Is it Unchristian to Withhold Forgiveness to Unrepentant Offender?

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The men of our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, meet every other Saturday morning to discuss various biblical and theological topics. A couple of weeks ago we were discussing the biblical topic of forgiveness with guidance from a lecture by the late Dr. R.C Sproul, Dealing with Difficult Problems: Forgiveness. As always it was a wonderful time of studying what God’s word says on the topic as well as the fellowship thereafter.

Most of our discussion centered on whether a Christian should always forgive even when the offender has not repented or apologized for his or her sin. In other words, is it unchristian to not forgive an unrepentant offender? As you might have guessed there were two major positions that the men took. Some argued that as Christians we should always forgive unilaterally (without repentance from the offender). Two passages of Scripture were quoted to support this position. Luke 23:34 in which Jesus Christ prays that the Father would forgive those who are crucifying him, and Acts 7:60 in which Stephen prays a similar prayer for those stoning him to death.

The other men however argued that while Christians can choose to forgive unilaterally the Bible does not command us to do so. A Christian can choose not to forgive until the offender is repentant. A good example is God the Father himself who forgives a sinner only when the sinner has repented of his sin. Also, Luke 17:3 underscores repentance as a necessary condition for forgiveness, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

I hold to the latter position. However, I need to give two clarifying points. First, there cannot be any debate that the Lord requires Christians to be forgiving people because Christians are forgiven people. The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) clearly drives this point home. So, when an offense is committed against a Christian and the offender comes to ask for forgiveness a Christian has no any other option but to forgive. Second, I also believe in the wisdom of Proverbs 19:11 in which God’s word encourages us to overlook an offense.

However, in cases where it is impossible to overlook an offense the Christian does not have to forgive if the offender is unrepentant. Now this begs the question: if the Christian withholds forgiveness from unrepentant offender won’t he or she be creating a fertile ground for bitterness in his or her own heart which God’s word forbids in Hebrews 12:15? To guard against resentment toward unrepentant offender the Christian needs to observe two steps in forgiveness.  Ken Sande discusses these steps in his book, The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. The first step is having an attitude of forgiveness and the second is granting forgiveness.

Having an attitude of forgiveness means by God’s grace you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you. You choose not dwell on the hurtful incident or seek vengeance or retribution in thought, word, or action. Instead, you pray for the other person and stand ready at any moment to pursue complete reconciliation as soon as he or she repents. This attitude protects the Christian from bitterness and resentment, even if the other person takes long time to repent.  The second step of granting actual forgiveness will, of course, require repentance as I have already pointed out.

As to the gracious act of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen, (Acts 7:60) it is worth noting that both Jesus and Stephen prayed to God the Father that the Father should forgive the people. It was not Jesus or Stephen himself who granted the forgiveness. Similarly, I believe that we should pray that the Lord would enable us to love those who have offended us and also that the Lord may grant them godly sorrow over their sin and a true repentant heart.  

What is the Difference Between “Soul” and “Spirit”?

Bernard Chikoko from Tanzania writes:

Dear Pastor Confex,

Would you please help me to understand the difference between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ from a biblical perspective. Thanks.

Dear Bernard,

Thank you for your question. It is a good one!

Let me begin by highlighting that the Bible emphasizes on the unity of man. As a whole person man is to love and glorify God in whatever he does. However, Christians do differ on what constitutes man. Some believe that the Bible teaches that man is made up of body and soul. This in theology is called dichotomy view.  Others believe the Bible teaches that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. This in theology is called trichotomy view. Historically dichotomy has been the predominant view of the Church.  

I hold to the dichotomy view because I see that the Bible uses the words “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably. In some cases, we read in the Bible that when a person dies his/her soul leaves the body (Gen. 35:18; Luke 12:10) while in other cases the same Bible tells us that when a person dies his/her spirit leaves the body (Eccl. 12:7; Luke 23:46). But there is no single verse in the Bible that says that when a person dies his/her soul and spirit together leave the body. Further, some verses speak of man as being made up of body and soul (Matt. 10:28) while others speak of man as being made up of body and spirit (James 2:26; 2 Cor. 7:1).  The parallelism in Mary’s Magnificat (Song of Praise) in Luke 1:46, 47 is also worth noting: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (ESV).  The words, “Soul” and “spirit” are here used interchangeably just like the words “the Lord” and “God my Savior.” This is abundant proof that “soul” and “spirit” are the one and same thing.

