10 October 2017

The Curious Case of Stephen Paddock

Ten (10) days ago, 20,000+ concert goers from across the United States, gathered in Las Vegas for the Route 91 Harvest, an annual country music festival.

On the third and final day of the festival around 10pm as the headlining country music artist was closing out the show a man opened fire with automatic weapons upon the crowd indiscriminately from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel that towers just 500 meters away from the concert ground.

With all the excitement going on, it took a while for the crowd to realize that bullets from an automatic weapon were being sprayed on them. Jason Aldean, the country music singer on the stage, stopped his performance to put his hand over his forehead to look past the glaring concert lights and see where the distant yet ferocious noise was coming from. Videos of the country musical star bolting to the back of the stage have since gone viral.

What ensued was absolute chaos as thousands of concert attendees scampered over each other in all directions to find safety and cover. All the while, Stephen Paddock relentlessly fired his deadly weapons upon the helpless crowd.

The shooting is the deadliest yet by a single person in U.S history with 60 dead and 500 injured. Hospitals in Nevada were inundated with people from the scene. A doctor described the difficulty of sorting through the hundreds of people pouring in to separate those with mere blood spurts on their clothes from those who were actually wounded from the bullets or the chaos.

Who could possibly be responsible for such an inhumane crime?

Stephen Paddock, a 64 year old born and bred American retiree. Stephen’s brother, girlfriend and mother are in complete shock and have failed to marry this heinous act of violence with the man they knew and loved.

Investigators have reached a dead end as far as motive is concerned. Paddock was a wealthy man. In fact, he was a millionaire. Having done well for himself and not needing to work anymore, Paddock spent much of his time gambling. It was in a casino that he met his girlfriend of several years, a Filipino lady.

Paddock’s brother describes him as a good but reserved man. Paddock helped his brother retire early as well and was generous to his girlfriend. He ensured that his mother lived comfortably. He wasn’t religious, nor was he an extremist by any stretch.

In short, Paddock had no known religious, social or financial motivation for his crime. Neither was he known to have any mental problems. Paddock was really a regular guy who meticulously planned to smuggle several semi-automatic modified firearms into an expensive hotel room, shooting a guard in the process, breaking the suite’s windows with a hammer and firing several rounds of bullets down on an unsuspecting concert crowd.

Worse off, Paddock embodies the “American Dream”. From a family of four boys raised by a single mother abandoned by their father, Paddock went from working as a Postman for the postal service to owning a million dollar real-estate business that set him and his family up for life.

Paddock is indeed a curious case.

How do we understand this man in light of the bible?

Well, perhaps God is teaching America and the world, something here. While we fight to get rid of many of the sources of violence and crime namely, social and financial challenges and religious extremism, we need to consider the bible’s assertions that even after we have solved these external problems, we will still be left with the problem within, sinful hearts with evil proclivities.

Investigators are puzzled because Paddock does not fit the mass murderer’s profile. And investigators are working with the predominant world view. That if you give a man a good upbringing and education, and if he attains wealth and success, that man will be good and happy.

Paddock was raised by a mother who loved him. Paddock graduated with a degree at age 24. Paddock went on to achieve great success. And yet after achieving all there was to achieve, Paddock went on to commit this heinous crime.

Growing up loved and educated, achieving success and wealth will solve myriad problems but it doesn’t get to the crux of things, it can’t cure humanity’s sick heart. The only hope for this sin sick world, the only hope for our sin sick hearts is Jesus. With everything he had Paddock was still poor, he needed Jesus. Until we can accept the wisdom of that ancient book, the bible, we will never solve this curious case.
Jeremiah 17.9, “The heart is deceitful about all things and desperately wicked, who can understand it?” 

Matthew 15.19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Mark 2.17, “When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but sinners.”

Ezekiel 36.25-27, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

22 September 2014

An Interview With The Next President Of Zambia

Henry Chibutu Jnr.
Hi Henry. You're good?

Yes Boi (buddy), niliche (I'm good). You're OK?

I'm good too. Thanks for doing this. Let's start off with something about yourself. Your family, education and background.

Henry Musenge Chibutu is my name, the first of 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys. I never considered myself a first born until I got saved and begun to see my life in a different light. It was then that I took on the challenge of holding it all together and inspiring my siblings. This was even more difficult as I saw most of my friends ruin their lives but God has given me the grace to live for him and he does the rest. I have been to more than 10 schools...

Really, 10 schools?

Yes, 10, all before tertiary education so I know what it is like to learn both at a private and public institution. My parents say they didn't know what school was really the best for me since I was their first son. I should have never ended up studying at the highest learning institution in the land. I was not the brightest in class yet I found myself among the 12 or so students who made it from a school with 700 pupils. The university system helped me see for myself the flaws in our educational system along with the challenges educated people face, having great ideas yet no one to implement them.
ORU Committee (Henry is furthest left, back row) 

You've just finished your undergraduate studies and are now looking forward to a political career. Anyone who knows you knows about your passion for politics and leadership. Where did it come from and how have you kept this passion burning through your university years?

