“In the Year that King Uzziah Died I Saw the Lord…” – Part 1 of My Reflections on the Death of Malawi’s Third President, His Excellency, the Late Professor Bingu wa Mutharika

This is the first of a number of posts that I hope to write as Malawi mourns the sudden death of our beloved former President, His Excellency, the Late Professor Bingu wa Mutharika, Lord willing.

First, I join many Malawians who have expressed deep sorrow and condolences to the Mutharika family and to the nation for this tragic loss. No one was prepared for this, not even the last President himself. Professor Mutharika was a great leader. He was an achiever and no one can really question the fact that he wanted to make Malawi a nation of achievers as he himself said at many times. Despite all the issues that one might have had with him, the fact remains that he did much good for Malawi as a nation during his tenure of office and for that we ought to be thankful.

His Excellency, the Late Professor Bingu wa MutharikaBut this post is not about the late President’s achievements (If you are interested in that, let me recommend Rex Chikoko’s article which you can access here). My main goal in writing this post is to offer some consolation, encouragement and hope to the nation during this time of mourning. My prayer is that the Lord will take whatever is shared here and use it to produce a God-ward focus in us all as we mourn. I also pray and trust that even through this great national tragedy, the Lord God will work out His own great and magnificent purposes to the glory of His Holy Name and to the blessing of the people of Malawi.

In any country, the death of a president would be a tragic and “earth-shaking” event. There is no doubt that the death of the President wa Mutharika has sent shock-waves across nation. Everyone has been affected in one way or another. For some, the President’s death has brought deep sorrow and grief. For some it has brought despair, uncertainty and fear due to broken dreams, shattered hopes. I have written this post mainly with such people in view. My word to you and us all is this: do not despair! Look to the Lord and commit yourself entirely to Him.

Many centuries ago (around 740 B.C.), the children of Israel found themselves in a similar (if not worse) predicament. Their beloved and strong king (Uzziah), who had ruled over them for fifty-two (52) years, died (Isaiah 6:1). You can imagine the trauma, despair and uncertainty that would have engulfed the people of Israel. Certainly, it must have been paralyzing to them.

The full account of the success of Uzziah’s kingship and the events that led to his death is recorded for us in 2 Chronicles 26. Uzziah became king at the tender age of sixteen (16) and reigned until he was sixty-eight (68). He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Chr. 26:4). He fought and won many battles for the children of Israel and did many wonderful things (2 Chr. 26:5-15). “His fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong (2 Chr. 26:15).

However, his success led to his downfall. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). And so it was the case with Uzziah for we read, “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense (2 Chr. 26:16).

From that point on, everything went downhill for Uzziah. “…King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD” (2 Chr. 26:21). His fame, strength and achievements were all caught up in this irreversible downward spiral which worsened by the day until the time of his death so much so that the only thing that people could remember of him was the fact that “he was a leper” (2 Chr. 26:23). The epitaph on his tombstone would have read something like this, “Here lies Uzziah (808-740 B.C). He was a leper.”

It was against this background that Isaiah wrote the words that we find in Isaiah 6:1, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” We could say that it took the death of King Uzziah for Isaiah (and indeed the whole nation of Israel), to see that the LORD God King above all! That He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14)! To put it more positively, the LORD God used King Uzziah’s death to show (Isaiah and the people of Israel), His great power and magnificent glory which is far better! In revealing His power and glory, the LORD was showing His grace and mercy towards the people of Israel. In the end, Israel’s great tragedy (King Uzziah’s death), became her great blessing (Israel realized that the LORD God alone was her True King). Romans 8:28 tells us that “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Oh, how I pray that Malawi will see “the LORD high and lifted up…” even through the death of our beloved President (the late Professor Bingu wa Mutharika). Let us not question God’s purposes. He is the LORD and He answers to no one. He does whatever He pleases for He is the LORD! Rather, let us (in faith) say with Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). AMEN!!

Is There Any Difference Between Faith and Hope?

