mardi 17 octobre 2017

How to Train New Christians: Building on Firm Foundation

Image result for eternal tree
I have a net feeling that something has gone wrong in the way we have trained our new comers in Christ. I suspect the problem has been in the foundational doctrines and teachings, they have received. If I ask some Christian teachers in charge of training the new generation of Christians, "what is in your teaching curriculum?", What do you think they would say? I suspect it won't be far from what they gave me when I was in my early Christian life more than two decades ago. They typically taught me: How to Prayer, the importance of reading the Bible, How to be a witness for the faith, Going to church,etc.

May I suggest that all these items enumerated are indeed foundational tools to live and to do Christian works but they remain mostly tools of operation and not foundational teachings (doctrines) of the Christian faith. These should indeed be taught but not as a substitute to Christian foundational doctrines. I will explain what I mean shortly.

WHAT IS A FOUNDATION?

Foundations are what gives our infrastructures stabilities and resilience during harsh weather and environmental turmoil such as earthquakes, tsunamis and else. What is true of man's structures such as buildings or houses is equally true for plants. Plants need roots. The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, and the more resistant it will be to any attempt to be uprooted.

I believe that what is true about men's creation, is equally true about God's creation in general and notably Man. All of us need 'roots', foundations in order to navigate this life with confidence and equilibrium. If the natural man requires a foundation to sustain himseelf, how much more the spiritual man who have  to deal with both worlds (the natural world and the spiritual world)?

After all, the Psalmist recognized the need for a foundation to the spiritual man, "When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" - Psalm 11:3 ISV

SEARCHING FOR THE BELIEVERS FOUNDATION 

Luckily for us, we do not have to err and guess what would constitute the firm foundation a believer need. The first Christian community knew what was their foundation which they considered to be solid (2Timothy 2:19). And to a large extent the modern Christian community also knows that this solid foundation is none other than the one who redeemed us.
"After all, no one can lay any other foundation than the one that is already laid, and that is Jesus the Messiah." - 1 Corinthians 3:11 ISV
The person of Jesus Christ is the solid foundation on which Christians of all ages find comfort, solace and stability in this hostile world that has never ceased to provoke, persecute and ultimately martyr believers.

That being said, we may still feel uncertain on how is it possible that a person, even divine, could become a foundation? Saying that Jesus Christ is a foundation doesn't explain how He serves that role of a solid and firm foundation. To understand the mechanism of how Jesus Christ can become a foundation for Christians, we will have to go to Jesus Himself to explain the mechanism. Fortunately for us, the Lord Jesus Christ does in fact explain how He is our firm foundation in the Gospel of Matthew,
"Therefore, everyone who listens to these messages [words] of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock." - Matthew 7:24 ISV
Jesus, our firm foundation tells us that we build our lives on solid rock when we listen to His words and when we put His words into practice. Jesus purpose in this particular parable is not to emphasize that He is the rock but rather that His words are the rock on which believers build. The words of Jesus is the key in this passage. If believers want to be on Jesus firm foundation, they have to listen to Jesus messages and them practice what He taught. This explains it all in terms of the mechanism.

N.B: An important note, Jesus spoke sometimes in parables, sometimes literally and sometime prophetically. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss how to recognize what speech is which.

This information in Matthew lead us into our first difficulty due to our modern young Christians who have been incorrectly taught Christian doctrines. A small segment of young believers are seduced into believing that Jesus words before the Cross doesn't matter. They are brainwashed in believing that the only thing that matters to the New Covenant believers are what only happened after the Cross of Golgotha. This is very unfortunate since most of Jesus' words have been uttered / spoken before the Cross namely,

1) his teachings about forgiveness & reconciliation (Mathew 5:24; 6:15),
2) the love of God the Father (Luke 15:11-32),
3) the role of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16),
4) the grace to save sinners (Mark 2:10),
5) to be 'born-again' (John 3:3),
6) the last supper/the Eucharist (Luke 22:19-20),
7) Eternal life (John 17:3),
8) and many more.

This is why those who can't bring themselves in considering Jesus messages and words as being relevant today can not have any firm foundation since they cut themselves off from Jesus. They build their lives on sands and not on the rock which is the hearing and the application of Jesus' words (see, Matthew 7:24). To make matter worse, those who artificially segregate Jesus teachings by what He taught before the cross from what He taught after the cross, can not reasonably understand the blessed role of the Holy Spirit; since His role among other was to remind the disciples of what Jesus used to teach when He was still with them on earth before the Cross of Golgotha,
Image result for firm foundation"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you." - John 14:26  
Hence, they render the plan of God on their behalf unfruitful since they actively refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to do His complete work in them through Jesus words spoken before the Cross. They have no firm foundation and their fall is assured.

FIRM FOUNDATION: HOW TO KNOW IT?

Where do we even get the Lord Jesus words so that we can listen to them and apply them into our lives? For modern Christians, this is rather an easy question to ask for we have the Bible. However for the early four (4) centuries of Christianity, the Bible was not yet aggregated into one collection. All the biblical letters and books of the New Testament were circulating in Christian community separately. So for early Christians to know what Jesus actually said they had to get hold of a trusted source who have heard Jesus and have lived with Jesus while He was still on earth. This is why to get to Jesus' words and teachings believers turned to the apostles and the prophets (1Peter1:11).
"having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the Messiah Jesus himself being the cornerstone." - Ephesians 2:20  
This is very important to understand because they are some false beliefs floating out there that insist that only St. Paul, the apostle should be listen to by modern Christians. The reasoning being that He was the apostle sent to the uncircumcised, the non-Jews also known as the Gentiles. The problem with this reasoning is that St. Paul himself rejects such a view by referring to the foundation of the apostles in Ephesians 2:20. The word, "apostles", is in plural and not in the singular. This means more than one apostle.

