He wouldn’t shake hands with any lady, won’t share a bench with a sister, he was a vocal advocate against watching anything on TV that wasn’t men’s sport or news. He knelt on rocks when he prayed, fasted every other day of the week. He would not get new shoes or clothes; even when some brethren from the fellowship gave him new shirts and trousers as birthday gifts, he rejected them.
He would stay unspotted from the world. He must deny his flesh. He had to work for his salvation with fear and trembling.
He, Adenuga Mark, had a litany of rules to live by and he imposed them on the members of his campus fellowship where he was the president. The day he saw Bro. Christopher on a bike with a lady who came across to him as a descendant of Jezebel, he immediately alerted every other executive and summoned them for an emergency meeting.
Bro Chris had backslid. How could he sit behind a lady on a bike?! Mark was furious. What would people say when they see the PRO of the fellowship on a bike with a lady? Why would he bring shame upon the name of the Lord because of his lust and evil concupiscence? Chris was an unrighteous man loaded down with sins. He was unfit for the work of the kingdom. He would be suspended from being an exco. On his knees, Christopher pleaded. He tried to explain that he had been running late for an exam, bikes were scarce, his rented apartment was not close enough to the campus for him to trek over. The lady he shared the bike with was his course mate; he could not leave her there and that was why he offered to share the bike with her. He said he’d asked the bike rider to shift well enough for him to have enough room on the bike so he wouldn’t be pushing against her. He even sat on the metal rails behind the seat of the Bajaj motorcycle, just to ensure there was space between them.
“I kept my mind of pure thoughts on the bike, sir. You need to beli-”
“Nonsense!” Mark barked. “Who are you kidding? Aren’t you a man? Please, this meeting is over. You are suspended; when I feel a release in my spirit, I would call it off”
Mark picked his giant brown bible and walked out, leaving behind a group of confused people who dared not say a word about his outlandish actions.
Christopher plodded to his room that night with a cape of sorrow draped around his shoulders. Being suspended in his fellowship was a hard sentence. One needed to be a member of Holiness Life Christian Fellowship (HLCF) to understand the full gravity of it. No one cared to know the reason, but once a worker or an executive got suspended, he was stigmatized. Everyone treated a suspended brother or sister like the little leaven that would leaven their lump if they got close, like a son of perdition.
God, was I wrong to have helped Angela?
He knew he wasn’t wrong for helping out a friend in need. Was there something he could have done better? Should he have given up his bike for Angela and trusted God for another? He probably should have done that, maybe that way, his good would not be evil spoken off. But what if he hadn’t seen another bike? He sighed.
But God, why didn’t you defend me before Papa? You know my heart, don’t you?
An idea dropped in his mind, and with its arrival came the littlest quantum of hope.
* * * *
Christopher knocked twice on the feeble door of Frank’s room. When Frank opened the door and smiled a welcome at him, Christopher saw that he was glad, not afraid, to see him. And the sharp contrast between Frank and Papa jarred at Chris. Frank was the president of the Joint Campus Christian Fellowship (JCCF), yet he was one of the easiest persons to talk to. After Frank became the president, Chris expected that he would climb a high, priestly horse, like all the presidents he had known from his fellowship. He had been surprised at Frank’s jocular manner, how freely he talked about his life, the simplicity in his teaching of the scripture in daily affairs even after his ordination. Frank had been his roommate before he was chosen to be the president of JCCF, after which he was moved to the wing of another hall reserved for JCCF executives. For the few months Chris shared a room with him, he learned a lot about having an actual relationship with God beyond perfunctory religious rites. He had expected that Frank’s new position would make things entirely different between them. Hadn’t he and Mark been course mates and friends since 100 level? But as soon as he became the president of HLCF, he stopped being a brother, he became Papa. Things were different with Frank. He frankly just remained Frank.
“Chris, good to see you bro” Frank said, shaking his hand. “How far now?”
“I’m not alright o, to be honest.”
Frank laughed. “What’s the matter this time?”
Chris plunked into Frank’s bed. It sank under him in a way Chris thought was exaggerated when compared to his weight. “It’s not funny o. I just got suspended from being PRO. In fact, I’m just coming from the meeting.”
“Okay, that’s serious. Wetin you sef do?”
“I climb bike with woman ni o”
“You sef,” Frank hissed. “You know your fellowship na, why would you do that?”
“Condition. Leave matter abeg. I need your help. Please help me beg Papa”
Frank shifted in his seat. “Beg who? I’m so sorry my brother, I can’t be of help to you”
“Abeg na, do you know what it means to be suspended from my fellowship at all? Do you want your guy to be depressed? Don’t laugh! It’s not funny”
“See, you know how Bro Mark is. It’s bad enough that he sees me as a sinner. He always has something negative to say about almost everyone, especially me, during our meetings. I don’t want to meddle in his affairs. Please understand.”
