On Tithing: Some nuance we all can use

Two of the things that contribute to faulty interpretation of the bible are; quoting it out of context, and ignoring the Spirit of the letter. These two have influenced a great deal of the conclusions reached in the most recent episode of the perennial debate about tithing.

On one end of the argument, the position often taken is that tithing is an Old Testament injunction, which has no place under the new covenant. On the other end, the conspicuous absence of any reference to the practice in the early church is discounted by emphasizing the fact that it predates the law (since Abraham gave a tithe), and referencing some tangential remarks Jesus made about tithing.

In reality, there is more we can glean from scripture to give a more liberating view of the subject.

Fundamentally, it is necessary to point out that there are important differences between the terms of the old and new covenant, which to a large extent correspond to the old and New Testament respectively. Nevertheless, it is critical to acknowledge that the old testament/covenant provides the context in which the new covenant/testament can be understood. So, while the believer does not live under the old covenant, it is useful that he understands it in other to appreciate and fully grasp the new covenant into which he was saved.

It is how for instance the 1979 constitution (and previous ones) provides a rich context for understanding the 1999 version. It should be pointed out though that, while you can use the latter for adjudication of life in the present, the former is only useful for instruction.

The next question that might then arise is, “are there any overlaps between the old and new covenant?” The answer is yes. Primarily, it is the same God who issues the two. Critically, while the letter (provisions) of the two varies significantly, the Spirit (ultimate objective) of the two covenants is the same i.e. to reconcile man to God.

When believers keep their eyes on the Spirit of the provisions in the old covenant, we are better able to identify the provisions in the new covenant with which God aims to achieve His unchanging objectives.

Which brings us to the issue of what God’s objective was in instituting tithing under the old covenant and how he aims to achieve the same objective under the new.

There is little if any disagreement about what the purpose of the tithe was under the old covenant. It was a provision made primarily to pay the wages of those who were mandated to be fully dedicated to religious duties, and also to cater for the needs of those who were unable to adequately fend for themselves.

In both cases, the Spirit of the provision was, to put it in one word, Reciprocity. The clergy were focused exclusively on providing spiritual service to the people, and so the people were in turn saddled with the responsibility for meeting the material needs of the clergy. For the other group (strangers, orphans etc.), who had none or limited access to land, and so limited opportunity to earn, God reminds the Israelites that they were themselves strangers in Egypt at some point and ought therefore to treat strangers as they themselves would have wanted to be treated. i.e. with accommodation.

What believers ought to focus on therefore under the new covenant is not the Letter (the word tithe) but the Spirit i.e. the unchanging objective of God; in this case, the idea of reciprocity.

The appropriate question to ask therefore is, “how does God expect us to reciprocate the sacrifice of those who are chiefly employed in providing us spiritual service today.

 

Old Wine in New Wineskins?

It is important to say that we cannot look to the old testament/covenant to provide a definitive answer to this. That would be like trying to adjudicate a matter in a Nigerian court today by relying primarily on the 1954 constitution. That can only result in miscarriage of justice. Consequently, We must look to the New Testament (and specifically portions related to the new covenant) for how God pursues his unchanging objective on this matter.

While you won’t find any reference to tithing in the early church, the new covenant is not exactly silent on the principle as may appear at first. A simple reading of 1 Cor 9, will illustrate that God still provides for those whose chief employment is spiritual in nature, by requiring those who benefit from such work to support their brethren.

1 Cor 9:

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”[b] Is it about oxen that God is concerned?10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

 

It is fundamental to note that Paul the Apostle asserts that church leaders have a RIGHT to be supported by the congregations they serve. In addition, consistent with the well established principle of referencing God’s unchanging objective that transcends covenants, he arcs back to the law or the old covenant to reinforce the point.

Additional evidence that the principle of reciprocity is a trans-covenant objective of God can be found Romans 15:27.

 

Billionaire Soldiers?

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?” In raising this question, Paul the Apostle provides us a relatable comparative for understanding the issue. In functional societies, soldiers are generally catered for using the taxes of the citizenry that they serve. This however presupposes that these are full time professional soldiers, not mercenaries for whom soldiering is a business. 

