Sound Teaching

Meditations Toward Christmas: Genesis 3:15

In a few days’ time, the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas. Christ’s birth is worthy celebrating because it marked God’s coming down to dwell with his people ( as his name, Immanuel, means) and to save them from their sin ( as his name, Jesus, means). Therefore, as we move toward Christmas, God willing, I would like us to reflect and meditate on a number of passages from the Old Testament that point us to the birth of Christ. I pray that these passages will help us celebrate the season meaningfully and with gratitude for God’s indescribable gift to us ( 2 Corinthians 9:15).

The first passage is Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

At the completion of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, God saw that everything was good. Man was also God’s best friend, and he enjoyed uninterrupted communion with his Creator. But in Genesis 3 we see the entry of sin,evil and death in a once good world. Man being deceived by the evil one sinks to his lowest end. He sinks deep in a quagmire of sin, misery, and shame.

Due to sin, man is alienated from God.  Once a friend of God, man now hides himself from his best friend. Man is also alienated even from his fellow man. Adam and Eve no longer enjoy the sweet companionship of husband and wife. Hear the words of Adam describing his wife whom he once called the bone of my bones and the flesh of my flesh, “The woman whom you gave to be with me…” He doesn’t call her his wife. Sin does not only alienate us from God but also from our fellow man.

God being just and righteous comes in judgment upon man. To Adam he says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, you shall not eat from it; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

To Eve he says, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).

But that’s not the end of the story. God also being gracious and merciful announces salvation and redemption for man as he condemns the evil one: “I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The good news or the gospel comes in a form of enmity. It is important that God re-establishes this enmity because before sinning, man was a friend of God and enemy of the evil one. But when he sinned, he became a friend of the evil one and enemy of God. Therefore, God re-establishes this enmity as his gracious means of reconciling man to himself. What a gracious LORD. What an amazing love!

The seed of the woman ultimately refers to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who crushed the head of the serpent (Romans 16:20; John 12:31, 32; Colossians 2:15) triumphing over him in victory. This victory began with God’s promise coming true on the day of Christ’s birth.

Therefore, Genesis 3:15 forms the backbone of our rejoicing on Christmas. The promised seed is finally here to crush the head of the serpent and give us life. Charles Wesley hit the nail right on the head when he composed:

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us…
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever.

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #3: The Minister’s Fainting Fits

In this lecture, pastor Spurgeon discusses depression in the life of pastors and indeed we might extend these truths to the life of every Christian. He notes, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually as cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Spurgeon observes five reasons that would cause depression in pastors.  First, they are human. “Being men, they are compassed with infirmity, and heirs of sorrow.” Secondly, as humans most of them are in some way or another unsound physically. By this he implies physical challenges especially sicknesses. Thirdly, he notes lack of enough rest from studying and work. A painter takes care of his brush but often a pastor ignores to care of his important tool, the brain or mind.

Fourthly he observes the following: “Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without, sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied, consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. How often on Lord’s Day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.”

Lastly he notes: “Our position in the church will also conduce to this. A minister fully equipped for his work, will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond and apart from others. In the ranks, men walk shoulder to shoulder, with many comrades, but as the officer rises in rank, men of his standing are fewer in number. There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. Like their Lord in Gethsemane, they look in vain for comfort to the disciples sleeping around them; they are shocked at the apathy of their little band of brethren, and return to their secret agony with all the heavier burden pressing upon them, because they have found their dearest companions slumbering.”

Basing on his personal experiences, Spurgeon goes on to highlight moments that pastors are prone to be overcome by depression.  “The times most favorable to fits of depression, so far as I have experienced, may be summed up in the a brief catalogue. First among them, I must mention the hour of great success. When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint.” He illustrates this point with the life of Elijah who gave in to depression soon after a great victory for the Lord on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18-19).

Secondly, “Before any great achievement, some measure of the same depression is very usual. Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us. The sons of Anak stalk before us, and we are as grasshoppers in our own sight in their presence. The cities of Canaan are walled up to heaven, and who are we that we should hope to capture them…This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison.”

Thirdly, “In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for…Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when he said to his disciples, “Let us go into the desert and rest awhile.” What! When the people are fainting? When the multitudes are like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd? The Master knows better than to exhaust his servants and quench the light of Israel. Rest time is not waste time.”

Fourthly, “One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the man who trusted him, and the preacher’s heart for the moment fails him. We are all too apt to look at an arm of flesh, and from that propensity many of our sorrows arise.  Equally, overwhelming is the blow when an honored and beloved member yields to temptation, and disgraces the holy name with which he was named…the trials of a true minister are not a few, and such as are caused by ungrateful professors are harder to bear than the coarsest attacks of avowed enemies. Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life enter the ministry; if he does so he will flee from it in disgust.”

