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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A Fool For God

19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

What incredible words! God has declared that He will not reveal His secret to the wise of this world. I know this will not go down well with the educated people of this world; but much learning actually puts one at risk of missing out on the things of God. The sharper the human mind, the more of an enemy it becomes with God. The smarter we get in this world, the further we move away from understanding the things of the Spirit.

We could say that the human mind is the earthly engine; while the heart is the spiritual engine. When we give too much power to the human mind, we give that much more room for worldly things and wisdom to come into our lives. On the other hand, when we crucify that mind and give more place to the heart, we grasp more of the things of the Spirit.

So what is the conclusion?

Become a fool in this world. Strive to become nothing. Unfortunately (for the flesh), that is the singular solution to arriving at the things of the Spirit. You cannot grasp the things of the Spirit with your mind; and the smarter you become, the further you go away from them. That’s a fact.

The Bible says,

“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God…” (v.21)

Actually, God had no option. The world by its wisdom would not acknowledge God. So God chose a different path to get to man…

“… it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

Yap. God chose the foolish way of believing, not of wisdom. When the spirit of man hears the gospel, and a man makes the decision to believe in Jesus, all the while the human mind is fruitless! If it were up to the mind to help you believe, only those with Ph.Ds would get saved!

God nails this down even further. He says in 1 Cor. 1:26-31:

“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 this world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And the base things of the world, and the 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.”

I recall an interesting story my fellow pastor told me. Probably most people who read this blog think I am the sharpest tool in the barn. Well, you would be shocked…

This pastor told me what occurred at his church when I first preached there. It was the first church that I preached in when I came to Singida. Immediately after the service ended, the assistant pastor pulled his senior pastor aside, an elderly man, and trying unsuccessfully to control himself, he told the pastor, “Of all the people you have brought here to preach, this is the dumbest of them all. Where did you pick him up from? No one here understood a word he said; certainly not I.”

Later that night at home, when the pastor was in bed with his wife, she said sarcastically, “At least bring to church someone who can speak!

Luckily for me, I was not made aware of all this hullabaloo until much, much later, after God had put all my enemies in that church under my footstool. Today, all three are my most trusted right-hand men (and woman) here in Singida.

That is how the gospel works. That is how God’s power moves. It moves in weakness, and in foolishness.

[A fool. Perfect.]

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The Church’s One Foundation

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation… 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 3:10-11

Let me begin by trying to get your attention. Let me begin by stating that the foundation of the church is weakness and foolishness.

I am so glad I was able to state that.

Every structure has to have a foundation. Actually, every thing has a foundation. But it cannot just be any foundation. The firmer the foundation, the easier and more securely the structure which is built on that foundation will rest. The structures or things that we see in the natural that have been built by God are unspeakably secure. We see them: the planets and galaxies in the cosmos; the sun and the stars. They are immovable. Even the mighty ocean cannot overcome the boundaries that God has set for it, even though all the world’s rivers, both mighty and small, have been flowing into it for thousands of years.

One can add so many things to this list. All these things have a foundation, and it is this foundation that makes them secure and immovable.

This is incomparably more so in the Spirit. If God can secure His creation in the natural to the extent that we see with our natural eyes, how much more would He do for the things of the Spirit, which are of far much more value to Him? You can therefore imagine just how strong the foundations of the things of the Spirit are. Chief amongst these things – the thing He values above all – is the gospel. This is the singular thing which God was willing to give His Son to die for.

(Don’t you think that for this reason we ought to take a moment to reflect and thank God that it was for us that He did this incredible act of selflessness.)

The gospel  of Jesus Christ has a foundation, thank God!! And what, pray, is this foundation?

It is Jesus Christ Himself, Christ crucified. The minute you remove the word “crucified” you have removed the foundation from under the gospel, and that gospel will crumble like a card of sticks.

Thankfully, “Christ crucified” was the foundation that the Apostle Paul lay in the Corinthian church when he first preached the Good News to them. When Paul uses the words “wise masterbuilder” to describe himself, he is not seeking after our accolades. Rather, he is stating a spiritual fact which is so important for the church. He is stating the wisdom of God.

Paul directed the Corinthians to the cross. He told them to accept sufferings for the gospel’s sake, and to crucify self, to the end that the life of Christ might be found in them.

“1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2)

“… we preach Christ crucified”. (1 Cor. 1:23)

Paul told the Corinthians to accept to become weak, and foolish. What a challenge! But the Corinthians rose up to it, and Paul left behind a strong, holy and united church in Corinth. Everyone had surrendered their lives to Christ.

What a strong foundation the Apostle Paul had laid! For as long as the Corinthians stood on this foundation, they were safe and secure. Since they had denied themselves and taken up their cross, it was the easiest thing for them, in everything, to find themselves standing together “in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).

Wow! What a testimony!

It is not easy for any number of people to stand together “in the same mind and in the same judgment”. Human nature simply cannot allow that. But with God all things are possible. With “Christ crucified” firmly enthroned in our hearts, it is so much possible!