However, those who hold to trichotomy view often cite verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 to argue that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (ESV).

In response to the argument that these two verses are teaching that man is made up of body, soul, and spirit I would say that 1 Thessalonians is using “spirit and soul and body” to emphasize the entirety of our being rather than teaching trichotomy view. This form of emphasis can also be seen in the words of Jesus Christ in Mark 12:30 in which he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (ESV). Jesus is not here teaching that man is made up of heart, soul, mind, and strength rather he is emphasizing that we must love God with all our being.

Similarly, Hebrews 4:12 is not teaching that the soul is different from the spirit rather it is emphasizing the power of God’s word to penetrate into the depths or innermost parts of our being and convict us of sin. This innermost part of our being is in this verse described or emphasized by using the terms, “soul,” “spirit,” “joint,” “marrow,” “thoughts,” and “intentions.” On a lighter note, if the sword of God’s word is able to divide “soul” and “spirit” then it would be more accurate to say it also divides “bone and marrow” rather than “joint and marrow.” But the author of Hebrews’ intention is not to distinguish two things that are different but to emphasize on the penetrating power of God’s word.

I hope this helps.

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

She Concealed Her HIV Positive Status from Her Fiancé Until Three Years Later Into Marriage. Can the Husband Divorce Her Now?

A friend writes:

Mavuto (not his real name) married his wife, Stella (not her real name), about three yeas ago. Both of them are unbelievers but they attend our church regularly. Some years before they met, Stella tested positive to HIV/Aids and she began taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to enable her live longer. When she met Mavuto, Stella concealed her HIV status from him. Eventually they exchanged marital vows. Now it’s been over three years after their wedding and Mavuto has just discovered that Stella is HIV positive and taking ARVs. Mavuto feels cheated; he is very angry and wants divorce.  He has come to me for Biblical counsel. How do I best help him?

Well, brother what a sad and hard situation. I am so sorry to hear this.

First, it is always important to remember that marriage is God’s gift to all people including non-believers. But a marriage between two believers will be very much different from a marriage between two unbelievers. One of the things you will notice (or you expect to notice) in a marriage of believers is honesty while non-believers might not always be honest to each other. The case before you is an example of a marriage that is not guided by God’s word. It is driven by selfishness and dishonesty.

Next, God’s will for marriage both for unbelievers and believers is that once you get married you should remain with your spouse until death separates you (Matt. 19:5-7). God allows divorce only on two grounds: adultery (Matt. 19:9) and desertion (1 Cor. 7:13-16). Adultery is when husband or wife sleeps with another woman or man. Desertion is when unbeliever has become a believer and his/her spouse who is unbeliever doesn’t want to stay in the marriage. In this case, the unbeliever is allowed to leave the marriage.

So despite that there was deadly deception at the onset of Mavuto and Stella’s marriage, they do not have a Biblical ground for divorce. What Stella did was evil and serious dishonesty but the Bible does not regard deception as a ground for divorce. So, I would share the gospel with this couple and encourage the wife to repent of her deception before God and ask for forgiveness from God and her husband. I would encourage the husband to forgive his wife and continue to love her. I know this is hard but it’s only the power of the  gospel that would remedy this situation.

Mavuto being unbeliever might disregard this biblical advice. That is beyond your control and there is nothing you can do about it apart from continuing to love and pray for them that the Lord will grant true repentance and enable them to believe in the gospel of Christ for their salvation.

I hope this helps.

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If you have any question for me, please email it to confex@refomationmalawi.org. With your consent it might be featured in “That’s a Good Question Series.”

Thank You.

Could Physical Abuse Be a Biblically Valid Ground for Divorce?

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Last year I was involved in helping a family that had lost their daughter at the hands of her husband to get some justice. It is believed that the husband beat her to death. A few months ago, news came from Nigeria that a gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, died allegedly due to physical abuse from her husband. One common denominator in both of these deaths was that both husbands professed faith in Christ. There were also active members in their respective churches. The question that I have heard in general and one that has been put to me in particular is: how should the church handle cases of physical abuse that are persistent and life threatening? Does the Bible have anything to say on this issue?

