Archives For Grace Matters

Controversy seems to follow Gloria Muliro wherever she turns, like an unshakable stalker.

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The latest has to do with her song, Follow You. The singer has been accused of stealing/plagiarizing/sampling (whichever term seems most appropriate), not only the words, but also the tune to the chorus/verse from Chris Tomlin’s song, I Will Follow You.

Now, people will throw out accusations all the time at celebrities. What matters is whether those accusations are true, reasonable, justifiable or simply unfounded. What makes Gloria Muliro’s case even more noteworthy is the fact that she responded, by denying all charges of stealing/sampling/plagiarizing the song [both consciously or sub-consciously].

She further added that the contentious lyrics were inspired by the Bible and any similarity with Chris Tomlin’s song is purely coincidental.

It is this denial that makes her case worth examining, especially if you’ve listened to the two songs. Here are the links to the two songs: Gloria Muliro and Chris Tomlin. Give them a listen before you proceed. The first 30 seconds should do it.

Now, a few details concerning the controversy:

FIRST, the words in the contentious verse in both songs are [almost] exactly the same. The only difference is that Chris Tomlin uses the word “when” instead of “where” in the second to last part of the verse [underlined]:

Muliro: “where you go I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay, where you move I’ll move I’ll move, I will follow you”

Tomlin: “where you go I’ll go, where you stay I’ll stay, when you move I’ll move, I will follow you”

SECONDLY, Gloria Muliro was recently interviewed by Buzz concerning the controversial song. This was her explanation for the apparent similarity between the songs:

Buzz: Okay, make us understand why you are accused of stealing the song ‘Follow You’ by American singer Chris Tomlin word by word.

Muliro: Let me make it very clear. My music is inspired by the Bible. The words in ‘Follow Me’ are in the book of Ruth 1:16. Check and you will see. If today I preach the sermon from John 3:16, that will not prevent somebody else to preach the same verse in Russia. We are all guided and inspired by the same Bible.

THIRDLY, if you’ve listened to the choruses in both songs, the tune is more or less the same. But I will leave that one up for the reader’s/listener’s determination. It could be that all songs sound the same to me. I’m a lyrics guy, after all  🙂

Anyway, my focus in bringing this controversy to light is not to determine whether Gloria Muliro did sample Chris Tomlin’s song (though I feel like that’s exactly what I’m doing). My major concern is in the way she responded to the accusations, considering her claim to be a Christian, and therefore expected to live (or at least speak) according to certain standards.

In the excerpt above, she told Buzz that the words in the song are in Ruth 1:16. This could be true. Ruth 1:16 says, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” However, the verse does not have the “where you move, I’ll move” part. I could be splitting hairs here, but it seems Gloria Muliro’s song has more in common with Chris Tomlin’s song than with the Bible (her alleged sole inspiration).

I have tried to give her the benefit of doubt. I have even considered what a friend suggested on Facebook, that this could be a case of Cryptomnesia (This is when “a forgotten memory returns without it being recognised as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke…” ) I was willing to grant that, but upon closer examination of the song, I realized that the similarities are too detailed to be merely incidental.

Some similarities in the internal message in both songs is striking. Yes, a person may sub-consciously sample a chorus and plagiarize a few lyrics, but is it possible for one to subconsciously translate those lyrics into Swahili? That seems a little bit hard to pull off.

In the first verse, Chris Tomlin says, “All your ways are good, All your ways are sure….” and in her first verse, Gloria Muliro says, “….Njia zako hakika (all your ways are good), Mambo yako sambamba (all your ways are sure)…” Maybe I am just cherry-picking lines to prove a point. So, let’s go all the way to the last verse and see what we can find there. In Chris Tomlin’s song, there are phrases such as, “…In you there’s joy, unending joy…” and in Gloria Muliro’s song, “…kuna upendo tele kwako (in you there’s unending joy), furaha kwako (in you there’s joy).” Is this still a coincidence inspired by the story of Ruth and Naomi? Maybe it is. Who knows? God works in mysterious ways.

But an even more important question is this, do you think those are sufficient reasons to make people think that Gloria stole/sampled Chris Tomlin’s song? I think they are. Gloria Muliro doesn’t seem to think so. When asked whether the accusations against her were unfounded, this was her disturbing response:

Buzz: So why would people think that you stole the song, in your opinion?

Muliro: People are just jealous of my success.

Dear Christian artistes, we are called to be above reproach. This does not necessarily mean that we will never fail or try to cover up our failures. It means that we should always be ready (and willing) to bring those failures to the cross. It doesn’t help anyone to keep holding onto our “righteousness” when it is clear before God and before men that there is reason and cause for repentance.

Christianity is not about never falling, it is about always rising up after the fall. Our faith is best displayed in our admission of our falleness (and in our proclamation of Christ’s sufficiency to forgive and raise us up again). No, the world will not be won by our outward cloaks of perfection and self-righteousness, it will be won by the display of our utter dependency, for therein lies the reality of the Gospel in our lives. We are all desperate beggars before God’s throne of grace.

It is my prayer that Gloria Muliro will come to the realization that Christian artistes are not saints misunderstood, but sinners forgiven.

Soli Deo Gloria

Over the weekend Kenyans on Twitter went to town with their sarcastic prowess after a clip of Pat Robertson saying one can catch AIDS from towels in Kenya went viral. Mr Robertson was responding to a viewer’s question on last Thursday’s episode of The 700 Club. The anonymous viewer was worried about the Ebola epidemic and wanted to know if the trip would be taking an unnecessary risk.

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Photo credit: wpxi.com

Robertson’s response sounded reasonable enough except for a few generalizations and flippant statements. On Ebola, he said “not in Kenya” and every Kenya who was watching “amen”ed to that. Then he added that even though one should not worry about Ebola in Kenya, they should be wary of other diseases such as AIDS, Malaria and stomach bugs.

He advised against eating fresh vegetables and drinking un-sanitized water. Although the 84-year-old Christian conservative said all these things in generalities that may have exaggerated the sanitation situation in Kenya, the one statement that really rubbed Kenyans the wrong way was “… you might get AIDS, the people have AIDS in Kenya, you gotta be careful, I mean, the towels could have AIDS…”

And in their usual #SomeoneTell hash-tag activism, many Kenyans on Twitter had a field day giving Pat Robertson a piece of their mostly sarcastic mind.

