To Dwell With God

1 Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?

2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

3 He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. Is. 66:1-3

I once heard the preacher of a large mega-church, as he was preparing to deliver a sermon, say to his congregation, “The Lord sent me here to feed someone this morning. I have been hand-selected; I have been divinely picked; I have been Holy Ghost- anointed; I have been designated for this time… I will not fail you!”

I said, “Wow!!” That sounded heretical to me and it did not appear as if this man had ever read God’s words here:

“… to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

Anyways…

You would be forgiven to think that at my age it would be extremely difficult for one to decide who their best friend, or the person they love most, is. Indeed, it is. I have so many people who are incredibly close to me, so many whom my heart yearns for in the Lord; so many who have sacrificed so much for me. There are literally thousands of people who vie for the No. 1 slot in my heart.

But, still, I know with God the answer comes easily enough if you were to ask Him who He loves most. God loves a man who has a humble heart. I personally know of many such people. But today I will talk of only one such person. Actually, this man lives with me right here in Singida. I have come to love this man with all my heart. And my love for him is not because of his proximity to me. No. I love him for the same reason that God loves him.

This man is one of the pastors with whom I work here. Not too long after this pastor heard the gospel of the cross, his small church and our small church decided to merge together in order to save on the rent we were paying and in time have enough money to buy a church plot. One of the brothers in his church had given out a part of his plot where they have put up a half finished structure. This semi-finished building has no roof and they have to put up tarpaulins at every service to provide the shade from the sun.

When some of the pastors in town heard that we were merging churches, they ‘prophesied’ our doom. They said, “You will not last even a month together.”

But the men who have opened their hearts to the gospel of the cross here in Singida have seen something in the Spirit, and I already had a lot of respect for this particular brother. But one day, not too long ago, he did something that broke all bounds in my esteem for him. He stood up in church – his church – and said, “Ever since I heard the gospel of the cross I have felt myself only getting smaller and smaller; and I have desired to become smaller still. And I have arrived at a place where all I feel I am worthy to do in this church is to put up the tarpaulins and to bring them down after the service. I have asked my fellow pastors to put me off preaching for now.”

It was not just the words he spoke; but the power of a broken spirit that attended them. Now, if there is anything that has power in the Spirit, it is a man or woman who is broken in the Spirit. You could be “handpicked” for all we know, but if you do not have a humble and contrite spirit, you have no power in the Spirit.

Not a soul moved when this pastor made this announcement. There was deathly quiet as we weighed in on the pride in our hearts after hearing these words from this simple man.

A humble heart has respect with God above anything else; therefore God dwells with a humble heart (Is. 57:15). This translates into the fact that God’s power is manifested in the humble spirit.

Notice in our key scripture above that there is nothing you can really do to ‘surprise’ God. God says:

“The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”.

Just imagine: Heaven is God’s throne and the earth is His footstool. Now, if heaven is God’s throne, where are His upper body and head; in what ‘sphere’ do they reside?? And, pray, what can a mere earthling really do to surprise or please this God?

Apparently, this pastor in Singida had stumbled upon the answer. It is humility of heart. We serve God with our humble hearts. That only, and nothing else. Thank God He does not look to the apostle, the prophet and to the many ‘mighty men of God’. On the contrary, He says:

“… but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

That’s simple and clear.

This pastor’s words: “All I feel I am worthy to do in this church is to put up the tarpaulins and to bring them down after the service” are branded on my heart as if with a hot iron. And I am sure they are equally branded in the hearts of those who heard him speak that day.

[A distant view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from the east]

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A Father’s Joy

Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be. – Sheldon Silverstein

I have a teenage son whom I am tempted to think does not please me as much as I would want him to. No, he is not rebellious in any sense of the word and he is actually pleasant to be around with. But, for me, there are the practical issues of daily life that I would love to see him get involved in more consistently and – for heaven’s sake – add some speed on!

So it was with some surprise, the other day as I was watering my sunflower garden that, out of the corner of my eye, I espied the window curtains to my son’s room moving. I looked up to see someone inside folding the said curtains and, soon after, opening the window. Upon looking closely, I realized it was my son who was doing that job.

Now, with some of these feelings, you never know where they come from. As I watched my son opening that window, I felt an incredible sense of relief and pride. This feeling was something not too far removed from what one would feel if their son won a scholarship to Harvard.