Well, it begun subtly in the school hall at my high school. As prefects, we were punished by the school authorities after keeping quiet when other pupils were planning to riot. As we were gathered together and taken to task, I sat there unable to respond or give reason for what had happened. I had done my part but my tongue couldn't move. I felt the helpless feeling of being in pain but being unable to speak out. During my gap year, I travelled to Livingstone. As the bus moved on I saw vast terrain, uncultivated and untapped resources yet people were living in poverty. It was then that the seed was planted. Seeing children aged 10-16 selling vegetables on the streets everyday till as late as 10pm only fuelled my passion even more. It wasn't right. University life only made my lens more focused. I participated in the student unions and begun a movement called ORU (Operation Rebuilding UNZA). I'm sure you remember when I came to your home with branded t-shirts and shared my dream with you. I also founded a YMCA student branch there. These movements sharpened my skills and exposed my weaknesses.

I'd say that ORU is probably your greatest achievement as an up and coming political leader, especially how you got people on board and got them fired up for an organization you established. Tell us about it briefly, particularly the greatest challenge you had in running it and how you overcame the challenge.

Yes... It was a great feat indeed looking back now. I mean just the aspect of putting together the constitution, getting it registered and earning a name among so many other school associations was no easy task. I remember sharing the idea with my room mate Caleb. It was a casual conversation, at least so he thought. The following day I invited my classmates from the male hostels to the room and shared the vision. This was in 2010. I asked them to commit themselves if they felt burdened. Two responded and we begun as the interim committee, and no, Caleb was not one of the two. In time the executive grew. Our policy was to invite friends who shared the same passion and are Christians with a testimony to show for it. My greatest challenge has been to complete my university degree studies. I have had many falls. I will not mince with words here. I've written several supplementary exams and once repeated a course. Amid my academic pressure was this great desire to serve God in this social sphere. Anyway, I persevered and here I am today. I could have quit school but had to finish this task God gave me.

Just three more Questions my brother. First, do you believe you are presidential material? What do you have to offer that many other candidates lack? Why should people vote you, HMC (Henry Musenge Chibutu), when the time comes?

(Laughs) Do you want a political answer to that one? I'm kidding. I have actually never thought of myself being a president but have recently heard confirmations from friends from all walks of life. Maybe God is saying something. So while I would not answer that question adequately now, I do feel I can lead this nation to greater heights of prosperity and self determination. Politics is not a money making business though I know it can be very rewarding. Many of my political friends are in it for the money. Members of Parliament (MPs) are crying for salary increments. Politics should be a service, and that's my mindset. I am going in not to make money but defend the cause of the poor and weak as first priority. Secondly, I have different ideas. My current target is to run for the MP seat for Kabwata Constituency in 2016. I have a vision for Kabwata Constituency that none of my rivals have. I intend to invest in Kabwata through recreational facilities, real life training and feasible loan schemes for struggling families. This has not been done before. My track record shows that I am able to turn tables, to dream and by God's grace, with little resources bring to life that which was just a dream. It's time for a new candidate in Kabwata. We recognize that Hon. Given Lubinda has done what he could but it's time for ‘Tower Tower’. My slogan, ‘Tower Tower’, is born from a realization that each man occupies a tower, an area of influence, an occupation. But no one person can be recycled over and over again. It's time for youths to take on the mantle and transform this land. So I speak not only for myself but for the youth in N'gombe, Chibolya, e.t.c., having the vision yet lacking courage. It's time.

What is your political ambition/target/goal and plan? Is it to form your own party or rise up the ranks of one already established? Have you mapped out a detailed plan?

My plan is to see youths take hold of key leadership positions, to see them pursue their dreams in music, art, entertainment and whatever field it may be, to see less men and women drinking but rather spend time in recreational activities, to see many agricultural concerns I learnt about in my agricultural studies being put into effect, provide policies that will see Zambians make a decent livelihood no matter their position in society be it being a plumber or a shoe repairer. Yes there's a plan. I believe that man should work with the current systems obtaining unless they fail to meet standards. I will join a party maybe one day. But I am contesting as an independent candidate for the 2016 MP seat. I reckon I will be very popular with the electorate before the elections, and several parties will approach me. Then I will decide on whose ticket to ride on depending on who shares the most values as myself. The highest level for me now in terms of political ambition is Minister in government, particularly Minister of Agriculture. We'll see where God leads.

My last question is this. Politics is said to be a dirty game. How do you marry God and politics in your life?

Henry representing Zambia as YMCA Ambassador in Zimbabwe
Well, David was a politician and so was Solomon. We are all involved in politics in one way or other. One man told me to always put myself in my rivals shoes, would I want what I am dong or saying to my opponent to be done or said to me? Another perspective that also helps me is that politicians also need the gospel. If I deceive them or make a quick move on them, how will I go back and tell them about Jesus Christ and his love for sinners? This will bridge the gap between the two for me. All careers are dirty because we live in a sinful world but that doesn't stop us from going to work every day.

Alright, thanks man! Zambia needs Christian leaders in government and I'm excited just thinking about what God will do through you. May more Christian men and women in our country with a similar passion for our nation rise up!

