"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." Luke 22:31-34.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Phil 2:3 NIV
Self-conceit is an exaggerated opinion of one’s own qualities or abilities. It is an over-rated or inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance. Self-conceit is when you have over-confidence in yourself, what you can do or what you have done. You do not put into consideration your fallibility and vulnerabilities; you just feel you can and there is no reason for fear or caution. It is a manifestation of complex and a deception someone may feel secure in. Gal. 6:3-4 warns that “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” NIV. Self-conceit is a feeling, a thinking and an opinion that is exaggerated, it may not be the reality but the person bases his behavior on it. The passages we quoted above are filled with lessons and instructions. Peter missed an opportunity to ask for mercy and grace because he was self-conceited. What has his answer in verse 33, expressing strength, got to do with the warning the Lord gave to him in verses 31-32? It is only self-conceit that will make a man to hear warnings from the Lord of all the earth, but only to ignore it believing that he has strength and can do “mighty things” for God.
What makes us self-conceited?
1. The strength we think we have, whether perceived or real can make us to be self-conceited. What we can do or what we have done. Peter in our text above trusts in what he can do. It blinds us and hinders us from depending and seeking for the help we need either from others or from the Lord.
2. The knowledge we think we have. Self-conceit makes us unteachable because we think we know and have no need of learning. There is this “I have arrived mentality” when we are self-conceited.
3. Our gifting, talents, special abilities, possessions, and achievements can make us to be self-conceited. We may be tempted to overrate ourselves, which makes us to foolishly cross some common-sense boundaries which definitely will land us into trouble. As gifted men and women, we need to continually submit our gifting to the Lord. When we can pray, teach, or prophesy, the temptation is that after a long time of practice, it is possible to leave the Lord behind while we continue the use of the gifting. It just dawned on me that God has not asked me to trust on my prayer life or the quantity of scriptures in my head, He has asked me to trust Him. Prayer becomes empty and ritualistic when the Lord is absent and scriptural passages without the Spirit only become letters that kill.
4. Good compliments and praises from people around us can be deceptive and can make us to become self-conceited. Men’s praise can make us forget from where God picked us up and our estimation of ourselves becomes bogus, knowingly or unknowingly. Fame and popularity fade, time renders both hollow.
5. Lastly, position of power and the privileges of an office can make us to become self-conceited. We are often tempted to equate an office to the person occupying the office, which is a lie. Positions of power are transient. You can be in power today and out of power tomorrow. Every position of power expires. King Saul overrated himself and got destroyed. In 1 Sam.13, Prophet Samuel delayed from coming to the camp in Gilgal. Saul felt he could perform the same sacrifice like Samuel and asked them to bring him the animals for offerings even when it was not in his office to do. Again, he came back from a battle where obviously he didn’t do what God had asked him to do and the first thing he did was to go and erect a monument for himself at Carmel and moved on (Sam.15:12).
What is instructive is that the points listed above are not bad in themselves but can get us corrupted except if we don’t walk wisely.
Why is self-conceit dangerous?
I will summarize the dangers of self-conceit with five points:
1. When we have an exaggerated opinion of ourselves, it makes us to put up a “bold face”. We can cover things up because we do not want others to know how weak we are. We can either give ourselves some reasons why we ought to live the way we do or assume some level of familiarity and favour with God.
2. Self-conceit means that we are egoistic. We are loud and want to always be heard and want to have our way. We always have something to prove and show though we may be empty. It is all about impression. Because the opinion is exaggerated, the image of the person so produced is like a balloon which can easily be busted anytime.
3. Self-conceit is a complex, a lie and a deception which makes it very dangerous. You cannot underestimate the level of low one can descend when you are self-conceited. Someone who is vain and egoistic can do terrible things. Because self-conceit is about false pride and bloated self-importance and worth, the person will have this sense of importance and indispensability which breeds impunity. It has produced tyrants, self-righteous men, traitors and men you cannot trust when the chips are down. Haman in Esther is a case in point here.
4. When we are self-conceited, we hurt people around us and often find reasons for that. We may not care because we may feel it is inevitable for us to hurt them. The world must revolve around us and we must be the “celebrity” at the center of every conversation.
5. Finally, when we are self-conceited, sooner or later, we will have a big fall. It can be a fall into sin or into some other serious life’s troubles. Why? Because, the person will not listen or give heed to warnings and warning signs; a near-miss is not a reason to reflect instead is an opportunity to boast; the person will depend on exaggerated abilities and his or her strength instead of depending on the Lord; there is this sense of false security, “I can handle it”, which will ensure the person continues to live dangerously until destruction comes.
The poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley tells it all on the outcome of vain glory:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The poem is believed to be about Pharaoh Ramesses II who was once considered very powerful and even divine, however, his once intimidating monument lies in ruins in an unoccupied and abandoned desert sand. How time renders the glories of yesterday's men to nothing. Our glories today will become tomorrow's abandoned relics and nothing.
In this time of Lent, may we all seek the Lord in humility. May we inculcate His mind and be clothed with His life. When we humble ourselves, it is possible to avoid Peter’s fall.
The final report released by the independent investigators concerning the accusations of sexual misconduct levelled against late Ravi Zacharias just came out on the 11th of February 2021 and the revelations are very disturbing and disappointing. Personally, I was heart-broken. When the news first came out in 2017 about how Ravi Zacharias groomed a woman named Lori Anna Thompson online, almost nobody believed the woman. The lame explanation given by Ravi Zacharias was swallowed hook line and sinker by the senior leadership of RZIM and by most of us who followed the ministry. I remember in April 2020 when Christianity Today wrote a tributeafter his death and elaborated the accusation, I was among those that were not happy with the author and questioned the motive behind elaborating on an accusation which Ravi had denied and the couple have settled with him out of court. But with everything that has come out from this report, I was dead wrong. I really apologize for making negative comments concerning the writer’s efforts to dig out the truth. I now understand that keeping records, truthful records, is one of the duties of a faithful scribe.
In September 2020, Christianity Today ran a follow up story on the confessions of three women who worked as Massage Therapists or otherwise at a Spa co-owned by Ravi Zacharias. With the testimonies of these women, I began to sense that something was seriously flawed in the narrative given to us by Ravi and the Ministry Leadership. I eagerly awaited the result of the investigations. However, all my hopes were shattered when the interim report came out in December 2020 and suggested that valid evidence was found confirming some of the accusations. The final report details the testimonies of the victims, the methods used by Ravi to gain the trust of his victims and eventually abuse them, and the enabling toxic environment within the RZIM ministry which ensured that Ravi was not confronted with his sins, and dissenting voices who were asking difficult questions were labelled and marginalized. He was found to be guilty of “Sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse and rape”. The RZIM Board has released an open apologyto all the affected victims and repented of their ineptitude in the whole affairs and is taking several steps to right all the identified wrongs. Also, they are praying to know which direction the ministry will take going forward which may include changing the name of the ministry.
Now one may ask, why all the attention being paid to spilt milk? Why not let the sleeping dog lie, especially since the accused is dead and is not here to defend himself? The truth is that God does not work that way as long as it has to do with His work. While I was meditating on the whole thing, God, I believe, began to expound in my mind the importance of being faithful in keeping records, the work of faithful scribes. It re-dawned on me that many of the biblical writers were faithful scribes. If they picked and selected the stories they wrote about, we would not have the Bible the way it is today. I learnt once again that records matter even for the next generation. It is not about Ravi or any of the journalists who are doing their jobs. It is about keeping truthful records. Christianity Today has a statement on this. Ravi had the opportunity to respond when Lori Anne Thomas accused him, and he denied all wrong doing, suedthe woman and the husband, accusing them of racketeering and extortion. He played the victim while the woman was painted as the person with a criminal intent. You can only be moved to tears when you listen to the woman’s testimony. She lost almost everything because of the power and influence Ravi wielded while alive. How else can these women be healed if not when the truth comes out? Again, how else can the living learn if not when the truth of the whole matter comes out?
There are also Christians who are hurting secretly because of this scandal and the only way they can move forward is when all the perspectives are made clear, especially by Christians who will give the whole discourse a biblical approach. As I wrote in my tribute when he died in April 2020, I came in contact with Ravi’s messages at a point in my life when I had crises of belief, even as a Christian leader. Apologetics is not common in my part of the world. Biblical truths are declared but not explained, hence those in troubles, especially lingering ones, never have the opportunity of having explanations. It’s rare to see any church in Nigeria having Q&A sessions to answer questions. When I listened to Ravi, God used his teachings to resolve my confusions. I enrolled and did the Core Module Course and have also downloaded and bought many of his books. I have quoted his works in most of my researches and presentations and introduced many people close to me to his works. One pastor friend, who got to know Ravi's works through me, called some days ago asking to know the truth about what he was reading on the internet about Ravi. I think I will be doing a disservice to them if I keep quiet as if nothing happened. I am disappointed but not devastated because it’s been long God taught me not to put my trust in any man, no matter how greatly the person has been used of God. God has taught me that all the earthly power that we wield, whether spiritual or political or otherwise, is transient and may not count to our advantage when we stand before Him. The treasure is in breakable, weak, earthen vessels of clay. (2 Cor.4:7). All of us are vulnerable and can fall, even to our own surprises. Our regalia and powerful positions do not insulate us from temptations, but can only ensnare us. What can we learn from this scandal both as individuals and as Churches and ministries? I want to lend my voice to manyotherswho have kick-started the discussion. That is my focus in this write up.