We also know from St. Paul experiences that after he received in a revelation and preached the message of the Gospel of Christ, he decided to ascertain that what he was preaching was in line with what Jesus himself taught. How could he have known what Jesus really taught apart from the spiritual revelation he received from the Lord? The same principle applies. He went to the apostles that had lived with and heard Jesus teach. St. Paul recounted that investigative trip in his epistle of Galatians,
"Then fourteen years later I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus with me. I went in response to a revelation, and in a private meeting with the reputed leaders, I explained to them the gospel that I'm proclaiming to the gentiles. I did this because I was afraid that I was running or had run my life's race for nothing. ... Now those who were reputed to be important added nothing to my message. (What sort of people they were makes no difference to me, since God pays no attention to outward appearances.) ... So when James, Cephas, and John (who were reputed to be leaders) recognized the grace that had been given me, they gave Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the gentiles and they to the circumcised" - Galatians 2:1-2, 6, 9 

It is clear from the above texts that the reputed leaders St. Paul went to consult were matter of facts apostles that walked and heard Jesus teach when He was still on earth (see verse 9). And these reputed apostles added nothing to the message that St. Paul was preaching for they realized that though he didn't walk with Jesus in Capernaum or other Israeli cities, he had nevertheless received supernaturally the same message of the Gospel by God's grace. But the point to remember is, St, Paul turned to other apostles who lived with Jesus to ascertain that he had the right 'stuff' so to speak and not a foreign gospel or a foreign message. It must always be Jesus messages from start to end and nothing else. For there is no other firm foundation outside of Jesus, in no other messages do we find the rock on which to build our lives (John 6:68).

ELEMENTS OF THE FOUNDATION 

Image result for eternal treeIt is no secret that Jesus said and did much in His short ministry before His heavenly ascension. So where do we begin in assessing his teaching and words? Since the Lord Jesus taught on many topics and so did his apostles influenced by Jesus' Holy Spirit, it would be nice if we could have a primer from which we can start our building. Once again, God has not left us in the confusion. Jesus teachings and sayings are grouped in six (6) basic teachings. Those six doctrines can serve as basic Christian teachings from which the rest of the super-structure of the Christian life can be built upon. Here is how the scriptures introduce them:
"Therefore, leaving behind the elementary teachings about the Messiah, let us continue to be carried along to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead actions, faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." - Hebrews 6:1-2  
From Hebrew 6, we are informed about what the foundation consist of. It is also called the elementary doctrines or teachings of Jesus Christ. These elementary teachings are pieces of the one foundation we have in Christ Jesus. To described them separately, we have:

a) Repentance from dead work
b) Faith toward God
c) Doctrines of baptisms
d) Laying on of hands
e) Resurrection of the dead 
f) Eternal Judgment

These six (6) doctrines serve as the elementary teachings of Christ that makes up the basic foundation every believer should know and understand. For if we could only start in clarifying the foundation, many will find great joy, confidence and understanding in their Christian life. And they will be little reason to fall away from grace due to winds of false doctrines currently assailing the Christian community in Rwanda, particularly the youth.

In my experience, many problems I have met with new believers or older Christians not thoroughly trained in basic Christianity can be directly traced to one of these six doctrines. I remember teaching a series on these elementary teaching of the Christian faith in the year 2014 at Diplomat Hotel. I still remember vividly the surprised look some believers returned me after I ended each teaching session. More interesting were the question and answer sessions which proved to me how uncoordinated were the biblical knowledge of some believers. They knew biblical texts but had no proper framing to understand them in the grand theological scheme. That is when it really dawned on me that many of the debates (not all) but many debate I had could be traced back to a misunderstanding of one of these elementary teachings on the part of my opponents.

No wonder we have been sadly losing many believers into sects and heretical movements crawling unchecked throughout our Rwandan Churches in recent years. This is a sad state of affair that need to be remedy!
"By wisdom a house is built; it is made secure through understanding." - Proverb 24:3

mardi 3 octobre 2017

The Side of Faith I Never Knew

Today's I am hosting a guest writer, Lisette Buki, who wanted to share something that she recently learned through a family tragedy she experienced. See he post below.
....
The Side of Faith I Have Never known

Image result for faith I never knewI order you to ask Adede or Coco about me” wrote Kunda in a WhatsApp group she and I along with some of my female cousins shared. She accompanied her puzzling order with a teasing, smiley emoticon. Kunda, Coco and Adede are all my cousins by the way, and today I will share a story specifically about Kunda.

Since the message had a teasing emoticon, I didn't expect nor gave any seriousness. I wasn't expecting any sort of aggravating news, at least, not a bad one. I initially thought, perhaps she want to inform us that her family was moving to join her husband (who has been working abroad for months) or something similar.

Following on her request or should I say her order, I contacted Adede who informed me that Kunda was from the doctor’s office and she was diagnosed with a failing liver that couldn't be cured. I later learned that it was an aggressive form of liver cancer. She was about to go to India for a second medical opinion hoping to counter the initial diagnosis. I was so shocked, I said to myself, “this cannot happen to Kunda!

