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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His Grace In Us!

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. 2 Pet. 3:18

If what we read about Jesus in the Bible is true, then Jesus had immeasurable grace. Yes, Jesus had grace. In fact, the Bible says, God the Father gave Jesus grace without measure (John 3:34).

Had Jesus been anywhere near as graceless as we are, He would of necessity have been holding disciplinary meetings every now and then with his disciples. Apart from the troublesome twelve apostles He had, there were others, 72 of them, who stuck ‘close’ to Him. Now, you would think they were close… until you look again. As long as there was bread, healing and all sorts of miracles about, these guys stayed close to Jesus. But such are a very dangerous bunch to have about. They had not understood what Jesus came to do because He had not made it clear enough to them. On the day that He did, they abandoned ship so fast Jesus did not even have the chance to say goodbye to them (John 6:66).

Apparently, the twelve apostles stayed. But it was these who would give Jesus the hardest time. For starters, there were the “Brothers Karamazov”, James and John, whom Jesus surnamed, “The sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17). Which goes to show that Jesus had a sense of humor, for all those who think He was a piece of dry hardwood.

If Jesus called these guys “the sons of thunder”, they must have been my tribesmen. During the 1990s when I was working, someone in my office nicknamed me “The bomb”. Although saved, I was volatile and unpredictable. I simply could not get a handle on myself. I was so unpredictable I could not even predict myself. One time during a company meeting I stood up and called everyone “Philistines”. They never forgot that one.

Jesus had no shortage of incidents with these two hot-headed brothers. One time, as Jesus was walking towards Jerusalem (to be crucified), He passed through a village which did not give Him “respect”. Then, just like now, respect was a commodity that was sought after at all costs (especially by preachers). Apparently, in all the other villages that Jesus and his entourage had passed through, He had been received with pomp and ceremony and crowned with many crowns. The apostles James and John and all the other apostles were in high spirits and they were high-fiving each other as they watched all that glory unfolding around them.

Having fed on this feast of praise and worship, the two erstwhile right- (and left-) hand men of Jesus, James and John (and all the rest of them as well, of course) were ill-prepared to face the ignominy of being given the cold shoulder. When they therefore entered this little village and it became clear that the locals not only did not think much about Jesus respect-wise, but that they also did not want Him about their town, it was too much for them to handle. It was particularly so for the brothers who always had a keen eye for “respect”, glory and honor. They simply could not take the humiliation; they went ballistic. Off they went to Jesus and demanded that He allow them to call down fire from heaven to consume that little village as Elijah had done to some people under the old covenant.

But Jesus turned and rebuked them by telling them,

“55 …Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. 56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Lk. 9:55-56)

After which He turned and went to another village. Here Jesus taught them the cardinal law of grace that, if you have grace, you do not fight people. You forgive and move on with life.

It is laughable that, not too long a while ago, these same men, James and John, had gone incognito to see Jesus accompanied by their mother. This lovely family wanted Jesus to set the brothers on each side of the Lord in His glory. In His glory! Ha!

Even Jesus could not guarantee that. For any man to sit next to Him in His heavenly glory was too lofty a thought even for our Lord. But to get anywhere near there, He told them, they first would need to suffer in the flesh. They first had to shed all those pounds of flesh in order that they might carry the grace of God in them.

We all, just like James and John, want to sit with Jesus in His glory, don’t we? Well, we better check our grace levels first. And as for sitting next to Jesus in heaven, forget it. You can begin to think about it after you are dead and buried. Fact.

The gospel of Jesus is all about the grace of God in our lives. The Bible says that God is love. It does not say that He is a mega-church preacher or that He has any of the things that we love boasting in. But all that God is above everything else is that He is rich in grace. That is what the Bible means when it says God is love.

We are to be rich in grace. What is lacking with the church is not money, it is the grace of God.

God’s Word challenges you today to stop everything you are doing and get out there and begin crucifying your flesh. Don’t waste time looking at all the other things that God has apparently “blessed” you; watch out for His grace in your life.

[Grace is to carry other people’s burdens]

How Many Cups Of Water?

[The original title to this post was: “A Heavenly Reward”]

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Mat. 10:42

Today I have four stories to narrate and they are all related. They all point to the same moral.

The first story involves the biggest mansion (actually, the only one-storied mansion) in my town.

It belongs to the bishop of the lagest Pentecostal denomination in our region.

End of story.

The second story is about another bishop of that same denomination who resides in a neighboring district. His mansion, which happens to be the biggest personally-owned building in his town, is currently under construction. But this story stretches out a bit. The bishop also has two vehicles, both 6-cylinder SUVs. Actually, one is a Range Rover.