It is this sort of soldier that the apostle refers to when writing to Timothy he said, No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” ( 2 Tim 2:4). The meaning of this is that, the pastors who are entitled to support are those who like soldiers refrain from getting entangled in civilian affairs.

Again, it has to be said that in functional societies where you have professional soldiers, they typically don’t turn up as billionaires. Reading the portion in 1 Cor 9 again makes clear that the sort of support the Apostle was writing about was a living wage not a fortune.

He underscores this point, again with Timothy. Describing people who equate godliness with making a fortune as being of corrupt minds, he then says to Timothy that, as A MAN OF GOD, he ought to flee such ideas.

1 Tim 6:

people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

 

In essence, the right that church leaders have to support was designed to be enjoyed in moderation. They were to consider themselves as soldiers and to flee from the entanglement that worldly goods invariably become.

The proper disposition to the enjoyment of this right is as Paul wrote to Timothy; “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

 

A right waived

Knowing what the Lord describes in the aptly numbered Mark 4:19 as “the deceitfulness of riches”, Paul the Apostle, while not condemning those who relied on the church for support, chose rather to waive the right.

1 Cor 9:

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 15 But I have not used any of these rights.And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

 

The Lord thus provides for pastors and missionaries who serve exclusively in the vineyard to be supported by the church. There should be no ambiguity left about this.

This provision is indeed a right, albeit one that is not to be enforced: this is a key point. As the sons of Eli grossly abused this right under the law, we see similar abuses today. The giving underpinned by the principle of reciprocity was not designed to turn soldiers to billionaires – those are mercenaries. That giving was designed to ensure that there is food in the house of God: Food for those who serve in the house and those who have nowhere else to turn.

When the sons of Eli abused that which was brought to the temple  by enriching themselves and gorging on it, God called them Sons of Belial (1 Sam 2:12). There is a warning in there somewhere for all those who wish to enjoy the right of support from the church today. Do not become  sons of Belial by placing demands on the people as the sons of Eli did.

 

A serious responsibility 

It is not only pastors who can run afoul of God’s principle on this matter. Giving to support church leadership, and the needy is a sign of the maturing of a believer. For the immature, the Lord has this parable…

Luke 12:

 “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

 

In closing, do not get into the rabbit hole of arguing about the meaning of words. It will only produce strife: only a lot of heat and no light. Settle on the trans-covenant, and unchanging objective of God to supply the needs of those who are employed to serve the church by those who are served by them.

 

 

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The Secret of Success? Omo, Na God!

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Sometimes when successful people are asked to give advise to those aspiring to their kind of success, the common response of “it is God” can be very unsatisfying for the listener. In fact, it is often considered insulting.

The audience is typically expecting to hear a number of practical, actionable ideas, not the reference to God that is increasingly considered an annoying platitude. But really, is it?

While it may be hypocritical for people who have simply stolen money to adduce their “success” to God, for people who have really ‘worked’ their way to success, and who have an ongoing relationship with God, “Na God” may be a more practical answer than appreciated.

If you have experienced the crumbling of Jericho Walls as a result of just praising God for instance, what practical guide are you supposed to give to those seeking to know how the wall came down? How would Joshua sound in our woke world if he told you that his strategy for pulling down the wall of Jericho was hiking, and blowing a trumpet?

Could Peter have advised toiling all night as a means to catch net breaking fish, knowing full well that they did that, and came up with nothing. Would he not have been correct to say, “Na God”.

For those whose walk with the Lord is genuine, and close, miracles; small and big, are daily events of life. To then turn around, and sound off on some practical steps will in reality be laughable. If you know full well that the secret sauce to the results you have is that invisible input from God, and not necessarily all the effort, then the truest thing you can say is, “Na God”.

Moreover, it then becomes misleading to dish out even some of those “practical” things people prefer to hear even when they were God’s direct instruction to you. He might say strike the rock today for instance, and speak to it instead tomorrow.

Perhaps thinking about what answer to give for the reason for success, A wise man once commented:

Eccl 9:11 Again I looked throughout the earth and saw that the swiftest person does not always win the race, nor the strongest man the battle, and that wise men are often poor, and skillful men are not necessarily famous; but it is all by chance, by happening to be at the right place at the right time.