Let me tell you a bit about Kunda. She was the type of person that makes you ask yourself: “Is she a human or an angel?” At time, some family members were belatedly convinced that she was an angel who was living with us without us knowing! (smile)

I personally met Kunda in my first year of college. First year students didn't have right to have their own rooms in Campus so the trends was to look for an older person kind enough to share their rooms with new comers. Since Kunda was an elder, she had the right to have a bed in college; she was willing to share her bed with me at the requested of my elder sister. She agreed and welcomed me. The big surprise came when I noticed that she gave away her whole bed for me and a friend of hers who had nowhere to stay. She spent the whole academic year with no fixed address spending her nights sometimes at her friends’ room and sometimes back in our room (technically still her room) when one of us were absent from Campus. This type of sacrificial generosity marked me profoundly.
Kunda didn't always have an easy life. She was a survivor from the 1994 genocide against Tutsi (Rwanda). She and her two sisters were the lone survivors. She lost her parents and brothers. After this tragedy, her and her sisters moved from family to family and were not most of the time treated with loving kindness.

It is in high school that she became a Christian and a journey of transformation began for her after that encounter with Jesus Christ. Since then, she had been a devoted Christian, serving the Kingdom of God as much as she could. Later in life, her husband and her 3 beautiful children were among her most prized possession and blessings. Personally, the main thing that amazed me about Kunda was her wisdom. She was only 4 years my elder but her wisdom was impressive! I have learned so much from her, I already miss our many discussion and her many profound and insightful advises.

Alright, back to my story

As I said earlier, I was so shocked and heart broken by the news of deteriorating health. “This cannot happen to Kunda!” I kept saying to myself. On her way to India she requested us, in our family WhatsApp group, to keep praying that she receive a contrary diagnosis from India. Being a Christian myself, I was convinced that Kunda could not die this early at the prime of her life and that somehow God will use the cancer to miraculously heal her. We immediately organized a fasting and prayer day for that request.

Unfortunately the diagnosis was equally confirmed in India. The team of doctors didn't even suggest a treatment, save one of them who wanted to try some alternative medical treatment. This alternative treatment came as good news. We thought that was a sign of God being at work! Kunda decided to take back home her alternative treatment in order to be closed to her family. As for us, we decided to continue to pray and fast for her once a week until the day she would be healed. The prayer group took a life of its own, growing beyond the confine of the family to attract friends and the extended family. Well, matter of fact, I came to learn that others people from all over the world had joined us in prayer.

Few months later, she went back to India for check-up on the effect of the treatment. Unfortunately, the doctors realized that the treatment didn't work as well as they hoped for. The only hope we had now was a miracle from the Lord. So we continued to pray for her. During this time of prayers, we received encouraging scriptures, ‘prophesies’, dreams, etc. From our interpretation of them, we were sure that she will be healed. Kunda, herself, was so sure that she will be healed despite the ravaging work of the cancer to her body, she resumed work until the day she was physically unable to continue. Days were passing by and day by day she was getting weaker and weaker. Her doctor decided to intern her at the hospital. A week after, I was informed that she had passed away and joined her Lord that she served with such love and loyalty. I couldn't believe the news. Then I remembered the thought I had few months ago while praying for her, “God was never late. The story of Lazarus proves it”. (The story of Lazarus can be found in the bible in John 11:1-46). I was encouraged. Even before the passing of Kunda, I shared the thought with her.

Here is our conversation:
Me: Hello Sisi. When I was praying for you this morning I had this thought: God is never late… the story of Lazarus proves it. I realized from Lazarus’ story that despite the fact that Jesus loved very much Lazarus’s family, and the cry for help from Lazarus’ sisters, he decided to stay 2 more days.  Later on in the chapter he gives the reason for waiting. We all know that God deeply loves you and your family. There might surely be a reason why God is taking time but let us remember that "He is never late". Meanwhile I pray that He strengthens you and your family
Kunda: Thx lovely sis to remember me in your prayers. Thank you also for the Word... Indeed I continue to trust in the Lord, keeping the faith waiting upon Him!  
So I thought to myself, “that is not over, God will resurrect her as he did for Lazarus”. My hope was back and I started praying for that to happen. To my surprise, I wasn't the only one in our prayer group who was convinced that God will bring her back to live. Besides, her husband decided that the burial ceremony would be on Thursday (it was the day we used to pray and fast for her healing) and that Thursday coincidentally fell on the 4th day after her death. It reminded me the story of Lazarus. For me and my folks who wouldn't let her go, it was a sign that she would come back. So we prayed and prayed earnestly.

The day of the burial arrived and the ceremonies happened as it was planned. The body of Kunda was buried and the miracle so expected didn't happen.

The realization of Kunda’s death then deemed on me, “Kunda really left us to join our Lord”. I had mixed feeling about everything. I knew I will be missing her but I was especially sad that she was gone so young leaving a husband and three young kids. At the same time, I knew she was not suffering any more, she was happy to be with her Lord she serves so faithfully and God would take care of her family. I knew from Christian theology, the dead in Christ finally rest in the presence of their Master.

In addition to my mixed emotion, I was left with one main concern I couldn't rationalize post-facto: Kunda faithfully believed until her last day that she would be physically healed. Dying was not an option for her. She believed so much that she didn't even bother to prepare her family just in case she didn't get through the illness. She relied on the many supposedly confirmation she had received from herself and others people in prayers, dreams, comforting scriptures, prophecies, etc. 

So why the promises she believed to have received did not happen?

Is God a liar? What did really happen? Perhaps we were misled on the promises received? Or they were not true? Kunda and her husband were really open to know the will of God whatever it would have been, good or bad. They told us that from the get go in our early prayer meetings. This confused and discouraged me. I started asking around but I received answers that did not satisfy my queries. It became a heavy burden. I was getting no way. I couldn't figure out God anymore.