Now, that’s a good question!  At first glance, this question looks like a no-brainer.  But when you stop and think about it, you begin scratching your head and you go “Hmm, yes and no?”  Well, let’s let Martin Luther help us out here.  Here is what he had to say in response to this question in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians:

The question occurs to us, What difference is there between faith and hope? We find it difficult to see any difference. Faith and hope are so closely linked that they cannot be separated. Still there is a difference between them.

First, hope and faith differ in regard to their sources. Faith originates in the understanding, while hope rises in the will.

Secondly, they differ in regard to their functions. Faith says what is to be done. Faith teaches, describes, directs. Hope exhorts the mind to be strong and courageous.

Thirdly, they differ in regard to their objectives. Faith concentrates on the truth. Hope looks to the goodness of God.

Fourthly, they differ in sequence. Faith is the beginning of life before tribulation. (Hebrews 11.) Hope comes later and is born of tribulation. (Romans 5.)

Fifthly, they differ in regard to their effects. Faith is a judge. It judges errors. Hope is a soldier. It fights against tribulations, the Cross, despondency, despair, and waits for better things to come in the midst of evil.

Without hope faith cannot endure. On the other hand, hope without faith is blind rashness and arrogance because it lacks knowledge. Before anything else a Christian must have the insight of faith, so that the intellect may know its directions in the day of trouble and the heart may hope for better things. By faith we begin, by hope we continue.

Would you like to interact with Martin Luther?  Please post your comments below.  Blessings in Christ!

“Death Is Not Dying” – Hope in the Face of Death

It’s Monday – and that’s means Biography Day on this blog.  Today, I will share with you a remarkable story of a woman who faced death with great hope and courage.  Her name is Rachel Barkey who died on July 2, 2009 right here in Vancouver. BC.  Rachel is survived by her husband Neil and her children Quinn and Kate, parents Ben and Cathy Sawer, brother David (Johanna) Sawer and sister Andrea Sawer.  Please remember them in your prayers.

After four and a half years of vigilantly fighting breast cancer, Rachel Barkey, a 37-year-old wife and mother of two was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Joshua Harris wrote on his blog when Rachel was still alive and battling cancer:

Rachel’s story is not unlike what thousands of women around the world have experienced. A diagnosis that changes a woman’s life and inevitably takes from her what we consider to be most precious.  But for Rachel the essence of life is found in her relationship with God through Jesus. And that’s why Rachel is convinced that death is not dying.

In the video below, you will get a chance to meet Rachel herself as she shares her story of trusting the LORD as she faced death.  You will hear her make bold statements about her faith and her identity in Jesus Christ.  Just to whet your appetite, you will hear her say with great boldness and confidence, “Cancer does not define me…Neither does being a wife or a mother.  All these things are part of who I am, but they do not define me.  What defines me is my relationship with Jesus.”

“…Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelation 14:13

Visit Rachel’s Website

What Constitutes Saving Faith? Part 1

Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 86).

I thank the Lord for yet another opportunity to consider with you the important truths taught us in His Word on the gospel.  Today (as promised yesterday), I plan to discuss the question:  “What is saving faith?”   While I will not be able to discuss this subject exhaustively, I do hope however that I will be able to do so sufficiently with the Lord’s help.

Common Faith vs Saving Faith:  Before going any further, I would like to point out an important distinction which is implied in the question that I seek to discuss – namely, the distinction between common faith and saving faith.  The very fact that we can ask this question suggests to us that there is a kind of faith which is not saving otherwise the question would be redundant and senseless.  If all faith is saving, then there is no need to talk about “saving faith.”  But the fact of the matter is that not all faith is saving.  Therefore, it is very important that we delineate and distill the distinction between common and saving faith, as best as we can, under the faithful guidance of the Holy Scriptures.