Fifthly, “When troubles multiply, and discouragements follow each other in long succession…If there was a regulated pause between the buffetings of adversity, the spirit would stand prepared; but when they come suddenly and heavily, like the battering of great hailstones, the pilgrim may well be amazed.”

Lastly, “This evil will also come upon us, we know not why, and then it is more difficult to drive it away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings.” Spurgeon emphasizes that in this case just as in all the other cases, our only hope is in Christ. “The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and hold our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back; and when that hand is seen we cry with the  Apostle, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4).”

Wrapping up the lecture, our professor has the following words of wisdom. “Be not be dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.  Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsake not his saint.

“Put no trust in frames and feelings. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a falling world. Never count on the immutability in man. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers.

“Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide.”

Please mark these words of comfort from pastor Spurgeon: “Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head (God). In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.” Amen!

Taken from Lectures to my Students by C.H. Spurgeon

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My Life as a Christian

Great Things He Has Done

There has been silence on the blog for the past weeks. One main reason that can better explain the muteness is preparations and departure for studies in a land not my own, United States of America (USA).

Together with my family, I have temporarily moved from the land of my birth, Malawi, to Grand Rapids,  Michigan to study for Masters of Arts in Religion (Emphasis: Systematic Theology) at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS).

One of the opening sentences to the International Student Manual for PRTS reads: “We know that God has brought you through many challenges to be with us.” This can’t be further from the truth. My preparations for studies have not been a piece of cake. Through the whole process, my understanding of God’s sovereignty has improved for the better, and I can confidently say like David: “If the Lord had not been on our side…” (you wouldn’t have been reading this post and I wouldn’t have written it either). The Malawian Gospel singing group, Ndirande Angilcan Voices, also put it better when they sang: “Akalemba Mulungu walemba basi” literally meaning “What God has determined to do, He will definitely do.”

For sure, this is not about me or my family but God alone who is the center of everything in heaven and earth. His ways are not our ways and they shall never be. I would like to thank Him for making my dream come true. He not only gave the dream but He also fulfilled it. Soli Deo Gloria! (To God alone be the glory)

I would like also to thank my parents, relations, in-laws and so many friends and work colleagues for standing up with me in prayer and encouraging and supporting me when the going got tough and I was about to throw in the towel. May God richly bless you. Like David again we can sing: “He who goes out weeping bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him,” (Psalm 126:6).

I will quote God’s Word recorded for us by David once more. Like this King of Israel I feel very much overwhelmed by what God has done for me and I can’t help it but wonder:

“Who am I, O Lord, and what is my house that you have brought me thus far? And this is a small thing in your eyes, O God…And what more can (I) say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant. For your servant’s sake, O Lord and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness…There is none like you, O LORD, and there is no God besides you” (1 Chronicles 17:14-20).

So, may all the saints join and help me sing “To God be the glory, great things He has done.” Fellow saints, lets also continue to remember each other in prayer. Seminary life just like any life can be hard at times but I pray that Christ alone will keep me going. Remember me in your prayers that God will also meet my needs and that of my family as I pray that he meets yours too.

Postscript:          We got a warm and nice welcome in Grand Rapids when we arrived on August 2, 2013. Most people are friendly and more than willing to assist and help as we are settling. I have also noticed so many Reformed churches in this part of Michigan and that’s more blessings for me. Oh, what great things He has done!

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Christianity and theology

Taking God’s Grace and Mercy for Granted

“Our tendency to take (God’s) grace for granted was driven home to me while teaching a freshman Old Testament course to 250 students at a Christian college. On the first day of class I went over the course assignments carefully. My experience taught me that the assignment of term papers required a special degree of explanation. This course required three short papers. I explained to the students that the first paper was due on my desk the noon of the last day of September. No extensions were to be given except for students who were physically confined to the infirmary or who had deaths in the immediate family. If the paper was not turned in on time, the student would receive an F for the assignment. The students acknowledged that they understood the requirements.

On the last day of September, 225 students dutifully handed in their term papers. Twenty-five students stood quaking in terror, full of remorse. They cried out, “Oh, Professor Sproul. We are sorry. We didn’t budget our time properly. We didn’t make the proper adjustment form high school to college. Please don’t give us an F. Please, oh, please give us an extension.”

I bowed to their pleas for mercy. “All right,” I said. “I’ll give you a break this time. But, remember, the next assignment is due the last day of October.”

The students were profuse in their gratitude and filled the air with solemn promises of being on time for the next assignment. Then came the last day of October. Two hundred students came with their papers. Fifty students came empty-handed. They were nervous, but not in panic. When I asked for their papers, again they were contrite. “Oh, Professor. It was Homecoming Week. Besides it is midterm and all of our assignments are due in other classes. Please give us on more chance. We promise it will never happen again.”