Thanks God, my confusion didn’t last for long. Two weeks after Kunda’s death, in a bible study group, I voiced my concern once again by popping the question. “Can God promise something, and it doesn’t come to pass?”

One of the members in the Bible Study replied by sharing with me this verse:
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrew 11: 39-40
This scripture felt like a Eureka to me. I had read this scripture many times when praying for Kunda but never realized this portion of the chapter. It is possible that God promises you something but you do not receive it. However, from the same scripture it doesn't make God a liar since He gives you even better than the way you expected to receive the promise. “How come I never knew about it?”,
I felt so free and overwhelmed with joy. Kunda after all received more than what was promised her on this earth. ALLELUIA!

I still miss her for sure, but the idea that she received more than her physical healing brings smile on my face. I will keep that smile until the day I smile with her again and that will be for eternity.
This is the end of my story. Today I have a thought for all the heroes of faith who did not received what was promised to them but received even better according to Scriptures. 

A special tribute to Dr.Nabeel Qureshi, a brother in Christ and friend I have never met.

lundi 25 septembre 2017

Is there two different Gospels,One for Paul and another for Peter?

Image result for the gospelLast weekend I was invited to participate in a dialogue-debate on the subject, "Is the Gospel preached by Paul different from the one preached by Peter?". It wasn't a debate per se, since we were never given the format to question the other presenter. My interlocutor was a young man who have come to believe in recent years after the year 2012 that there were supposedly two different gospels being preached in the New Testament. As for me, I was there to re-emphasis what the scriptures have been saying all along, that Peter and Paul were preaching the same Gospel albeit to different audiences (Circumcised Jews and uncircumcised non-Jews).

My contention was simple. We can not say that St. Paul had a different gospel than St. Peter if we can not first identify what was the Gospel preached by both. Only by knowing what they preached as Gospel could we point to similarities or dissimilarities. This was the basis of my presentation.

I introduced the participants to the content of the Gospel. One of the main issue in many debates is that people do not define or clarify words that they are using. For-example, my 'debate' opponent held to the view that there is supposedly one Gospel called the Gospel of the Kingdom preached by Peter and Jesus and that there were another Gospel called the Gospel of Grace preached by Paul. Obviously this distinction has zero basis in the scripture. It is not because the Gospel is called in one place the Gospel of the Kingdom and that in another place it is called the Gospel of Grace that this should mean that it is therefore two different Gospels. That is an incorrect reasoning. To that effect, I started to point out that the difference of names doesn't mean that they are different Gospels. I pointed out that the New Testament have used different names for the gospel.

For-example, the Gospel is also called:
1) My Gospel (2Timothy 2:8)
2) Our Gospel (1Thessalonians 1:5; 2Thessalonians 2:14)
3) The Gospel of God (1Thessalonians 2:8; 1Peter 4:17)
4) The Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15, Acts 10:26)
5) The Gospel of His Son (Romans 1:9)
6) The Eternal Gospel (Revelation 14:6)
7) The Gospel of our Lord Jesus (2Thessalonians 1:8)
8) The Gospel of the glory of Christ (2Corinthians 4:4)
9) The Gospel of the Kingdom (Mathew 24:14)
10) The Gospel of Grace (Acts 20:24)
11) The Gospel of Christ (Galatians1:7)

As we can see, I was able to identify at least 11 different way that the Gospel is named. But this doesn't mean that the bible teaches about 11 different Gospels. And if we look carefully at every single instances in the New Testament, the Gospel is always in singular and never in plural form. There is no such thing as Gospels (in plural) but only Gospel (in singular). In the last name given to the gospel in the list above, we read  in Galatians 1:7 that "not that there is another [Gospel], but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ."

St. Paul clearly informed that there is no such thing as another Gospel and those claiming that there are other Gospels than the one was preached about Jesus by St. Paul and the other Apostle are simply troubling their audiences.

What Is Paul's Gospel?
Having said that, I went straight to identify what was the content of the Gospel preached by St. Paul and used it as the basis and benchmark to analyze which Gospel did Peter or Jesus preached in order to know if it is the same or if there are different.

Fortunately, St. Paul had provided an easy way to know what he considered the Gospel to be, based on the revelation he received from Jesus about it,
"For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a man, nor was I taught it, but it was revealed to me by Jesus the Messiah." - Galatians 1:11-12  
"Now I'm making known to you, brothers, the gospel that I proclaimed to you, which you accepted, on which you have taken your stand, and by which you are also being saved if you hold firmly to the message I proclaimed to you—unless, of course, your faith was worthless." - 1Corinthians 15:1-2  
Here is how St. Paul defined the Gospel in three points that are interlinked in 1 Corinthians 15 and I quote:

Intro: "Now I'm making known to you, brothers, the gospel that I proclaimed to you ..." - (1Co 15:3)  

First, "For I passed on to you the most important points that I received: The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures," - (1Corinthians 15:3)
Second, "he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures—and is still alive!" - (1Corinthians 15:4)
Third, "and he was seen by Cephas, and then by the Twelve." - (1Corinthians 15:5)

N.B: In brief, I can summarize St. Paul's identification of the Gospel he proclaimed in these two simple information:  1) Christ died and was buried; and 2) Christ was resurrected and he appeared alive (he was seen).

Since St. Paul identified the Gospel he preached on these two elements: Christ died, Buried and Christ was resurrected and seen; we can now go an look if these elements could be identified in the preaching of St. Peter and see if he preached the same Gospel or if he had a different Gospel as my debate opponent claimed.