But not long after Paul left them, the Corinthians began listening to other doctrines and teachings. Probably they heard the gospel of prosperity, who knows? Or a gospel of law and prescriptions. They could have heard any number of strange gospels. But it is clear they were no longer adhering to the gospel that Paul left them with, “Christ crucified”. For this reason, they came off the foundation of the cross.

And now they were no longer secure! Now there was war, fraction, and every kind of evil work amongst them.  They had come off the only secure place God had given them; the revelation of the cross in their hearts had been darkened. And now they were on another, different foundation, which was fast crumbling.

The church today cannot expect to become spiritual without this revelation in our hearts. There is no other way, and there is no shortcut. The words of the Apostle Paul, backed by the authority of God:

“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

It is a foundation of weakness and foolishness… weakness and foolishness with Christ.

[True unity in church can only come about through a revelation of the cross in our hearts]

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Much Ado… Or The Heart?

6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him. 7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. 1 Sam. 16:6-7

One time, our church’s overseer, the very top man in our denomination, was invited by the leader of a big denomination to go and minister in his church. This pastor decided to take along with him one of his fellow elders. Now, our overseer is a man of slight build, while the man he took with him is big and tough looking. Moreover, our overseer dresses in the simplest way possible; but the elder prefers a more flamboyant look. On this particular day, the elder had chosen to wear a sharp-looking suit with a tie to match. The overseer wore only a shirt and coat. No tie.

When they arrived at the church where they had been invited, they found a big welcome team of pastors and elders awaiting them. With the exception of the host pastor, none of the others were acquianted with the visitors. Upon arriving, it was clear to the welcome team who the “bishop” was: it was the man in the suit and tie! Everyone hastily congregated around our church elder, pumping his hand and telling him, “Welcome, bishop!” After which they walked over to the overseer to give him a far less enthusiastic welcome.

Our elder, noticing what was happening, coughed and offered to speak up. When he had gained their attention, he said, pointing at our overseer, “Guys, he is the bishop!”

Much as we would like it to appear otherwise, we are all victims of the above scripture. The first reason for this, of course, is because God has said it; and if God says something, it is exactly as He has stated it to be. Therefore, here, as stated by God Himself, we are all victims of looking at men “on the outward appearance”. There is no exception. Whoever you are, reading this post right now (with all due respect), better own up. Don’t think for one moment that you are free from this one.

There is a way, of course, under the New Covenant, by which we can be free of this impairment in our spiritual lives; a freedom that God desires so much for us. And what, pray, is this way?

It is to have the Lord Jesus Christ firmly enthroned in our hearts. In other words, it is to identify our lives fully with the sufferings, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Apostle Paul says of himself in Galatians 2:20:

I am crucified with Christ…”

This is what we have been called to: to crucify our lives with Jesus. That is why the Apostle Paul talked of

“the preaching of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18)

Without crucifying our lives with Jesus, we are very much prone to being influenced by men on the outside, i.e. their outward appearance. We will be easily swayed by power, wealth, culture, and color. There are just too many Christians today who are enslaved by these things!

When Samuel therefore looked at this man, Eliab, he was easily swayed by just two things: the man’s countenance and stature. Eliab must have looked like an MMA fighter, but a handsome face. But God would have none of that nonsense. Notice His short reply to Samuel:

“I have refused him”.

Samuel was taking God into territory He does not play in. God does not look at a man’s face or stature. Nor in anything that is natural. God told Samuel,

“for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

God looks on the heart, not on any natural qualities or accomplishments we might have.

What am I leading up to in saying all these things?

Believers today think they may persuade God with things like much prayer, song, and hard work in ministry. But that’s just not right and it is unacceptable with God. Prayer, worship and ministry are all good, but the only thing with which we can persuade God are our hearts. A good heart is the first pre-requisite to any attempt at persuading God to be on one’s side.

A good heart goes a long way towards accomplishing the will of God than all the prayers in the world. God knew that, in the long term, David’s heart would work out His will more than his brothers’ seemingly outstanding worldly attributes.

You can always tell the man who is after God’s heart. It is not the man who is perfect (no one is). Rather, it is the man who trembles and who can humble himself. Humility is key to doing God’s will. A humble man will go far with God in the long term. If he sins, he can ask God for forgiveness. And God can continue using his humble heart, for in a humble heart God is free to move about and do what whatever He wants to, whenever He wants.

[Our overseer (seated to the left) is a simple man of God]

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The Holy Spirit And Prayer

The Holy Spirit And Prayer

26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. Rom. 8:26-27

This is just a brief take on this grand subject; but I will present it all the same.

It is incredible what we don’t know about God. Actually, we know nothing about God. The Bible says so right there. That means, basically, that we do not know what His will is. But the Holy Spirit who lives in us knows exactly what God’s will is. And therefore He prays for us according to God’s will.

God is a mystery. Even the need to pray talks to us about the mystery of God. Prayer acknowledges that God’s ways are far higher than our ways. So much so that we actually do not just pray to God; but we need the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, so lofty and high is our God. What an unfathomable mystery all these things are!

