Marangu!

Two weeks ago, our umbrella church organisation, CTMI (www.ctmi.org) held its 15th regional East African ladies’ conference in the small Tanzanian town of Marangu, situated on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The heartwarming moments, and the inexpressibly beautiful scenery, were priceless.

For most of the wonderful ladies who travelled from Singida to attend the conference, it was their very first time to travel so far from home and to such a beautiful gathering as this, not to mention the paradise-like greenery of the Mt. Kilimanjaro ecosystem.

For unavoidable reasons, I was not able to post this report earlier. But now, here, in pictures, is the story of their experience.

Stepping out.

Ogling at the age-old eucalyptus trees at Marangu-Mtoni.

One of the beautiful services at the conference.

Two of our sisters from Kenya.

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The Singida ladies welcoming their “mother”, Flo (yours truly), who arrived late.

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Some of the Singida ladies braved the early morning cold to catch a glimpse the elusive mountain.

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Mt. Kilimanjaro can just be seen in the background.

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Finally, a moment of rest for Pastor Stephen, sister Frida and the elders from the Lake Region.

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Prior to starting on their journey back home (and fully refreshed in their spirits), a group photograph for the Singida ladies.

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And… here comes the bus. Bye bye little town of Marangu.

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The Game Changer – Part 3

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” (2 Cor. 8:1-5)

Before we get to the last part in this series of teachings, let me make something clear. Let’s look again at Paul’s words in Philippians 3:7-8.

“7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Let me state here that the Apostle Paul would not have congratulated a believer for acquiring a material blessing. He wouldn’t have walked up to a brother and said to him, “Wow, what a beautiful car you have!”

Or, “What a nice suit!”

Or house, or wife or whatever. Not Paul, who stated  that he had undergone the loss of all things in order that he might gain Christ. Not Paul, who said that he counted the things of this world as dung, that he might gain Christ.

The Apostle Paul’s sights were set on things incomparably far more glorious than whatever the world had to offer.

Unfortunately, the church today is full of all this PC stuff, and God’s people honor one another based on the successes they have in this world. The reason for  this, of course, is because the church has left the true foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the revelation of the sufferings and death of Jesus in our hearts.

The church is left only with all this baby stuff.

And now, to our last chapter in this series. We will end this series by looking at how the Macedonian churches gave.

The first thing that is very obvious is that the Macedonians gave. Many people take it for granted that every believer is a giver. We all talk the talk, and so naturally people assume we all give. But that’s not true. There are many who simply cannot give.

But we cannot even begin talking about the grace of God if we cannot give of our material things. If we cannot give, it is clear that we are devoid of the revelation of God’s grace in our lives. (The grace of God comes upon us through an understanding of the cross in us.)

And so, to prove the grace of God upon their lives, the Macedonians gave. But, again, notice they did not give as we know “give”. On the contrary, they gave a whole lot differently.

“3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.” (vs. 3-4)

There is simply too much treasure in these scriptures to begin to analyse in such a short space as I have here, so I will zero in on only a small part in verse 3, where it says,

“to their power… and beyond their power.”

I consider this the impossible scripture. It is hard enough for people to give within their power; how could these give beyond their power? And what, exactly, does it mean that they gave beyond their power? This  is an amazing, incredible, and impossible scripture.

If you squeeze someone hard enough, they will reach the end of their endurance and die. That means you have squeezed them beyond their power. For this reason, it could only be that something had happened in the lives of the Macedonians. Something so incredible that it had squeezed the natural life out of them. Something had happened in their lives, and whatever it was, it had taken them beyond the natural. When they gave, therefore, they did  not give in the natural.

Long before Paul arrived at their shores for this assignment the cross had squeezed the Macedonians to their deaths, praise the Lord! – and on to doing things beyond their power.

So what does it mean that the Macedonians gave beyond their power?

It means that they gave beyond human ability. Let us try and see how they gave. It means that someone took their last ounce of flour (for they were poor, remember) and gave it to Paul & co to take to the more needy saints in Jerusalem. It means that someone took their shirt off their back, folded it carefully, and gave it to Paul. And this man did not have another shirt (don’t forget, they were poor). It means that someone emptied their purse and gave all to Paul. These saints sacrifice was so much so that even the battle hardened Paul was taken aback and he initially refused to take up all their offering.

“Hey, hold it!” he must  have said. “How are you guys going to manage? How are you going to survive?”