First things first. The Bible is very clear that marriage was designed by God to glorify him and for the good and enjoyment of husband and wife (Genesis 2:18-25). Further marriage life is supposed to be lived in love and submission. The husband should love his wife sacrificially and wife should submit to her own husband in everything (Ephesians 5:22-33). So, the Bible does not condone any form of violence or physical abuse in marriage. In fact, any form of abuse should be alien to a Christian marriage. However, because of sin marriages experience evils like physical abuse.

Furthermore, God’s plan for marriage is that it should last one’s life time. It’s never pleasing to God to see any marriage lasting shorter than that.  But because of man’s hardness of heart or sin, God’s word allows divorce on two grounds: adultery and willful desertion. Adultery is when the husband or the wife has sexual intercourse with someone else other than his or her spouse. If the wronged party opts for divorce because the marriage bed has been defiled, the Bible allows him or her to legally divorce the other party (Matthew 19:3-9).

Willful desertion is mainly in a context of a couple who got married while both of them were unconverted. If along the way one of them becomes a Christian, the converted person should not seek to leave the marriage. However, if the unconverted one wants to leave the marriage he or she should be allowed to do so (1 Corinthinas 7:12-16). In the case of those who got married while professing faith in Christ, this ground is applied when one of them willfully abandons his or her spouse and despite the church’s intervention and continued call to him or her to repent and return to his or her marriage he or she refuses.  In this case then divorce is allowable if the deserted person desires it because the deserter has proved that he or she is not a believer as initially professed.   

On the face of it, the Bible seems not to regard persistent and unrepented physical abuse that is also life threatening (by the way most physical abuse if not checked quickly escalates to life-threating) as a valid ground for divorce. However, I believe physical abuse falls under the ground of willful desertion. Allow me to explain. The abusive spouse creates an environment in which his or her partner is not safe to live in, and if this persist the abused person should leave the marriage, with guidance and counsel from the church, to protect their own life as we are all commanded in the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13).  The abusive partner should be reputed as the deserter even though it is actually the abused that has left the marriage.

I should be quick to qualify that the decision to leave a persistent abusive partner should not be arrived at haphazardly and lightly. It should always be done with the guidance of one’s church. When church leaders establish that physical abuse is recurring in a marriage, they should recommend a temporary separation for the safety of the victim. Physical abuse in most circumstances being a crime under state laws should also be reported to the relevant authorities by the abused. On their part, the church leaders should further bring under discipline the abusing partner and counsel him or her with the hope of bringing him or her into repentance and eventually restoration. If there is no repentance then the church should proceed with excommunication. Only after a suitable length of time and a sufficient process of church discipline should a divorce be recommended on the basis of willful desertion by the abusive partner.  I believe that no single elder or pastor would arrive at this decision painlessly. Divorce is one of the most serious affronts to the dignity of marriage; however, in a situation that an abusive partner is unrepentant, the pastor and elders should not hesitate to recommended divorce with tears and sorrow.

Delighting in the Sabbath

When approaching the discussion of the Sabbath we need to acknowledge the various debates it creates. There is a debate on whether the Sabbath has changed from Saturday in the Old Testament to Sunday also called the Lord’s Day in the New Testament. While I believe in the latter, I should grant that there are brothers and sisters in the Lord who believe in the former. But that’s not what this post is all about. There is also a debate on how Christians should observe the Sabbath. Now the Bible is very clear that the Sabbath is the day of rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-13; Acts 20:7). There should not be any debate about it. Yet good and godly Christians differ on what this rest entails. While some believe that rest should include refraining from recreational activities others believe that Christians can still engage in recreational activities on the Sabbath. Again, this post does not intend to go into that discussion.

This post is about delighting in the Sabbath. God speaking through Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 58:13-14 says,

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The context of this exhortation is that God’s covenant people are rendering half-hearted worship to God. For example, at the beginning of the chapter the Lord rebukes their fasting which instead of being a time that they humble and devote themselves fully to God they continue sinning against God and one another. It is hypocritical fasting. Then in verses 13-14, the Lord draws their attention to another aspect of worship namely the observance of the Sabbath. Similarly, God’s covenant people are observing the Sabbath with lukewarm devotion. Instead of resting and worshipping God, they are using the day for their own pleasure. Now some have understood “pleasure” in the verse to mean recreational activities while others think it means normal daily business. Whatever view you hold, one thing that is clear from the verse is that God’s will for the day is that his people should observe rest; hence, he calls them to repent of their religious formalism so that they may enjoy God’s covenant blessings.