As an individual,
- I have been having serious personal introspection. It has come clear once again to me that I have to watch my conscience to ensure I maintain a clear conscience. 1 Tim.1:19-20. As noted by Michael Brown, any one of us can lead a double life.
- I have to live transparently as much as I can because whatever I cover now cannot be covered forever. Luke 12:2-3. If you control the narrative when you are alive, what happens when you die?
- Living in secret sin and laboring in the ministry is like building on sand. It is obvious that Ravi Zacharias built a magnificent great edifice on quick sand. Everything is crumbling and collapsing. Many of the partners all over the world are severing themselves from RZIM. Some publishershave pulled his books from their shelves. There is suggestion that RZIM may consider changing the name of the ministry entirely and downsizing the workforce to barest minimum. Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), the Denomination that ordained him has revoked his ordination. The church is suffering, the family is suffering and everyone of us is suffering and we all need prayers.
- I have to open myself up to accountability, especially to my wife who is my closest friend and partner even when it is difficult and painful.
- I don’t have to be afraid when I try to respectfully hold a loved one accountable, especially those in positions, yet watching my own heart. If I suffer as a result, that is ok.
- Don’t easily dismiss the complain of the weak against someone in a position of power.
As a church,
- For the good health of the church and the ministers, boards and councils that have oversight functions should as much as possible be composed, not by family members and friends who are emotionally attached to the minister but members whose qualifications should be their Christian maturity. You are already in a big snare if you are surrounded by men and women who cannot look you in the face and ask you difficult questions at anytime and insist that you give adequate answers.
- No assumptions, every suspicious behavior, must be queried and cleared. Why should you set up an office internet network but your own computers and devices are using a different plan? Though we have to be careful not to create an atmosphere of suspicion, the truth is that we have to be our brother's keeper.
- The Board must be active and be holding review meetings. Most Ministry Boards do not have annual meetings until there are problems. The best many do is ritualistic just to praise the man of God for the great work he is doing, without asking personal questions. Many of these great men of God are lonely and are looking for trusted relationships they can open up to. If I am not allowed to ask questions, for example, after a financial accounts presentation, then I will better resign, because the reason for my being on the board is already defeated.
- We must desist from the cult of human worship. No other man deserves our worship. Once a man is deified, he is exalted and separated to a place that is above criticism. When we do this, we ensnare both the minister and the followers, everybody is endangered; unfortunately, we do it a lot.
- Quickly repent of any sin once it is noticed. Sin, especially sexual sins thrive in the secret. If it is not exposed and confessed, you will likely do it again and again. The worst in this category are the sexual sins that do not involve the second person, I mean masturbation, pornography, and all private sexual pervasions. The reasons they are dangerous is that men around you may never notice it as you can still put-up a spiritual outlook and live in this pretense for years. They lead to the public sexual scandals and are very difficult to stop. The lid has to be opened for the pressure to be killed.
- As a minister, create time for accountability discussions with leaders who are spiritually sound. Churches, ministries, para-church groups have to insist on this and include it as part of the schedule of every leader, maybe annually or otherwise. Leaders need encouragement. They need shoulders to cry on and need others to listen as they share their personal struggles too.
Finally, God is bigger than all of us. He is bigger than our failures and weaknesses. He is not afraid of the failings of humans and those failings do not threaten Him or His work. We finish, we expire, no matter what He has used us to do, but His work continues. In a meeting a few days ago, a minister shared with us how God encouraged him to move on and run his own race and finish well when some years back he was grieving for another close pastor who had a similar sexual scandal. God told him that He has experienced human disappointments right from Adam and it grieves. But He emphasized on him minding his own race and ensuring that he finishes strong.
So beloved, run your own race, finish well. The Lord Jesus said, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Matt.16:18.
We thank God for bringing us into the New Year 2021. We come in, full of faith in what our God can do and full of hope in the pictures His promises paint to us. Many of us are seeking the Lord’s face to know what He will have us do. At the end of the day, it matters what we come out with as the word from the Lord. This brings us to the issue this discussion is focusing on today – the matter of false prophecies by Christians, especially when they come from respected Church leaders.