I empathize with my countrymen. I really do. It hurts to have my country so grossly misrepresented by someone who has never even set foot on Kenyan soil (I think). It is only reasonable to be particularly sensitive about what Robertson said concerning Kenya.

But one thing that many seem to have missed is that Pat Robertson has been making such ridiculous statements on global TV for decades. We are only more aware of him now because he was talking about Kenya. I bet most Kenyans who probably regularly watch the 700 Club did not flinch when Pat said the following things:

  1. To a caller who said that he is often insulted by his wife, Robertson jokingly advised the man to move to a country such as Saudi Arabia, “where wife-beating is legal”.
  2. On feminism: “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
  1. To the question of husbands who cheat on their wives, Robertson casually told a viewer that “males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”

Robertson has also, on several occasions, described abortion as a “lesbian conspiracy”. But the statement that got him the most heat was what he said in reaction to the 2010 Haitian earthquake:

 “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti… They were under the heel of the French… And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so the Devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” And they kicked the French out… ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.”

In other words, Robertson believed the Haitians had it coming.

So it is now Kenya’s turn, and that’s why we are lining up to take our jab at Mr Robertson. Yet, in light of the man’s record and reputation for being flippant, bigoted and all other words that describe a serious lack of wisdom or discretion, should we really be wasting our breath and time reacting to his latest episode of verbal diarrhea?

Robertson’s age is confusing. At 84, one would naturally expect more mellow, nuanced and generally wise advise coming from the man who has been dishing it out for decades. But he only seems to be getting worse.

Robertson’s context is also more confusing. He is speaking as a Christian leader and his show The 700 Club targets a largely Christian audience (considering it is distributed by Christian Broadcasting Network, which was founded by Robertson). Many of us who lay claim to the same faith find ourselves in a precarious situation when it comes to this man. We are embarrassed by him, and we are naturally quick to disassociate from him.

I don’t intend to dwell much on this issue, but I felt I should point out one lesson that stood out with this incident: Pat Robertson is what happens when we rely on the wisdom of man rather than God. Robertson seemed to have weaved his way into the trust of millions of people who regularly watch his show. He gets thousands of letters seeking advise on various topics about the Christian life and ministry. But the one thing that stands out in more than 90 per cent of Robertson’s responses is that they are just that: Robertson’s responses.

He seems to be his own authority. His answers are based on his own judgment, experience and personal opinions. Very rarely does he quote the Bible or even attempt to wrestle with what God says about an issue over what Robertson thinks about it. It is simply assumed that he has earned the authority to give answers without even doing a little research on the issues involved. “I don’t know” is seldom an option. His conspiracy theories go without question.

So what do I think of Pat Robertson in light of all this? Well, the only word that comes to mind is “warning”. Yes, Pat Robertson should be a warning to all of us on the folly of relying on ourselves and our theories and philosophies instead of God’s Word.

Consider yourself warned.

“Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:5-7

“These street kids are everywhere these days, it is like an infestation.”

Those were the words that left my lips last Saturday at our weekly community group meeting. A few gasps followed the sentence, and then nervous laughter. Someone volunteered an explanation: “we have a doctor in the room, and the word ‘infestation’ carries a lot of weight in the medical world.”

Perhaps “infestation” was a strong word, especially since I was using it to describe human beings. I was talking about the surge of street kids in Nairobi and how they seem to have filled every nook and cranny of our city and the government is not doing much to control them. I was complaining about how most of these street families have been found to be nothing but con-artists feigning poverty to enrich themselves by manipulating the compassion and generosity of unsuspecting Kenyans. Honestly, I have grown to feel towards them the way I would feel towards pests and parasites, hence my choice of words above.

I was in the middle of explaining why I have become so cynical lately that I seldom pay any attention to any child who approaches me on the sidewalk and says Continue Reading…

Does God have a favorite type of music? many people, especially older people, are convinced God is into hymns. Others argue that God loves rock music, but leans more towards soft rock, you know, the Casting Crowns type of music. God is definitely into Hillsong. Surely, He must love the Gospel RnBs. We know He can’t love Hip Hop because, you know, (whispering) the demonic roots and all. Or maybe He is into reggae music…But seriously, though, does God have a favorite type of music?

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Photo courtesy: spinlet.com

I think He does, and I know which album would be on top favorites if I sneaked a peek into His iTunes: Kanjii Mbugua’s Rauka album. Why do I say this? Because Kanjii’s album was good enough to make it into the Bible. Don’t believe me? Just open the Psalms, chapter 151 to be exact. Although all the 14 songs are written in Swahili with a few English lines sprinkled in one or two songs, Rauka is a masterful work of lyricism. But then again, Kanjii is gifted that way.

But what strikes me most is not the chords but the lyrics. I am not a music expert, and that is why I have always reviewed the lyrics of a song and left the musical production and arrangement to the experts. This is the first album I am reviewing on Alien Citizens. I usually review individual songs. I am reviewing it as an album because I am compelled to do justice to such a great work of worshipful art. Rauka is like a 14-page devotional book. You’ve probably already realised your Bible doesn’t have Psalm 151. Well, not anymore, because here are the 14 verses *:

1. Rauka (Rise up)

Rauka (rise up) speaks to the hopeless among us. The ones who have been branded poor, without cure, the constant failures. The song calls you to remember that Jesus did not forget you when He saved you. You may have recently received a dismissal notice at work and auctioneers are scrambling for your property, But remember Jesus did not forget you. So rise up, forget the past, what you have been through. RIse up, it’s a new day. “We thank you Father, we lift You up, we praise You. We receive You, King of kings.”

2. Ako nami (He is with me)

The second song sets a trend that I found distinctive and commendable in the rest of the album, Kanjii moves from just talking “about” God to talking “to” and “with” God. He moves from mere analysis of God’s nature to the actual worship and adoration of that nature. Ako nami (He is with me) reflects on God’s eternal strength, glory, Lordship and kindness. 

“You’re the rock on which I stand. You’re the one that never changes. In your arms I am secure. You’re protecting me. In your power I am mighty. Against all weapons formed against me, I shall not fear, I shall not fear.”