You must be thinking I am nuts. You must be wondering what could be so great about someone opening the window to their own room. But a little background is in order here, and I would want you to know that that curtain has been one of the sticking points between me and my son for a long time. Every time I entered his room during the daytime it was dark and it had a musty smell on account of the curtain and window not being opened. I had settled to lecturing him constantly about the value of having light and fresh air in his room. After which I would fold the curtains and open the window myself.

There was also a cobweb that I had been telling him to remove from the window panes for a week, and every time I entered the room it was still there. But, just yesterday I entered my son’s room and the cobweb was gone.

So there I was watering the sunflowers and my mind began moving at lightning speed. I thought: if I can feel so happy and relieved at my son doing something that pleases me, how are things up there with God when I do the littlest of His pleasure? I had never thought about it in exactly those terms, but on this day I found it fit the script quite well. The Bible says,

“If ye then, being evil…” (Mat. 7:11)

God is extremely happy and pleased, real time, whenever we do a little bit of His will. The prospects of such a thought are astronomical.

Because, whether we like the thought or not, we as God’s children are not much different than our teenage children. Problematic, to say the least and, at worst, outrightly rebellious. And it is on account of the fact that we are living under the new covenant of grace that we can get away with the things we do. But it is a far cry for most of us to say that much of the time we do that which is pleasing to God.

Quoting the Apostle Paul, which we love doing, is all right; but we better admit that, even though we strive to follow him, the man was simply out of our territory, at least most of us.

Anyways, to cut  long story short, ever since that day I have been walking on cloud nine, so to speak. I have felt propelled to consciously do that which is pleasing to God, well aware that this is real. The reality of God being pleased at me is astonishing to me. Moreover, my heart is filled with thanksgiving to God for the grace to realize that I can actually please Him through the abundant grace that He gives to me. That I can make God’s heart glad – what a grace! And… what an accomplishment!

“Much Tribulation”

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. Acts 14:21-22

What would you rather have preached in your church?

Today, the church has a wide range of choices when it comes to what people want to hear. But this wide range of choices is a dangerous thing for all these things cater to the flesh. The Apostle Paul warned his young protégé Timothy:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

To which he added an admonition:

“5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

Notice that “endure afflictions” is firmly tucked in there. We may have a choice today, but the early church did not have the luxury of hearing what they wanted to hear. No doubt they, just as much as we, would have liked to hear a “soft” gospel, one which promised them a comfortable and trouble-free life here on earth and eternal life in the hereafter. But God would not allow that, for in surrendering to the flesh there is no life.

The apostles were men sent of God. They had in their hearts a revelation of Christ, Christ crucified. They therefore had only one message to deliver:

that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

I wonder how you can reconcile this Biblical message with the man-made messages of financial and material prosperity, promotion and whatnot. In today’s gospel setting, it seems you are not allowed to upset people. It is more important to talk about the “abundant life”, whatever that is, than the suffering that we are to endure for the gospel’s sake.

But if we live, we live for Christ, and if we die, we die for Him also. This is borne out by the example of the Apostle Paul himself who, when addressing Timothy, writes:

“16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me… 17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

It would have been wonderful to read that God delivered Paul from harm in order that Paul could continue living his own life. But this account states otherwise. It says here that God preserved Paul in order that he might continue preaching the gospel. God preserves us for a purpose – His purpose. There is no place in scripture to believe that God preserves us in order that we might continue doing our own thing here on earth. God preserves us in order that we might preach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason that God brings the cross into our lives. The cross is God’s plan for mankind. The cross involves all the things listed in 2 Corinthians 12:10:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

In this gospel, people will stamp on you and you will tried and tempted in many different ways. And God expects us to take all that patiently.

The Bible makes clear that you can enter into the Kingdom of heaven minus many of the things that we think are important in our lives – financial success, promotion at work, healing; Jesus even said you can enter with one eye and one hand (Mat. 5:29,30) – but you cannot enter the Kingdom of God without living out the cross in your life. The Bible says that we must through much tribulation enter into God’s heavenly Kingdom. That means suffering and bearing with a lot of negative things in our lives as believers.

That being the case, how about we begin thanking God for the problems instead of wishing them away. We might have been taught otherwise in the mega-churches; but we just might find we are on the right track here. Actually, the Bible says we are.