This minister’s church, however, is heavily tasked to contribute to the construction of his big mansion. The church also takes care of the running of the bishop’s two cars. Every parishioner has been allocated a large portion of money to contribute, and the deacons have been instructed to enforce it.

A friend of mine who used to worship in this minister’s church once asked him why he needed to build such a big house. The man replied, “Our God is a big God. We should be able to enjoy the big life because all things belong to God.”

When he asked him why he had to task God’s people to pay for his house instead of receiving directly from God, the minister replied, “God has put them there to serve me. That is how they will receive their reward, while I receive mine by preaching to them.”

At about the same time, a friend of mine from the U.S. sent me a video clip of a church that had rioted against the pastor during a church service because they were asked to tithe 1,000 U.S. dollars each. (The tithe goes directly to the pastor.)

Those who could not afford the 1,000 dollars were coolly asked to give not less than 300 dollars.

And yet this pastor drives a Rolls Royce, he owns a number of mansions, and he has satellite churches from which he “reaps” tons of cash every Sunday. But the community that he “serves” is dirt poor and there are families who cannot afford a decent meal.

Finally, the “sheep” had woken up to the fact that they were being pimped and they decided to do something about it.

The Bible does not say we pay back evil for evil, nor that we should riot in church. But these people did not know any better, so they rioted.

The last story is about our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus talked about a reward. He did not say that we would receive a reward by building a mansion for ourselves or by driving the most expensive cars in His name. Jesus, however, said that we would be rewarded by giving a cup of cold water to one of God’s servants (children).

Imagine that. Not even warmed water, but cold. A cup of cold water is worth nothing. And yet, the littlest thing we could do for God’s Kingdom and for His children will get us an eternal reward in heaven.

“And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”

We can serve God’s people with the littlest thing we have and expect a reward; or we can serve ourselves by pampering our flesh, for which the Lord made no promise.

I am trying to calculate how many cups of water this American preacher could get from selling his Rolls Royce. According to our Lord Jesus Christ, each cup of water that this man would give to a saint has a reward in heaven. Now do your maths and tell me what kind of reward this preacher would have in heaven. But he is wasting it away on self.

Jesus said,

“19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Mat. 6:19-20)

Self (the love for this world) is the saint’s biggest enemy. That is why God gives us the revelation of the cross, to the end that we might crucify the flesh and move on and serve God in the Spirit, where there is a reward. The revelation of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” gives us a spiritual vision and we lose sight of the pleasures and glories of this world.

[“But we preach Christ crucified… Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” 1 Cor. 1:23-24]

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No Longer After The Flesh – Part 2

“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh…”

When it comes to boasting in the things of the flesh, we are pros. That is where the flesh is at. But God is so far removed from such things. In fact, the Bible says that God resides in the third heaven. Not the first, or second, but in the third heaven. So when the Apostle Paul came from visiting God in the third heaven, he had enough spiritual sense not to boast in the things of the flesh (as he thought he knew the flesh). He had enough sense not to say, “Oh, you know, I am so educated.” Or, “I was once a Pharisee!” Or, “I am a Roman citizen” (which was a tough spot for a Jew to gain in those days).

And yet, these are the things we boast of when we do not have the revelation of Christ in us. We hear preachers introducing themselves with the theological degrees they have attained in this world. But all such people are looking for there is worldly acclaim, nothing else. And it is so pitiful.

But, still, about Paul. Although he had the sense not to boast in his natural attainments, still he wanted to boast! He was looking for any way to boast. (The flesh is not an ordinary enemy!}

So now he looked for another way to boast. He decided it was okay to boast in the things he had seen in heaven. There appeared no harm there.

The long and short of it was Paul was tempted to boast. He says in 2 Cor. 12:7:

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations…”

He wanted to boast, although whatever he would have said was true and of God. He had gone to heaven and seen things which it is lawful for man to utter.

But God would not allow it. So He put a thorn in Paul’s flesh. God put that thorn there to the end that Paul might not boast in anything else other than that thorn. He told Paul, “You want to boast? Boast in that.”

When God truly loves someone, He will not allow him to boast in the things of the flesh. Instead, God will lead that man or woman to boast in the things of his or her weakness.

That is the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is

“Jesus Christ, and him crcufied” (1 Cor. 2:2)

I love that. I love that with all my heart. I want to be weak, that He may be strong in me.

