation is monergestic--strictly a work of God we contributed nothing to. Christ in John 15:16 tells His disciples "You did not choose me, but I chose you”. Peter in 1Pet 2:9 also wrote that “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

What qualifies a person to be chosen by God? Nothing! We are not saved by meritorious works. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone(Rom 3:20; 28, Eph 2:8-9, Gal 2:16).
We contributed nothing to our salvation. It is all a work of God’s grace. We were sinners seperated from God(Rom 3:23). We were children of wrath (Eph 2:3). But God extended His love towards us and set us apart–sanctified–to Himself by the regenerating power of The Holy Spirit. “Once [we] were not a people, but now [we] are God’s people; once [we]had not received mercy, but now [we] have received mercy.” (1Pet 2:10). A Christian is a Christian “according to the purpose of [God’s] will” (Eph 1:5). God chose us before the foundation of the earth (Eph. 1:4).

As indicated earlier, the Thessalonian church was a suffering church and this portion of the epistle was written to strengthen and encourage them to stand firm in their faith. Believers suffer and face persecution in various forms. But the reality of God's Sovereignty in electing--choosing sinners--unto eternal life must delight every child of God. God before the foundation of the earth, set His love upon us and He called us "Beloved". When God saves us from the present evil world, He saves us with an everlasting love. He doesn't save with a love that fails. He saves us never to perish. Our hearts must be stepped in God's love towards us. Nothing can separate us from His love (Jeremiah 31:3, John 10:27-28, Romans 8:31-38).

If you are a believer, God has chosen--elected--you to be saved. You did nothing deserving of God's choice. This truth must humble and cause us to lift our voice in adoration, just as Paul did in writing to the Thessalonians, "But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you… (2 Thess 2:13).

Friday, 16 October 2015

Here Are Three Reasons You Must Pray For The Unsaved

I belong to a facebook group where different Christian thoughts are shared. Recently, a question was posted which inspired this post. "Will You Pray At All For Someone Who Is Not willing To Submit To Christ?" That's a good question, isn't it? I believe as Christians, we all have experiences of praying for  the salvation of a friend, family member, neighbour etc and it seems the more we pray, and tell them about their need of salvation, their rebellion towards God and Christianity grows. Now, it can indeed get frustrating. So the question whether to continue in prayer for an unwilling, unrepentant sinner is, to be frank, a relevant question. In this post, I seek to answer an emphatic Yes to the question "Will You Pray At All For Someone Who Is Not willing To Submit To Christ?"

Here are my reasons

1: Prayers For The Unsaved Is A Command

In a conversation with His disciples, Jesus commanded them to pray about salvation of souls. "Then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38). In these words, we see embedded the necessity of prayer for souls. Why must we pray for labourers? Because "The harvest is plentiful". In other words, there are many people who have to be saved. In 1Timothy 2:1-4, Paul instructs we engage in prayers for the salvation of souls. We don't possess the ability to save anyone. Salvation is of the Lord therefore we must continually entreat Him in prayer to save sinners. Without prayer, our efforts at reaching people for the Lord will be in vain.

After planting and watering, God is the one who gives the increase. Now, if we look at the preceeding verses of Matthew 9, we will get a perfect picture of why Jesus asked for prayers for labourers to be sent: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."(v36).

Herein is the sad state of the unbeliever; the multitudes-crowd without Christ. They are harassed and helpless under the bondage of sin. They are guilty under the wrath of God. They are without a shepherd.  They have no relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ..."Harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd"...that must break every believers' heart to say a word of prayer for the unsaved. They will not admit it; but our Lord's words are true; they are "Harassed and helpless, like sheep without shepherd". They are lost! Out of compassion, our Lord told His disciples; “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”(v37-38). Don't give up praying for the lost.

2: Only God Can Break The Unwilling Heart Of The Sinner

It must not be lost on us as believers, that our salvation is not a smart choice or good decision we made. We are not smarter than our neighbhour who hasn't yet submitted to the Lordship of Christ. The truth is, we are not Christians because we were willing to give our lives to Christ. Jesus said He chose us, not us (John 15:16). In John 6:44, we are also told "No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father ... draws him. By our own will we cannot be saved (Ezekiel 36:26, John 1:12-13, Roman 9:18). We are Christians because of God's grace.

Before we came to Christ, we were all people who rebelled against God until grace found us. In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul describes our spiritual deadness prior to coming to Christ. He compares us to that unwilling sinner we are getting tired praying for. He seems to say, "before you came to Christ, you were just like them"; "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."

