To Paris with Love

Eiffel tower2

Over 130 souls perishing on a single night is a tragedy. This was the gruesome occurrence that Parisians bore witness to just a week ago. Human life is precious, for it was created in God’s own image. And when it is deliberately snuffed out under whatever pretext, our hearts should rightly bleed.

It is instructive that how we handle tragedy or challenges displays the true state of our hearts. And it helps us  assess the pedestal upon which our lives rest. When the ancient prophet Jonah boarded a ship to the city of Joppa, in defiance of God’s command to preach to the city of Nineveh, he brought God’s judgement upon his colleagues at sea (Jonah 1). A storm arose which threatened to break up the ship. We are told that the sailors cried out to their gods for deliverance. In their moment of grief, it was instinctive to ‘call upon their gods’.

When the Jewish men were faced with the possibility of losing their lives unless they bowed to an image (Daniel 3), they proclaimed their confidence in God. They chose to die rather than deny the true God. While in prison, Paul and Silas resorted to singing and rejoicing rather than mourning, for they knew that their affairs were ordered by the wisdom of a loving God (Acts 16). Their hope was in God. Many times during their wanderings in the desert, the Israelites murmured and complained about how God was handling their concerns. They lacked meat and did not get to eat the dishes they had been used to in Egypt. Challenges revealed their profound unbelief.

Tragedy reveals who we truly are. And this was also the case in the recent crisis in France. From the moment the incident was reported in the media, the world has shown solidarity with the French people. Leaders of both France and the United States have affirmed their belief in our common humanity, in defiance of the campaign of the terrorists.

While condemning the attacks, President Francois Hollande made the following statement:

“In these difficult moments, we must — and I’m thinking of the many victims, their families and the injured — show compassion and solidarity. But we must also show unity and calm. Faced with terror, France must be strong, it must be great and the state authorities must be firm. We will be.”*

Also speaking shortly after the incident, President Barack Obama sounded more ideological:

“Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress.  Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong…We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté and égalité and fraternité are not only values that the French people care so deeply about, but they are values that we share.  And those values are going to endure far beyond any act of terrorism or the hateful vision of those who perpetrated the crimes this evening.”#

What I miss in these responses is a reference to anything outside ‘the people’.  It is the same humanistic confidence in our own ability and power to chart our own lives and secure our destiny as a people. It is all about Man; God has no place. This is the spirit which animates Europe and much of modern Western culture, and it is an outlook which pushes the civilization further along the brink of self-destruction.

During a CNN report on the attack, the words, “Fraternite, Equalite, Solidarite”, were displayed on the screen. And it brought to my mind the French Revolution of 1789, when the slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” were employed to proclaim the supremacy of the human individual over religious and political authority. “No God, No King” was the call. Those words have defined much of the modern world ever since.

Contrary to modern wisdom, national tragedy does not call for a reassertion of human sovereignty. No. It calls for humility, it calls for repentance, it calls for prayer. Tragedies reveal our finitude as humans. It uncovers our nakedness and frailty as mortal creatures. It destroys the pride of human achievement and it forces us to consider that, after all, we are but men.

France should seek Justice, no doubt. But it shouldn’t end there. Repentance and Faith should follow.



We need another Reformation

Luther at wittenbergSeveral centuries ago, on this date, an unknown monk, professor and preacher posted a document on the door of the castle church in the town of Wittenberg in modern day Germany. It was a simple call for discussion and debate of some important topics and issues. Unknown to him, the material would be taken by some individuals, printed, and widely circulated among the people of his nation. This singular act would have tremendous impact on the entire European continent. That man was Martin Luther (1483-1546).

If there is one thing to thank God for about the Reformation, it was the recovery of the Bible.

Of course, the Bible was believed by the Roman Catholic Church. The problem was that very few people had ever seen it, let alone read it. Whatever portion was available was in a language which only scholars and priests knew – Latin. Consequently, whatever was known of the scriptures was mediated through the church; it was handed down through the priests. Whatever the Church taught, therefore, was the truth, because only the Church had access to the scriptures. In such a situation, all kinds of doctrines and beliefs sprung up, and the people were obliged to believe and obey. With the Church also dominating society, every realm of human life was molded by her teachings. But the light of God’s revelation was kept at bay.

With the protest by Luther, and the changes and developments by other figures like John Calvin, William Tyndale, Martin Bucer, etc, there was an end to the status quo. God, rather than the Church, became central, and his word became the formative influence among those who accepted the Reformation. The Reformation  restored divine revelation to its authoritative place in the Church and in society. And after centuries of ecclesiastical rule, the Bible was liberated and made the rule of faith and life.