Some days ago, I watched with tears in my eyes, a video clip that contains the several prophecies made by many church leaders in December 2019 and January 2020 concerning what year 2020 would hold. Almost all of them were declaring like the Hananiah and other prophets in Jeremiah 28. In Jeremiah 28, while God was warning them through Prophet Jeremiah and intended them to repent from their sins and pass through the humiliation and burden of serving the King of Babylon, these prophets were declaring bogus peace and restoration and telling them that there was no reason to worry. God said that their prophecies only ended up sealing the people’s fate to be exiled from Judah (Jer.27:14-15). Year 2020 was one of the most difficult years the world has ever experienced, but none of these prophets saw it. They declared a year of peace and laughter when there was none. It wasn't.
Furthermore, many Christians for one reason or another, were very interested in what would be the outcome of the United States Presidential Election. The election has come and gone and President Trump lost. All his efforts to get the results overturned proved abortive. Going through the prophecies from some prominent Christian leaders, it shows that many of them got it all wrong. They said that God told them that Trump would win but he ended up losing. Then I ask, who actually spoke to them? This is because, one of the marks of God’s word is that it gets fulfilled against all odds. Many have tried giving reasons why what they prophesied did not come to pass. But none of their reasons suffices. Michael Brownshared a very insightful thought here. Yes, to all the prophets that normally give prophecies, you are either right or wrong. “There are no middle grounds”, he said. Either God speaks to you and it comes to pass or He does not speak to you and hence what you prophesy will not come to pass. He suggested that at the end, there will be need for “serious accountability, reflection and even repentance.” Already, there are two Pastors that have led the train of apologizing to their followers for giving false prophecies. Pastor Jeremiah Johnson had prophesied that President Trump would win a second term election and be returned back to the White House. It didn’t happen. He apologizedto his followers and repentedof his false prophecy, “I would like to repent for inaccurately prophesying that Donald Trump would win a second term as the President of the United States”. He took full responsibility. Some Christians are against his repentance but it is encouraging to read the comment of the New Testament Scholar, Craig Keener, “Thank you for your integrity. May many follow your model. And God help us with those who are being so hostile”. Kris Valloton issued his own apology and congratulated the President-elect Biden and promised to be praying for him. He said, “I take full responsibility for being wrong. There is no excuse for it. I think it doesn’t make me a false prophet but it does actually create a credibility gap. A lot of people trust me… I want to say I’m sorry”.
Personally, that is a Christian character. To be a Christian does not mean that you may not sin at any time along your journey, but it matters what you do next when you realize you have sinned.
I believe that we need to repent in Nigeria as a church and not carry on with business as usual. We have seen a lot of false prophecies; people gave their monies and sowed seeds without results; expectations were crashed as many waited for some prophecies that did not come to pass; bogus claims failed to yield results; the faith of many of our young people are shaken as they watch with questions in their minds. Unfortunately, even the questions of young people are not given adequate attention and answer. We have a generation of youths that do not believe in our God because there are credibility gaps here and there and all we do in most cases is to keep silence.
This January 2021 as we pray, I feel very strongly that instead of declaring things we did not hear from the throne of God, we should repent and present the Church before the Lord for His fresh visitation. Peradventure, He will remember us and show us mercy, especially to this our beloved country.
God bless you and Happy New Year.
“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. Job 23:8-10. ESV.
Does what Job described above look like your current experience?
The hiddenness of God is an experience every godly saint go through from time to time – a situation where like Job, you have a feeling that God seems absent in the midst of your earthly struggles. You feel that God seems to be very far and has suddenly distanced Himself from you. You look for all the exciting experiences you had before with God when you first met Him and they seem to have all gone or not satisfying anymore. It is true that sin separates us from God and makes God to distance Himself from us. However, if it is because of a sinful life style, once you repent from it, God forgives and relationship is restored. But in most of the times when we feel this way, you look into your life to see if there is any active sin that is making God to seem very far away but you cannot pin-point anything substantial, and yet God seems to hide Himself from you. The truth is that the hiddenness of God is not always caused by your sins or any bad thing you have done and you are not alone.