Frustrated, Chris sprang to his feet. “You’re the JCCF president for God’s sake! Every fellowship on campus is your business, this is not meddling. If you don’t want to help me, look me in the face and say it. No dey do corna corna on top the matter”
Frank sighed. He really didn’t want to get in Mark’s path. He had heard of how Mark spoke ill of him. He judged him for donning jeans, for his afro, his careless relationships with the opposite sex –which was untrue-, in practically everything Frank said, Mark found fault.
“I will talk to him. Wait for me here”
Frank nodded. Chris hugged him with such force that made him lurch.
* * * *
Mark walked from the back of the laboratories where he had gone to pray. With each step he took, his knees, raw from an hour of being on granite, ached. The ache fed him delight. He was suffering for Christ. God must be smiling down at him from heaven. He lifted his face heavenward, beaming his smile back at God. His smile died the moment his memory impressed an image on his mind. It was the image of Chris and Jezebel’s descendant on the bike.
“Blood of Jesus. Blood of Jesus” He muttered.
The image lingered, igniting a spark in his flesh. He hastened his pace. The image stayed and gradually, he replaced Chris on the bike. He was now the one seating behind Jezebel’s descendant and pushing himself against her firm backside, leaning back as a rush of breeze caressed his face. He put his hands on her waist and lifted them slowly, along her sides. The bike rushed into a pothole, and the gallop in his imagination filled him with unfettered sensation.
With his large bible secured in his armpit, Mark ran, fuelled by the conflagration of passion and hot blood in his body. As he rounded a corner and saw his hall in a distance, he could feel tiny drops of wetness in his underwear.
* * * *
Frank was about to knock on the door when he saw that it was ajar. He heard soft groans and he immediately assumed Mark was praying. He turned away to leave but stopped when he heard a ragged drawing in of breath that sounded nothing like prayers, he could also hear soft, rhythmical clanging of metals like that of a buckle. Was Bro Mark safe? He peered into the dimly lit room. His mouth fell open.
Bro Mark stood there facing the wall, inebriated with passion and totally unaware of Frank’s entry into the room. With his trousers at his feet, his boxers at his knees and his belt jangling in sync with his body movements, Mark masturbated.
“Bro Mark!” Frank called. He was livid.
Mark gasped and pulled his boxers up in one fluid move. He looked at Frank with large, unblinking eyes and within seconds his whole body was trembling.
Frank jabbed an irate finger at him as he took a step towards him. “You hypocrite. White washed tomb” His voice came out as a menacing hiss. “You strain your water for a gnat and in the corner of your room you swallow a whole camel. You wear out your congregation with rules and laws and burdens and you live a life of lawlessness behind the façade! You green sn-”
He panted. He wanted to give this wolf clad in sheep skin a piece of his mind. Why would the Lord restrain him?
Rescue my lamb.
Lamb? This is a wolf
Mark sponged in Franks words, with his head bowed. It was true. Everything Frank said brought before him the realities that were ever before him. He was shocked when Frank stopped. He looked up. How much more would he have said if the roles were reversed? That’s even far-fetched. How much more had he said moments ago to Chris?
Franks anger withered when he saw Mark crumble into a flaccid mass rocking in the wind of wrenching sobs. It was then he truly saw Mark. The helpless man who was caught in a viscous loop that sapped life from his bones. Frank was filled with compassion. The reality of the man in Romans 7 hit him.
Mark crawled towards his bed. He pulled a sac from under it. He upended the sac and sharp stones crashed to the floor. Some were as large as Frank’s fist. Mark stood erect, staring at the stones with weary eyes. Frank wondered what he was up to.
Mark threw himself on the floor that was strewn with stones. Frank yelped.
“Father! Father forgive me. Look upon me and be merciful unto me. Destroy me not oh Lord my redeemer. In thy sore displeasure do not cast me away from thine face.” He cried, rolling and tossing on the stones. Blood trickled from his bare back, from his thighs. Frank was horrified.
“Bro Mark what is this?”
When Mark did not give him any attention, he went over to him and lifted him out of the puddle of his own blood.
Mark struggled with Frank. “Let me beg the Lord.”
“You can do that without harming yourself” Frank retorted.
“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins”
Frank released a mirthless laugh. “And you think the blood of your sinful self would avail to cleanse you?”
Fresh tears poured down Mark’s cheeks. His shoulders slumped. His struggle to return to his bed of stones stopped. Frank observed his legs, his torso, he saw the many scars. How was Bro Mark different from the mad man of Gadara for God’s sake?
“Since you’ve been inflicting pain on yourself, has it sufficed to deliver you?”
“Bro. Frank, help me. What must I do?” It was a humble, broken question.
A lot of things rushed through Frank’s mind at once. Then he remembered Paul’s answer, when the jailer had asked him the same question.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus”
Mark balked, a frown crinkling his face. “Just that?”
“But I’ve given my life to Christ.”