Thanks for this man. I know one day we'll look back at this and see how good the Lord has been.

19 September 2014

Not-so-grand-thing No. 3: Fame

With the suicide by hanging of 62 year old iconic actor and comedian, Robin Williams, a few weeks ago, it seems pretty fitting to think about fame. Fame, celebrity status and popularity are thought to be grand things! Yet, this is one thing that doesn't require much to see for what it really is: something not grand at all.

It's interesting that almost everyone wants to be famous but almost everyone famous deeply desires anonymity. It's one of those things that everyone is running towards while everyone who has found it is running away from. It's also interesting that, today, fame is an occupation. 'Socialites' are people who are really popular but not because of any particular achievement(s) or ability on their part. Many are born to extremely wealthy parents and find themselves in the company of the most elite of people and begin to develop reputations with the media. Needing no income in their lives and therefore needing no work, their occupation literally becomes being popular.

Even those who are a little popular do crazy things and many times demeaning things to get even more popular. These acts of desperation to become popular are commonly referred to as 'publicity stunts'. Young ladies who want to become famous models often have to secure opportunities for themselves by sleeping with the powers that be.

Of course there are advantages to being popular otherwise no one would bother to strive to become famous. We all want to walk into a room and be noticed or turn heads. It feels a little depressing to walk into a room and an hour later word reaches you that people are wondering if you're around. Apart from that fame brings with it great opportunities to make money, get promoted, get favours that otherwise would not come one's way. In Hollywood particularly, being famous will go a long way in propagating your career as an actor/actress. Fame however is certainly not as grand as it is made out to be.

Hello Fame = Goodbye Anonymity

One thing that I deeply treasure is anonymity. The ability to walk into a place and be just one of the faces in a crowd. In that sense, I feel sorry for popular people who simply need to walk into an eating place or parking lot and are immediately recognized by everyone. The trouble with this is of course the loss of privacy. We all want some privacy from time to time. There is no such thing when you are popular, that goes out the window. For as long as you are in a public place people will notice you. Also we don't always feel and look great and anonymity, i.e., being a mere face in a crowd, allows us to get away with being in a public place when we aren't really at our best. The pressure to look and be at your best for the famous on the other hand is huge since they need to keep their reputation afloat.

Hello Fame = Hello Critics

Fame always attracts criticism. When you're in the public eye, you will be criticized because, for starters, being a public figure is a responsibility. You will always represent something or some people and you will always be looked up to in one way or other and so the critical eyes on you do not spare you when you slip up. Some critics are malicious and simply want to bring you down. It's an occupational hazard that just doesn't go away. For some reason, critics always have an immerse effect on us. I'm always amazed at movie and music critics. They pounce on the work of award winning artists when they themselves have had no success or recognition in the area. I'd like to see movie critics make a movie and would certainly like to hear an album by a music critic. I don't think they'd do anything noteworthy but they readily eat the people they criticize alive without a second thought. Even though artists know this, they find it extremely upsetting to read critiques of their work. In fact, certain artists stay away from the press, newspapers and the internet completely to avoid reading the harsh criticism that so often is there found. Words hurt and critics know how to crush the famous, especially when the mess up.

Hello Fame = Hello Pressure

Fame comes with natural pressure. Doesn't matter whether you're a movie star of a popular preacher, when you meet people, you're under self imposed pressure to put up a bright face no matter how dull your life is. Somehow you feel that you have to keep up appearances and keep it all together even if it's all falling apart. The pressure only increases as you battle through the challenges of life with little support because only a few people know what you're really going through (if any) and before long you can't take it any longer and you're headline news after hanging yourself. This goes on all the time in popular media and Hollywood.

So then, do you want to be famous? Careful what you wish for.

15 September 2014

God Is Not Great

In writing, I have come to learn, a catching title is half the job done for a written piece. Seeing as my audience for this blog is predominantly Evangelical Christian and know me a such, I believe my work in writing what I hope will be a good and not-so-long piece is half complete.

God IS great. My post title is borrowed. It is taken from the main title of a New York Times Best Seller List book written by Christopher Hitchens who my post is really about. The full title of his book is "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". Hitchens was - yes, he died of cancer in 2011 - a British acclaimed atheist and journalist. I need to state before I go any further that I am neither an expert on Hitchens' book or work nor on his views but have a pretty good idea from what I have seen of him on YouTube, particularly his interviews and debates.

Hitchens was ferocious, feisty and fearless in his debates often putting the religious he debated to shame. He went after everyone, Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Jews e.t.c. That's what made me take interest in him. Not only his high level of intelligence and thought provoking queries into religion but also how that he seemed to take his detest for both God and religion quite personally. Why would I find that 'attractive'? Because his attack on God and the religious was not so much malicious. It seems he sincerely believed that religion was poisonous and threw his time and energy into making people see it. So resolved was he that when his book came out he told his publishers that he did not want to promote his book in the big cities and arenas but he opted to tour the small cities and spread the 'truth' about God and religion there.