“To be in the right place at the right time” is something that is however entirely in the hands of God.

 

And so, knowing that the temptation to assume that our wise decisions/actions are solely responsible for our success and then start to dish out strategic insight will be rife, God reminds us to be humble in success when he says,

Deut 8:11 “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by failing to keep His commandments and His judgments (precepts) and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them13 and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have increases, 14 then your heart will become lifted up [by self-conceit and arrogance] and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 15 He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; it was He who brought water for you out of the flinty rock. 16 He fed you manna in the wilderness, [a substance] which your fathers did not know, so that He might humble you [by dependence on Him] and that He might test you, to do good [things] for you at the end. 17 Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ 18 But you shall remember [with profound respect] the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore (solemnly promised) to your fathers, as it is this day. 

 

In the end, nothing we do can achieve any positive outcomes in, and by itself. Even the laws of nature that we rely upon for the our universe to run as it does depend on God: the bible says that he upholds them by the power of his word.

For believers therefore who are in situations where they want to share with others, and guide them to success, I suppose the key is to first establish the fundamental role of God before any other thing. By this I mean, just as the anticipated results of scientific experiments are qualified by that phrase “under standard conditions for temperature and pressure (STP)”,  the believer can qualify his advise with the phrase “God granting”.

In the final analysis, Na God!

 

 

 

image credit: http://www.getdp.net/2014/01/

Is Prayer Shaming the New Cool?

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I have seen comments on social media poking fun at the Nathaniel Bassey led #HallelujahChallenge. The coolness of deriding prayer, or any hint of spiritual fervour is growing. Like a vortex, it is sucking in folks who have come to believe that being snarky (even about sacred things) is the surest way to grow your personal brand on social media.

Yes, far too many Nigerians treat prayer merely as a means to press God into service as a wish granting genie, money doubler, or even a cold-blooded flame-throwing assassin. Still, the discerning believer must realize that prayer is indeed a powerful means of birthing change.

When we join in laughing at the notion of people praying about the results of poor governance, the joke is on us. We betray our ignorance of the nature of evil, and the power of prayer to overcome it. For sure, prayer is not a substitute for action, but it is an indispensable enabler of the right, and effective action.

Scripture gives us ample and unambiguous directives to pray about governance. It also chronicles for us the experiences of doers who powered their success with deep, discerning prayer.

 

Habakkuk’s  ‘Rant’

Wherever I look I see oppression and bribery and men who love to argue and to fight. The law is not enforced, and there is no justice given in the courts, for the wicked far outnumber the righteous, and bribes and trickery prevail. Hab 1:3-4 TLB

This early portion of the book of Habakkuk actually sounds like a Twitter rant. But if you back up a little, you will see that he was talking to God. It was in some sense, prayer. The consequence of this lament was that God then gave Habakkuk a vision…

[Oh, I know, I have been rash to talk out plainly this way to God!] I will [in my thinking] stand upon my post of observation and station myself on the tower or fortress, and will watch to see what He will say within me and what answer I will make [as His mouthpiece] to the perplexities of my complaint against Him. And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by. Hab 2:1-2 AMPC

The problem is certainly not that we pray too much. We don’t even pray as much as we ought. The problem is that whatever praying we do is often ill-motivated. As it is said, “And even when you do ask you don’t get it because your whole aim is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure”. James 4:3 TLB

Nehemiah sets us a very sound example of the right approach to deploying the power of prayer to national development.

 

1 The autobiography of Nehemiah, the son of Hecaliah:

In December of the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia,[a] when I was at the palace at Shushan, 2 one of my fellow Jews named Hanani came to visit me with some men who had arrived from Judah. I took the opportunity to inquire about how things were going in Jerusalem.

“How are they getting along—,” I asked, “the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from their exile here?”

3 “Well,” they replied, “things are not good; the wall of Jerusalem is still torn down, and the gates are burned.”

4 When I heard this, I sat down and cried. In fact, I refused to eat for several days, for I spent the time in prayer to the God of heaven.