Five centuries later, there is a new god on the throne. And that god is Man. While the Reformation sought to place God and His word at the centre of all life, our secular age has dethroned Him and put Humanity in charge. The consequence has been staggering. In the words of Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, it has resulted in ‘a world of war, hatred, lust, greed, competition, imperialism, and environmental destruction.’* We have sought peace and prosperity by making ourselves the centre, but we have lost meaning and purpose instead. What our world needs is to once again make God the centre, like Calvin did. What we need is a recovery of God’s pure revelation for all men, like Tyndale did. And what we should do is confess our failure and receive  life through repentance and faith in Jesus, like Luther did.

*Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision, p.129.


Book Review: Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

not the way it's supposedThis is a fresh, lively and erudite discussion of a somber but necessary topic. Few preachers today discuss it, yet there is probably no concept today which requires greater emphasis. We are all about grace and love. However, we cannot understand grace if we do not get the perverse and manifold nature of sin. As it has been said, this is the one Christian doctrine that can be empirically verified!

Sin is the culpable distortion of God’s created order (shalom), states the author, who is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College in the United States. However, Sin isn’t simple. It’s an extremely complex phenomenon with a thousand faces. And it interacts intricately with diverse behavioural concepts such as crime, folly, and addiction. In itself, sin could function as a parasite, corruption, or masquerade.

Sin as Parasite

As a parasite, sin depends on God’s created order, which is good, in order to thrive. In the words of the author, “Sin is an uninvited guest that keeps tapping its host…”(p.89). Sin’s parasitic nature is obvious when we consider the nature of a sin like pride. A measure of self-regard is proper in a human, given that we are made in God’s image. This is good. The sin of pride, however, seizes upon this truth and distorts it. It elevates me beyond others in my thinking. Rather than seeing myself as a creature of God who is subject to God and an equal with other humans, I consider myself as superior to them. In this way, the sin of Pride feeds on what is noble in humanity (self-regard), while distorting it. Also, when we consider the intellectual power and logical reasoning that goes into some sins like fraud, forgery, or robbery, we are amazed at the parasitic nature of sin. Here are God’s good and precious gifts being tapped and funnelled to godless ends.


Sin is also corruption. It corrodes both God’s universe and creatures. The term total depravity has historically been used to describe the wide-reaching effect that sin has on the human personality. It pollutes our minds, will, and emotions – everything. Sin is ‘a polluted river that keeps branching and rebranching into tributaries’ (p.53).

Sin as Masquerade

Not only is sin parasitic or corrupting, it also assumes a false identity. Sin wears a mask, pretending to be what it isn’t. As Plantinga notes, a liar might claim he tells lies in order to make people feel good. Or a wife who knows that her smuggling and pilfering husband is living beyond his means tricks herself into believing that he is just being blessed by God. These are marks of self-deception, a notable form of sin’s masquerading nature. “First we deceive ourselves, and then we convince ourselves that we are not deceiving ourselves.” (p.107)

Interestingly, even religion is one mask which sin often adorns in this game of deception. During Jesus’s earthly ministry, He rebuked the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, for encouraging people to disregard filial commitment on the pretext of worshiping God.

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—  then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13)

James, one of the early apostles, also points out how easy it is to conceal selfishness and greed under the facade of piety. In James 2:15-16 he wrote:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

We could cite the numerous atrocities that have been committed throughout history in the name of God, but it is enough to point to the contemporary activities of Boko Haram and ISIS, both of which claim to serve a religious cause. Quoting the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, he notes that, “nothing hides the face of our fellowman more than morality, and nothing hides the face of God more than religion. When we are most religious, we may be most at risk of losing touch with God” (p. 107).

A Pattern of Attack and Flight

In addition to what has been discussed, human sin displays a pattern of both attack and flight from God’s shalom. On the one hand we vandalize the beauty and order of God’s world, on the other we flee from our responsibility in it.


The spectacle of attack is as old as creation.  Adam and Eve attack the authority of God by rebelling against Him. Cain attacks God’s favour upon his brother Abel. It works its way in the envy of David by King Saul, who clearly saw in David a potential rival. We see at play here the trio of Resentment, Pride and Anger, all nurtured by Envy. So the cycle moves through society and individual hearts, until the Saviour himself is caught in the process and crucified out of envy. But through his death and resurrection, hope was born.


