Christianity and theology

From Manasseh to Christmas

The next person in the genealogy of Jesus Christ who does not have a beautiful story is King Manasseh. His story is recorded for us in 2 Kings 21.

“And he (Manasseh) did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshipped all the host of heaven and served them (2, 3).

And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger….Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another (6, 16).

And the Lord said by his servants the prophets, “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites (pagans) did…therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle” (10-12).

This is a summary of the life of King Manasseh, a great grandparent of Jesus. I wish the Bible had omitted his name in the genealogy of Christ found in Matthew 1:1-18; however, the Bible doesn’t. I believe that through the story of Manasseh, God wants us to appreciate and learn that the past doesn’t really matter to him and in Christ everything begins anew.

This is why Scripture reminds us that: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

In Christ our lives begin anew.  We might still carry the scars of our past when we were in rebellion against God but in Christ, we who were sinners and enemies of God become saints and friends.  It doesn’t really matter how our past was. In Christ, God sees a new creature worthy to be called God’s child and friend.

In this season of Christmas just like any other season of the year, God is extending an opportunity to everyone to begin anew in Christ. All this is done by God’s grace through faith which is also a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

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From Tamar to Christmas

Last week I indicated that as we approach Christmas, we will look at some stories of Jesus’ descendants which are not beautiful at all. The main aim of this study is to remind us of God’s greatness, grace and faithfulness as we marvel at how God is able to overcome evil with good.

The story of Tamar which is recorded in Genesis 38 interrupts the wonderful story of Joseph.  It is an ugly tale of cheating and unfaithfulness.  Yet from it, we still see God accomplishing His will. Please take your time to read it.

Briefly, Tamar pretends to be a prostitute and seduces her father-in-law, Judah to sleep with her. The child that is born from this adulterous union, Perez, happens to be a great grandfather of Jesus Christ.   Could God have stopped this from happening? Yes, He could. But why did He allow it? He alone knows best.

However, we can still see from the story that God can use the imperfect things of the world to bring out something perfect. Tamar and Judah were sinful and failed miserably to reach God’s standards. But God stooped in his grace and reached out to them and through them brought out a perfect savior. Those who are in this Savior including Tamar and Judah are counted perfect and righteous basing on the Savior’s righteousness. This is the amazing grace of God.

 

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The ‘Roots’ of Christ

Some have accused Christians of always trying to paint a good picture of Christ. These people have even gone to the extreme of ‘exposing negative stories’ about Christ which they say Christians have always kept under the carpet.

However, this is a sad accusation because Christianity or the Bible does not hide anything about Christ including those incidents that seem embarrassing. Therefore, God willing, from this week, as we look forward to Christmas, we will dwell on the genealogy or the descendants of Christ whose life stories are not all that beautiful. These include Tamar who seduced her father-in-law,  Judah, to sleep with her, Rehab who was a prostitute, and Manasseh one of the most evil kings of Judah.

When we read and reflect on the life stories of these people, we are amazed at how God could allow such people to be the descendant of Jesus. It only confirms that God’s ways are not indeed our ways.

Furthermore, the stories of some of these descendants assure us that God’s grace is indeed amazing for it transforms sinners into saints.  These stories also show us that God is not limited or controlled by our sinfulness.  We might not be faithful, but He always remains faithful and he can accomplish his good will even through our unfaithfulness.  We might have evil intentions, but he overcomes them with his goodness.

 

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Christianity and theology

Of Anointed Water, Stickers, Handkerchiefs etc

There is one dangerous thing I have lately observed in the Church and would like to raise an alarm. Some ‘men of God’ are giving or selling out anointed water, stickers, handkerchiefs and what have you so that people can use them to receive various miracles from God. The miracles include jobs, special favors, success, healing, deliverance from demons  etc.

The most dangerous thing I have noticed concerning this development is that these anointed objects are slowly and steadily taking the place of Christ in the lives of people hence ending up being idols. John Calvin once remarked that ‘the human heart is a factory of idols’ and indeed due to our fallen nature, we easily make idols of many shapes and sizes and worship them thereafter.

The anointed items are fast becoming idols for many. What is happening with this anointed stuff is that people are told to use them whenever they want to experience a miracle or blessing from God. Recently, I met a relation who is a Christian and he greatly boasted about a certain anointed sticker bearing a face of ‘man of God’ and said:

“You know, this sticker is very powerful. I always travel with it in my car and if the devil had plans for me to get involved in a road accident, it doesn’t work. I am also told that next time, I am invited for job interviews, I should just put it in my shirt’s pocket and before entering the interview, I should pull it out, gaze at it for a while and then say a prayer and I will be successful.”

It is evident that my relation’s life is revolving around this anointed sticker. To him this sticker is his life. Now, where is the place of Christ in his life?  Are not our lives supposed to revolve around Christ? I hope you get my point.  I will not mince words here: placing our faith in this anointed stuff is superstition and nothing else.  It is not different from relying on charms or ‘small pillows’ (zithumwa) from witchdoctors.