3. Karibu (Welcome)

Karibu (welcome) speaks of proclaiming the praises and attributes of God throughout the world. “All day long, I will confess You are holy, You name be lifted high, from every corner of this country, may all praise go to you Father.” And then Rigga reinforces the message with his rapping prowess; “Welcome Father, there’s no one like You, We welcome You King, Lion… Your Highness, we will make your praises heard… How will they know the King has arrived?”

4. Mfalme Mkuu

The most popular song in the album mainly because of the video that was released with the album. Mfalme Mkuu speaks of how Jesus saved us in the midst of our despair. “I had lost hope in life, I was to perish, fall, I was to be lost, but Jesus saved me… I was drowning, troubles all around me, I was in captivity, defeated, overwhelmed, but Jesus saved me… I am astounded, amazed, surprised, Your goodness has no measure, Your strength has no measure.”

5. Ebenezer

“He has said He won’t leave me until we reach the shore, He has said He has a good plan, a plan to give me hope. You are Lord of my life, and your promises are true. I will trust You, your promises are eternal… Let them say what they say, you are my Ebenezer, You guide me in life, there is no one else like You.”

6. Wewe Tu (Only You)

This song speaks of whom we should run to in our times of trouble: to God and not man. “In my pain, I cry out to my Lord. He is with me, I will not be afraid. I’d rather run to You than to man, I remember your love. Your Word is my hope. Your mercies never cease.” Kidum’s unmistakable voice spices the second verse and reinforces the same Psalm 22-like message: “Enemies surround me, I have no escape, but in Your name Lord, I am a victor…” But for You Lord, I would have perished in darkness. But for You Lord. Only You.

7. Mwanzo na Mwisho (Beginning and the End)

So far my favorite song in the album, “I thought I would perish, troubles overwhelmed me, in my depression I cried out to the Lord. He is my fortress, my hope, my rock of salvation… I will lift Him up, I will praise Him, He is the Savior, Alpha and Omega… Your name is Jehova, Lord, I ascribe to you all authority forever.”

8. Nitangoja (I Will Wait)

“It wasn’t long ago, I was drowning in issues, I longed for peace. Then I saw Your face, the One I depend on, You are my resting place. Even in my perplexion, when enemies surround me, I remember You will never leave me… I stand before You, surely You’re my shield. You’re teaching me, you’re my refuge, I will stand on Your Word.”

9. Nakuhitaji (I Need You)

“I don’t need to look for someone to care for me, love me. I don’t need to look for someone to make me happy, to satisfy me. There are no others, my soul thirsts for You. You are mine and I long for You… You’re the true vine. You provide everything I need. You are mine, I long for You.”

10. Juu Yangu (Upon me)

“I am poor, I have nothing to call my own. Like the birds of the air, you care for me. I am sure You hold my hand. You draw me to Your shadow… I know His hand upon me, I know His hand upon me… The ones I thought were my friends forsook me. But Your presence, Father, was over me. When my body wasted away with disease, You are Jehova Rapha, You healed me.”

And of course, the transposed lines towards the end are nothing short of heavenly: “Ooh, he has risen. No matter what I am going through. He has risen.”

11. Mwamba (Rock)

A mildly reggae tune with the talented Rigga sprinkled all over it: “I have come from far, seen a lot. Who cares for me? (My rock). They betrayed me, they mocked me. Who is my friend? (My rock)… I am not afraid of the floods, the rains or the winds. My foundation is in You, my rock, my rock… I will follow your Word, it is You I will depend You, Hide me.”

12. Wewe unami (You are with me)

More of a refrain than the usual verses and chorus, Wewe Unami (You are with me) is an affirmation of God’s constant and refreshing presence. It speaks of the cross as the bridge to life. “He walks with me, He holds my hand, His shadow surrounds me.” Pure, gospel-centered, worship.

13. Wewe (You

I think this is the song with the most frequent and explicit reference to Wewe (You), a psalmic chorus that addresses God and sounds almost private for its personal references: “You are my pillar, You are my refuge. You, You. You are my strength, You are my hope. You You…. In a dry land where there is no water. You are my Good. I seek. I seek. My soul longs for you. I thirst for you, I wait for you.”

14. Still Moving

The last song of the album is also the only fast-paced, party-feel song. It speaks of moving on and hoping and trusting despite circumstances that say otherwise. It is a song about rejoicing in lack and weakness. A song about praising in apparent hopelessness and despair. 

——

There you have it, a brief (long) overview of the whole album **. When I think about it, I am not so sure why I fell in love with this album. I mean, I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the way the album is so explicit about God and His place in our lives. Maybe it’s the way every song stresses the weakness of man and the strength of God. Could it be the way each chord ties together the paradox of being happy in suffering, hopeful in bleakness, joyful in sadness? perhaps I love this album so much because it does not just remind me of my utter wretchedness and weakness, but it supplants this reality with God’s saving mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.

In other words, it is a Gospel album.