5 “O Lord God,” I cried out; “O great and awesome God who keeps his promises and is so loving and kind to those who love and obey him! Hear my prayer! 6-7 Listen carefully to what I say! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you; yes, I and my people have committed the horrible sin of not obeying the commandments you gave us through your servant Moses. 8 Oh, please remember what you told Moses! You said,

“‘If you sin, I will scatter you among the nations; 9 but if you return to me and obey my laws, even though you are exiled to the farthest corners of the universe, I will bring you back to Jerusalem. For Jerusalem is the place in which I have chosen to live.’

10 “We are your servants, the people you rescued by your great power. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Heed the prayers of those of us who delight to honor you. Please help me now as I go in and ask the king for a great favor—put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (I was the king’s cupbearer.) (Neh 1:1-10 TLB). Neh 1:1-11

For Nehemiah, prayer wasn’t an end in and of itself. It actually served to spur him to action: he immediately set about mobilizing resources, and marshaling the work. Of course he then went on to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem which had laid in ruins for years; completing the work in record time.

 

Whetting the Axe

It was Abraham Lincoln who is quoted to have said that, given six hours to cut down a tree, he would spend the first four in whetting the axe. For the believer, Prayer is actually whetting the axe. It is the necessary preparation for, and the compass to which we must constantly resort for direction all through execution.

Every trench digger knows that the time and effort spent soaking the ground with water, is actually saved, for he will find the dig a lot easier, and faster.

 

The Deceiver

Importantly, it is critical to understand the nature of evil and how to overcome it. The reality is that the oft pooh-poohed notion that there is a spiritual dimension to the problems that nations encounter is actually a very sound idea. The truth is…

we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere. Eph 6:12

God’s desire is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and so everywhere you see evil, you will find the devil, if you know how to look.

“But Oyinbo people don’t pray”, comes the counter. On the surface, it sounds like a good counter. In reality, it is only good for those who are ignorant of the devices of the devil. We are not!

Anyone who plays board games that require strategy must know of the idea of a gambit. Growing up, I played draughts a lot, and I know that a maestro is quite happy, ecstatic even to give you the impression that you are out-scheming him when all the time, the opposite is the reality. He might repeatedly offer you pieces for instance and while you are marveling at your luck and his naïveté, you suddenly realize that he gives you three pieces in order to set you up to loose seven.

The devil is the master of gambits. He is more than happy to withdraw his forces that fuel poor governance, if that lulls that society into forgetting its source. He knows full well that a river that forgets its source will dry up ultimately. And so, while on the surface, humans may reckon that all is well, and be rejoicing at their good fortune, God laments their wretchedness.

“You say, ‘I am rich, with everything I want; I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that spiritually you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Rev 3:17 TLB

 

The Horse then the Cart

Beloved, be not deceived. Prayer is key! To destroy the works of the devil, The Lord has this to say about sequence…

But no one can go into a strong man’s house and ransack his household goods right and left and seize them as plunder unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may [thoroughly] plunder his house. Mark 3:27

 

And so whether for your personal life or the society as a whole, change is birthed by steadfast discerning prayer. You will work, but you must pray. Don’t let the devil use people to deceive you.

 

 

Social Media ‘Rules’ of Engagement for Christians

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Fiery storms break out on Nigerian twitter without notice. The most virulent tend to be those involving social issues with the hot button topics being identity, gender, sexuality, marriage and pastors.

While some pastors find themselves in the eye of a twitter storm for their personal conduct; whether they are buying another private jet (why do we put private before it by the way) or they are plumbing new “levels of grace”, others inadvertently find themselves in the path of the storm for conveying their teachings in ways considered outrightly ignorant, or merely inelegant.

From Pastor Sarah Omaku’s teaching on Oral sex, to Pastor Adeboye’s advice for singles, and more recently Reverend Sam Adeyemi’s tweets on mental health, Nigerian social media space often erupts into a melee fuelled by what sometimes appears like pent up animosity.

For many Christians who retain some measure of respect for these church leaders, there is often considerable confusion, and squirming as they watch the latest public lynching by what is sometimes a hapless mob with no real redemptive agenda beyond earning badges as the most irreverent heckler in the latest episode of hold their feet to the flames.