Most of us Christians consider such men our enemies and avoid them at all costs, paying them no mind but I'm pretty sure that even among the most aggressive enemies of God and our faith, God has chosen some. Apart from that, I think men like Hitchens help us be thorough in our understanding of our faith and help us be better prepared to give an answer when what we believe is questioned. Furthermore, contending with men like Hitchens helps us see what in scripture and in our beliefs is absurd (humanly speaking) that might not be as apparent to us because we have become accustomed after all, a fish does not know that it is wet.

I'd paraphrase Hitchens oft used punch lines as follows (you'll notice that he didn't have all the pieces quite right):
"God doesn't exit. He certainly does not care about you. He neither knows what you ate last night or who you slept with. Scientists generally assert that humanity has been around for 100,000 years. If they are accurate then for the first 198,000 of those years, God watched human kind suffer through life without knowledge of technological development or self preservation, dying of all sorts of diseases and living such a poor quality of life due to ignorance. God watched all this sitting back with arms folded and finally arbitrarily decided to intervene 2,000 years ago by sending his son in human flesh to a corner of the earth so obscure and at a time so backward that it has taken his message of redemption so long to make its way around the earth that millions still remain ignorant of it today. Doesn't sound like a caring God to me let alone one intelligent enough to create the earth we live in."
Here's another one:
"You expect me to believe that I am born a sinner damned and headed for eternal punishment and there's nothing I could ever have done to prevent it? That I now live my life under the wrath of God who sent his son to die for my sins - divine child abuse - without ever consulting me and the only way out of my dilemma is to submit to this terrestrial dictator, a sort of big brother, who monitors my every deed, word and thought? I was never asked whether or not I wanted this, never consulted but was born under these conditions with no real choice in the matter? And now I should respond in thanks and praise for this 'great' salvation? Give me a break!"
And finally:
God gives a set of rules, ten to be exact, deliberately leaving out slavery, child abuse and genocide because in the chapters following he provides room for his followers to do all three; that all slaves who cannot buy their freedom will get a chance at release every 49 years and that all disobedient children are to be stoned to death and that his chosen nation is to embark on military expeditions taking lands which have been in the hands of other nations for generations and killing every living and breathing thing including mothers, children and babies. Is this morality? Is this benevolence? Then count me out.
When I listen to Christopher Hitchens I often remember the question, "does a fish know it's wet?" There is so much merit (humanly speaking) or perhaps more appropriately, reasonableness, in his queries. In other words you can kind of understand why he would think what he thought. If you think about it, we as Christians don't see these issues because we have become so familiar with these things that their absurdity doesn't jump out at us. It's always good to see things through 'neutral' eyes and even eyes with an opposite bias because it opens our eyes to those things which are unusual about our beliefs and our faith and our God and forces us to wrestle with them, ask hard questions and search for answers. God does not call us to a blind faith. Sure at some point we must switch from the logic gear and get into the faith gear but until that point, God does invite us to explore these things and think through them.

So then, how do you deal with such an individual? I'll try and answer this question in part two!

To be continued...

12 September 2014

Miracle Life Family Church

The Walkers (Senior Pastors of MLFC)

I could be wrong, but it is my opinion that MLFC has built something of a bad reputation with Reformed Baptist church leaders and enthusiasts in Lusaka for pilfering the young people in our churches. Last Sunday, I decided to go and see what the fuss is all about. What I found there was not what I expected.

I, like my counterpart, had been to Miracle Life before but never on a Sunday to attend the service. I think it would be fair to say that we were both astounded at what we found there, and pleasantly so. Obviously attending one church service doesn’t offer the most comprehensive perspective of what a church is all about and there's more to a church than it's Sunday service. One thing is sure; Reformed Baptist church folk in Zambia can learn a thing or two from MLFC.

A quick run through of our time there would go like this:

We attended the second, 10.30am, service. Traffic thickened as we approached the building with a hoard of first-service attendees leaving as a whole other hoard, like us, were making our way to attend the service that followed. We quickly got parked and made our way in. Ushers showed us where we would find free seats. We didn’t want to miss anything so we opted for the middle column, third row from front where the pulpit would be directly in front of us. The praise team stood on some make shift ascending steps on the left. Directly in front of us and right behind the pulpit were three individuals who led the praise team. Directly behind them going towards the right hand side were the musicians. The praise team were already leading the worship with some vernacular selection, shifting left and right with the enthusiasm that would make a Reformed Zambian Baptist’s skin crawl. The rock n' roll concert coloured background lights which were flashing didn't really help in settling our reformed hearts though they were turned off from the point we took communion onwards.

Things settled down as they led us through several songs of worship. All words were projected and the congregation stood throughout the singing. A group of suited men walked in through a front side door to occupy the front row of the right column and quickly joined the rest of us in standing and raising hands in praise and worship.