Common faith is natural and dead.  It does nothing for sinners and offers nothing to them.  Saving faith however is supernatural and alive.  It saves sinners by graciously offering them Jesus Christ through the gospel.  Each one of us needs to stop and examine ourselves to see whether we have common or saving faith.  Any cursory reading of the Scriptures warns us of the danger and deception of common faith.  We read of many who “believed” but had no saving faith.  Consider King Agrippa in Acts 26; or the hearers whom Christ compares to the rock in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:6; or the multitudes who believed in the Name of Jesus when they saw the miracles which he performed in John 2:23, etc.  Although it could be rightly said that these “believed,” the Bible says that “Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24).

Saving faith is different from common faith both in its nature and essence.  According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Q & A 86).  What a helpful definition and summary of what the Scriptures teach on saving faith!  A close examination of the teaching of Scripture suggests to at least the following five things about saving faith:

Firstly, saving faith is intended for God’s elect.  The LORD God has ordained from all eternity those who will be saved “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:1-14).  These are the true subjects of saving faith.  All of God’s elect have been chosen by God in Christ from the foundation of the world.  Therefore, these will come to Him and find life in Jesus’ Name (Acts 13:48; John 6:37).

Secondly, saving faith is invoked by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit works this faith in the hearts of God’s elect.  The Bible tells us that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Saving faith is “the gift of God” given to those who were once spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-10).  Paul calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of faith” in 2 Corinthians 4:13.

Thirdly, saving faith is inspired by the Word of God.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  The Word read or preached is by God’s appointment, the chief means by the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of His elect.  He uses the Word to draw sinners to Himself for their salvation.  A classic example of how this happens is recorded for us in Acts 16:14 concerning Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”  This was most definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.

Fourthly, saving faith inclines one’s heart toward Christ.  Saving faith is Christ-centered.  It supernaturally bends one’s heart Christ-ward.  By His Spirit, through the Word, the Lord God is pleased to open the eyes of His elect to His glory in Jesus Christ and He becomes their singular delight and passion.  “…The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

Fifthly, saving faith initiates a lasting spiritual transformation in the life of the believer.  Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”  Also in Hebrews 12:14 we read, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Saving faith will necessarily and gradually produce holiness in the life of the believer.  “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; Matthew 5:44; 1 Peter 1:16).  Ephesians 1:4 tells us that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him…”  I like what William Gurnall says on this:

Mark, not because He foresaw that they would be of themselves holy, but that they should be holy; this was that God resolved He would make them to be.  Consider it is not necessary that thou shouldst be rich; but it is necessary thou shouldst be holy, if thou meanest to be happy.  You may travel to heaven with never a penny in your purse, but not without holiness in your heart and life also.

AMEN!

Please look out for Part 2 of “What Constitutes Saving Faith?” tomorrow, Lord willing!  Resting in Christ!

Praise the LORD: He Sent Us A Savior!!

“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist. 

 If He had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, He would have sent us a comedian or an artist. 

If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician. 

If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, He would have sent us a doctor. 

But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our death, and He sent us a Savior.”

(Author:  Unknown)

O LORD, MAKE ME KNOW MY END

O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Psalm 39:4

The New Year is finally here!  I praise the Lord for all His many blessings and look forward to another year of fruitful ministry; another year of learning to glorify God and enjoy Him through Jesus Christ!

I want to reflect with you this week on the ultimate purpose of our lives.  All of us should (with some measure of regularity) take the time to stop and evaluate our lives in light of God’s purpose for us.  This is something that I do with great frequency with God’s help because I do not want to waste my life.

The verse quoted above was engraved on a tombstone in a gravesite that I once visited in the United States of America.  The LORD used that occasion to engrave Psalm 39:4 upon my heart to my own benefit.  I thank the Lord for this constantly pray with David, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” 

There is nothing more sobering to me than thinking about my own death.  One day, I am going to die and so will you!  I don’t want to waste my life!  God doesn’t want any of us to waste the lives that He has given us.  The only thing that will truly matter at the time of our death is whether our lives were dedicated to God’s “ends” (purposes) or not.  The beginning of a new year is a good time to stop and reflect on this all important truth and to seek the LORD’s help in order that we may not waste our lives on vain things.