Aside from attacking God’s creation, We evade our role in the world through a series of conforming, conniving or minimizing behaviours and attitudes. Think of neighbours who refuse to come to the aid of someone who is being robbed in the street, or an irresponsible man who impregnates a lady and refuses to take care of her and the baby. Our modern entertainment driven culture is also a culprit in this flight from shalom. For it trivializes the weightiness of reality. In fact, as the author states, “Our flights of amusement cost us more than time and money. They may also cost us our grasp of the distinction beteen reality and illusion.”

The danger with such an obsession with amusement is that “serious  activities such as education, the dissemination of news, political debate, and reasoned  public life gets shaped, shortened, lightened, and, in the worst cases, trivialized by the requirement that they entertain us.” And not even the worship of God is left out. Smiling preachers, upbeat music, short services, chatty and excited audiences, motivational and non-threatening talks – these are features of the contemporary worship service. In such a clime, to quote Neil Postman, author of the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, “there is no ritual, no dogma,no tradition, no theology, and, above all, no sense of spiritual transcendence.” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.126).

It is not all gloom and darkness, however. For after the darkness of Gethsemane, there is the victory of the empty tomb. We may note in coclusion with the author:

God wants  shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way…to speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Sprit, and the hope of shalom. (p.199)

This is an important book, desperately needed for our times.

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. 202 pp.

Growing up in Kano

Night lights

“Teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12)

I spent my early childhood in the Northern Nigerian city of Kano (sadly, I didn’t learn more than a few Hausa words and phrases!). It was an interesting place. Memories of walking in the neighbourhood, with the dry breeze blowing in my face, still pop up in my head. I would play football with my elder brothers (I have 3 of them), then we would go upstairs to watch TV. In those days, programming started at 4 pm, and there were just two stations, both of which were state owned: NTA (owned by the Federal Government) and the Kano State-owned CTV. There was much music, games, and movies. There were educational shows like debates and quizzes, too, but I preferred cartoons. Voltron, Tom & Jerry, Mickey Mouse, etc.  Then there were the Indian movies, with their enchanting songs. I learnt to sing or hum so many of them; they were quite popular among the Hausas.

School was nearby, so we normally walked there. I can’t recall whether we had a school bus. Anyway, I never needed one. We took breakfast at home then strolled to school. Mummy would give us a little sum of money (around 50 kobo, which was a lot for a small boy then) to buy something at break time. I was blessed with a caring mother who was so eager to see we were well taken care of. One hilarious breakfast incident often comes back to my mind. Tea was a regular in my home. Daddy would take Lipton tea (he hardly missed it), and we would be given Bournvita, Pronto, or Ovaltine (I started taking Milo much later). On this fateful morning, we were all seated for breakfast at the table, ready to consume our meal and head for school.  As usual, our tea had been prepared by Mummy and we began to gulp it. There was a sudden jolt in me as  my taste buds communicated with my brain that my tea was tasting different.  I had the same reaction from my brothers. Instead of the sweet, exciting taste of sugar which every schoolboy is familiar with, we sensed the sharp, unwelcome flavour of table salt. Then we realized that a mistake had been made: our tea had been seasoned with salt rather than sugar! We left for school, as it were, without our customary cup of tea.

I thank God for my childhood. I believe I am blessed to have grown up among such parents and siblings. The experience of growing up in such an environment is also priceless. Kano had this feel of calm and quiet contentment. The pace of life was relaxed and unhurried. It was generally hot during the day, but nights were cooler. And the harmattan season was always a delight for me. Yes, it was dry, and yes, you had to apply Vaseline on every part of your body (the lips included), but I loved the cold. For me, it was a welcome contrast to the regular daytime heat and sweatiness.

I still have pleasant memories of going out with Daddy in the evening, when he returned from work. Sometimes it was to get a haircut, and at other times just to get some things for the home. Night time in Kano was beautiful. The lights dotting the neighbourhood, the cool evening breeze, the smooth and uncongested highways, and the delicious taste of Suya which we sometimes bought either at the Kano Club or from a roadside vendor

Those years are gone, never to return. But the memories remain; a blessing for which to always thank God. I didn’t know Christ then, but now I know He had his plans for me.

A Play in Six Acts: The Message of the Bible


This outline is adapted from a paper presented by Michael W. Goheen, Theological Director at the Missional Training Centre in Phoenix, Arizona (USA). It is a very brief overview of the biblical story presented as a play in six acts. So when next you pick the Bible to read, ask yourself what act of the play you are reading!

Act One

God calls into being a marvellous creation. He creates human beings in his image to live in fellowship with him and to explore and care for the riches of his creation.