No Longer After The Flesh – Part 1

“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh…” (2 Cor. 5:16)

I do not know of many rich people who have any spiritual depth, and that’s a fact. The reason for this is because money has a way of blinding people to spiritual things. So does fame, worldly status, etc. That is why many of today’s Christian leaders are as blind as a bat. They allow themselves to become attached to their titles, soaking in the power and worldly esteem that comes with these things – and they go blind.

God has arranged it so that there is no man or woman who considers the things of this world who will see into His spiritual Kingdom. In fact, the Bible commands in 2 Corinthians 6:17:

“touch not the unclean thing”.

What do you think the unclean thing is?

We do not know sin as God knows it. With God, anything that is not of the Spirit is sin.

In order to have the things of God’s Kingdom, you must surrender this world.

But I digress. I was talking about the rich man. Not many have spiritual depth.

Am I the only one saying this?

Hardly. The Bible in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 expressly says,

“26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

If you want to glory in any way in the Kingdom of God, you must glory in Jesus alone.

This is one of the most difficult things to penetrate our hard hearts. We are so twisted we have no inkling of how God operates. That is why, however hard we try, we keep coming back to glorying in men in the natural.

But God has not ordained it to be so. In fact, God has ordained it to be the exact opposite. We are to glory in the Spirit. The Apostle Paul says,

“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh…” (2 Cor. 5:16)

How powerful could scripture get?

We know no man after the flesh. Who are we? What do we have? Do we have any knowledge?

We are nothing, we have nothing; and we know nothing. The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:11 states of himself,

“I be nothing.”

The only reason Paul wrote those words was because it was fact. He knew he had to empty himself of self in order for Christ to be in him.

If you, a man or woman of God, have anything, it can only be

“Christ in you” (Col. 1:27)

So how does the Apostle Paul present Christ?

He presents Him as

“Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23)

In the natural He was weak.

And what does Paul say of himself?

“… of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” (2 Cor. 12:5)

That is what it means to know God. That is why, as a rule, God denies the men and women who have something to hold onto in this world the heavenly things. It is too easy an opportunity for the flesh to exalt itself.

But God is merciful. He always has a remnant. Therefore there will always be men who are rich, educated or of high societal standing, who will be able to see into the things of the Spirit. As with everything to do with God, these are chosen as a matter of God’s mercy.

No man is ever allowed to say that they are where they are in their standing with God outside of God’s express mercy, choosing and grace.

This understanding brings God’s grace to a man’s life. It did with our Lord Jesus, and with the apostles.

[As unassuming as babes]

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Ministry Update

During the last week, Pastor Amas, myself and some of the elders from the church in Singida have been ministering to some of our churches in the villages. The grace that flowed from the servant of God and the hunger for righteousness that we witnessed from those we ministered to was overwhelming.

Below in pictures. (I now have a much better camera!)

1. Walking to  our destination
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2. An already-established church
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3. A brand new church. This one came about through much persecution.
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4. The elders in Singida work as a team
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5. Witnessing to a lady on her farm
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6. All the kids in the pic (minus one) belong to one family – and they have 4 older siblings!

The Cross For His Grace

In recent times I have been traveling a lot and, on one of these days, as I was waiting for the bus to fill up at the bus terminal, I found myself in a conversation with God that went as follows.

Me: “Oh, glory! Thank you, Lord, for all this travelling; as you know, I love the adventure of travel and you have been so gracious to me in this regard.”

God: “Oh yeah?”

Me: “Yes, Lord. I am truly grateful. Moreover, these travels keep me far from home where, as you rightly said, a prophet has no honor in his own country.”

God: “Oh! I said that, did I?”

Me: “Yes, Lord. Back at home, there are so many things that make me to stumble in my walk with You, but out here, there is so much peace!”

God: “Oh? Peace. Is that so?”

Me: “Of course, Lord.”

At this point, the Lord left off talking with me. The small bus had filled up and the driver got in behind the wheel.

As soon as the bus began moving, the driver turned on the radio. The volume was automatically set to the highest level possible, and the driver left it right there.

“Hey!” I shouted from the back seat where I was seated. “Please turn down the volume of your radio.”

The driver did not respond. He did not even look back to see who had called out to him. I could not believe it. Had he not heard me? Even above the din, I had shouted loud enough for anyone outside the bus to hear.

I took a closer look at the driver and for the first time I noticed the fellow had a nasty haircut which I took an instant dislike to. I looked at him again and I did not like anything about him.

I called out for the second time.

“Driver”, I shouted loudly again. “Please turn down your radio.”

No response.

I settled uncomfortably back into my seat feeling angry and unsettled both by the the loud music and the cold shoulder the driver had chosen to give me.