Peter's Preaching:
At Pentecost, we see St. Peter preaching the Jews while touching exactly the same content which makes the Gospel as preached by St. Paul namely, Jesus was killed (died and was buried in a Tomb) and he was resurrected and he was seen. The disciples are witness of that resurrection.
Act 2:23-24  "this One given to you by the before-determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken and by lawless hands, crucifying Him, you put Him to deathwhom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it."
Act 2:31-32 "he looked ahead and spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah: 'He was not abandoned to Hades, and his flesh did not experience decay.' "It was this very Jesus whom God raised, and of that we are all witnesses."
At the Gate's of Salomon, St. Peter explained the gospel to those who were astonished of the healing miracle of a crippled man. And surely enough he pointed out to the same contents which was identified by St. Paul as the Gospel preached to the nations in 1 Corinthians 15, namely Jesus died, God raised him from the dead and they are witness of that resurrection because they saw Jesus appearing to them alive.
Act 3:15  "And you killed the Prince of Life, whom God has raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.
At Cornelius house, St. Peter said that the Gospel Jesus preached to the sons of Israel before the cross was called the gospel of peace, using the  exact same word St. Paul use when he talked to the non-jews about the gospel calling it the gospel of peace in Ephesians 6:15. More interestingly is that St. Peter use all the same important point of the gospel just as St. Paul identified them in 1 Corinthians 15 namely, Christ died, was resurrected and he was seen after the resurrection for God showed him openly.
Act 10:36  "You know the Word which God sent to the sons of Israel, preaching the gospel of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all!); And we are witnesses of all things which He did, both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him and hanged Him on a tree;"
Act 10:40  "but God raised Him up the third day and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses hand-picked before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead."
In all frankness, there is no logical reason, no biblical reasons to believe that St. Paul and St. Peter preached a different Gospel. It is clear that it is the same Gospel for it does mention the very same historical facts about Jesus death and resurrection. The only different that maybe perceived between them can simply be expressed in linguistic style of speaking and the different audiences they met.

In my 'debate' I brought the audience to even more evidences that both St. Paul and St. Peter preached the same message to all the nations, remarking that the Bible has always had a chronology about how the preaching should have been preached. For three (3) years during the ministry of the Lord Jesus in the land of Israel, the gospel was exclusively focused to the sons of Israel but after the cross this same message called the gospel of peace or the gospel of the kingdom or the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God (Mark 1:1) was now to be preached to all nations as per Jesus explicit order in Luke 24 and prophetically in Mathew 24:14.
Luke 24:46-47 "[Jesus] told them, "This is how it is written: the Messiah was to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and then repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
The Gospel that Jesus ordered to the disciples was to begin in Jerusalem but was never to stay in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was just the beginning. St. Paul understood that as well,
Rom 15:19  "by the power of signs and wonders, and by the power of God's Spirit, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of the Messiah from Jerusalem as far as Illyricum." 
Rom 1:16  "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God's power for the salvation of everyone who believes, of the Jew first and of the Greek as well."
The reason I raised the point that the same gospel brought salvation to both Jews and Greek or people of other nations, it is because in the belief system of my debate opponent, the gospel preached by Peter and Jesus was only to be preached to Jews while the message preached by Paul was somehow mysteriously for the nations and the Jews. But we see clearly that the same gospel was preached not only to Jews who were outside Jerusalem but it was also preached by St. Paul in Jerusalem. He didn't change his message depending on which geographic location he happened to be in contrary to what those believing in the supposedly "two gospels" says. For some reason they get this simple fact spectacularly wrong.

Even the Lord Jesus pointed out that the Gospel of the Kingdom which is the same as the gospel of peace was to be preached ultimately to all nations and not to the Jews in Israel only. Here is how the Lord Jesus puts it:
Mathew 24:14  "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
When St. Paul spoke of the gospel of grace that he was preaching, he presciently linked it to the message of the Kingdom as if he anticipated almost 2000 years in advance this wrong belief that will try to artificially separate the message of grace and the message of the kingdom.
Act 20:24-25 "But I don't place any value on my life, if only I can finish my race and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. "Now I know that none of you among whom I traveled preaching about the kingdom will ever see my face again."
So the conclusion given in the scripture is that St. Paul and St. Peter preached the very same message of salvation. St. Peter admitted as much that both the Jews in Jerusalem and non-jews in the nation have received the same message of grace,
"We certainly believe that it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, that we are saved, just as they are." - Acts 15:11  
St. Paul said exactly the same about the gospel that he preached saying that it is comparable to the one the other apostles like Peter (Cephas) were peaching:
"So, whether it was I or the others, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed." - 1Corinthians 15:11   
I will end with a quote of the apostle Paul summarizing his gospel in one point which makes it even more similar and recognizable as the message all the other apostles and evangelists in the New Testament preached,
"Meditate on Jesus, the Messiah, who was raised from the dead and is a descendant of David. This is the gospel I tell others." - 2 Timothy 2:8  ISV