We all face the great temptation of throwing our lives away on foolish and frivolous pursuits.  We often find ourselves so busy running here and there but going nowhere.  Most of our busy-ness has to do with things that don’t really matter all that much (merely time-wasters at their very best) – i.e., cell phones, the internet, Facebook, twitter and all that kind of stuff.  The world has led us to think that the quality of our lives depends on these things – that the quality of our lives would be second best without them.  Consequently, we feel compelled to have these things.  After all, who wants a second-class quality of life or anything?  So, we spend our days chasing these things.  To make matters worse, we don’t just want to have a phone, but the best of them; the fastest internet, the best of this, that and the other thing and we want it RIGHT NOW!  Before we know it, we find ourselves held hostage by these things.  The focus of our lives is bent towards earthly pursuits which produce nothing good for our souls.  Instead of laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20), we find ourselves chasing the fleeting pleasures of sin and worldly enjoyments which leave us dejected, empty and defeated in the end.

Is that really how God wants us to live our lives?  Of course NOT!  God wants us to live lives that find their ultimate joy and fulfillment in Him.  This is the “END” for which He made us!  We need to be wise and remind ourselves that God made us for Himself and that our hearts will remain restless until they find their rest in Him (St. Augustine).  Our chief purpose is to glorify the Lord God and to find our joy in Him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism).  God has much better things for us than anything this world can offer us.

To varying degrees, all of us look back over the past year(s) with regret over some of the things we have done – i.e. how we have spent the time and resources entrusted to us by God.  We mourn over lost opportunities to glorify the LORD and be a blessing to others in this world.  Most of all, we mourn over our sins and our inability to shake off the guilt and shame that accompanies them.  We mourn over “wasted” lives.

That’s the bad news.  But there is good news!   The LORD God will abundantly pardon those who seek Him.  Our God is a God of second, third, fourth and yes, endless chances!  He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to Him through the atoning blood of His Son, Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 7:25).  I encourage you to heed God’s call through the prophet Isaiah:  “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake His way, and the unrighteous man His thoughts; let Him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on Him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).  This New Year provides a natural opportunity for us to evaluate our lives, seek the LORD and pursue His will for our lives.

It’s NOT too late!  You can begin now by praying with David, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Psalm 39:4

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,

If the lamp of my life, has been burned out for Thee.

(C.T. Studd)

Christopher Hitchens, The Grace of God and You

On Thursday last week, Christopher Hitchens, a British-American died of esophageal cancer at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  He was the most aggressive champion of the “New Atheism” movement.  As an avowed atheist he fought against the truth-claims of the Bible throughout his life.  However, Hitchens was a brilliant man, a masterful rhetorician and a celebrated journalist/writer.  It is sobering to think that a man with such genius and prowess lived his entire life rejecting God and that he is now in torment as he waits for God’s final judgment and eternal punishment in hell.  The thought that anyone would deliberately chose to live “without hope and without God in this world” (Ephesians 2:12), terribly frightens me.  I would not want to imagine what it would be like going from day to day with total disregard of the God of the universe, the Holy One of Israel, the One who sustains all things by the “Word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).  Frankly, I would not want to be a part of that experiment.

But as we think of the life (and now the death) of Christopher Hitchens and all the other atheists who are still alive today, it is very easy for us as Christians to do so in a self-righteous and condescending manner.  We can easily forget that the only thing that makes us different from Christopher Hitchens and his company is the sovereign grace of God.  We need to be sobered and humbled by the fact that the Lord in His rich grace and mercy chose to save us through the blood of His One and Only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Each one of us needs to join the Pauline chorus and sing with him, “I am what I am by the grace of God” (1 Corinthians 15:10).  While many of us profess faith in God through Jesus Christ, we live our lives as “practical atheists.”  You know you are a “practical atheist” when:  1. You believe that your righteousness is rooted in your perceived “moral uprightness” and not on Christ’s righteousness and atoning death on the Cross; 2. You believe that your private life does not affect the effectiveness of your public witness/ministry as a Christian; 3. You are more concerned about pleasing people than you are about pleasing God.