“You have given your life over to living by a code of conduct. Trying on your strength to please God. Setting aside the grace of God, and you have seen the futility of it. Now, what you must do is repent from your ways and meaningless works, and turn in faith to Jesus. Embrace his finished works and allow the Holy Spirit do his work in you.”
“Can you make this clearer?”
“Turn with me to Colossians chapter 2, read verses 20 to 23.”
Mark read from his KJV Bible.
Frank opened the softcopy bible on his phone. “Now, let me read that last verse in a translation that puts it in a clearer way:
These rules may seem wise because they require
Strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe
Body discipline. But they provide no help
In conquering a person’s evil desires.”
Mark sighed deeply. “Let me read that myself”
He read the verse about five times before he returned Frank’s phone. The verse couldn’t have been more accurate in describing his state.
“The thing with the law is that it reveals what sin is, but it doesn’t provide the power to live above sin. It would stir a desire for godly living in one, but the power to carry through with it would be absent. Can you remember Romans 7?”
“Yes, the lamentation of Paul over his wretched state.”
“Exactly. The law, dos and don’ts do not have the power to free from sin and death.”
“I thought teaching people about holiness, sin and the consequences of sin would stop them from sinning,”
“Was it able to stop you? All these are only useful to those who have the enablement, who have been delivered from the sinful nature every human is born with. Only these people can live a truly holy life.”
“How can one receive this enablement?”
“Let’s see what the man of Romans 7 said, read verses 24 and 25”
Mark collected Frank’s e-Bible. He was in love with the New Living Translation already. “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord…”
Frank stopped him. “The answer is in who?”
“Jesus Christ our Lord.” Mark responded. His heart was beating with a new hope of deliverance. His bones that were weary with sorrow and guilt were receiving strength.
“Now, let me explain how Jesus brings liberty. When Jesus died on the cross all those many years ago, he condemned sin in his flesh. He took the consequence of sin, paying the price for us, and he destroyed the power of sin over all who believe in him. The Bible says in him we have redemption..”
“The forgiveness of sins” Mark supplied, nodding.
“Yes. Now, Jesus was the only one who fully pleased God; because he was the only one who lived his whole life in righteousness and had the nature of God in him. The Bible, in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 21 tells us that Christ who knew no sin, was made sin for us that we may be the righteousness of God in Christ. The only way, therefore, to be righteous before God is to step into the righteousness of Christ in faith. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, our old nature becomes crucified with Christ and we are raised with him a brand new creation, holy and acceptable unto God. With the righteousness we receive in Christ comes the grace to live a holy life, by depending on the Holy Spirit and fixing our gaze on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith”
For the next two hours, Frank continued expounding on scriptures, answering Mark’s questions. As the light of the word came forth, the shackles of addiction, religion and the nature of sin fell from Mark. He realized that though he had been reading the bible through at least three times a year for the past five years, and he knew almost every verse by heart, he had been handling the letter which only produced death. But now, he was in contact with the Spirit, truth and grace embodied in the person of Christ.
“Jesus, you did it all. You paid it all. You have made available a complete package for me. I lay down my heavy yoke to carry yours, it’s light and graceful. I lay down my burdens at your feet. I embrace your grace. I am tired of trying by my strength. I’ve come to see I can’t prevail this way; I surrender to you. I surrender my efforts, my heart, my days, my will. Let your Holy Spirit teach me to fully please you. Thank you Jesus” Mark sputtered, crying. In between his tears, he thought he was becoming incoherent with too much gratitude and joy. What rubbish was he saying?
He stopped himself. And glanced up at Frank, questions emblazoned in his eyes.
“You were just speaking in tongues. Why did you stop?”
“I was? Like the apostles on the day of Pentecost?” He was aghast. He laughed. “Jesus! Me? Bro. Frank, I have a lot to learn o. you have to help me”
“The greatest helper now lives within you. Engage him. And sure, I would always be here to help in the little way I can.”
Frank glanced at his phone. It was 3:30AM. He shook his head.
God, you are awesome!
“Bro Mark, to the reason I came, I’m here to plead on behalf of Chris-”
“Oh, that. I even need to beg the poor brother. Who was I to judge?”
Frank walked back to his room that windy night in July, singing praises to God. He was sure Christopher was fast asleep on his bed. When he opened his room door, he found Christopher pacing and praying.
“It is here,” Frank muttered to himself. The revival God had been stirring his heart to pray for had come.
And this that looks like a little fist in the clouds would birth a mighty rain. The latter rain.
There is a lot I want to say, but I would leave the Holy Spirit to breathe on this story in our minds. There is just one thing I want you to do. Pray earnestly for a revival in the body of Christ. We need the heavenly fire of revival to purge the church of all the filth of heresies, deception, manipulation, hypocrisy, sin, I could go on. We need an outpouring of the Spirit of God. The wind of the Spirit needs to break our walls of rebellion, sectarianism, religion and so forth. Lift up your voice to the Lord and intercede for the body of Christ.