But the Bible says the Macedonians beseeched the apostles “with much intreaty” to accept their offering. That means they pleaded with them. The situation in the natural was such that these people had to plead with the apostles to allow them to give! They said to them, “No, please allow us to share in the fellowship of ministering to the saints. Don’t worry about us. We know that after you are gone, God will provide for us.”

The picture is very clear here. The Macedonians were left with nothing! And yet they were more than willing and happy to be left in this situation.

That is what it means by that they gave beyond their power.

And, y’know, it could all have turned  out differently. Had Paul found the Macedonians having left the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ that he first preached to them, the scenario here would have been a whole lot different. The church elders would have called Paul aside and said to him, “After you are done collecting the offering for the Jerusalem saints, remember us also. Moreover, as you can see here, we have nothing to give you. Oh, we are sorry.”

But no! The Macedonian churches, full of the grace of God, did the exact opposite. I believe even the thought that they were poor had never crossed their minds!!

Aren’t you glad for the Macedonians? They upheld  the gospel! In a time when everyone else was compromising the gospel, these saints held firmly to the revelation of

“Christ crucified.”

I feel excited even as I write. And I am praying right now that both you and I, and the church at large, may allow the grace of God to work in us to the extent it did in the lives of the Macedonians, to the end that we may give of our lives even beyond our power, to the glory of God.

 

 

The Game Changer – Part 2

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” (2 Cor. 8:1-5)

Either this scripture is true or it is not. Either this happened or it didn’t. I choose to believe that this is true and that this did happen. That, a church that was going through much tribulation and persecution, and which was bone-dry poor, that this church was the liveliest and happiest church in Paul’s day.

So what was the game changer? What caused this outcome in these people’s lives? Why weren’t they bawling all over the place, bewailing their lot in life?

The game changer was the grace of God that was upon their lives. The grace of God opens one’s eyes in the Spirit; and once someone sees in the Spirit, they are gone. The devil knows he’s lost them. Neither he nor the world, nor the flesh can control them. The Apostle Paul beautifully put it in Philippians 3:7-8:

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

The Apostle Paul had seen the riches of Christ, and he dropped the world like a hot coal. He let it go. Now his sights were set on something else: to have the riches of God’s grace in his life.

The churches in Macedonia might have been the poorest; but they were the richest in the Spirit. You can always tell someone who is rich in the Spirit. They are always forthcoming, open, sincere, and willing to help. You don’t have to write a 10-page letter to have them drop a dime in the offering box. They are high wired and always ready to help.

Moreover, the churches in Macedonia were the happiest. If you don’t have the grace of God, you cannot accept to be “afflicted” or to be poor. You cannot accept persecution or a hard life of material lack. You will be seeing enemies all around you and you will be praying all those mournful prayers that we know of. You will be asking God to bring down your enemies and casting out demons and generational curses from your life.

But not the Macedonians, praise the Lord! The Macedonians wouldn’t do any of these things. They were alive!

Paul tells the Corinthians:

“Brethren, we wish to inform you about the grace of God that has been bestowed on the churches of Macedonia!”

The grace of God upon our lives. These are the true riches of the spiritual man.

 

 

The Game Changer – Part 1

“1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” (2 Cor. 8:1-5)

Something’s wrong here. It is  not possible that a church that was going through so much persecution, and which was mired in such deep poverty could, of all things, have been happy! That is simply not possible. This church ought to have been the saddest church on the planet.

I don’t know where it came from, but all of a sudden, the modern day church decided that poverty consisted of, not a lack  of the grace of God in the believer’s life, but a lack of material things. This is the gospel I had been hearing since the early 90s when I got saved, and I recall how we used to walk about in a state of perpetual mourning because here in Africa we lived in a state of deep poverty. We immersed ourselves in the faith teachings of Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland (“The Believer’s Voice of Victory”), trying to chase after the prosperity dream. If one of us managed to make it to the USA – by hook or crook; but mostly by the latter – we declared that the grace of God had attended him/her and that he/she was favoured above all men (or women, depending on the gender). Those of us who did not make it to  the West were left wondering what curse might have befallen us. Somehow, to this day, the church has entrenched itself in the firm belief that residing in or even making a pilgrimage to the West comprises the favour of God.

One of the most anecdotal stories that I have in this regard involves the time I applied for a visa at the American embassy in Dar es Salaam a number of years ago. When I attended my visa application hearing my request was summarily denied.

When I left the embassy, since I am an outdoors man, rather  than take the bus back home I decided to walk instead. I love taking in the sights. Moreover, I lived less than an hour’s walk to the embassy.