This crisis is possible to happen in the midst of a dragged problem or a troubling situation you cannot explain, like in Job’s case. When tragedy happens, we all tend to asking God why, seeking for answers. Even those that encourage you not to ask God why, live with the question in their hearts. But not many of us get an answer to those questions of why. The truth is that when we are in the midst of a difficult experience, no matter how terrible it may be, the power of that problem breaks when God speaks. We tend to handle tragedies better with peace when we know God’s perspective. In this case, God seems silent, saying nothing. Nobody can actually tell the number of weeks, months or years that existed between Job 1 and Job 38, but we suspect that it was a long time. The challenge is that within this period, there are these strange voices that will be speaking very loudly, but they do not offer the answer that you seek. It was not easy for Job to fight off the voices of his wife and his close friends who, instead of helping him, exacerbated the situation and hence increased the intensity of his desire for answers. Yes, God eventually revealed Himself and spoke and that brought closure to Job’s questions. I pray that He speaks in your situation today.
This situation can also occur because God is drawing you up to a new level of relationship with Him. He may be up to something bigger than where you are currently. He hides, as it were, and expects you to pursue Him in a closer relationship. In the course of your earnest seeking, He teaches you something new and takes you to a new level of experience. Attitude is developed, patience is learned and childishness is done away with. Who does not want to remain in that first childish experience when God seemed all around you and responded to almost every word you uttered, even when we asked amiss? Who does not want to remain in that responsibility-free state where everyone cared for us and we cared for no one? The truth is that that is what happens when a new baby is born, even spiritual babies too. Nobody wants to leave a baby to stay on its own unattended to. But there comes a time when the baby has to grow, though still being loved and cared for, the person is left with little or no supervision because he or she is expected to be responsible and be able to take decisions according to all that he or she has been taught. God trains us so that we can manifest as sons representing Him in the affairs of this earth. You do not need the pampering of childhood to know that God is with you and loves you. If you continue to follow hard after Him, He will reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways to you.
It can actually be a period of great test of faith to proof something in your life. We often want to permanent a specific experience or even make an idol out of a single experience. We always want to re-invent the experience because that is what gives us the feeling that God is with us. If we do not have the experience, we feel God is very far away and has abandoned us. God may actually be drawing us out of ourselves, exposing the utter hopelessness and helplessness of our strength so that we can wholly put our trust in Him. The fact that we feel He is far does not really mean that He is far. It may truly mean that He is essentially active in our lives. He removes the cherished experience, breaks the arm of flesh and desires that we look up to Him for help.
The hiddenness of God happens because of the incomprehensiveness of God’s nature. Even though God can be known, yet no man can claim to have comprehensively known Him. He is an eternal mystery Himself, hence, no matter your experience with Him, you are still short of knowing Him. The revelation of God we have in nature, in the Scriptures and ultimately in His Son is the extent that is revealed to us, and that is enough for our salvation, but God in His essence is still bigger than what is revealed to us. We know God when we know Jesus Christ. Though the experience of this knowledge is often sensed at the realm of emotions and feelings, it is important to note that we walk by faith in what is revealed and not by our wavering feelings. Good feelings are good and God sometimes grants us those nice feelings as we experience Him. However, our lives should not be lived based on feelings but on faith. That is why without faith, it is impossible to please Him. He that comes to God must first of all believe and that is a prerequisite. Faith is a prerequisite at the beginning of the journey, it is a prerequisite in the journey and is also a prerequisite at the end of the journey. Nobody is discountenancing the validity of your feelings but valid feelings do not mean that they represent truth. Truth is what is revealed and what is revealed should be taken above our feelings. In practical terms, it means that the feeling of God’s distance does not mean that God is very far away because He is ever with us. Heb.13:5 says “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” NIV. The truth revealed is that God is with us, even in every difficult and painful situation. We have to live at the level of faith in God’s written Word and not at the level of our feelings.
Now I want to humbly note that what I share here does not give all the answers to the issue of the hiddenness of God. For example, some have complained and asked why the God of love should make knowing Him very difficult, in spite of all the efforts of some people to sincerely seek Him. I have a brother who many years ago complained to I and my wife how he was willing to give his life to Jesus Christ but in spite of all his efforts, God seemed not to be easy for him to find. It is a real and practical challenge of many people. We led the brother to Christ but nothing seemed to have happened. We continued to pray for him until after many years, God cleared the cloud in his mind and made Himself known to him. He loves to reveal Himself to all who sincerely seek Him.
Firstly, what this teaches me is that I should always respond to God as he reveals Himself to me. Postponing my response is being presumptuous as He is the only One that takes the initiative to reveal Himself. Secondly, we have to trust His heart even when we do not understand what His hands are doing. We trust His heart that He has good intentions and good thoughts for us and will do what is good and right. Finally, as Henry Blackaby said in his book, Experiencing God, when you are confused in the middle of your walk with God and cannot seem to know where He is working currently in your life, continue doing the last thing you are sure God revealed to you and in due course, the cloud will clear. God loves you. Remain blessed.
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