Written for the fame of His name.

~~~
Cornell

* The album is in Swahili so I have done my best to translate the lyrics.

** You can buy the album and pay via MPESA (and other online payment alternatives) through this link (just click on this sentence).

Guilt. It is a joy sapping, energy draining and hope crushing feeling. Guilt can imprison you in the past and make you unable to move forward. It will make you doubt yourself and even write yourself off. I know this because I have been guilty. Or rather, I have felt guilty. To BE guilty is a statement of fact. One can be guilty without even knowing it, let alone feeling it. On the other hand, one can FEEL guilty without actually being guilty. But today, I am talking about the feeling of guilt that is rooted in actual guilt.

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Photo courtesy: doctorjenn.com

You lied, cheated, stole something. You ignored a friend in need, spread false rumors about a colleague, and now you are feeling guilty. You should feel guilty. We all need a healthy dose of guilt. Guilt helps us to confront the monster inside us for who he or she really is. Guilt helps us acknowledge our inadequacies at pursuing perfection. Guilt is good, but guilt can also be bad.

You see, if you know Jesus, if you believe in and follow Jesus, then guilt should only be a stop-over in your journey. It should not be a destination. Even worse, it should not be your home, because Jesus came to save us from the sins we committed, the wrongs we did which left us feeling guilty. Like a guilty criminal in court, Jesus came and offered to bail us out. But some of us refuse to acknowledge this bailout. Many of us plead guilty and choose the prison of self-condemnation.

Jesus comes and tells you “Hey, you are free. I am not asking you to pretend that you didn’t do wrong. You did wrong. I am asking you to accept that, while you did wrong, I made it right. I paid the price.”

Self-condemning guilt reveals a failure to appreciate what Jesus did for you. He died for this. For what you are beating yourself about. He died to tell you, yes, I know what you did. I understand the gravity of your failure. In fact, it is worse than you think, and I love you anyway. I am merciful, I choose to forgive you. I paid the price, will you give me your guilt and accept my forgiveness?

Jesus asks us to learn from our guilt and then run from it. He asks us to face our guilt and then see through it to the mercy he offers us. To wallow in guilt and self-condemnation is to slap away the hand of God. It is to look at the cross and walk away unchanged. To live in guilt is to tell God “I know you have forgiven me and paid for my sins, but I am much better feeling bad about what I did. Let me wallow in self-pity and self-condemnation for a little while. I deserve this”

Oftentimes, when we have done wrong and are feeling guilty and beating ourselves up about it, a well meaning friend might approach us and say something like: “You need to forgive yourself.”

This is often after you have sought forgiveness from the person you wronged, but you are still finding it hard to move on. It is after the victim of your sin has told you “I forgive you, go and sin no more,” but you still insist on sulking and mopping and feeling really sorry for yourself. You need to forgive yourself.

What does that mean? “You need to forgive yourself” What do our friends mean when they tell us that? What do we mean when we tell others that? Some of us mean, “you need to let it go”. Other mean, “you need to move on from this because it is doing nothing but holding you back.” But I doubt there is any person, when they tell you “forgive yourself” actually mean, “You are God. You have the supreme power to forgive your sins. So go ahead and do it and redeem yourself from this bondage of guilt.” I doubt anyone actually means that when they say “forgive yourself”.

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Photo courtesy: sodahead.com

Of course there are some who come from the worldview that teaches “you are your own master and nothing but what you allow will control you.” Such people, when they tell you to forgive yourself, often mean “will yourself into joy,” “think positively”. They often offer advise that is not rooted in anything solid. But sometimes it is our fellow followers of Christ, sincere seekers of holiness, who tell us to “forgive ourselves.” I submit that some of these people do not fully understand what they mean by those words. They have simply blindly played into the prevailing “positive” thinking rhetoric of the day.

But the reality is that to live in guilt is to live in pride. It is to write off what you didn’t contribute in creating – YOU. To live in guilt over forgiven sin is to say God was a fool to forgive you. It is to say Jesus wasted his life dying for you. To continue in guilt after repenting and after forgiveness has been extended is to say you are master of your life, and you don’t need any help beating yourself up.

So, yes, you need to “forgive yourself”. But, in the “biblically correct” view of things, what you need to do is REALISE that you have already been forgiven, Jesus has already given his life for your sin, you ARE no longer guilty. It is to believe that you are worthy of God’s mercy and grace.

To TRULY forgive yourself is to live forgiven. And while you’re at it, you need to repent of your failure to acknowledge God’s forgiveness.

~~~

Cornell

Nowadays, it seems more important to please the world than to please the church (please note I said please the “church” not please “God”) — even though the Bible says we should prioritize those in the household of faith.

We don’t care if our conservative brothers are stumbling all over our creative freedom. The important thing is that unbelievers are not stumbling over our message.

We no longer go to preach where the idols of the world are, it is much more fruitful to bring the idols into the church to lure the world in. We trick them to win them. We tease their weaknesses and manipulate their addictions because the end justifies the means. We bait them with images of wines and spirits and then when they show up we spring up the Holy Spirit on them.

It is not like we are worshiping these idols ourselves, we are not, we are simply going where the sinners are — establishing a point of contact. Like Jesus, we are simply lunching with Simon and dining with Zaccheus.

So what if our brothers in faith disagree with our strategies? So what if our brothers don’t get it? They are the ones who need to grow up, to get with the program. We will not be patient with the weak in the church (read, the “narrow-minded” in the church). Why encourage their hypocrisy? Why succumb to their holier-than-thouness?

Even Jesus faced resistance and condemnation from the Sadducee and Pharisee of his day, that is why we are confident in what we do. It doesn’t matter that the Sadducee and Pharisee were UNBELIEVERS, yes even the high priest. Somehow, it seems more appropriate to dismiss conservative Christians as unbelievers simply because they think our methods unwise.

The end is near and we need to harvest as many of the lost as fast as possible.

And as the masses stream in through the front door after their idols, those inside are being carried out in their #judgmental stretchers through the back door — their faith in a #hypocritical condition.

And it’s really alright because, well, we can see the fruit. We are winning the world.

#Selah

mavuno poster

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:9-12)

A big shout out to J.C.

 ‘If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.’ – C. S. Lewis

That is the mystery clouding this man’s vision as he disappears into the shadows tonight. He needs answers; answers to questions his scholarly mind cannot provide; solutions to mysteries his experienced years cannot unravel. So he sits and waits until the quiet evening cacophony has been completely replaced by the rhythmic chirping of crickets. He tarries until his wife and the kids have slipped into the sub-conscious country of slumber land.

He doesn’t make a sound. Like a cat pad-footing through a messy kitchen, he steals into the night. Stealthily, he weaves his way through the city. Avoiding street-lights and highways, he chooses the dark alleys and back-roads. The cover of the darkness gives him the courage to go out. This perplexed patriarch seeks the truth in the dark.

After fifteen minutes of avoiding late-night drunks and street-side bums, Nicodemus senses that his destination is close by. The soft chatter of voices and the misty rays of candle-light from a house two blocks away give him hope.

“Soon I will be able to sleep in peace. Soon, I will have the missing piece — the answer to my puzzle.”

He is now at the door. He stops and takes a deep breath. That’s when second-thoughts that have been chasing behind him quickly catch up with him. This was a bad idea. Maybe I should just go back. What if one of the elders catches me here? How am I going to explain myself?