The Lord goes further to challenge his people to delight in the Sabbath, “Call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable.” Matthew Henry commenting on the verse writes,

“We must not only count it a delight, but call it so. We must call it so to God, in thanksgiving for it. We must call it so to others, to invite them to come and share in the pleasure of it; and we must call it so to ourselves, that we may not entertain the least thought of wishing the sabbath gone that we may sell corn.”

The 19th Century Anglican Bishop, John Charles Ryle also agrees with Henry and notes,

The Sabbath is God’s merciful appointment for the common benefit of all mankind. It was “made for man” (Mark 2:27)…It is not a yoke, but a blessing. It is not a burden, but a mercy…It is good for man’s body and mind…Above all, it is good for souls.”

So here are five ways that we as Christians can call the Sabbath a delight. First, we can call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that when we rest on the Sabbath, we mirror God our Father who rested on the seventh day despite not needing rest. Our Father does not get tired (Isaiah 40:28). He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4), yet in Genesis 2:2-3 we read: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done.” One of the greatest desires that lie at the bottom of a child’s heart is to be like his father, especially, a good father. A child regards his father as the hero no matter what others think of him. Similarly, as God’s children our greatest longing should be to be like our Father. He rested on the seventh day so we should do likewise with great delight.

Second, we should call the Sabbath (first day of the week) a delight by realizing that it is a day in which God completed the work of our redemption in Christ.  On this day, Christ delivered a killer punch on our greatest enemies. Death died, Satan was disarmed, and sin was conquered. At our church, Christ Presbyterian Church, before the worship service begins, I gather with some members to pray for the service and other needs of the congregation. We often beginning by reminding each other that this is not only a day of worship and rest but it is also a day of celebrating the greatest victory ever accomplished for man.

Third, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that on  this day we do not only enjoy rest and worship our God but also rejoice in the assurance of God’s blessings in our endeavors for Christ. O. Palmer Robertson says it beautifully in his book, The Christ of the Covenants,

“(The New Covenant) believer does not first labor six days, looking hopefully towards rest. Instead, he begins the week by rejoicing in the rest already accomplished by the cosmic event of Christ’s resurrection. Then he enters joyfully into his six days of labor, confident of success through the victory which Christ has already won.”

Fourth, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that by keeping it we demonstrate our love for God. The fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) requires us to observe the Sabbath. As the moral law the commandment is still binding on all Christians. So, when we rest and worship on the Sabbath, we demonstrate our love for God (John 14:15, 21; 1 John 5:3).

Last but not least, we call the Sabbath a delight by realizing that it is a foretaste of our eternal rest in glory. On this side of heaven, we endure various sorrows. However, the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:9 reminds us that “There remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people” in which all sorrow, pain, thorns, and thistles will be no more. It is that eternal state in the new heavens and earth where “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  

The Sabbath should be a delight for all God’s people. It was made for us and for our good. In our bustling world in which the six days of work seem no longer enough, we should resist the urge to go along. There are many great blessings that come with delighting in the day as I have endeavored to show above. May we always look forward to Sabbath with great pleasure and never with the thought of it as being a killjoy. 

Does God Condemn the Soul of a Christian Who Commits Suicide?

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One of the horrors we can experience as human beings is to hear that a loved one has decided to take their own life. Suicide provokes many unanswered questions. It also stirs guilty feelings as family and friends wonder if there is something else, they could have done to prevent such tragic loss of life.  One pertinent question that I often hear, especially, among Christians is what will happen to the soul of the departed? The question arises knowing that the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 prohibits taking away of our own life or the life of our neighbor unjustly (Westminsiter Shorter Catechism Q & A 69). Does then the soul of a Christian who commits suicide go to heaven after breaking the sixth commandment?

To answer this question, we need first to understand who a Christian is. In doing so, it is also important to distinguish between a Christian and a church member. Not all church members are Christians but a Christian will surely be a church member. So, a Christian is a person who has come to be convinced by God’s word and Spirit that he is a sinner not necessarily because he commits sin but was born a sinner and inherited the guilt of our first parents, Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12; Psalm 51:5). Further, a Christian is the one who has repented of his sin and believes that he is accepted before God because of Jesus Christ who kept the whole law on his behalf and yet died on the cross also on his behalf that the Christian might be counted as righteous before God (1 Peter 3:18). 