Act Two

Humanity refuses to live under the Creator’s word and chooses to seek life apart from Him. It results in disaster; the whole creation is brought into the train of human rebellion.

Act Three

God chooses a people, Israel, to embody his creational and redemptive purposes for the world. Israel is formed into a people and placed on the land to shine as a light. They fail in their calling. Yet God promises through the prophets that Israel’s failure will not derail His plan.

Act Four

God sends Jesus. Jesus carries out Israel’s calling as a faithful light to the world. But he does more: He defeats the power of sin at the cross, rises from the dead, inaugurating the new creation, and pours out His Spirit that his people might taste of this coming salvation. Before he takes His position of authority over the creation, he gathers his disciples together and tells them: ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’ (John 20:21).

Act Five

Here we learn of the story of the church’s mission from Jerusalem to Rome in the first hundred or so years. But the story ends on an incomplete note. The story is to continue; the church’s mission is to continue in all places until Jesus returns. We are invited into this story to witness to the comprehensive rule of God in Jesus coming at the goal of history.

Act Six

… Jesus the King returns. Redemption is completed!

Marks of Revival, by J.I. Packer

The church needs revival. But how would we recognize it? What would a revived church and society look like? Here we can benefit from the wisdom of the great Christian writer and theologian, J.I. Packer. In the article below, he considers five universal signs of genuine revival. May this be of help as we pray and expect the outpouring of God’s spirit in Nigeria and beyond.

The features of revival movements on the surface vary widely, perhaps as a result of different settings, yet indeed God appears to delight in variety. Nevertheless, at the level of deeper analysis, there are constant factors recognizable in all biblical and post-biblical revivals, whatever their historical, racial, and cultural settings. They number five and are described below.

Awareness of God’s presenceRevivalI_2010

The first and fundamental feature in revival is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy, and might. This is felt as the fulfilling of the prayer of Isaiah 64:1ff(ESV): ‘Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence . . . to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!’ God ‘comes,’ ‘visits,’ and ‘draws near’ to his people, and makes his majesty known. The effect is the same as it was for Isaiah himself, when he ‘saw the Lord sitting on a throne’ in the temple and heard the angels’ song — ‘Holy, holy, holy’— and was forced to cry, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips’ (Is. 6:1-5). It is with this searching, scorching manifestation of God’s presence that revival begins, and by its continuance that revival is sustained. 

Responsiveness to God’s Word

The sense of God’s presence imparts new authority to his truth. The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being. The statement that ‘the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Heb. 4:12) is verified over and over again. God’s message—the gospel call to repentance, faith, and holiness, to praise and prayer, witness and worship—authenticates itself unambiguously to men’s consciences, and there is no room for half-measures in response.

Sensitiveness to Sin

Deep awareness of what things are sinful and how sinful we are is the third feature of revival that calls for notice. No upsurge of religious interest or excitement merits the name of revival if there is no profound sense of sin at its heart. God’s coming, and the consequent impact of his word, makes Christians much more sensitive to sin than they previously were: consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place. The perverseness, ugliness, uncleanness, and guilt of sin are seen and felt with new vividness. Under revival conditions, consciences are so quickened that conviction of each person’s own sinfulness becomes strong and terrible, inducing agonies of mind that are beyond imagining till they happen. The gospel of forgiveness through Christ’s cross comes to be loved as never before, as people see their need of it so much more clearly.

But conviction of sin is a means, not an end; the Spirit of God convinces of sin in order to induce repentance, and one of the more striking features of revival movements is the depth of repentance into which both saints and sinners are led. Repentance, as we know, is basically not moaning and remorse, but turning and change. Peter’s listeners on the day of Pentecost were ‘pierced to the heart,’ which literally means to inflict with a violent blow, a vivid image of an acutely painful experience. Shattered, the congregation cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter showed them the way of faith, repentance, and discipleship through Jesus Christ, and three thousand of them took it (Acts 2:37-41). Revival always includes a profound awareness of one’s own sinfulness, leading to deep repentance and heartfelt embrace of the glorified, loving, pardoning Christ.

Liveliness in Community

A revived church is full of the life, joy and power of the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit’s coming, fellowship with Christ is brought right to the center of our worship and devotion; the glorified Christ is shown, known, loved, served, and exalted. Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others are recurring marks of a people experiencing revival. So is divine power in their preachers, a power which has nothing to do with natural eloquence.

Fruitfulness in testimony

Revival always has an evangelistic and ethical overspill into the world. When God revives the church, the new life overflows from the church for the conversion of outsiders and renovation of society. Christians become fearless in witness and tireless in their Saviour’s service. They proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by Christian values emerges. Also in revival times God acts quickly; his work accelerates. Truth spreads, and people are born again and grow in Christ, with amazing rapidity.