After weighing the options and the repercussions; after pre-enacting in his head the public humiliation that might result from this encounter, he decides this was a bad idea. So he turns to leave, but he is too late. The door swings open and a disciple almost runs into him on his way out.

“Oh, pardon me sir,” Peter’s apology is quick, “almost didn’t see you there.”

Nicodemus stands frozen. He opens his mouth but no words come out.

Come on, man! This is bad. Say something! Talk your way out of this fix. Pretend you are in the wrong place, apologize and leave.

“Would you like to come in?” Peter opens the door a little wider and motions him in.

Nicodemus’ scared gaze wanders onto the group of men huddled around the table. A single candle illuminates their attentive faces. The conversation stops. The people turn and look towards the door. Then the man seated at the farthest end of the table, directly facing the door, motions him to get in.

Too late now. They’ve seen me. Might as well face them.

“Oh, thank you,” he says politely to Peter, lifts up his robes and steps into the room.

The silence is deafening. Everyone recognized him the moment he stepped through the door. And everyone held their breath. They had seen him before. He was always hanging out with other Pharisees. When Jesus had claimed to destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, Nicodemus was among the members of the council who confronted him. Though he didn’t say a word then, they knew he shared in their verdict. The disciples knew him, and they knew he was up to no good.

Nicodemus, trying hard to ignore the stares, finds a place to sit at the table. But the moment he settles down, the two seats on either side of him are quickly vacated. It’s clear that no one wants to sit next to him.

He is not welcome here.

To be continued…

I was 17, she was 16, and her smile drove me crazy. Every moment spent with her was magical, even the mundane was memorable. She meant the world to me. We delighted in the most insignificant things; a replied letter; a wink across the classroom; even an insult was considered a tease – romantic.

angelShe was an angel, and I would find myself floating on cloud nine just thinking about her. I knew she was the girl of my dreams because she was the girl I always dreamt about.

She was the girl he dreamed about too. He was 21 and in college. He had money and I didn’t even own a wallet. But it wasn’t his money, but his charm, that made her stop replying my letters. It was his stubble-stained chin that made her start shunning my once cherished embrace.

I cried unashamedly when she told me we could no longer be. That she no longer felt the same. That the dream was over and it was time to wake up.

“I just can’t go on being with you. I am sorry,” she told me with the casualness of someone who has just stepped on a friend’s toe. It wasn’t me, it was her.

She left me a casualty. I could no longer see her, and that blow sent me to love’s ICU. She had trampled on my heart left it cynical. What happened to the promises we made? The names we carved on the bark of that tree by the river? What happened to forever?

That fateful night, I fell asleep on a tear-soaked pillow, to the background tune of Toni Braxton’s “How Could an Angel Break My Heart?”

Ten years down the calendar, I have had my share of broken hearts; some of them my own; most of them casualties of my callous and careless heart. I have learnt that there is no such thing as an angel. That, as C.S. Lewis once put it, “to love at all is to be vulnerable.” I have learned that a broken heart is not a risk to take but a guarantee.

I have learnt that forever is a choice made, not after finding the perfect lover, but through loving the imperfect one. Love is a choice with consequences, painful ones. I have learnt that trust is a gamble, and that while we always expect the best of others, we should not be too blind that we don’t prepare for the worst. This is not cynicism, it is realism. A realism tempered by a truth that transcends all age and culture: that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All have sinned and fallen short of our fanciful expectations.

How could an angel break my heart? Because I believed there was such a thing as an angel. How do I know this? Because I have been an angel, countless times, all along knowing that the person looking back at me in the mirror is no angel. I don’t believe in angels, maybe fallen angels. Angels like me; born blind, faltering and damaged. Angels like me; trust-breaking, broken-winged and diseased.

But broken wings lead to broken hearts.

I don’t believe in angels. But I believe in the one who makes angels. I believe in the one who takes my broken wings and patches me up again to fly another day. I believe in the one who has promised me that one day I will fly without faltering. One day I will be like Him, because I shall see Him as he is — my perfect reflection.

We are hard-wired for justice, and sometimes injustice (when we are the ones on the wrong). We always want mercy for ourselves and justice for others. Self-preservation is the default human-instinct. Darwin defined it as a dog-eat-dog, survival-for-the-fittest, world. This is the reality on the ground, presently. But is this the ideal? Is this what God created us to be? Was efensive, ego-centric and self-prioritizing?

In the beginning, God created man and woman in His own image. The fact that God created is our first clue that to be made in His image means to look beyond ourselves. If God was so selfish, He wouldn’t have made us. He wouldn’t have created other entities on which to lavish His love and abundance on Himself. If God were so self-centered, He would have just been satisfied with creating a mirror.

people_please_222908687Caveat: There is a way in which God must be self-centered, and self-focusing. Because of His nature as Trinity, there is a way in which God has to be God-centered for us, His creatures, to attain ultimate joy. Since we are made in His image, it is in gazing upon His face, and not away, that we become “what we were meant to be” — His. As John Piper puts it, ‘God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” And the flip-side to that is that “man is most satisfied when God is most glorified.”

It is while thinking about this aspect of the fallen human nature that people-pleasing came to mind. The popular, psychological, definition of a “people-pleaser” is someone who wants everyone around them to be happy and they will do whatever is asked of them. While this may look like a good thing, it becomes a problem when the person finds his self-worth and validation from the approval of others. They thrive on being needed. To this end (extreme), people-pleasing is bad.

But from a biblical worldview, people-pleasing is not just commended, it is commanded.

This is why sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we take the offense of the Gospel as a license to be unloving and inconsiderate towards those who despise or abuse or simply misunderstand the Gospel. Paul says that it is “the message of the Cross” that is offensive to those who are perishing. It is not the messengers of the Cross that are. Now, sometimes the world cannot distinguish the message from the messenger, and that is a reality we may have to deal with. But the Bible makes the distinction clear.

“By their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:20

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:23

Jesus illustrated this perfectly by commanding us to “turn the other cheek”, “walk the extra mile” and “give up our cloaks.” These were not just rhetoric devices; they were also pointers to the grace that we are to extend towards others — including those who mistreat us.