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

To exhort means to encourage. You encourage someone when they are undergoing challenges and hardship. The Christian life is a challenge. Living the Christian life is actually the greatest challenge there is in life. The reason for this is because this challenge is not necessarily about physical or material deprivation. Rather, it goes deep into the nether parts of our souls and challenges us there. Here, the deepest things of our hearts are challenged. Here, our pride is challenged. If you are white, your whiteness will be challenged. If you are an African, your Africanness will be challenged. If you have a greed for material wealth like the rich young man we read of the other day that will be challenged also.

These and other carnal traits are the things that make up the un-Christlike character in us, and God wants them out of our lives. God sends us His servants to exhort us to bear with hardships for the gospel’s sake. They encourage us to die to self and to our lusts. After we are truly and fully dead, the grace of God – which is the life of Christ – will increase in us, and we will be able to please God in every area of our lives.

[What would you rather have preached in church?]

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God’s Singular Focus

1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,

2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.

7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.

8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. Mat. 17:1-8

There are slightly differing versions of this account in the three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But there is no mistaking what happens at the end of each account. In every account of this story, Elijah and Moses left the scene, and disciples were left beholding only two things: Jesus Himself, and the words that God had spoken from out of the cloud:

“This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

In other words, God powerfully took Elijah and Moses out of the New Covenant scenario. Peter would have loved to retain both these Old Testament prophets with Jesus; but God firmly said no.

It is not possible to have both the old covenant and the new one working in our lives.

I remember in school we had something called a duster. The duster was used to clean off the blackboard. Here, in this account, God Himself came in a cloud and dusted Moses and Elijah off the map. But He did not dust off Jesus. The cross is undustable. The cross is inerasable.

Although the apostles were probably witnessing a heavenly scene (the Bible says that Jesus’ clothes and countenance changed and became heavenly white) yet, when God appeared on the scene in the cloud, He neither referenced Elijah nor Moses. Instead, He spoke only about Jesus:

“This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

This was a powerful demonstration to the disciples of the singular focus that God attaches to Jesus – and to the cross.

Today, people want to lump Jesus, Moses and Elijah together. They want to place the old and the new together. But that is simply unacceptable with God.

Today the majority of believers are either into law or into miracles and signs and wonders. But, at the same time, all these people proclaim, “Jesus!” But, although these things (law and miracles) may be good in themselves, neither one of them have the power that is needed to do in us the singular thing that pleases God, i.e. to transform us and to form in us the character of Jesus. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24:

“22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

You can be ‘baptized’ into the law up to your neck, but you cannot please God through the law. You can also be into miracles and signs and wonders; but you cannot please God through these things. Jesus said that many who are doing miracles right now will not go to heaven (Mat 7:22). The only thing you can please God with is by taking up your cross and following Jesus.

Few today are hearing the gospel of the cross preached. Even fewer still are willing to take up their cross and follow Christ. Many would rather listen to the comfortable gospel of prosperity and of solving one’s problems (financial prosperity, miracles, healing, promotion, etc.).

But God has wiped everything off His blackboard and left only one thing: Jesus Christ, and him crucified. God wants His new covenant class (the church) to focus on only one thing. This was the singular focus that the Apostle Paul also had (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:1). The cross is the SINGULAR way we can please God. Why the cross? The cross crucifies the flesh and this brings the grace of God into our lives. And it is through carrying God’s grace in our hearts alone that we can please God:

“Wherefore… let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”. (Heb. 12:28)

That is how we can come to understand the reason for Paul’s singular focus on the cross of Christ. In all his teachings and in all his life, Paul purposed to know (and to live) nothing apart from Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And the power that was in Paul’s life was and is profound and unambiguous even to this day; and it will be unto eternity.

Christ crucified is God’s revelation to the world.

[“And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.”]

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Reflection

Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Rom. 12:16

One of the greatest lessons I have learned in life is how insignificant I really am.

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Do Good

The past will always come back to haunt us, and it is very powerful. That is why there are many evil people who, in the fading years of their lives, commit suicide. It is because they cannot bear to look back at the evil they did when they had the choice – and strength – to do good. When you have the strength to do good, do good, and do it now. That is the only true investment that you can put up, not just in God’s heavenly Kingdom, but for your twilight years here on earth. The good you do now will be the reward of beautiful memories that you will reap in your fading years. You cannot afford those bad memories: in your twilight years, they will kill you.