When Christ died on the cross, he died for every sin of every Christian. This includes the actual sins that the Christian committed in the past, he is committing now, and those he will commit in the future. Every one of these sins, not in part but the whole, was nailed to the cross with Christ; therefore, a Christian never bears its guilt anymore (1 John 2:2). Of course, when a Christian sins, God is displeased and disciplines him (Hebrews 12:5-11) but God can never condemn the Christian because God already condemned his own Son, Jesus Christ, for those sins (Romans 8:1). This is why the cross of Christ is the greatest demonstration of God’s power, and his saving grace is so amazing. Without the cross and grace none of us would make it to heaven.

On a pastoral note, let me emphasize that suicide is not a solution to any problem that one might be facing. It is a heinous sin and causes untold pain and misery to the loved ones left behind. We should never forget that Christ remains our only refuge and help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1) hence we are to cast our cares upon him for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). If you, dear reader, are experiencing depression or feeling like you are in an impossible situation, please seriously consider talking to someone, especially those who know God’s word and teach it faithfully.  The word of God is sufficient to bring light into our darker situations and offer hope that is found in no other than Christ alone.  

Should I Continue to Use Resources by Ravi Zacharias?

Ravi Zacharias’ ministry has had great impact among many young people in Malawi. Ravi Zacharias has been a household name among many Christian students on various college campuses in our country. In the light of the depressing and shocking revelations of last week about Ravi’s secret sin, some of these young people are wrestling with the question of what to do with Ravi’s books, CDS, DVDs and other resources.  Do they continue using them? This is one of the common questions I have been asked as a pastor. Here are my thoughts:

First, as one of the gifted African theologians St. Augustine observed, all truth is God’s truth. The truth that Ravi proclaimed was not his own but God’s (Psalm 119:160). This even applies to the truth that is conveyed to us by unbelievers, it is still God’s truth. “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord wherever it is found. Gathering it and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘Though they know God did not glorify him as God’” (St. Augustine).

Second, God’s truth often if not always comes to us through weaker and sinful vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). Of course, some of these vessels that God has used have committed more grievous or heinous sins than others. Some have truly repented while others have not. But there is no one who has not sinned (Rom. 3:23). I can guarantee that there is no single resource that we are going to read or use out there that was not written or prepared by sinful hands or minds this blog post included. Now this is not to excuse sin or downplay the impact of Ravi’s sin upon those he abused, the Church and her witness in the world neither am I implying that everyone should use his resources regardless of the sin, however, I seek to assist us consider that while all truth is God’s truth it often if not always comes to us through sinful agents.

Third, conscience. Will your conscience be at ease to read, listen or use Ravi’s resources? Some might not have any problem while others will never stomach the idea of even touching any of his resources. I am particularly thinking of victims or survivors of sexual abuse. Most of them could find Ravi’s ministry not edifying any more. So, follow your conscience on this one. You are not obligated to use Ravi’s resources. Praise the Lord that he has many vessels out there that he can use to help you grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Christ.

Lastly, a humble suggestion to my fellow preachers and teachers of the word of God. I think discretion should be exercised if we would cite or use Ravi’s resources in our sermons or teachings. I have always appreciated the advice that one of my preaching professors in seminary gave us. He said that when quoting someone in your sermon who might bring out mixed feelings from your audience, it’s often wise not to mention them by name and instead say something like “As one preacher or writer said…” That way you acknowledge that this is not your own material but also at the same time you avoid unnecessary distractions that could come with the mentioning of the actual name of the source. I think as it stands now if one quotes Ravi in his sermon or talk someone in the audience could just hang up on the name. Their train of thought could go something like: “Did you just quote Ravi who did this or that?” and in the process the speaker could lose the attention of that person.  

The revelations about Ravi’s hidden life are disheartening but should not be very surprising. As JC Ryle once observed “The best of men are men at best.” We always err if we place our confidence on the arm of flesh which will always fail (Jer. 17:5). As one of my dear friends and pastor has noted, “We are reminded once again that no pastor, no teacher, no orator, no author, nor theologian—no matter how gifted—can be our hope; they are all fallen and will disappoint. Our hope is bound up with the one perfect Godman; He will never disappoint” (Jason Helopolous).