mercredi 20 septembre 2017

A Christian Reflection on Life After Death

Image result for life after deathDeath comes for all of us. Escaping it has been the wishes of many throughout generations. Under the sun as would have said the sage of old, after death all dreams cherished on earth ceases to be. This sentiment was expressed forcefully by the Ecclesiastes:
"At least the living know they will die, but the dead know nothing; they no longer have a reward, since memory about them has been forgotten."- Ecclesiastes 9:5
The Ecclesiastes is known to be a preacher that presented everything being done or happening on earth as being vain, futile and ultimately without lasting purpose, hence his signature, 'Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity' (Ecc.1:2). His specialty was to portray a grim picture of human life by taking out all purposes and meaning out of man's existence if this natural life was all there is to be. If all end with death, he reasoned, then nothing really matters. If all end with the end of this life, then it doesn't matter whether one live a life of nobility and goodness or if one live a life of wickedness and corruption, wise or fool, men or beast we all end up in a forgotten place with no memories, no pleasure and no pain.
"For neither the wise nor the fool will be long remembered, since in days to come everything will be forgotten. The wise man dies the same way as the fool, does he not?"-
Ecclesiastes 2:16 
Attracting our attention to the creation of man as expressed in Genesis, the Ecclesiastes reasoned that,
"All of them go to one place: all of them originate from dust, and all of them return to dust." - Ecclesiastes 3:20 
If man is no different from an animal or any other creation then his existence ends with this world. But, is this all the Ecclesiastes says about the death of human beings? We discover if we keep reading that as he come close to the end of his book, a message of hopes started emerging. A message that recognizes that not all is vain, not everything is insignificant. On the last chapter (12) of his book, he reminds his readers that evil man and good man in this life shall not be treated the same. He warned that there is indeed something more to this natural realm. There is a spiritual realm, and God who is Spirit is interested in what has happened in the natural world, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it is good, or whether evil." (Ecc 12.14).

The language dramatically changes after 11 chapters of 'vanity, vanity, all is vanity'. Suddenly, not everything is vanity and meaningless. Now there is a judgment, there is someone who cares and remind us that the natural life is not all there is to be. It seems that the Ecclesiastes has tried to make an argument based on Genesis 2:7 throughout the book.
"(a) God formed man of the dust of the ground, and (b) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Genesis 2:7
 It seems that the Ecclesiastes in chapter 3:20, quoted above, was only making an argument based on the first part (a) of Genesis 2:7, namely "man was made of dust" without attracting the attention of the readers to the second part (b) which clearly pointed out that man was made with more than a material element namely "dust". There was a spiritual element in man, an immaterial element in man which has been called "spirit" or "soul". And it is in his last chapter 12 that the Ecclesiastes complete his thoughts in order to bring significance and meaning to human life,
"Then man's dust will go back to the earth, returning to what it was, and the spirit will return to the God who gave it." - Ecclesiastes 12:7 
In completing his thought, the Ecclesiastes make two affirmation, a) man's body which is dust will go back to earth. However, b) man's spirit which is immaterial and soulish will go to another destination, a spiritual destination, to the realm of his creator.

This belief that man has both a material aspect to him (the body that stays in the dust realm) and an immaterial aspect to him (the soul that goes to the Creator's realm) became more forcefully expressed in the New Testament starting with the one who had both knowledge of this world and of the other world,
"Stop being afraid of those who kill the body but can't kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell." - Matthew 10:28 
The Lord Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be afraid in the face of deadly opposition to their faith reminding them that those who kill the body can not kill their soul. Even though they might put the believers body to death and return it to the dust as would say the Ecclesiastes, their soul can not be equally killed for their souls will survive the persecution, the Lord Jesus informed his disciples.

This wasn't the first time Jesus pulled the veil of what happens after death when man's body go to dust and his spirit to the Creator. In the book of Revelation, St. John is given a revelation of what had happened to the souls of the martyrs after their physical death,
Revelations 6:9 "When the lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the word of God and the testimony they had given."
Rev 6:10  "They cried out in a loud voice, "Holy and true Sovereign, how long will it be before you judge and take revenge on those living on the earth who shed our blood?" 
Rev 6:11  "Each of them was given a white robe. They were told to rest a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers was completed, who would be killed as they themselves had been."
From this portion of Revelation 12:9-11, we are informed that St. John was able to:
1) see the Souls of the Martyrs (v.9)
2) hear them speak and cry out in a loud voice (v. 10)
3) see the Souls receive something (white robe, v.11)
4) see the Souls receive instruction about remaining calm and being at rest (v. 11).

These four (4) points are biblical proof that the Souls which survive the physical death are conscious. So conscious matter of fact that they could speak and hear instruction given to them. More interesting is that when God lifted the veil of the spiritual realm, St. John was able to see the souls of those who died as Martyrs as pointed out in verse 9. This is not unlike what happened to the disciples when they prayed with the Lord Jesus at the Mount of transfiguration and that God opened their spiritual eyes to see beyond the veil of the natural world as St. John did in the book of Revelation:
"And Elijah with Moses was seen by them, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. And let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah ... And suddenly, looking around, they did not see anyone any more, except Jesus alone with themselves." - Mark 9:4-5, 8.
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes that the disciples saw both Elijah and Moses. Regardless of what your theology maybe of the status of Elijah, what is sure to all though is that Moses was dead, "And Moses the servant of Jehovah died there in the land of Moab, according to the Word of Jehovah." (Deuteronomy 34:5). Despite Moses physical death, which mean his body returning to dust by being buried, his souls survived his physical death long enough to meet with his Lord in Palestine on the Mount of Transfiguration many centuries later.