People-pleasing is a sin, but pleasing people is not. We are called to live for the good of others, to edify and affirm others – for the glory of God. And this is not just in response to kindness extended towards us, it is also expected of us in response to any unkindness extended towards us. The difference between wordly people-pleasing and Godly people pleasing is that, in the former, we are doing it IN ORDER to gain something, validation, clout, self-satisfaction.

But in the latter, in the Godly people-pleasing, we please others because of who we are – God’s children created in God’s image, validated in the death of Christ and satisfied in the Father’s approval.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

PS: The best people-pleasers are God-pleasers.

It is the stuff of water-cooler conversations. Jane just conveniently happened to feel thirsty when Sophie pushed back her office chair. The two women met at the water-dispenser, where the usual chit-chat started. 

water cooler chat“Did you hear about Maryanne’s escapades last night?” Jane casually asks Sophie while awaiting her turn, holding an empty plastic cup. “I heard she left the club at midnight, with Beth’s husband.”

But before the gossip can get juicier, Sophie shows up, and the conversation quickly switches to something about Mr. Njoroge of HR and how obnoxious he is.

It is easy to talk about someone else when they’re not there. More specifically, it is easy to say negative things (true or false) about them when they are out of ear-shot. It is not the same thing with compliments. We actually long to be overheard while saying positive things about a person. But when it comes to God, we actually don’t mind saying negative things about Him even when He is listening.

I have found it helpful to re-imagine my sins as being committed in the physical presence of God. For instance, when I lie, I think about what that means in my relationship with God. I imagine God is standing there with me while I am doing it. He and I know the truth. He clearly told me to tell the truth, and even though I heard Him, I chose to do otherwise.  Continue Reading…

[By Julie Wang’ombe]

Imagine its exam day at a university. Anyone who’s ever been a student, as I currently am, knows that in any class, there’s a ‘colorful’ range of students. The serious; the cavalier; the ‘brilliant without much effort” the “must work twice as hard to do half as well as the average person” the “school is really not my thing” people etc.

I want to focus on one of these students. The procrastinator. She isn’t stupid, except in so far as procrastinating is stupid. She has known for 10 weeks that the exam is coming and only picked up her notes two days ago (:-/). But when she looked through her notes and the syllabus, she realized that there was far too much content for her to go through in two days. So, what does she do? In an attempt to do her best in the time she has while retaining her sanity, she decides to try and make some informed guesses about what would come in the exam. She decides to take a gamble. Perhaps there were ten topics to be studied, and she chose four thinking “after all only one topic will come in the exam.”

Unfortunately, what she studied for doesn’t come in the test. Instead she finds herself sitting in class, on exam day, staring at a question for which she has absolutely no answer. Panic hits as she begins to envision the big fat ‘F’ that will be her due at the end of the semester. Panic gives way to the self-assurance that worry won’t change things: “You’re here now so think: what’s the best you can do?”. Smart. The student decides to make the best of the situation: she decides to write what she knows, what she studied, not what is needed in the exam paper. She takes a gamble. Maybe the professor, seeing that she at least understands something in the course, will be kinder to her even though she will not answer the questions asked but the questions she had hoped would be asked. She writes her paper, hands it in and hopes for the best.

Have you ever seen this happen?

What do you think a professor should do when faced with such a case? Reading the students exam paper, the professor may adjudge that this student is capable, literate, smarter than average and has a way of reasoning distinctly higher than the rest of the class. But, holding that paper to the exam’s marking scheme, the professor cannot reconcile the answer the student has given with the answer that is required. While the professor may want to be lenient and show mercy it would be, ethically speaking, unfair. What’s the point of a marking scheme if your going to throw it out for one student? Besides, it would be unfair to treat this student different from all other students some of whom have prepared really long, and worked really hard for a good grade. Even giving the student a chance to resit the paper would be, in a way, unfair to the rest of the class.

It would seem that a ‘good’ professor, a just professor, has no option but to fail this student albeit begrudgingly. In this situation, however, the F will (or may not) not be an indicator of the student’s ability (or lack thereof) but will rather be a reflection of the student’s unpreparedness. (both of which, by the way, are  important (perhaps equally important. After all, a future employer of this student would be as wary of a the fact that he/she is a known and persistent procrastinator (read unreliable) as they are of a person who simply won’t be able to do the job. So either way the F helps weed out ‘undesirables’)

But what does this have to do with Christianity?

I’ve just finished reading the book “The Reason for God by Tim Keller in which he tackles some of the questions that skeptics have about the existence of God, the goodness of God and the legitimacy of Christ’s claims. (It’s a helpful read, by the way you should get a copy!)

One of the ‘issues that people have with God, which the book tries to deal with, arises from the issue of evil and suffering especially. You’ve probably heard the question: “why do bad things happen to good people?”. Stretching this question, one should of course wonder why Hell (which is perhaps the worst place and most painful suffering there is) happens, even to the best and brightest of humanity.

How can God send good people to hell? How will he punish even  those who give their lives for the sake of ideals: freedom, justice, equality, human rights?  Those who are working hard to make the world a better place whether in obscurity or on a recognized platform. Doesn’t he see that their good? Their not perfect, but they’re trying! Can’t he just let them into heaven?

There’s one main problem with these questions. Whose definition of good (bad) are we talking about?

According to Christianity, God has his standards which he is faithful to and will use to judge men.

Most of us, however, decide on our own definition of good and expect God to judge us in accordance with that. The Professor is continually asked to change His scheme to accommodate our blatantly ‘wrong answers’. Imagine the aforementioned student going back to his professor and forthrightly saying, “Listen, I’m sure you pretty much made a mistake in you’re setting of this question. It’s really not what you meant to do but I went ahead and took the liberty to write a response to the question I’m sure you wanted to ask; the question I really felt you should ask and the question I prepared for. I also developed a marking scheme too just to help you in the grading.”

Sounds Ridiculous? It should! But isn’t that just like us? Believing that if we think we are good, then God must (and is obligated to also) think we are good and if God thinks we are good, he would be unjust to throw us into Hell.

Truthfully, God would be unjust to throw innocent people to Hell. But who, pray tell, are these innocents who live in such danger?