As Christians who live our lives under God, we must remember three things:  Firstly, we must remember that our salvation is all of grace.  Therefore, we must take off any masks which lead others to think that we are perfect, well-polished and faultless individuals – and that God couldn’t help but save us because we are such nice individuals.  God does not owe us or anyone His salvation.  All of us are sinners deserving of His eternal wrath as the Bible clearly says in Romans 3:23 (“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”) and in Romans 6:23 (“The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”).  We need to embrace the good news of Christ’s gospel that He came into the world to save sinners (see Luke 19:10 and 1 Timothy 1:15).    We must not nullify the grace of God by thinking that righteousness comes from our good deeds or behavior.  Paul says in Galatians 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Secondly, we must also remember that our private lives matter before God.  What we do in private affects what we do in public.  Our public Christian witness is effectively hindered or enhanced by what happens in our private lives, when no one is looking.  Our public witness must be a reflection of our private devotion to God who sees all things and hates hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23:27-28, Christ vehemently condemned the scribes and Pharisees because of their hypocrisy.  He said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).  In Luke 12, He gives this strong warning against hypocrisy, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (verse 1-3).  Ecclesiastes 12:14 tells us that “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Finally, we must be more concerned about pleasing God, not other people.  This doesn’t mean that we should deliberately be offensive to other people.  But rather, we must always be committed to doing what pleases God even if it puts us at odds with the world.  The apostles understood this.    They said to the high priest in Acts 5:29, “we must obey God rather than man.”  They could not stop preaching Christ even when their own lives were in danger (Acts 5:33).  Proverbs 29:25 tells us that “the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trust in the LORD is safe.”  As Christians, we must be comforted and encouraged by the fact that God our Father cares about us and that He will defend and protect us from all harm.  He alone is the One we are to fear as Jesus says in Matthew 10:28-31.  Furthermore, the fear of God should give us boldness to openly acknowledge Christ and identify with Him even when it ends up making us unpopular before the people of this world (Matthew 10:32-33) because we care more about His approval than man’s approval.  The Word of God admonishes us to “fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

I hope that by now, you are absolutely convinced of the fact that the only thing that truly makes us (Christians) different from Christopher Hitchens and his company is the sovereign grace of God.  Nothing about our lives is sufficient to commend us before God.  I am so ashamed to admit that even though I believe in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ, I see the traits of a “practical atheist” to varying degrees in my own life now and again.  I absolutely need the grace of God each day of my life.  I am forever thankful that God in His manifold wisdom and grace has made provision for sinners such as I whereby He imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to all who trust in Him for their salvation.  I need an external righteousness (a righteousness outside of myself), to be given me if I am to stand before God without any condemnation on the judgment day.  You need that too and I call you to come to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and rest in His sovereign grace as the only sure basis for your salvation.

When I think about Hitchens (his life and death), I cannot help but to think of all the other self-professing atheists out there notably Richard Dawkins (in the UK) and George Thindwa (Malawi), just to name a few.  I am sobered to think that these men and all their atheist friends refuse to humble themselves and acknowledge God.  Terrifying is the thought that if they continue in this way, the only thing that they can look forward to is eternal damnation in the lake of fire.  I fear for them.  But I am also greatly terrified (even more so) to think that many who profess to be Christians and yet are in reality “practical atheists” will be surprised one day to “wake up in hell” when this life is over.  To Dawkins, Thindwa and to all of us, my plea is that we would all look to Christ, embrace Him and trust in Him alone for our salvation.  I pray that those who openly defy God and those who defy Him in secret (i.e. in the “practical atheist” way), would seek forgiveness from God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and His atoning death on the Cross on our behalf.

“In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ephesians 1:7; Psalm 32:1).