We find similar stories of the human soul surviving the physical death of man. One such strange story is told of Elijah the prophet that involved the soul of a departed child,
"And he [Elijah] stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to Jehovah, and said, 'O Jehovah my God, please let this child's soul come to him again'.  And Jehovah heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he lived." - 1 King 17:21-22
So those who think that life end with this world have seriously misunderstood the Ecclesiastes, and have not paid much attention to what the scriptures kept saying on the issue of man's death. For man do not only have a body that sleeps in the dust but man has also a soul/spirit that survives man's bodily's death. This was the whole exercise of the parable of the wicked rich and the poor Lazarus. Though both bodies went to the ground, back to dust, and that their cerebral activities ceased functioning (Ecc 9:5), their story of their conscious existence didn't end there (Luke 16:19-31).

Here is what St. Paul the apostle had to say about death despite his desire to stay on earth to serve his beloved brothers and sisters in the faith,
"Indeed, I cannot decide between the two. I have the desire to leave this life and be with the Messiah, for that is far better." - Philippians 1:23-24 
St. Paul was totally positive that to leave this life was not an absolute end to his conscious life, but he knew based on the biblical evidence that he would be with the Messiah, Jesus. What He said to the Church to the Philippians he also reiterated to the Church of Corinth,
"We are confident, then, and would prefer to be away from this body and to live with the Lord." - 2 Corinthians 5:8 
Understanding that man is made with a material part (body) and an immaterial part (Spirit and/or Soul) is the key to understand what happens to those who experience physical death. St. Paul exemplify this understanding of man as a tripartite entity, "And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blamelessly at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." - 1 Thessalonians 5:23

I will end by quoting Dr. Ravi Zacharias tributes to our departed beloved brother Nabeel Qureshi who is at this moment at the presence of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
"Knowing the biblical message, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it well:
Life is real! life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul."

mardi 25 juillet 2017

When Satan Does Not Collaborate with our 'Theologies'

Image result for satan"It is impossible, Satan can't even pronounce the name of Jesus", my friend retorted confidently. He was certain I didn't understand the power of God so he took upon himself the task to lecture me on God's power over Satan and his army of evil spirits and demons.

This conversation happened in 2005. My friend was discovering it seemed, the amazing and glorious power of the Lord. Just as it happened to many before him, discovering something new about our faith tend to make people take the extreme position with zero regard to other biblical evidences. I have been a practicing Christians for more than 20 years now and I can still remember time when people claimed all Christianity could be understood through the lenses of:

  • The Blood of Jesus, 
  • The Cross, 
  • The baptism of the Holy Spirit, 
  • Intercessory prayer, 
  • Prophecies 
  • and now the message of Grace.

Different topics, same logic. My good friend in South Africa resumed all of Christianity through the
lenses of the Power of God found in the name of Jesus. My contention to him was simply this, there is true power in the name of Jesus but this doesn't mean that Satan is for that matter incapable of resisting us, attacking us or for that matter speak (uttering) the name of Jesus. This latter one was what made him explode. "Each time we use the name of Jesus, Satan fall from his chair", he insisted. He heard it from someone who used to be a practicing sorcerer He claimed.

Having heard briefly his reasoning, I asked him if he was willing to hear the other side of the story. He smiled and gave me the go ahead. So I opened the New Testament I had with me and read him this:
"Suddenly there was a man in their synagogue who had an unclean spirit. He screamed, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!'" - Mark 1:23-24
After pointing out to him that unclean spirits, also known in some circles as demons, did pronounce (utter) the word "Jesus" without falling from 'their chairs'; he looked a bit surprised but resisted to give in. 'I am not convinced', he said. But I attracted his attention to the gospel of Mark by reading again the text and emphasized this portion, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?'

He reasoned, 'yes, you have a point. The evil spirit did in fact pronounce the name of Jesus but that was before Jesus triumph over them at the Cross as it is written in Colossians. But today they can't dare pronounce His name'. Here is the verse my friend was referring too,
"He [Jesus] took those charges away when he nailed them to the cross. And when he had disarmed the rulers and the authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross." - Colossians 2:14-15
Seeing that he was honest enough to recognize at least that the Gospel of Mark didn't support his position, I pushed for the next step. Probing him to see if he was interested to go the extra-mile in his honesty. 'Can I share with you another text then and you can tell me what you think of it?' I said without waiting for his answer. I quickly turned by New Testament pages and read him this:
"But the evil spirit told them, 'Jesus I know, and I am getting acquainted with Paul, but who are you?'" - Acts 19:15 
This time my friend was really taken aback. He gazed intently into the Bible trying to read preceding texts, trying to find out if there was other hidden meaning or an out of the context verse. Then he laughed. 

'I can't believe demons have dared to pronounce the 'name of Jesus'!''- He was incredulous and laughing nervously. He was convinced I came to learn later. He had elevated stories and anecdotes he heard in different Christian communities above the testimony of the scriptures. His intention was perfectly understandable. He wanted a crushing victory over Satan and all his legions of demons, but the scriptures was revealing to him that even though Christ's victory over Satan was absolute, this doesn't have to mean we have to make up new 'theologies' without taking in account what the bible really teaches.  

IT IS NOT BLACK AND WHITE

I had come to learn that things are not always as simple as some teachers or preachers of the Bible tend to make it sound. Let's take the case on casting out (expelling demons).