God’s standards of good are so high that what He thinks the best human being is, is wicked. Because God‘s standard of God is…. Him. Being good is not about doing good deeds outside of God’s standards, its about being like God: perfectly loving, perfectly humble, perfectly merciful, perfectly holy.

Indeed:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

God loves justice. He loves mercy and kindness. He loves giving to the poor. He loves freeing people. And loves people who recognize their need for God. If you pursue the justice/mercy apart from God, you fail. Miserably and on all three counts in the verse. Because only God can help you to seek true justice and practice proper kindness. That’s God scheme of things. The true scheme of things.

Most of us think we are good in comparison with other people. All of us will know we are bad when we truly see ourselves in light of a Holy, loving, merciful God who judges (fails us) not only on the basis of action, but also on the basis of inaction and ill-intention and any really any single act, thought or desire that is not in conformity with His law. The simple truth is this:

‘There is no-one good, not even one’.

When we truly realize that, it shifts our paradigm and our question invariably changes from why God sends good people to hell, to a cry of desperation: “is there any way  a good and just God might allow bad people into heaven?”  and finding the answer to this question, becomes the matter of life and death it actually is.

In the words of the late C.S. Lewis:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter;

it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back,

a load so heavy that only humility can carry it,

and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them,

that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people.

You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.

We must play.

But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

Adapted from The Weight of Glory

“Never forget what people say to you when they’re angry, that is when the truth comes out.”

This is a common maxim, one that we often assume is true. But is it true? Are people most honest or truthful when they are angry?

angerThe logic is that when someone is angry, their emotions run high and they put down all their guards and reservations. That is the time they reveal what they really think about you. The assumption is that the demands of social propriety and decency cause people to be dishonest about what they really think about other people.

For example, if you’re slightly (or even very) overweight and your friend always compliments you for your good health and always says nice and positive things about you, they are not being honest with you. They are lying to you in order to stroke your ego and protect your feelings. This is true. We are not always honest with our friends in peacetime. But this does not necessary mean that it takes conflict and chaos to bring out the truth.

Anger is not always truthful, and here are a few reasons:

  1. Most of the statements made in anger are hurtful and are designed to be so. The angry person does not just use cutting words because those words are true, but because they are cutting. Continue Reading…

The temptation of Jesus. It is a familiar story and many of us have memorized the scenes. In the first scene, we find Jesus in the wilderness, thirsty and hungry from a forty-day fast. The tempter’s words could never be more opportune:

“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

And Jesus’ response could never be more … is it kosher to say … cliche?

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

The second temptation is equally punctual. Jesus was the son of God. He called the creator of the universe Dad. God could easily command heaven and earth to bend and break to the convenience of His son. The tempter knows this. And since it was apparent Jesus was evading his temptations by quoting scripture, the tempter also has a couple of verses of his own. He tells Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)

Jesus, of course, still manages to outsmart the tempter by quoting a countering passage:

“It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)

reading bbThe point here is clear. Knowing God’s Word will help you in your time of need. Jesus did not have to invoke or invent any tricks to get himself out of temptations. He did not even utilize the authority he had as God. He could have easily commanded the tempter to depart, but He didn’t. Instead, He chose to rest in the written Word, and that was enough.

Jesus knew His Bible.

How about you? I know that the question may sound a bit unfair – comparing you to Jesus, whose other title happens to be THE WORD – but you get the point. It is important to spend time reading and ingesting the Word of God. When the Bible tells us that God will always provide a way of escape from our temptations (1 Cor 10:13), His Word is usually the primary way of escape.

Our knowledge of the Word of God depends on how much time we spend with the Word of God. However, this must not be confused with how much of the Bible we have photographically memorized.

If you have ever taken part in any Bible trivia competition or game, you can already guess the frustration I am alluding to. How am I supposed to remember the names of the two guys that Paul handed over to Satan to be taught a lesson? Who in the world is Mephibosheth and what does the name of John and James’ mum have to do with anything? It can be quite frustrating … and greatly discouraging.

Let’s just admit it, majority of Bible trivia live up to their name: they are trivial. Continue Reading…

cornell vic poa place I don’t know where it came from, but it finally arrived. In fact, I think it has always been there, though I chose to ignore it. But it was there. And it was real. I am talking about something that exists in all of us, believer or not, born-again or not. It is the desire to live for something greater than ourselves. The need to worship. The yearning for something out of this world. Something more powerful, more important than we are. It is what keeps us going. Something that sets the standards and the stage. What gives our life meaning and a purpose. This is God calling us. It is God drawing us and nudging us, the chosen, towards Him.

I realized that I had a desire to worship. I acknowledged the existence of a supernatural being that held everything together. Everything on earth that I thought would sustain and satisfy me had let me down. Wealth had dumped me. Fame had worn me out and the search for approval had grown stale. I never contemplated alcohol or drugs (all by Grace, now in hindsight). I guess my need was more intellectual than emotional. No philosophy could make my mind content. No. This world just didn’t have the answers. Continue Reading…

grace-header

It was a Sunday morning, we were running late for church and she just appeared out of nowhere. My friend Paul, who was behind the wheel, saw her too late. She was already in the middle of the road. We had just completed overtaking a lorry, the car was now doing 100 KPH and she was about 100 meters in front of us. We had to think fast. Well, at least Paul had to. He figured that since it was a dual carriage highway and the woman was already halfway across, he would switch lanes and move to the lane that she had just finished crossing. It was a reasonable, split-second, decision.

Unfortunately, the middle aged woman didn’t see it the same way. As the car switched lanes, there was a point when it looked like we were headed straight for her. She panicked and did the unimaginable. Instead of continuing in her initial direction, she suddenly stopped and started running back. She was now on the same lane we were on. The gap between the woman and the car was closing, less than 50 meters now. I held my breath and prepared for the worst.

The next thing I remember (albeit vaguely) is the car skidding on the wet tarmac and seeing a small tree heading straight for us. The tree hit the car, or rather, the car hit the tree. But we had been moving too fast, and the tree gave way and broke under the force of 1 tonne of metal moving at about 90 KPH now. The next thing I remember was seeing the world literally turning upside down as the car went over the dropping edge of the road and rolled into the brushes below. In the blink of an eye, I was upside down in my seat, held in place by the safety belt.

in the grip of grace

“Thank you Lord”, I exhaled.