After half an hour of high- speed driving (which I also did not like and I was thinking I should warn him about that, too), the bus stopped to drop off some passengers. This being a small bus, the driver was also the conductor. As he came around to take his fare I spoke to him.

“I think you did not hear me”, I said stiffly. “I told you to turn down your radio.”

Without saying a word, the young man stopped taking the fare from the passengers, walked to the front of the bus and turned down the radio’s volume to an acceptable level (as per me).

He then came back and finished taking the fare. I couldn’t help noticing that he had a kind word for each one of the passengers. He even helped an old lady cross the road.

Soon he was done and we drove off. After an hour I arrived at my destination. The driver came round to take my fare. I gave him the money and, as he searched for some loose change in his pockets, I looked into his face. I was looking for an excuse to not like him even more.

But I found nothing there. Instead, I noticed how, despite his cocky haircut, he seemed to be a normal, likable young man.

Right there the Lord spoke to me. He said to me, “You are the problem, not him. If you are looking for something not to like, it is in you, not in him.”

I hadn’t planned on talking to the young man. By the time he gave me the change, though, I realized how much I already liked him. I told him, “Thank you.”

He looked up at me and said, “Thank you, too, sir.”

Then, instead of jumping back into his bus, he just stood there. Suddenly he put his hand back into his trouser pockets and showed me an old one shilling coin.

“You’ve got to be on the lookout for these”, he said, giving me one of the brightest grins I had ever seen. “It appears the same as the new 500 shilling coin. They are using these one-shilling coins to trick people nowadays. Someone tricked me with this one the other day. It is getting to be a common practice.”

“See you around”, he said.

“See you”, I answered absent-mindedly.

As I crossed the road, my eyes were burning with tears. I said to myself, “That boy ought to be preaching the gospel, not me.” He had so much peace. And I was still learning to have God’s peace in me.

The Lord uses any situation to show us how little of His Kingdom we have in us. When we have His Kingdom in short supply in us, that shortage will manifest in us, whether we are at home or far from home.

We cannot run away from the cross. The cross working in us ushers in the Kingdom of God into our hearts. In Colossians 1:24-29, the Apostle Paul writes,

“24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.”

Notice the word “sufferings” there. The more Paul denied himself and walked the narrow path of the cross, the more the incredible grace of God manifested in his life.

[The Lord will use any situation to humble us]

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The Antiochians – Again! (Part 2)

25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

They say, “You are what you eat”.

How so true. The church at Antioch was a product of the spiritual food that they fed on. They were fed

“Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23)

Who fed the church at Antioch?

It was Paul (then called Saul) and Barnabas.

Who were Paul and Barnabas?

They were apostles. They were true apostles of Jesus Christ.

The apostles and prophets are the spiritual fathers of the church. They birth the church. Without these two ministries there is no true church. In Ephesians 3:4-5, the Apostle Paul writes:

“4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit…”

And in 1 Corinthians 3:10 he states:

“According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation…”

Notice the word “foundation”. There is nothing that can exist without a foundation. And in the preceding chapters Paul clearly states the foundation that he laid: it was “Christ crucified”!

The ministries of the apostle and the prophet set the foundation for the church. The foundation that these ministries lay is “Christ crucified”. Any other foundation is just wrong. When this gospel is preached and understood as a revelation, it brings the desired fruit to God’s people’s lives. It brings a transformation in their lives.

When the right gospel is preached, people grow spiritually. Spiritual growth means they become Christ-like. Becoming Christ-like means there is a death to the flesh; and the spirit is made whole through the presence of Jesus Christ.

When Paul writes as he does in 1 Corinthians 3:10 above, he is not seeking after personal glory. He is not looking to be praised. On the contrary, he is glorifying the ministry that was in him, a ministry, not of himself, but of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever comes from the Lord Jesus Christ has power, and the power that was in Paul and Barnabas’s ministry changed the Antiochians.

Notice there is no epistle in the Bible addressed to the church at Antioch. What could you possibly write to people who were called “Christians”? Without a doubt, the Antiochians were as perfect as perfect could be under the circumstances.

The church today needs a return to the foundational ministries of the prophet and the apostle. Not the kind of apostles and prophets that we are seeing today; but true ones, who will preach nothing but “Christ crucified”. Then the church will show forth the true splendor that is the Godly life.

The storms of life bring maturity to the believer. Unfortunately, today, we are treated to the ‘soft’ gospel: prosperity, health; the no-challenges life. But we need to be in the place where we can allow the flesh to be buffeted.