That was our state. We were equally "following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience". We were no different from the unwilling unbeliever. The difference now is God's intervention. In verse 4 of Ephesians 2, after our former state has been described, we are told what God did with us: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—"
God showed us mercy. God stepped into out rebellion and broke our resistance. Knowing our former state and how merciful God has been to us, we must be patient and continue in prayer for those who seem unwilling to submit to Christ. Their unwillingness can only be broken by the Spirit of God. Don't give up. Keep praying for them. Their unwillingness is indeed a spiritual battle. Satan has blinded them to the truth. That is the more reason we must pray for them. Only God can rip off their spiritual blindness and shine lights into their hearts.

3: Someone Prayed For Your Salvation
You might not be directly aware. But I am confident your salvation is an answer to somebody's prayers. Your friend, your family member, a church in your community, a Pastor, your school chaplain, a missionary...somebody's prayer definitely has a hand in your salvation. An incident in the Bible readily comes to minpicture comes to mind. In Acts 7, Stephen's martydom by stoning is recorded:

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen , he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord , do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.(vs58-60)

See two powerful phrases in the verses here. The first is the record that they laid Stephen's garment at the feet of Saul(v58) and secondly Stephen's prayer in v60, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them". Even at the brink of death Stephen still prays for his murderers. Immediately we step into Chapter 8, Saul's name is mentioned again. He has come into the picture. He must be important to the storyline: "And Saul approved of his execution."(v8). Fast foward to Chapter 9 we meet Saul and his encounter on the road to Damascus. He met the Lord and his life was changed. I am very convinced Paul's conversion has a relationship with Stephen's prayer; "Lord , do not hold this sin against them"

I pray you don't get tired praying for anyone's salvation. Continue in prayer and don't give up.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Christian Suffering Is Biblical

There is a kind of Christian teachings out there that promotes the idea Christians must not suffer. That's a lie. A blatant lie! Christians suffer. Acts 14:22 says through much suffering we must enter the kingdom of God. We are no different from people who are persecuted and some even killed for their faith. Contrary to modern day, twenty first century, watered down, health and wealth, easy believismChristians are in fact no super humans. We get frustrated. We get stressed. We live with unfulfilled dreams and expectations. Our lives are in no way immune from the challenges of this world. We lose love ones. We lose jobs. We get sick.

World events must call many believers to rethink what gospel they have believed. Are you saved to be materially blessed and divinely healthy? You have believed a lie.

A cursory look at the Psalms–a great source of comfort and inspiration for believers—reveals the realities of pain and suffering in a believer’s life. Some of the Psalms contain expressions of David’s personal pain and sorrows: "I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes"(Ps 6:6). "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?"(Ps 43:5). "Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I"(Ps 61:2). "Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins".(Ps 25:18).

In these words, we see “a man after God’s heart” expressing anguish in different circumstances of his life. David was not an exception. Many other characters in the Bible poured out their hearts in pain and anguish. As believers living in a fallen body in a fallen world, we are not immuned from the pain and suffering present in the world. In fact, suffering is ordained in the sovereign plan of God for the world and in the life of the believer. Job said “man is born to trouble”(Job 5:7). Suffering is the portion of every believer. We must all carry our cross and follow Him.

The biblical authors acknowledged what many today will deny in the name of Faith. They acknowledged the place of suffering in the believer's life. James said "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,"(James 2:1). Paul pointed out that "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted"(2Timothy 3:12). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself painted no rosy picture of the Christian walk. He told the disciples, "In the world you will have tribulation."(John 16:33).

Suffering teaches us obedience. Writing about the high priestly role of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews tells us that, in His humanity, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."(Hebrews 5:8). No where in the Bible are we guaranteed a life without suffering and pain. You dont even have to open the pages of the Bible to realise the reality of suffering in the world. The bad news, disease, brutal execution of Christians coupled with the suffering of people around us is enough evidence that a suffering proof christianity is a placebo. Paul describes the inescapable realities of suffering in the believers life. "...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”(Rom 8:23)

Though we are saved, we are not in possession of the full benefits of our redemption–the glorification of our bodies. We still live with the presence of sin, pain and suffering. We groan in pain in anticipation of our glorification in future. In all of these however, Christianity doesn't spell as gloom. In our suffering, we are not left on our own, we don’t grieve as people who have no hope(1Thess 4:13). We have the blessed Holy Spirit as a comforter and “present help in need”. What a privilege! In our weaknesses and suffering, we can turn to God through faith in Christ Jesus.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.(Heb 4:15-16).