When I arrived back home, I found my wife, who is a nurse, attending to our landlord, an elderly lady. The lady had high blood pressure and my wife regularly went with her bp machine to check on the lady’s heartbeat.

I found them both seated in the lady’s living room. Tired from walking, I dumped myself onto the couch like a sack of potatoes.

The lady enquired where I had been to so early in the morning. I told her that I had been to the American embassy. That got her interested. She herself has children living and working in the U.S.

She asked what I had gone to do at the embassy. I told her that I had gone to get a visa to go to the U.S. All of a sudden, her demeanor changed. That hadn’t been on her sights.

“So have you gotten the visa?” she asked, her lips trembling.

“No”, I answered her. “They refused to give me one.”

The lady took a panicked breath and asked me her next question.

“Did you go alone?”

“Yes”, I replied.

Shocked beyond belief, the lady quickly turned to my wife and ordered her, “Quick, take his blood pressure! It must be way above normal!”

I hadn’t thought about that. But as my wife took up her machine, I stretched out my arm and let her take her pressure test.

“It is normal”, she said.

We all looked at the machine and the pressure gauge read: “PERFECTLY NORMAL”.

Well, that was it as far as my attempt to go to the West was concerned. But it was my lady landlord’s reaction that has stayed with me to this day.

 

 

The Crib Is For The Ox – Part 2

“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” (Prov. 14:4)

No doubt, laying down our lives for others is just one aspect of the salvation that we have been called to. But it is an important part of the character of Christ that we have been called to bear. As a matter of fact, the Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins. Which means also that he who regards others sacrificially will receive favour from the Lord.

I often think about all the people whom God has caused to cross my life; and I think of how little or much I have given my life for them. Long after the fact, I often find myself thinking about what I could have done differently. But in spite of the fact that I find many  of my responses in these relationships wanting, yet this realization becomes a catalyst for me to desire to do better at present and in the future.

In a nutshell, that means I have to crucify my flesh. The flesh is the singular thing that prevents me from giving my life to others sacrificially.

But Jesus did it fully. I imagine Jesus there on the cross, dying for every sinner in the world. Not dying for the good and righteous, but for sinners. Jesus died for very sinner. And He did not just die for the small sins. On the contrary, He died for every imaginable sin. He died even for the most violent murderers. He died for the rapists. He died even for those who beat their fathers and mothers. He died for those who hurt others and brag about it. These are not easy things to contemplate in the natural. But Jesus bore them all on the cross. And it is through this sacrifice that EVERYONE has the opportunity to believe on Christ and turn their lives around. ANYONE can receive eternal life!

I often think of the grace that our Lord Jesus had in carrying out this great sacrifice. It is especially painful to me when I find myself feeling mad just because someone used my towel, just to illustrate. A towel, yes. Someone should not use my personal towel! Here, mind you, I am thinking about my personal hygiene, which we all can agree is a good thing.

But when I turn around and see Jesus on the cross, I realise just how spiritually callous my attitude is. What has my personal hygiene got to do with the a man’s soul? I realise then that, in spite of my claims to salvation and in spite of all the things that I can boast of in the Lord, it is clear to me that I have absolutely  no idea what the cross needs to do in my life to bring out the life of Christ in me.

But the Apostle Paul had attained to this ‘education’. He was one man for whom the death of Christ was  a reality. He allowed the cross to work in him in order that the life of Christ may shine in him. Therefore, he says,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

When we learn – and start – to give our lives, God will show us more areas where we can give our lives. In that way, we will grow in grace, and we will bear much fruit for the Lord, fruit that will be to our account in God’s eternal Kingdom.

But if we cannot surrender our personal towels (literally), then we have barely started our journey!

 

 

The Crib Is For The Ox – Part 1

“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” (Prov. 14:4)

Notice the word “strength”. Somewhere else in the scriptures, we find this word. The Apostle Paul used this word also in 2 Cor. 12:9 when he was referring to his conversation with the Lord.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Another word for “crib” as used in Proverbs above is “cow shed”. The cow shed is where oxen live. But here, in the scriptures, the crib refers to the heart of man. Interestingly, therefore, the Bible here is telling us that a heart which does not allow itself  to undergo the work of the cross, is a heart that holds onto self, and it cannot bear fruit in the Spirit.

The Bible uses the word “clean”. But “clean” here is not a positive word. On the contrary, it is a word that denotes dormancy, and unfruitfulness in the Spirit.

Notice, on the other hand, that

“much increase is by the strength of the ox”.

A life that is surrendered to the work of the cross is rich! And such a life bears much fruit in the Spirit.