These storms often do more than just hold this particular pastor to account on their teaching. Too often, the not so obvious sub-script in the sweeping, nuanceless, and quite often ignorant generalizations, is to question the entire idea of faith.

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So I have put together a few rules (principles in reality) to guide Christians who want to engage more effectively on social media without feeling the need to be defensive about their faith or the conduct of their brethren.

 

1.Overcome the need for validation by metrics.

As with all that a believer does, the primary goal for engaging on social media should always remain to honour God and not to build our ‘personal brands’. John the baptist left us a very useful mindset to bring to social media. When told that Jesus was getting more followers than he was, his response was… “He must increase and I must decrease.” John 3:30.

If we are too focused on building our numbers, we may fall into the temptation of pandering to the crowd. If we become too afraid to take a stand because we will lose our ‘friends’ then we are valuing the friendship of the world too highly and that’s courting enmity with God.

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Besides, big numbers are not always a definitive proof that we are on the right track. In fact, there is a  possibility that big numbers mean that we are on the wrong track. Be wary of the popular ideas and don’t follow the herd.

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2. Learn to quickly spot the fake, neo-liberal Jesus

Look out for Team-Jesus-would-have-been-cool-with-that. The people in this team usually profess to be followers of Jesus. The problem is that they often misrepresent him, and misapply his teachings.

By all means, Jesus is the embodiment of love and grace. He will embrace the ‘worst’ of mankind because in reality, we are all needing of redemption. As Apostle Paul once wrote, “Jesus came to die for sinners of which I am the chiefest.”

These often well-meaning people however misunderstand the grace of God. Grace does not pat us on the back for sinning. In fact, the reason grace came was to teach us to reject sin.

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These people have been seduced by this new neo-liberal Jesus who only says “Go” to the adulterous instead of “Go, and sin no more.”

The reality is that believers are not the morality police, nevertheless, they are called to be the salt of the earth, and its light. They are called to take a stand against ungodliness by their personal conduct, and in their public utterances. The key is to do it with humility, realizing as it is written in Titus that…

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3.  Beware of the snare of keeping double standards

I see many believers who are offended when their pastor’s are being publicly chastized on twitter. That’s only natural. But it is also hypocritical for those same Christians to have no qualms in rudely excoriating other people (whether other pastors or even politicians)  on the same platform.

Believers are given a standard for our communication, whether we are talking to revered men of God or ‘mere’ public servants.

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we are commanded to always be gracious in speech, irrespective of who we are talking to. Even to those who are outrightly rude to us. In this, Jesus leaves us his personal example of not retaliating.

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4. Understand that science is not the enemy

Believers can sometimes be uneasy around science, especially when it appears that the findings of science contradict scripture. I think there are two issues that are lumped together in this problem that we need to unpack.

The first is that we think science is conclusive and infallible. That’s wrong. Science is in reality unfolding. With new information, science will update its conclusions. The biggest challenge for the scientific approach is that it currently has no methods for accessing/assessing information of a non tangible nature. For things like emotion for instance, science only measures their impact on tangible and observable matter. Will science overcome this limitation? I don’t know. My take is that, if it ever does gain the ability to, it will happen on a trove of new information of a spiritual nature that will radically alter our understanding of the world.

The second thing is that we think we fully understand the Bible, and what it says about everything. The reality is that

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What this implies is that both science and my understanding of the bible only add up to a fragment of all the information there is out there. Given this reality, it is useful to be humble in our summations, acknowledge that we and our Pastors are fallible and to suspend judgement on matters that are not entirely clear until we receive more clarity.

Rather than get into pointless arguments, It is helpful to focus on what really counts. That sin is a reality, and science cannot solve that problem. Only the saving grace of Jesus can solve the problem of sin, and that is what really counts.

 

5.  Avoid Jumping into every fray

Savvy users of social media have learnt that jumping on trending topics can be quite useful in garnering a following. But as Rule ! says, believers should not make garnering a personal following  a primary goal for being on social media.