It’s My Father’s World

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

One of the doctrines that comfort believers in their daily walk with Christ is the doctrine of God’s providence. The doctrine teaches that God is in control of all things both in heaven and on earth. Even when things are not going on well or they seem scary in our human eyes, God is working all things for the good of his children in Christ.

This is our comfort even now as the world is battling against COVID -19 which has hit our country very hard. We can remain calm and hopeful in these difficult times not because we are the proverbial ostrich that hides its head in the sand but because we know that our God is good and in control.

A story is told of a boy on board a ship. Violent storms raged against the ship but he remained calm. One of the passengers was amazed by his serenity and asked him if he was not scared of the storm. The boy replied, “My father is the captain.”

Dear Christian, our Father is the Captain of the whole world. He is not only the all-powerful captain but also good, most gracious, and most merciful Captain. Not a single hair from your head will fall to the ground apart from his will. If God pays attention to a tiny little hair which you hardly even notice when it falls to the ground what more with your life and that of your loved ones? The hymn writer put it well:

This is my Father’s World

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong

God is the Ruler yet.

Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary

What tough times we are living in! This is how my mind has summarized today.

You see, I woke up early this morning only to realize that electricity has gone off. Determined not to give in to despair I went out to exercise. I was looking forward to a warm shower after the exercise only to discover that the taps were dry. No water! Still determined to be more positive I get ready for the day.

Later in the morning I meet one member of our church. His wife had been in labor for the past two days and just yesterday gave birth to a baby boy. Praise the Lord!  But as I meet this brother, I learn that he has not yet met his son. Actually, that’s just half of the story. This brother was not able to be with his wife when she went into labor at the hospital. He was not even there when the wife was giving birth. Reason? COVID-19 restrictions at the hospital. The hospital would not let him go and see his wife as they are trying to protect the wife and other patients from the virus. Can you imagine the agony?

Soon after this meeting I proceed to deliver food items to another family in our church that is in self-quarantine after getting in contact with a COVID-19 patient a few days ago. I bring the food items at the gate and call the husband on my phone to let him know that I am there. But wait a minute! I can’t get close to him and his family. So, he just comes out, stands at a distance as if one of us is a leper of Biblical times, and briefly greets and thanks me for the items. I head to my car to get back to office.  At this time my pastoral heart is bleeding. This can’t be!

Later I get home. My girls are always excited when they hear dad’s car driving in. They come running to hug daddy. But as I jump out of the car my brain sends out a quick reminder, “Remember you can’t hug them.” So sadly, I hear myself saying, “Sorry sweetie, I can’t hug you now I am just coming from outside and who knows what is sticking to my clothes and myself.”

By this time I can’t pretend and put up a brave face any more. These are tough times we are living in.

 As I reflect on the events of the day, a song we used to sing in Bible college softly echoes in my mind:

Days are filled with sorrow and care
Hearts are lonely and drear
Burdens are lifted at Calvary
Jesus is very near

Troubled soul, the Savior can see
Every heartache and tear
Burdens are lifted at Calvary
Jesus is very near

These lyrics take me to two places: The Garden and the Cross. You see the main thing to remember in these difficult times is not really the virus. It is what happened in Garden of Eden about six thousand years ago and what occurred on the mountain of Golgotha about four thousand years later.

In the garden our parents disobeyed and rebelled against God by eating the fruit they were commanded not to. With that they plunged the whole human race into sin and misery. COVID-19 is just one of the consequences of that “cosmic treason” as R.C Sproul would have put it. The broken systems of our electricity and water providers are just one of the consequences of man’s fall from grace in the garden.  That single act of disobedience “made all of us liable to all miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

But praise the Lord that the garden is not the end of the story. Four thousand years later, God’s Son was hanged onto the cross to reverse “the damage” that our parents caused to humanity. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, nailed sin and death to the cross. As the last breath was about to leave his lungs he cried out: “It is finished!”

It is in these three words that our hope and comfort must lie. Yes COVID-19 might take our loved ones or even ourselves home. Yes COVID-19 will deny us some things we enjoy with our children like giving each other tender hugs. Yes COVID-19 has denied my friend the joy of seeing his first-born son come into the world. Yes COVID 19 has disturbed our normal relationship and routines but one thing we know for certain: “It is Finished!”