A relatively man young man who appeared to be one of the pastors came up and welcomed us all asking first time visitors to raise their hands so that we could be identified and given some cards and brochures for filling in. He invited the Senior Pastor, a white man named Walker, up front who explained that we would have communion after a song among other things. The praise team led us in another song and the bread and cup were passed around in a beautiful routine where as soon as you got yours, you stood up waiting for everyone to get theirs so that together, at the end, everyone ate together. When that was done there was a prayer and we were all seated. When we raised our heads at “Amen,” the stage which at first was filled had only the Pastor and two young ladies behind him on either side of the pulpit. The one holding a guitar gave their agenda away. The Pastor announced that the offering bags would be passed round and left the stage as the young ladies immediately broke into an extremely well presented song. When they were done, the young looking man, likely a pastor, returned to make announcements and invited Pastor Walker up to preach. The Pastor re-echoed a few announcements and opened to Proverbs 5 right after announcing that if any parents didn’t want their children to listen to the sermon on sexual purity, they could go to the exit where they would find ushers to take their kids to ‘Children’s Church’. He did however state that he wouldn’t say anything that would be thought explicit that the bible didn’t say. After an excellent sermon that would pass in any Reformed Baptist church, the Pastor asked us all to bow our heads. A musician rush up the pulpit area to begin playing the keyboard softly as the Pastor said a few stirring words and invited those who wished to give their lives to Christ to come forward. About six people came up and they were ushered through a side door on the opposite end of the one used by the Pastor and his team. As the Pastor invited anyone who needed help on any spiritual matter to come up front and see the people in front, about five individuals with name tags stepped up from the front row and walked towards the pulpit area and turned to face the people and we were dismissed.

I'll be honest. I'm not sure what MLFC is all about yet but from what I saw, I could move there. The gospel was certainly preached and emphasised. The man pretty much sounded reformed to me with some pentecostal influence. I read through their core beliefs and saw things like their emphasis on scripture and family. Obviously, some elements would be taken with a pinch of salt, but from my brief visit, we are beating the same drum especially as far as the gospel in concerned.

My preference is the Reformed Baptist churches because of our beliefs and gospel drive but I understand why we are losing our young people to MLFC. To put it in a word, I'd say "excellence". In fact, excellence, like the emphasis on scripture was mentioned among their core beliefs and values and boy did it show. I noticed it in at least two areas where we are, in my opinion, desperately lacking in our own churches.

1. Aesthetics

From the moment you drive/walk through the gate of MLFC you can't help but notice the aesthetic touch. The place is clean and beautiful. All the booths are well set up with labels. The pulpit area and pulpit itself is adequately lit and well set up and mapped out. Not too busy, not too plain. I have heard that they invested quite significantly to make sure the place ended up looking as good as it looks. The seats for the congregation are orderly and uniform, their floor is carpeted and well tiled. The paint on the walls looks fresh and void of markings or stains and even the placing of speakers and microphones is orderly and clearly thought through.

2. Organization

As soon as you drive through the gate, traffic control people in yellow traffic vests line the parking lot, directing you to where you should park. As you make your way to the doors of the building, all the exits and conveniences are well marked with signs to lead to them. There is something of an information desk for anyone needing any direction or information. There are several well marked booths for those who wish to register for certain seminars and courses announced during the service. For those interested in joining a midweek church group that meets for prayer and bible study, there is a well marked booth. All ushers are immediately identifiable and are eager to help and welcome. One is stationed at each exit and they line the aisles. Their sound and instruments are well balanced with no single microphone too loud or too low. The projector is well managed and used both during the singing and preaching. Each verse read appeared on screen in the version the preacher read it. Two or so times, a message appeared on the screen calling for the parents of so and so to make their way to the back. The musicians and praise team were in sync with no interruptions. Even the dressing of the choir and musicians is thought through. They are well placed on the pulpit area and well spread out. Even their exiting and getting onto the pulpit area is seamless and easily goes unnoticed. You cannot miss the work that they have put in to ensure that they are well prepared for the Sunday worship service. One may attempt to criticize them as maybe too prepared but at least they are organized and make an effort to ensure the best environment and aura for guest and member alike.

We as reformed baptists sin in our failure to apply ourselves in preparing for the sabbath worship, especially those who play specific roles and oversee the worship service for God's people. The aesthetic element is altogether missing. Our pulpit areas generally look terrible. You certainly do not return to the church because of how well organized and laid out it is. Yes, many churches go to an extreme and overemphasize this at the expense of the message but the opposite is just as inexcusable. I looked around and saw the diversity of people around, even Indians, in the congregation and quite easily understand how they achieve such a high attendee retention rate. We need to improve, beauty must follow from truth!

What MLFC does takes work and commitment to ensure that the people playing a role during the service are well prepared and set for the service. Everyone knows what they are doing and where they should be. Everyone has done their homework and is ready to play their part with excellence. Worshipping in a Reformed Baptist church can at times be a complete put off. We have settled for mediocrity and it is a shame on us because it is really treating the Lord's day with contempt. Because we do not apply ourselves, we don't even think of ways to make things better. One of the announcements the Pastor made at MLFC was the need to upgrade their projectors. Also, he spoke of a new system they would employ where all those who arrived for the 10.30am service before 10.30am would park in a special car park so that they had priority to leave first and not get caught up in traffic. That is excellence, that is a sign of people who take the Lord's day and worship of God's people seriously trying to always improve the systems and routines they employ. Perhaps we need to form "Excellence Ministries". Whatever the solution may be, I hope we reverse this unfortunate situation in our churches where we are content with mediocrity!