Such in outline is the constant pattern by which genuine movements of revival identify themselves. Christians in revival are accordingly found living in God’s presence (Coram Deo), attending to his word, feeling acute concern about sin and righteousness, rejoicing in the assurance of Christ’s love and their own salvation, spontaneously constant in worship, and tirelessly active in witness and service, fuelling these activities by praise and prayer. The question that presses is whether revival is actually displayed in the lives of Christian individuals and communities: whether this quality of Christian life is there or not.

J.I. Packer is currently the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. The original article was obtained from Grace Online Library and can be found here.

Unbelief – Humanity’s root problem

image - people 

Unbelief is actually perverted faith, for it puts its trust, not in the living God but in dying men. The unbeliever denies the self-sufficiency of God and usurps attributes that are not his. This dual sin dishonors God and ultimately destroys the soul of man.

A.W. Tozer

Recently, I was watching a CNN news report on the migrant crisis in Europe. EU leaders had met and were proposing  to increase the amount of aid given to the UNHCR to combat the problem. And it just struck me that for centuries, the wisdom in human societies has been that our problems are to be solved solely by us. Whatever the problem is  – Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, Boko Haram, and now the Migrant Crisis – we (humanity) are to find a solution. And, of course, the drive is normally from that sword-wielding and obedience-compelling institution we call the ‘State’ or ‘Government’.

I am not advocating that we abandon responsibility for the problems in our societies. Indeed, when I have a leaking roof, I would not remain on my bed hoping it would somehow fix itself. In a short while, I would have more than a leaking roof; I may not even have a roof any longer. However, what I could not help noticing is that utter reliance on Man by Man to interpret, explain, and solve his problems by Himself without help or support from any transcendent being or power. It is the assumption that this is ‘our’ problem and only ‘we’ can solve it. As Man, we have no one to call on. And we define great leaders by their ability to resolve challenges. The strong leaders are not those who have called on God for help in crises. No. They are those who have grasped the dynamics of a problem, identified a solution, and successfully implemented it.


This mindset is not new. It was birthed in the world shortly after humans were created. It was the outlook which prompted Adam and Eve to disregard God’s view of things, and formulate their own interpretation. Thus, Adam had sinned before he sinned. He had broken faith with God before he took a bite from that fruit. Unbelief isn’t new.


Human unbelief, however, became sophisticated and refined about five centuries ago (in the western world) during the period known as the Enlightenment. This was when Europe, turning her  back on her Christian heritage and worldview, began to rethink life and reality from the ground up. The Western world attempted to create for herself a comprehensive understanding of the world, but with one notable omission – God. Of course, God wasn’t just thrown out the window of society. It was believed that the cold and turbulent weather of Progress would be too harsh for him. Therefore, they could lock him up in the churches, homes, and maybe individual hearts. In time, though, he would be kicked out of these places, too. However, that is for another post. The crucial agenda here was that God was to have no place in the proceedings and discussions of modern man and civilized  society. It was okay to do God in the days of Charlemagne and Albert the Great. However, this is the modern era, the age of knowledge, technology, and innovation. We have risen beyond our intellectual childhood; we have grown up. God is a concept we no longer need. We are fine on our own. Perhaps no one better captured this mood than the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) when he wrote:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. ‘Sapere Aude!’ Have courage to use your own understanding! – that is the motto of enlightenment.

And indeed, since the world embraced this system, it has had quite a lot to handle. In the midst of much technological progress (if all inventions can be seen as ‘progress’), we have experienced so much evil, disaster, and calamity. War, oppression, crime, terrorism, economic upheavals, disease, social breakdown – they all bedevil our ‘modern’ world. But we, enlightened and educated as we are, must find a way around them. We will not abandon our basic premise – we do not need God. And so the cycle continues.

A patient God, however, still holds out his hands to a foolish and conceited world. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), He is ever willing to run to us, lift us up, and restore us to all the privileges of sonship. If only – if only – we would admit our need. The great offense of God’s people in the Bible was unbelief. By worshipping other gods, they professed their unbelief in the true God who had created and redeemed them. The modern world has done the same for centuries. Our gods have been Humanity and his reason. We worship our ideas, our opinions, and ourselves. We have not sought counsel from the God who made us and to whom we belong. We may confess Him in private, but He belongs in the open. God belongs in the public square. And until we realize that this is his world, not ours, we will keep going in cycles, frustrated and defeated.