It is important to be discerning enough to know when it is appropriate to weigh in, for Scripture says that “in the multitude of words, sin is not lacking. We must therefore be sparing in our words.

 

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Believers need to learn to not meddle in every matter. Indeed if we are as busy as we ought to be, we will have little time to be such busy bodies.

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Final words

Social media offers believers a great platform to live out their faith, and share the love of Jesus. We are not to shrink from the world; we are to engage so that we can salt and give light to the world.

 

 

Don’t Get it Twisted

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It is easy to get comfortable in the keeping of the rules and rituals of our faith, and to then go on and assume that we are doing well spiritually, but are those rules, and rituals an end in themselves?

For most people, after spending sometime in church, we pick up the looks and the lingo, but quite often we are cursing out folks under our breathe while saying “bless you”.

So Apostle Paul writes to Timothy…

1 Timothy 1:5 AMP
Whereas the object and purpose of our instruction and charge is love, which springs from a pure heart and a good (clear) conscience and sincere (unfeigned) faith.

In essence he was saying, the whole point of the instructions I am sending you is to produce sincere love in you.

This is the main point of our Christian experience, and unless God succeeds in pouring his love into the world through us, our faith is worthless. Our works as well are meaningless without love, however impressive they may appear in the sight of men. For it is said in 1 Cor 13…

I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. [2] I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains-but if I have no love, I am nothing. [3] I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burned-but if I have no love, this does me no good.

When asked the definitive question about what the greatest commandment was. Jesus said, “it is to love God and to love our neighbour”.

It is so important to not feel validated by anything else in oir walk with the Lord if we cannot see clearly that the love of God is poured out daily from our hearts.

Don’t get it twisted!

Are you a closet Christian?

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Many folks like to keep their faith in Jesus private. They avoid any declarative statements about their faith in public discourse, even if they are some of the most assertive people about every other subject.

They often hide behind a vague phrase like “religion is a personal thing”, but is it? Is it personal in the sense of being secret? I don’t think so.

For many, this insistence on keeping their faith ‘private’ is actually a poor mask for a lack of conviction about what they profess privately. For others, it is to avoid the questions that it will raise about the inconsistency between their so called private beliefs, and their public lifestyle.

For others still, it is the pathetic need to not offend, and to retain public approval with its perks, that keeps them from taking a public stand for the Lord.

It is for this group that Jesus has the sternest warnings. The group of private believers who in wanting to retain their social standing would rather not take the awkward positions that being a believer often demands we take in the public space.

Now, this is not a call for exhibitionism. In fact, there is a measure of discretion that our faith demands. In reality, our faith ought to be more like perfume than neon lights: everyone should be able to sense it without us making a show of it.

What the bible warns against is the desire to keep our ‘public approval’ while expecting the Lord to make do with our private devotion.

It appears this was what Nicodemus (in John 3) was trying to do when he snuck in to see Jesus at night. Being a leader of the synagogue, associating with Jesus in the day might have had consequences.

If we can’t be definite about Nicodemus’ motives,  the bible leaves us no room for doubts when it says…

John 12:42-43 AMP
And yet in spite of all this many even of the leading men (the authorities and the nobles) believed and trusted in Him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that if they should acknowledge Him they would be expelled from the synagogue; [43] For they loved the approval and the praise and the glory that come from men instead of and more than the glory that comes from God. They valued their credit with men more than their credit with God.

Although it may not appear so to you at first, but truth is, if you are particularly cagey about your faith in Jesus, there’s a good chance it is because, like the folks in this verses above, “you love the approval, and praise, and glory that come from men instead of and more than the glory that comes from God.”

Now Jesus leaves us a dire warning on this issue…

Luke 12:8-9 AMP
And I tell you, Whoever declares openly speaking out freely and confesses that he is My worshiper and acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will declare and confess and acknowledge him before the angels of God. [9] But he who disowns and denies and rejects and refuses to acknowledge Me before men will be disowned and denied and rejected and refused acknowledgement in the presence of the angels of God.

There’s the temptation after reading this portion to opt for hair splitting, and tunnel into verse 9, from which we can defensively argue that we don’t deny or disown him. That’s futile though, because the standard of proof of not denying him that Jesus accepts is verse 8. To openly declare, speaking freely, and confessing that we are his worshipper and acknowledging him before men.