For us in Christ the momentary afflictions of this world are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17-18). One day sooner or later the Lord will wipe our tears and take away all our sorrows forever (Rev. 21:4). COVID-19 might kill the body but Christ has overcome it (John 16:33). After we have suffered a little while the God of all grace who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5:10).   Therefore, let’s bring all our burdens onto the cross that the Savior might lift them away. Let’s cast all our cares unto Christ for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Our burdens might be heavy but Christ’s arms are stronger and his grace is ever sufficient.  

A Prayer For Malawi and the Fresh Presidential Elections

Malawi flag

Our Heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The Great I AM who does not change;
Who keeps every promise and does not forsake the work of his hands.
You are the Great King of the universe.
You alone change times and seasons
You alone raise up kings and bring down kings
You alone is the true God
And the universe is filled with your glory and majesty

Father, we thank you for our nation of Malawi.
We thank you for blessing us with peace and freedoms we enjoy
The freedom to worship you and preach the gospel
The freedom to choose our own leaders
We thank you for our people and their hard-working spirit
We thank you for our beautiful country
As we sing in our national anthem, thank you for
“Our own Malawi, this land so fair,
Fertile and brave and free.
With its lakes, refreshing mountain air,
How greatly blest are we.
Hills and valleys, soil so rich and rare.”

As we approach your throne of grace and holiness
We are reminded that we are sinners in need of your forgiveness
So we confess our sins before you
Lord, forgive us for not loving you with all our hearts
For worshipping the idols of this world rather than you
Please also forgive us for not loving our neighbors as ourselves
And committing the sins of tribalism, regionalism, and favoritism
May you forgive us for being unkind to one another
As one politician once observed, forgive us for
“Often judging those we disagree with, whether politically or otherwise,
By their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
For exaggerating their weaknesses while minimizing ours
May you forgive us for slander, spreading lies, and unkind words
Forgive us, Lord, for justifying our hatred for those we disagree with
By claiming that it is righteous anger
Forgive us for harboring bitterness and refusing to forgive
Forgive us for abusing our positions and authority for selfish gain and ambition
Forgive us for corruption that is so rampant in many levels of our society
Forgive us for dishonest gains, theft, cheating, and disregard for the law
Forgive us for sexual immorality and ungodliness in our nation
Lord, our sins are many
And you are justified to condemn us
Only you and against you have we sinned
So we pray for your mercy and grace.
We thank you that with you is forgiveness that you may be feared
Cast us not away from your presence but may you do good to Malawi
We are thankful for Jesus Christ the perfect sacrifice for all our sins.

Father, as we look forward to June 23, 2020 with great anticipation
To cast votes in the Fresh Presidential Elections,
We pray for those entrusted with responsibility of managing them
We pray for all the commissioners of Malawi Electoral Commission,
All the staff, all security agents, and all political party monitors
May you give them the courage to stand up for what is right and just
May they undertake their work without fear or favor
We pray for your wisdom and guidance for voters
As you have created us in your image, we all long for a country marked by
Justice, unity, freedom, order, and opportunities for all
A nation where law-breakers are punished and the “innocent” are protected
We desire a nation that is less corrupt and more prosperous
So we pray that you please give us a president and a vice
Who will help us achieve our aspirations as a nation
As you blessed your people long ago with good and godly leaders
Like Moses, Joshua, David, Nehemiah and others
We also pray that may you grant us upright leaders today
Yet, Lord, help us to remember that no single human being
Can grant what only you is able to give
Hence we pray that help us not to put our trust in princes
In a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
Father, we also pray that when the elections are over,
Malawi will continue to be peaceful and stable
We pray that the winners will celebrate with modesty and grace
The losers will lose with dignity
And honor the will of Malawians expressed through the ballot

Heavenly Father, as we look at Malawi right now,
We realize that our problem lies deeper than politics and leadership
Because we all like sheep have gone astray
Each one of us has turned to his own way
We have fallen short of your glory and no one is righteous – not even one
So we pray for godly sorrow over our sins that will lead to true repentance
Father, bring Malawi to yourself through your Son by the power of your Holy Spirit
That times of refreshing may come upon us
Father, may you also revive and awaken your Church from our spiritual slumber
May there be a great awakening and reformation in your Church
That we may be the true light and salt of Malawi
In Jesus’ name we pray:
Amen!