08 September 2014

When Saying Goodbye Becomes A Privilege

Exactly two weeks ago today, I was with a man who had just lost his father. He narrated to me how his dad died. I'll never forget his opening words. "Last night, my father died peacefully in my arms." I could see and feel the closure he had in getting to share in his father's final moments on earth. "What a privilege!" I thought to myself.

How many people get to say goodbye to their loved ones right before they pass on? A huge part of the pain that the bereaved contend with is simply that they didn't get to say goodbye. Many think back to the very last time they got to speak with or spend time with the deceased. It is even less bearable when that last time spent together or that last conversation was wasted on hurtful words and anger.

I remembered also an episode of a very popular comedy that I watched about five close friends. One lost his dad and that particular episode was all about their time together at the funeral being there for their best friend. As they all got together, the one who'd lost his father began to think back on what his father's last words were to him since he wasn't with him at his death. He made a big deal out of needing those last words from his father to be meaningful. Fortunately, he found a pending voice message on his phone left by his father not long before he died telling him how much he loved him and was proud of him. He broke down and wept at the closure that gave him. The episode ended with each of the other four friends calling home to speak to their own parents to tell them how much they loved them and committing themselves to always end conversations with loved ones by assuring them of their love and care for them just in case that conversation ended up being their last.

For those of you who have gotten to say goodbye to that special someone you lost, take comfort in the opportunity God gave you to do so. It is a rarity! And since there's nothing we can do about our loved ones who have already gone without a proper goodbye and since we are not likely to have the privilege of saying goodbye to those who remain, we must not take life for granted but love our closest friends and family in such a way that when they die, even though we may not be there to assure them of our love for them, they will already know, even as they breath their last, that we truly did love them.

04 September 2014

Mali Music

Jamaal Pollard professionally known as 'Mali Music' is an EXTREMELY talented, 26 year old American musician. He has released two independent albums but is now making waves with his new album titled, Mali Is..., having signed with record company, RCA. There is really nothing this guy can't do. He sings, he raps and he plays both the piano and guitars with a high level of proficiency. His studio release, 'Mali Is...' has a Soulful, RnB, HipHop, Jazzish feel but watching live performances by him will quickly make evident that he can really do any genre. He is certainly sure of himself and confident and brings great energy and feeling to all his performances.

Jamaal has come under great criticism for his decision to take a different direction from what he has previously done with this new professional release, particularly by the Christian community. Before, his music was outright Christian but his new album, Mali Is..., while carrying several hints and undertones of Christianity is certainly one that is ambiguous (at best) as far as his faith is concerned.

Jamaal has explained this departure as no departure at all. He has said that he is simply using the opportunity that he has been given with his record deal with the bigger audience, bigger production and bigger associations that come with it to take his faith to the world on this new platform.

How are we to respond to this?

This is not a first. Many talented people and groups that have grown up in the church and say they are Christians begin to release albums and songs that have a more subtle message of God and Christ to 'break into' what is popularly referred to as the mainstream. My mind immediately goes to the Christian rock band, Third Day, with their 2004 release entitled "Wire" which was so tailored to appeal to the mainstream that it is their most 'Christless' album to date.

I love Third Day and I also love their Wire album and so when I call the Wire album their most 'Christless' album to date, I am not trying to be brutal or harsh but simply trying to hit the nail on the head. By making albums and music that lack Christian language apart from subtle hints to that effect, musicians hope to appeal to the wider audience out there and get air play on secular radio stations that would otherwise not play their music.

There is a concern here. It maybe true that Jamaal and Third Day would preach the true gospel in their concerts if they managed to pull mainstream audiences to their concerts. It may be true as Jamaal said, that getting into the mainstream would also allow him to preach the true gospel to mainstream artists that are secular and know nothing of Christ but there are concerns here. It's worth mentioning that Third Day's attempt to break into the mainstream with Wire was unsuccessful and they quickly came back with an album which was outright Christian, Wherever You Are, with a lead single off the album titled "Cry out to Jesus" (talk about going from a most "Christless" album to a most "Christfull" one). I can't help but wonder whether they would ever have released any "Christfull" albums had Wire been successful.

Well then, what is the concern? Is there room for the likes of Jamaal who want to reach the mainstream audiences and musicians by being more subtle and producing music which is only subtly Christian?

I'll be honest. I'm skeptical.

You see, there's only two options here. Either Jamaal and all others make this shift sincerely to reach a larger audience who need to hear the gospel or insincerely, for their own hunger for success and recognition. The latter is wrong and needs no discussion. If it's selfish, it is sin.

If, however, you make music that is less "Christfull" for the sake of getting God's message out there, I don't think God needs you to employ such measures to further his cause. Jesus Christ himself is a good example. While he associated with tax collectors and sinners, he did not attempt to make his message more subtle in order to break into the mainstream or to create opportunities to reach larger audiences. If he did, he, no doubt, would have reached a far greater audience. But he did not. He did not employ such measures to get his message out there. He spent time with sinners but never modified his message in any way either in quality or quantity. The message he preached to the churched is the exact same one he preached to the un-churched. The message he preached to the saints, he preached to sinners alike. A compromise of the message makes me a little uncomfortable. Does that mean all ones music must be littered with Jesus Christ? Not necessarily. I think there is room for a Christian musician to compose a 'love song' on his/her album. After all, who are we kidding? We all listen to secular music from time to time depending on what we are going through or what our preference is at that time. Obviously if we listen to more secular music than Christian or if our collection of music is more secular than Christian, it speaks volumes as to the condition of our hearts.