No. Our faith is not private in the sense that we have come to define it. As Jesus teaches, it is pointless to light a candle and hide it under a basket. When a candle is lit, the proper thing to do with it is to put it on a candle stand so it gives light to everyone.

Take a stand!

@woleolabanji

Gethsemane, Golgotha and Galilee

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While growing up, the joy of the annual Easter celebration was the trip to ‘Galilee’ on Easter Monday.  It was a day of fun and feasting, spent with family and friends by the lake formed by the university dam at Shika. It was our annual family picnic where we frollicked no holds barred, after weeks of fasting during the lenten season, and going through the poignant rituals of the stations of the cross leading up to Easter Sunday.

Growing up has drained Easter of all that frolic. In its place, now dwells a less boisterous but infinitely more satiating joy of salvation. Galilee means much more to me now than a day of gorging and flinging frisbees by the lake side.

As I sat listening to the Easter sermon in church today, the Holy Spirit began to whisper to me about the journey from Gethsemane through Golgotha and to Galilee.

In celebrating Easter today, Golgotha often takes the centre stage, as we bask in the love of Christ that made him go to the cross for us, and in the power of His ressurection. But today, the Holy Spirit began to nudge me to also pay some attention to Gethsemane, and Galilee.

Indeed there couldn’t have been a Golgotha without Gethsemane. Although his body was crucified at Golgotha, it was at Gethsemane that his flesh was crucified.

Matthew 26:36-46 GNT
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” [37] He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. Grief and anguish came over him, [38] and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch with me.” [39] He went a little farther on, threw himself face downward on the ground, and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me! Yet not what I want, but what you want.” [40] Then he returned to the three disciples and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, “How is it that you three were not able to keep watch with me for even one hour? [41] Keep watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” [42] Once more Jesus went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” [43] He returned once more and found the disciples asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. [44] Again Jesus left them, went away, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. [45] Then he returned to the disciples and said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look! The hour has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to the power of sinners. [46] Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!”

The surrendering of the will, the laying down of the life happened at Gethsemane, Golgotha was merely the outward manifestation of a work that had been completed. Understandably, the brutal beating that our Lord endured on the way to Golgotha is more captivating, but you see, as it says in 1 Cor 13:3, it is entirely possible to give ones body to be destroyed in a self seeking way. All of the suffering that Jesus endured on the way to Golgotha is only meaningful because he was victorious over self at Gethsemane.

I find however that like the apostles who slept while Jesus prayed, I also miss the opportunity of Gethsemane many times. Often, in focusing on the power of his ressurection, I miss out on the fellowship of his suffering; his agony in prayer that made his sweat seem as drops of blood. Too often we skip the private crucifxion of the flesh, and therefore when the public crucifixion of the body comes, we fail. Unlike Him that was like a lamb being led to the slaughter, and remained quiet, when we suffer any perceived injustice or deprivation, we lash out.

I find also that it is the skipping of Gethsemane that blinds us to the purpose of our rendezvous at Galilee. If we fail to crucify the flesh at Gethsemane, we often misappropriate the power of His ressurection when we get to Galilee. For the man who bypasses Gethsemane,  Galilee will always be a place of feasting: the entire Christian  experience will mean nothing more than apropriating the sacrifice of Golgotha for personal upliftment.

Yet Galilee isn’t merely a party. In fact Galilee is the place where we receive instruction for the highest use of the power of His resurrection.

Matthew 28:10, 16-20 GNT
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to them. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” [16] The eleven disciples went to the hill in Galilee where Jesus had told them to go. [17] When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted. [18] Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. [19] Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, [20] and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

For many a believer today, Gethsemane, Golgotha and Galilee may be no more than mere stops on a tour trail while performing a tourist’s pilgrimage to Israel. In reality, they are the unmissable  milestones on our paths as pilgrims. To know the fellowship of his suffering, to know the power of his ressurection, and to tell the world of his goodness.

Gethsemane, Golgotha and Galilee
Happy Easter.

@woleolabanji