Once more I relented. I said, “OK, but this is the last time. If you are late for the next paper, it will be  an F. No excuses, no whining. F. Is that clear?” “Oh, yes, Professor. You are terrific.” Spontaneously the class began to sing, “We love you Prof Sproul. Oh, yes we do.” I was Mr. Popularity.

Can you guess what happened on the last day of November? Right. One hundred and fifty students came with their term papers. The other hundred strolled into the lecture hall utterly unconcerned. “Where are your term papers?” I asked. One student replied, “Oh, don’t worry, Prof, we’re working on them. We’ll have them for you in a couple of days, no sweat.”

I picked up my lethal black grade book and began taking down names. “Johnson! Do you have your paper?” “No sir,” came the reply. “F,” I said as I wrote the grade in the book….The students reacted with unmitigated fury. They howled in protest, screaming, “That’s not fair!”

The students had quickly taken my mercy for granted. They assumed it. When justice suddenly fell, they were unprepared for it. It came as a shock, and they were outraged. This is after only two doses of mercy in the space of two months.”

(Is this not the same way we treat God’s grace and mercy in our lives sometimes?)

Taken from “The Holiness of God” by R.C. Sproul

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My Life as a Christian

Reflections on my 2013 Birthday

Today, I celebrate a gift of over three decades in this world from our Father whom all blessings flow. As the day is progressing I have taken some time to reflect on my journey of thirty plus one years. One thing that has lingered in my mind is the truth that God can do all things and no single plan of his can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

Over the years, especially, the time that I have been a Christian, I have fully understood that God’s plan for my life cannot be frustrated by anything or anybody. Where I am today and what I am doing today is exactly what God planned before the foundations of the earth were laid.

This is a source of my comfort, especially in hard times,  hence I can’t  agree more with what Martin Luther once said, “… the greatest and only consolation of Christians in their adversities, is the knowing that God lies not, but does all things immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, changed, or hindered.”

But life is not only about hard times, there are also good times. In those good moments too, it is also of great consolation to know that God is still in control. Another instance this morning has even confirmed this great lesson even more.

Last year in November, I was offered a place and tuition scholarship to study at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS).  Like any other person who would find themselves in my shoes, I was very excited. Then the process of planning to go and study begun which eventually led to visa application then to visa interviews. Now, the thought of  ‘visa interviews’ sent a cold chill down my spine, particularly, as I faced the possibility that my application could be turned down and my cherished dream to study at PRTS would be shattered.

The process of visa interviews began today at 8 O’clock in the morning. My wife and I passed through all the necessary stages then came the last stage of actual interviews. Our names were called on a speaker within the waiting room and we went into the ‘interview room’ our hearts in our mouths with the fear of being denied the visa.

To our amazement, the interviewer just asked very few lighter questions like why did I chose PRTS of many seminaries in USA. She also asked my wife and I regarding our previous visits to US respectively. Then she found out when we got married and confirmed if we met at African Bible College where both of us were students. Then, that’s it! Visa granted. “Come tomorrow afternoon to collect your visa…good luck,” she ended the interviews.

We could feel our hearts settling down as joy and amazement took over anxiety and fear.  Just like that? Yes, just like that. Then we recalled that “God can do all things and his plans cannot be thwarted.” It was God’s will and plan that we get the visa today which also happens to be my birthday and nothing or anybody could stop that.

Friends, may this great truth also comfort you both in joy or pain. Never ever forget to remember that God will always accomplish his will. William Cowper was right when he composed that famous hymn, God moves in a mysterious way, and said:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

 Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Oh, what an amazing God!

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Christianity and theology

With Fear and Trembling

In my previous post, we looked  at the first part of  Philippians 2:12, 13 which reads: “Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure.”

We discussed what “work out your salvation’ means. Today I would like us to all look at the phrase:  “with fear and trembling.” What does this mean? Does it mean that believers should always live in fear that their salvation might be lost or God will take it away from them?

Not at all! Scripture now and again assures all believers that they are in safe hands of Christ and no one or anything can snatch them from the hand of Christ. In other words, believers cannot lose their salvation (John 10:27, 28; Romans 8:38, 39; Ephesians 2:13, 14; Philippians 1:6). Therefore, “with fear and trembling” does not mean that believers should be afraid of losing their salvation.

The phrase, rather, refers to awe and reverence that automatically comes out of believers when they ponder at their salvation, especially, on how God humbled himself to become a despised servant and later die on the cross for sinners and his enemies and rose from the dead. This act leaves believers with no other option but marvel at how this could be. It is this reverence of failing to fully grasp the depth of God’s love and grace that the phrase is referring to.

For sure salvation is an awesome thing and we can agree with Paul that the  gift of Christ to the fallen world is “an indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

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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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