I looked over at Paul and asked him if he was fine. He confirmed that he was. When we managed to extract ourselves from the wreckage, we were relieved to find that there was not a single scratch on any of us. In fact, what I found even more amazing was the fact that there was not even a single speck of dirt on our clothes. We were perfectly fine.

Later on, while rummaging through the wreckage and debris in order to find anything worth salvaging, I found this book by Max Lucado lying on the roof (from the inside of the overturned car). Even though the book was all muddied up, the title was loud and clear to all:

IN THE GRIP OF GRACE

grip of grace

I never made it to church that Sunday, but I had just witnessed a sermon that I would never forget.

PS: No, we didn’t hit the woman. The car missed her by a hair’s breadth. Praise God!

2009-10-prayerI first heard it from my dad more than a decade ago. I was still in primary school. My dad rammed this prayer into my head until it became a permanent part of my memory. No, my dad was not born again, and he was not teaching me this prayer because he wanted me to be more pious. His reasons were different. My dad admired and pedestaled this prayer because it was a revealing prayer. It revealed the hypocrisy in many Christians. The words in the prayer indicated zero self-focus and total God-focus – Something that my father did not see in the professing Christians around him. It was a difficult prayer to live out, and I guess that’s why my dad loved it so much and made sure I memorized it. Here it is:

Oh LORD, If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.

A PERFECT PRAYER

It’s obvious that this prayer expresses an other-worldly attitude of selflessness. It’s true that many people are “Christians” because they do not want to end up in hell. Others are Christians because the images they’ve been fed of heaven titillate their carnal cravings. Very few (if any) of us worship God for who He is. For a long time, I was persuaded that there was no prayer more profound than this one. Not even the Lord’s Prayer came close. Yet, something always bothered me about the prayer. It was an impossible prayer. What appeared to be a perfect prayer was actually a perfectionist prayer. It was a dangerous prayer. I never really prayed it. Whenever I examine my heart, there are always some strings attached in my relationship with God. My prayers and acts of worship are tainted with both explicit and subtle selfish aims. As apostle Paul once remarked;

“I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” [Rom 7:21]

WORSHIPING GOD FOR GOD’S SAKE

Later on, I realized that even though I had elevated this prayer and placed it on such a high pedestal, there’s an important element of the prayer that I never bothered to question. What does it mean to worship God for His own sake? This the question, though unanswered, was actually the most important aspect of the prayer above. To worship God for His own sake means to worship God as He really is. And to worship God as He really is means that one must first get to know this God. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. God has revealed Himself as the creator and sustainer of the universe. But this is not all. The Bible reveals God as Savior and Redeemer of a world imprisoned in sin and the effects of sin. To worship God for His own sake is to worship God, not just as creator and keeper, but also as the redeemer of the world.

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

So you see, while the prayer above was indeed impressive, it was also imprisoning. I don’t want to tell God to take me to hell because I am worshiping Him for the fear of hell. The truth is that I am afraid of hell, and part of the reason why I worship God is because I do not want to end up there. This may not be the main reason for my worship, but it is part of it. If this makes me sinful, then I am headed to hell, for I cannot perfectly not mix my worship with my fear hell. On the other hand, I want to go to heaven, and I admit that to some extent, I worship God for the hope of paradise. If this means that I am disqualified for paradise, then I am hopeless.

But the good news is that I do know God for who He is. And of all the things that God is, He is also my Savior. Through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, God has redeemed me from the curse of my sin. He has redeemed me from the power and penalty of my ever-sinful ways. I am free in Christ. This means that even if sometimes I worship God for the fear of hell, I will not end up there. It means that even if sometimes I worship God for the hope of paradise, He will not exclude me from paradise. This prayer that I learnt from my dad was profound. It was impressive. But it was also an imprisoning prayer. It disregarded the saving grace of God, and for that reason, it was a false prayer.

*****

PS: Just last year, I Googled the words of the prayer only to discover that it was written/said by an ascetic female Sufi (Muslim) mystic called Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya (717 – 801 A.D.).

No wonder.

joseph-princeExactly. I thought I was the only one asking this question. Apparently, I am not. In the few times that I’ve listened to snippets of Joseph Prince’s sermons, I’ve found it difficult to understand how he gets airtime on TBN. Yes, he admits that he is a Word of Faith preacher like the rest of the TBN “cast”, but his sermons are different. You will not hear him out-rightly calling people to claim their inheritance and turn their faith into gold. Pastor Prince’s gospel is slightly different. The difference is so subtle that even I missed it for quite awhile. I admit, I am a grace junkie, and every preacher who teaches on God’s grace is bound to tickle my ears. I guess that’s what blindly drew me to Joseph Prince at first. He is an excellent communicator and a passionate preacher. Grace, or unmerited favor, is at the core of all his messages. Continue Reading…

You’ve probably come across those passages in the Bible where God changes His mind after a prophet intercedes for the Israelites. Maybe you’ve even been part of discussions about how to reconcile such passages with those other passages that explicitly say God does not repent, or change His mind. Two common solutions have been proposed. Most liberals and open theists have settled for a smaller God, a God whose will conforms to ours. They have settled for a God who reacts to new information. A God whose actions are determined by our “free will”. An Arminian God, if you like. But others have sought to preserve God’s sovereignty in the face of this apparent contradiction. And the most common solution to the puzzle can be summarized in these words by R. C. Sproul:

“I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means. God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there. I think this is one of those instances. It was tacitly understood that God threatens judgment upon these people, but if somebody pleads for them in a priestly way, he will give grace rather than justice. I think that’s at the heart of that mystery.”

While I do believe that this is the right way to handle the mystery, I was thinking about this issue last night and I noticed something that I’d never noticed before. Continue Reading…

Ray Ortlund on the juicy grapes from the vine called gossip:

Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification.

Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments.

It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop.

It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of.

It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty.

Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.

Gossip is a sin rarely disciplined but often more socially destructive than the sensational sins.

Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube.

It erodes trust and destroys morale.

It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere.

It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation.

It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial.

It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against.

It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers.

It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness.

It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves.

It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.”