“Gems from the Seminars”

There is one thing that the Malawians do well. They can pray! When they take time to praise God and ask for his blessings it is like being in an old time Pentecostal revival. Everybody prays out loud, most with hands raised. It is a moving experience.

One thing they don’t do well is apply Scriptures. I think the problem is less about arrogance and more about ignorance. They simply have not been taught the principles and commands of Scripture. One pastor explained the problem this way. He stood in one of our seminars and said, “This is the kind of teaching we need. Our pastors only preach the gospel, the salvation message every week to the same people. They need to hear God’s directions on how to live a blessed life.”

The question and answer time is so revealing, as well as fun. The questions they ask are so basic and so simple and so funny. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. They are asking questions that were settled long ago for us, but only because we have grown up in an environment where the Scriptures were revered and thoroughly taught. I will give you some examples.

Some of the best questions concern marriage. Here is one. “What do you do if after you have lived with your wife for awhile, you discover she is a witch? Can you help us?” Well, I have heard that phrase used to describe women before but that is not what he meant. He meant he was married to a witch! One who would leave in the night to practice her craft. In nine years I had never heard that one. So, I asked, “How do you choose your wives?” Everybody laughed. I asked, “Why would you choose to marry a witch?” The obvious answer is that they do no courting. They do not spend much time trying to get to know the one to whom they should spend the rest of their lives. They just see someone in the village and decide they want to marry that one. If that can be arranged by the families, the deal is on. Biblical guidelines and principles are simply not followed. Why would they? They don’t know them.

One humorous snippet: I was told recently that a man went to the father of his “bride to be” to ask if he could “have her hand” in marriage. Here is how he stated it: “Bambo, I would like to pour my tea into the cup of your daughter.” I don’t think that would fly here.     

Another question that reoccurs regularly is the question, “How many wives can you have [at one time]?” The African Abraham Church teaches its followers that they can practice polygamy because the patriarchs did. I have had their members attend our seminar. So, how would you answer? I simply pointed out that we are never told to follow all the ways of the people in the Bible.  They are examples of how God’s grace blesses them when they, by faith, obey his commands. We do not endanger our wives by putting them into the house of a stranger like Abraham; commit adultery like David did; or marry hundreds of wives like Solomon did.

Yesterday, I asked facetiously, “Why would you want more than one wife? I can’t handle the one I’ve got.” Suddenly, I was hit by an empty water bottle from behind where Barbara was sitting. Everybody came unglued laughing.

I explained that we need to go two places to find our answer: To the beginning of marriage, where God gave it to us; and to the words of Jesus, where he defined it. In Genesis, we discovered that God took one rib out of Adam, not two, not three and not four. He did not bring Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth and Eve. He only brought Eve. Two were to become one, not four becoming one.

I explained that the words of Jesus (and Paul) would clarify the principle. In Matthew 19:1-12, although he was dealing primarily with divorce, Jesus taught the principle we are searching for in plain language. Jesus told the Pharisees:

Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two but one. {Emphasis added]

And that is the problem for these precious ones. Unlike the Pharisees, they have not read. They don’t have the Bibles to read! (God help us, you and me, to get Bibles into their hands! At the very least, we need to get the Bible into the hands of the pastors) The issue becomes clear when you read the Scriptures: “No longer two but one.”  

The other big question has to do with divorce. Here is how one lady addressed the problem: What if a man comes to the woman and says, “I love you and want to marry you.” After living together for awhile she does not produce a child and so he divorces her. A second one comes to her and says, “I love you,” and after living together for awhile, he too leaves her because she produced him no son. A third does the same thing.  Now the big question for her: Which husband is the rib? Isn’t that great? Which one is the “rib”? I love it.

The first thing I showed them was that God hates divorce for any reason. The second thing I pointed out was that God is the one who ultimately gives life. These husbands, were putting themselves in the place of God and were, in fact, committing two grievous sins: Going against God’s clear command to not separate what God has joined; and, accusing God of doing wrong by not giving a child. Third, I pointed out that this is one way God can provide for the multitude of orphans that fill the villages. There is no reason why a childless couple cannot have many children to care for and love. Finally, I pointed out that the woman should be more careful about getting married. I said there are worse things than not being married. Being married to the kind of man who would desert her is one of those things.

While teaching in the cathedral-like setting of the Zembezi church of Mphepozinay, an owl flew in and perched on one of the beams high above our heads. I noticed the commotion it caused among many of the women. I thought they, like me, were just surprised by the appearance of our unexpected guest. Later I was informed that the reaction was probably not the reason for their concern. The chairman told me that several of the leaders are probably involved with witchcraft. The owl was a bad omen.

Shocking as that may sound, and it is shocking, that simply points to the work we still have to do in the villages of Africa and around the world. We simply cannot and should not assume that the throngs that come forward for prayer or salvation are truly and eternally saved. We see pictures of masses of people lined up to receive salvation and think the world is being saved. But, people go up front for many reasons. In India, Jesus becomes just one more of the thousands of gods they put on their mantel. In Africa he can become another spirit to put in their arsenal to fight off the evil spirits in which they also believe.

Others go to church because it is what is happening in the village: great singing, great dancing, happy people and food! Malawi has long considered itself a “Christian nation” so being “Christian” is in. However, their syncretism has kept them enslaved to tribal beliefs and animistic practices that are still very powerful in the villages. The bottom line is that we have to state and restate the Gospel and its uncompromising claims upon the life of the believer. Salvation is not merely a decision but a divine miracle of God’s grace transforming a dead heart into a living heart that knows and loves God and hates all other competitors.

That is why we spend so much time on Ephesians 1-3 before we get to Ephesians 4-6. Paul makes it clear that we do because we are. God, in eternity past, out of his love and his desire to make that love known and enjoyed, chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight, adopting us as his sons through Jesus Christ, redeeming us through the precious blood of Jesus, bringing us to himself, to build a Church where he would dwell and through which he would glorify himself.

We, like our Malawian brothers and sisters, need to be reminded of the unbelievable purpose that God has for us, his body. We do not serve him because we have to. We serve him because we get to. We don’t obey him to be saved or to stay saved. That was accomplished on the cross once and for all. Now, we are learning how to better manifest his beauty in the world by learning to put off speaking lies and putting on truth telling; putting off sinful anger and putting on meekness; putting off stealing and putting on giving; putting off hurting words and putting on helping words; putting off bitterness and putting on forgiveness; and by putting off competitiveness in our marriages and putting on oneness.

There is so much more to do and say, so many needs to be addressed. But, the Lord is still Lord of his Church and he will build it. We simply and humbly, like you, have a small but awesome part in building up of that divine structure, so that all may see the unmatched glory of Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Redeemer, our Friend and our God.

Please keep praying for us. We need physical strength. We need more resources, that is money, to provide Bibles. We need to grow in faith. We are here because God has used many of you to send us here. We know that! Zikomo kwambiri.

Gary and Barbara