So, Jamaal/Mali Music, brother, your music is fantastic. Your new release, Mali Is... is on repeat on my audio player at the moment just as Third Day's Wire is from time to time but it won't be long before it is relegated to the bottom of the playlist because it is spiritually bankrupt. The music that remains at the top of the playlist is that which speaks of my Lord and Saviour and what he has done for me. My only message to you is this. Jesus could have made his message more subtle for the very reasons that you have, i.e., to appeal to a larger audience and get the truth to them but he didn't. I don't see why you should. Speak the truth brother and don't dilute it. Don't make it easier on the ears of the non-believer. Preach it like it is. If the Lord and his holy word truly fills your heart, do not hold back from letting it fill your music as well for the sake of appealing to the mainstream, for from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Let your music say what your heart overflows with and let God worry about getting what he has filled your heart with to mainstream audiences and artists.

06 August 2014

Not-so-grand thing No. 2: Wealth

Let's be honest, wealth is great, I mean, look at that face! It's great to fly in private jets, buy expensive homes with expensive cars parked outside, stay in the best hotels, buy expensive things and so on. Who wouldn't sign up for such a life? I certainly would. Our world makes much of wealth. The reality shows all have people competing for large sums of money and we all envy the people who get a chance to win the cash prize. The media certainly doesn't spare us. The most wealthy people in the world are put on billboards, talk shows, magazines and the Internet and we all think that once we have money, we won't need much else. Money does solve a lot of problems, that's for sure. You can get the best education, medical care, food, security, vacations, e.t.c., when you're wealthy. However, wealth is not as grand as it is made out to be. Believe it or not, there are times when the wealthy wish they were 'normal'.

The wealthy struggle with many things that the not so wealthy do not have to contend with. The wealthy have trouble finding genuine friends. No man is an island. Even the most extreme of introverts needs friends, someone to share struggles, hopes and dreams with, someone to be there during difficult and challenging times. The dilemma the wealthy find themselves in is how are they to differentiate between people who have genuine interest in them and people who merely want their wealth? Sure, they can pile their money into heaps and roll in them but a pile of money cannot be your companion, you need someone to talk to and someone to speak to you. Because of this, many people who are wealthy struggle with loneliness and even end up fighting depression because of it.

Another natural problem with being wealthy is worry. Most people spend their entire life stressing and worrying. The first half of their lives are spent struggling with ulcers because of the stress involved in trying to get rich and the last half of their lives, again, struggling with ulcers only this time worrying about how to secure the wealth they spent the first half of their lives stressing to gain. Not that great a life, is it? If you put your money in the bank, the bank might go bankrupt, if you invest in real estate you'll need to consider natural disasters, if you invest in the stock market, it might crush, if you put your money in bags and store it in your house, the rodents might get it. And so wherever you turn, there are risks to contend with. The wise thing to do is probably spread all the money around, put your eggs in different baskets as it were. However, that will certainly cause you stress. It's a lot easier to carry eggs in one basket than in several. And then, of course, there are thieves and crooks everywhere who will try to rob you both at night and in broad daylight. In the end, the money that should have relieved you, is now the cause of your high blood pressure. Always looking over your shoulder and trying to be a step ahead could very well be an occupation in and of itself!

There are many other things that make wealth not so grand, perhaps one more. Many wealthy people die miserable. Wealth has a way of making you feel invincible. Since it solves 90% of the problems that the average human being on earth has to grapple with, the wealthy often begin to think that nothing can really bring them down. And then they get an incurable disease or age begins to catch up with them and it soon begins to dawn on them that all the money in the world cannot beat that final enemy we must all face: death. Life is short and not many wealthy people will feel they enjoyed their wealth enough, by the time their time is up and so they try all sorts of things to prolong their life. They spare no expense, paying for the best medical and health care. But death respects no man. Doesn't matter if your a prince or pauper, when you time is up, your time is up. In the end most wealthy people die miserable, failing to come to terms with the fact that their time was up. Jesus told a story about this, a farmer who had a great harvest. In fact, the story is often titled, "The Rich Fool". He begun to make plans for the future when death came knocking on his door.

So, do you still want to become stinking rich? Be my guest. But as they say, "Careful what you wish for".

And [Jesus] told them this [story]: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' "This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God."
¬Luke 12:16-21

02 August 2014

Pool - The Gentleman's Game

It has been said that women say about 7000 words a day but men only 3000. I don't find that very hard to believe having associated with both. Men generally don't talk a lot. And that's what I love about pool. Just last evening I played three games without saying anything more than 5 words to the two gentlemen I played total. You walk into the place, buy your tokens and place them in the queue of tokens at the corner of the table. You watch quietly, waiting for your turn to come up. When your turn comes up, the champion (as he is normally called), who won the previous game, removes the pool balls and sets them up. The challenger (who was waiting his turn) is the one who gets to play first. And the game begins. No how-are-you's, no what's-your-name's, no where-you-from's just straight up business.