The crib is for the ox. In the same way, our hearts are meant to accommodate the things that the Apostle Paul talks of in 2 Cor. 12:10. He says,

“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.”

These were the things that made Paul to get much profit in the Spirit. Now, “dirty” here is a positive word! The things that come  to dirty our clean lives – the things that come to rub our flesh the wrong way – mould us into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Most people don’t like their lives being intruded into. And here we are talking  about just our worldly lives. We love protecting our worldly lives. Moreover, the more things that we possess of this world – more learning, more sophistication, more money, more comfort, more power and status – it is these very things that prevent us from surrendering our lives to the cross. It is for this reason, therefore, that God calls the weak, the foolish and the base of this world to Him. It is so much easier for Him to work with those who have little or nothing to lose.

 

A Revelation

“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery…” (Eph. 3:3)

Elsewhere, in Galatians 1:11-12, Paul again reiterates this powerful assertion.

“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Whether we like it or not, these words, written by God Himself, are a slap in the face to anyone who prides themselves on any educational achievements they might have in relation to the Bible. And, whether we like it or not, these scriptures put a spotlight on the need for Bible schools. After having read these words you really have to wonder, What are they supposed to be teaching? For the Bible clearly states that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a revelation of Christ Himself!

Can a Bible school teach the revelation of Christ? That is the significant question.

Our tendency as men is to rely on what we can achieve rather than what God can achieve in us. The reason for this is because we want to evade the cross. But by  the grace of God the Apostle Paul realized that what mattered only was the work of Christ in him, and he allowed the work of the cross in his life. The revelation of the cross changed his outlook. He states this divine truth in 2 Cor. 12:9:

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Whether we are the brightest, or the dimmest intellectually is nothing with God. One of the things that God will definitely not work with is the brains of men. This is the greatest rift between the spiritual believer and the carnal Christian. Human intelligence only makes man to go further from God. The reason for this is because our intelligence constitutes what the Bible calls “the carnal mind” (Rom. 8:7), which it declares is enmity against God.

The spiritual man realizes and acknowledges that the only thing that matters with God is the transformation that Christ can achieve in him. And he willingly bows down to take up his cross and quickly follow Christ. All his works are meaningless now. Only the humiliation of Christ matters.

This is what we call a reality check. May God help the church to not bow down to the mind of man, but rather to the revelation of Christ, Christ crucified.

The Burden Of The Cross

“7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do  violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” (Lk. 3:7-14)

In the world, people boast in who they know, or the lineage they come from. If, say, someone is the son or daughter of a prominent worldly person, that counts to their credit. The world knows how to play its own game!

In the same way, sadly, many Christian believers love to boast in their particular faiths/beliefs/denominations. I don’t know about the other faiths, but I do know that we Pentecostals, especially, think we are superior because of our belief especially in FAITH- miracles, casting out demons, healing, etc. – and in the infilling of the Holy Spirit. You will hear a Pentecostal proudly proclaiming, “I am saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost”; and a host of other pillars of his faith. They believe that that is what makes them spiritual.

I believe the non-Pentecostals, too, have their pillars of faith upon which they lean and believe they are the best. You don’t want, for example, to meet a Roman Catholic who has had a vision of one of their many saints!

Well, with the Jews in Jesus’s day, it was not salvation or being filled with the Holy Ghost; nor a vision of anyone. The Jews in Jesus’s day prided themselves in having Abraham as their father. There were many reasons to boast in Abraham, chief of which was his faith in God.

Now, all these things, whether good or bad, will get us nowhere with God. Winning favour with, or pleasing God, has nothing to do with what denomination you come from, whose lineage you come from. (I can hear the sons of Ham cheering!) Scripture here, in the words of John the Baptist, destroys any such notions. If God cannot favour a Jew for being a son/daughter of Abraham in the natural, then the rest of us must quickly perish the thought that God is going to consider us on any external merit.

What counts with God is how you have taken up your cross and followed Christ. Jesus Christ Himself said,

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mat. 16:24)

Getting to heaven is all about the life we live here on earth. It is all about how willing we are to deny the flesh in order to walk in true holiness and the fear of God. This is the singular aspect of our lives that God is ultimately interested in. And this is embodied in the seemingly mundane day to day things that we do. It is embodied in our everydday LIFE. Notice how Jesus tells the masses, the publicans and the soldiers to live.

Need we wonder any more why the Apostle Paul would say,

“We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23)?

He also wrote them:

“I determined to know nothing among you other than Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

The cross is the answer to living a holy and righteous life that pleases God.