My fellow Africans will understand this better. For most Africans who are not Christians, they rely on witchdoctors.  For instance, when one wants to get a job, they might go to a witchdoctor who would give them some charms which they are to put in their trouser’s pocket when going for job-interviews. The charms, they are told, will guarantee success in the interviews.

I believe this is similar to how some Christians are treating these anointed objects.   Only that this time around we have sugar-coated the anointed stuff with the name of Christ. Please, fellow Christian, think twice about your involvement with these anointed objects.

But some will quote for me Acts 19:11, 12 which reads: “And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” They will then ask, isn’t this passage supporting the use of these anointed items?

No, it isn’t. A couple of things need to be pointed out here. First, Paul never asked for any amount of money  for the handkerchiefs and aprons. But the ‘’men of God’ today are asking for a certain amount of money for one to have these anointed stuffs.

Secondly, Paul never sat down and packed these aprons and handkerchiefs and sent them out to be used for miracles rather it was the people who came to Paul who took these  items and used them on the sick.  As a matter of fact, these aprons and handkerchiefs were used ones. William Barclay, author of very reliable commentaries to the Bible, writes that the handkerchiefs were wore around Paul’s head to absorb the sweat as he worked as a tent-maker while the aprons were used to cover Paul’s clothes to protect them from dirt and dust(The Acts of Apostles: The Daily Study Bible ©1966, The Saint Andrew Press).

Thirdly, let me borrow the words of R.C. Sproul and point out that “This was not Paul’s doing; because of their pagan religious background, the Ephesians were used to employing superstitious means (v.19). God accommodated His gracious work to their ignorance” (Reformation Study Bible, Ligonier Ministries © 2005).

Fourthly, it is very important to note that what is recorded for us in Acts 19:11, 12 was never a trend. You don’t read this anywhere else apart from this passage which means that this was not a regular occurrence and I, strongly, believe that this was done in Ephesus only.

However, some ‘men of God’ today have made the giving or selling out of anointed items a trend, thereby leading our fallen nature to turn these objects into idols.  It’s very heartbreaking to see that some Christians can’t live without this anointed stuff. Oh Lord, may you deliver us from this temptation.

 

 

 

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Christianity and theology

Is it right to Critique Prayer?

The Infant Samuel at Prayer - Sir Joshua Reynolds

Lord, teach us to pray

Recently, I have been reading “When Grace Comes Alive” by Terry L. Johnson. The book has been of great help and blessing to me so today I would like to share this excerpt from the book regarding how we should perceive prayer. I hope you will learn something from it and it will also be of great blessing to you.

“We need not to make the mistake of thinking that we need no instruction on prayer, except for perhaps a few hints on technique. Prayer is sometimes seen as being so intensely personal as to be beyond the evaluation of others. ‘Some Christians resent the analysis of prayer,’ notes Dereck Thomas. Prayer is what we do when we pour out our hearts to god. How could such a thing be critiqued? How could it be done wrongly? How could it be improved? They act as though, Thomas continues, ‘some sacred ground is violated when we begin to dissect prayer under a spiritual microscope.’ Yet, the disciples asked, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’ They perceived their need of instruction. Jesus responded with teaching on the place, the form, and the content (or words) of prayer. Apparently we need to be taught all of these things.

Why? Why is it not enough for us merely to say whatever is on our hearts, whenever and wherever we feel like it? Because with respect to prayer and worship, when left to ourselves, we never get it right. We don’t know how to pray. We don’t know what to say or how to say it. Why? To answer that we have to go ‘back to the garden’ and reacquaint ourselves with the givens of human nature. Since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit we’ve been off the bushes with them, hiding from God. We are separated from God and alienated from Him (Col. 1:21). We are ‘enemies’ (Rom. 5:10). We are ‘without God in the world’ (Eph. 2:12).

Because this is so, we have no natural inclination to pray. God is light, but as Jesus said, by nature we are lovers of the darkness and haters of the light (John 3:19, 20). We have a natural aversion to God. We don’t like Him. We don’t want to have to deal with Him. We don’t seek Him (Rom. 3:10). We refuse to honor or serve Him (Rom. 1:18ff). Even as redeemed people the dregs of our old nature continue to weigh us down with this antipathy.  We have to haul our bodies out of bed and drag them into prayer closet because fallen human nature, the remnants of which still plague us, resists contact with God. It wants to flee from God, not draw near to Him in prayer…

It matters to Him what we think about Him. It matters to Him how we pray to Him. Again, one might have thought that the truly important thing is that we pray. Just so long as we are sincere, so long as we try, so long as we pray on occasion, that’s all that matters. Given how busy and distracted we are, God should be pleased with any concept of Himself which we might have. He’s not pleased with any prayers that we might offer. We might think that it ought not matter to God, but it does. He is not pleased to receive any scraps of religious interest that we might offer to Him. He requires that we think of Him rightly, and that we approach Him rightly. Consequently, we must be taught. We need instruction. If we are wise we will realize with the Apostle Paul that ‘we do not know how to pray as we should’ (Rom. 8:26). With the disciples we will ask, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ © Terry L. Johnson.

Amen and Amen!

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