Expelling Demons:

St Paul had an episode where he was confronted with a demonic activity and he seemed to have effortlessly expel that demon by using the name of Jesus.
"She kept doing this for many days until Paul became annoyed, turned to her and told the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus the Messiah to come out of her!" And it came out that very moment." - Acts 16:18   
However when we read 3 chapters later, a group of young men also using the name of Jesus didn't find the same successful experience in expelling demons.
"Then some Jews who went around trying to drive out demons attempted to use the name of the Lord Jesus on those who had evil spirits, saying, "I command you by that Jesus whom Paul preaches!" ... Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them, got the better of them, and so violently overpowered all of them that they fled out of the house naked and bruised. - Act 19:13, 16
Image result for satanIn the case quote above in The Acts of the Apostle, they used the right name, the name of Jesus. They even specified which Jesus they spoke of, Jesus the Christ who Paul was preaching. Despite that, demons were overtly aggressive and hostile to them and refused to leave despite the use of the name of Jesus, and that demons made sure that those praying in the name of Jesus were the one leaving that home in a catastrophic manner.

The Apostle of Power

In those days of St. Paul ministry, he experienced great divine power and we are told that demons were expelled even by the presence of some of his handkerchiefs. 
"And God did works of power through the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons from his skin being brought onto the sick, the diseases were released, and the evil spirits went out of them." - Act 19:11  
If you only read this, you might think nothing could have resisted to St. Paul in his earthly life. You couldn't be more wrong if that is what you thought. Paul himself explained,
"Therefore we desired to come to you, truly I, Paul, both once and twice; but Satan hindered us." - 1 Thessalossians 2:18  
St. Paul is writing to the Church of the Thessalonians explaining why he hasn't be able to come and visit them despite his desire and certainly not by lack of trying. He tried more than once to organize a visit and knowing Paul, He certainly prayed for that. But in both occasions Satan hindered him, prevented him. At this point some over-zealous Christian might think, "but Paul, just cast out Satan in Jesus'name! Don't you know that there is power in the name of Jesus?" Right!?

Sometimes, the reality of the spiritual battlefield is more complicated than we are sometimes thinking. In another occasion we read that God permitted Satan to inflict severe discomfort to St. Paul, 
"... and by the surpassing revelations, lest I be made haughty, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be made haughty." - 2 Corinthians 12:7 MKJV  
Or as this other version put it,
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of the exceptional nature of these revelations, a thorn was given to me and placed in my body. It was Satan's messenger to keep on tormenting me so that I would not become conceited" - 2 Corinthians 12:7 ISV  
Paul knew about Jesus victory over Satan on the Cross, he was the one who wrote Collosians 2 that I quoted above, and he was still the same Paul who did amazing miracles and casted out demons in Acts as already mentioned. But we see him at this particular point of his Christian life unable to defeat Satan. Why? Because things are not always as simple as some preachers pretend it to be.

Fight the Good Fight

We are exhorted to fight the good fight in the New Testament because the truth of the matter is that the Christian fight against the enemy is not also Black & White or straight forward. We have to stay alert and collaborate with the Spirit of God who will train us in fighting the good fight. One group of Christians were not careful in their fight against the enemy and found themselves Bewitched. 
"O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you not to obey the truth, to whom before your eyes Jesus Christ was written among you crucified?" - Gal 3:1  MKJV
 The bewitching of the Galatians Christians is troubling to many. How can they be affected by demonic interference some wonder? It is not possible for someone who have the Spirit of Christ in Him to be victim of Satan. Well, as already said above, things are not as simple as preachers tell us. As for the Galatians, they made a fatal mistake, they opened themselves to a false gospel. they started believing in receiving their justification through the law of an Old Covenant instead of receiving it from the person of Jesus. By doing so, they forfeited the divine protection which is their inheritance through Jesus Christ.

How do I know that? Because Paul said as much:
"you who are justified by Law are deprived of all effect from Christ; you fell from grace." - Galatians 5:4 
If protection from Curses (Gal 3:13) and the power of the enchantress comes through Christ victory at the cross, then to be 'deprived of all effect from Christ' will entail to be deprived from the victory of Christ. That is why Paul said to them, 'you fell from grace'. You can only fall if you were standing, and the Galatians fell from that position of strength which the position of divine grace, hence became victimized by the enemy (Satan).

The word 'bewitched' is an ancient word used for 'occult' practices known in in the middle East as the 'Evil Eye'. The Greek word for that is, 'baskainō' (Strong Hebrew and Greek Dictionary). Here is two other different translations of the same verse.

International Standard Version: "You foolish Galatians! Who put you under a spell? Was not Jesus the Messiah clearly portrayed before your very eyes as having been crucified? " - Galatians 3:1  (ISV)

Easy-to-read Version: "You people in Galatia are so foolish! Why do I say this? Because I told you very clearly about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But now it seems as though you have let someone use their magical powers to make you forget." - Galalatians 3:1  ERV

For this reason, let us remember the warning of the scriptures, "so that we may not be outsmarted by Satan. After all, we are not unaware of his intentions." - 2 Corinthians 2:11 (ISV)

And if we are outsmarted by Satan, we can not expect him to leave us alone. He will endearvor to destroy us. That is why you should stick to correct biblical doctrines and proper Christian living otherwise the enemy might find a door to destabilize our lives. For this warning was also written to Christians 2000 years ago and it is still relevant to us in the 21st century,
 "When you are angry, don't let that anger make you sin, and don't stay angry all day. Don't give the devil a way to defeat you." - Ephesians 4:26-27
I will end with this words, Christ victory is historic and irreversible. We on the other hand, we are call to be overcomer by the power of Christ. If we stay in line and do not believe false teachings we will overcome despite adversities that may fall upon us as it did with St. Paul. We have to keep fighting the good fight and learn fast how to excel in that. 

Let us speak the truth to each other, especially doctrinal truths. Some may not like what I wrote but it doesn't change the fact that it is still the truth, the biblical truth.
"So have I now become your enemy for telling you the truth?" - Galatians 4:16