In fact, putting up wagers doesn't require any talking either. Yesterday, for instance, I won the first game pretty convincingly. When I looked up after setting the balls up I found that they guy who had come up to challenge me had placed K20 on the table. I shook my head and waved my hand indicating that I wasn't interested. "K10?", he asked, which I also declined and on the game went. Turns out I made the right call turning his wager down. He was superb. He won the next two games we played and I tapped out.

That's not to say there's no room for conversation. If you feel chatty and are fortunate to find yourself playing an opponent who doesn't mind a little conversation, you go ahead and chat.

I call it the gentleman's game because there's no arguing when playing pool. There's no need for a referee. And there's always a degree of mutual respect. Even the most pathetic player is not laughed at or scorned. Everyone just watches in silence. At the end of the game, courteous players offer a handshake saying, "Good game." And the great thing about it is, while it takes some level of ability to be really good at it, with sufficient practice, anyone can learn to play a decent game of pool! I do hate, though, the silent tension that sometimes accompanies the game. There are times when opponents kind of size each other up and have an attitude about them as they play but it never escalates beyond mere body language.

The trouble with pool particularly in Zambia is that it is generally associated with drunkenness because it is typically found in bars. That's probably true almost all over the world but more so here. At least in other countries, pool tables are found in homes and there are pool parlours. Both of these are rare in Zambia. And it is quite perilous for young teenagers because they go into bars intrigued by the game and soon pick up a thirst for what everyone seems to really be enjoying around them as they play away. It isn't long before they begin to drink as well. It's quite unfortunate but the average individual you see who is good at the game probably drinks as well.

Despite it's bad rep, I love the game. It's a great recreational game and surely is the gentleman's game!

31 July 2014

5 Grand Things That Aren't Grand At All (Part 1)

The year is 1914. The month, July. Yes, exactly 100 years ago. Austria-Hungary, now Czech Republic, attacks Serbia resulting in something of a domino effect; Russia retaliates, being allies of Serbia. Germany in turn invades France and are given an ultimatum by Britain to retreat which, of course, they do not. Several other countries join in the fracas due to alliances, such as Britain had to France, formed in preceding years. By 1917, the USA also join in. A war which most thought would last a mere few months at most, goes on for almost 4 and a half years. Then known as the Great War, today we call it "World War One".

It grew into a war involving 32 countries. Casualties numbered under 40 million.

Listening to the story of this war and reading about it has reminded me of one particular thing that is made much of and treasured but isn't really all that it's cracked up to be. In fact, there are several such things. For this particular piece of writing, I talk a little bit about the first.

Not-So-Grand Thing No. 1: Patriotism

It's interesting that when WWI begun, there was a real sense of enthusiasm from men in their respective countries. In Britain for instance, men were running over each other to sign up to fight in the war. When Britain gave Germany an ultimatum to retreat from France before 11pm that night, Britons lined the streets chanting slogans and marching patriotically. In the office of the Prime Minister however, you could hear a pin drop as the PM himself, his wife and several cabinet ministers sat hoping to get word of retreat from Germany. At around 11pm, the PM's wife gets up to go to bed asking her husband, in effect, "Is time up?" He replies in the affirmative. The war was on. It only took the first publication in the papers of names of soldiers who had died in the war (as was the custom to do) that first week to turn that patriotic mood and buzz of the people somber and pensive. It was then that they finally realized what their leaders understood that night in the PM's office as they hoped for word of retreat from Germany. That there was nothing grand about what was going on. It would be horrendous.

Patriotism appears grand and honourable. Our blood boils to hear insults hurled or demeaning words spoken against our land and people. Our hearts just as readily leap when representatives of our nations at world wide athletics games and sporting competitions win and our national flags are raised and anthems played. There is a sense in which we love our land and country which is all well and good, but is patriotism all that it's cracked up to be? I do not think so. Sure, we have a responsibility to our land and people and we should take pride but does the fanatic-like tendencies that accompany patriotism really bring real returns? Men have given so much for their countries in the past but if they were to live in their countries today for only a week, I suspect they would weep at best and perhaps regret their sacrifices for their countries at worst, to see what has become of them. The ideologies to which they espoused aren't embraced anymore, they would find. In fact, for many they would find ideologies they despised obtaining. The evils that go on, the corruption, narrow mindedness, immorality and selfishness, even of those in leadership would likely have their stomachs turning in disgust asking, "Is this what I worked so hard and gave so much for?" Lord knows, they probably "turn in their graves" as they say.

Loving our people and land surely has its place but patriotism sure isn't as grand as it is made out to be. Just ask those patriotic young men who ran towards WWI like a child runs towards candy, how grand it is. They'll be sure to tell you, that while it has it's place, it isn't grand at all.

"I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity." ~Ecclesiastes 2.18-19.