There are people who deride the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. But it is foolish to do such a thing. Actually, speaking in tongues is a singularly incredible gift from God. It is one of the most direct ways that mortal man can connect with God, for the Bible says,

“For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” (1 Cor. 14:2)

Notice the Bible acknowledges – states, rather – that there are unknown tongues. So next time you hear a brother or sister speaking in an unknown tongue, just realize you are observing the most wonderful conversation that any mortal man could ever bear witness to.

Moreover, it says that the man or woman who speaks in an unknown tongues speaks mysteries; that he or she speaks mysteries to God. Speaking in an unknown tongue is therefore a direct conversation between man and God deep in the Spirit zone.

But let’s go back to Romans 8:26

“26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

The Bible says that “we know not what we should pray for as we ought”. That is because, as mortals, we are weak. Actually, without the Holy Spirit, we are as weak as Samson was after his hair was shorn off his head. Let me try and explain this in practical terms.

I could be praying; and at the same time the Holy Spirit is praying in me. The Holy Spirit in me might be aware of a need or situation that I am not aware of. The need could be personal, or it could be about another person(s). The Holy Spirit will therefore lead me to pray in the direction of that need, even though I am not intelligibly aware of such a need. The Holy Spirit, by utilizing just my surrendered spirit, will pray in me in tongues, and He will pray over that situation; He will pray over something that in the natural I have not the vaguest idea about. In that way, the Holy Spirit in me will accomplish the will of God!

Moreover, the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

No earthly or human medium can communicate the depth of our needs to God. Only the Holy Spirit can. Can a man groan like the Holy Spirit does? The answer is no. We are too weak for that. But the Holy Spirit utters the deep need we have of God.

God is a mystery; but even the word “mystery” is insufficient to the extent that we want to understand that word with our minds. We want to interpret it according to our intellect. But God is unspeakably far above our intellect. Comparing our intellect with God is the equivalent of trying to launch a spacecraft with a firecracker.

We therefore need to humble ourselves and desire to have all that God has for us, and not to think too highly of our intelligence. It says in 1 Cor. 14:1:

“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts…”

We are told to desire after spiritual gifts, not deride or make light of them. Spiritual gifts reveal to us the infinite awesomeness of God; and God uses these gifts to work exceedingly great things in our lives.

[We should never make light of the ministry of the Holy Spirit]

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The Attributes Of God

23 Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: 24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. Jer. 9:23-24

This is a big one…

But, before we start… We have to realize that every word written in the Bible is written to believers, not to unbelievers. The Bible is the believer’s handbook. The words above, therefore, written by the Prophet Jeremiah, were written to the church, not to unbelievers. And the way these words are written suggest that here, right in the church, in the Body of Jesus Christ, there are believers who are boasting in all kinds of things which God never thought that a child of His would boast in.

There are believers boasting in their wisdom. Have you ever heard of people called motivational speakers? In church, I mean. They talk all kinds of lofty things and they have all these grand ideas of how you can achieve practically anything you want to achieve and how you can basically become anything and anyone you want to become. You would think they work for The American Dream, Inc. But motivational speakers are just a small part of this large group of wise men and women.

There are believers boasting in their might. I heard one owner of a Christian denomination in a neighboring country tell his bishops, “Any bishop who does not respect my wife I will throw out of my church. This time I will show you my power.” These are powerful men. They have lawyers and all kinds of musclemen who will do their bidding at any cost.

In my country, there are preachers who have all kinds of titles on them, ranging from “Transformer” to “Caterpillar” (equated to the famed heavy earth-moving machinery), to “Chief”. A little further down south we have the Major, of course.

All these self-given titles talk of earthly (not spiritual) might.

There are believers boasting in their riches. Have you ever heard the gospel called the gospel of prosperity? God’s Word hits the nail on the head with this one. The people who subscribe to this gospel are many and they flaunt their wealth about “in the Name of Jesus”.

There are a million and one ways that God’s people use to show off their “godliness”, or how much they “know” God. In addition to the few we have mentioned above, there are all kinds of circuses (real ones) going on in church today. People vibrate, pole vault, and do all kinds of gymnastics in church, all geared towards making a statement about their “knowledge” of God. Some preachers are capable of roaring like lions, with devastating effect upon their blind, terror-filled followers.

As I said, man is capable of doing a million and one things to try and convince people – and God, hopefully – that God is on his side.

But God is not in any of these groups. God does none of those things. In fact, notice how humble – and simple – God is. He states simply that He exercises

“lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth”.

Just in case you are tempted to think that those are lofty, unattainable ideals, the answer is no. They are simple, everyday principles which every believer in Jesus Christ can practicably attain to.

In the Swahili Bible, the word “lovingkindness” is translated “goodness”. How so clean and simple! Goodness is the opposite of evil, or maliciousness. It means not doing evil to your fellow man, only good.

God is simply good. His goodness has no strings attached to it.

“Judgment” speaks of a lack of favoritism.

“Righteousness” talks of not sinning against God.

All these are the simplest things that a child of God can do. And the Bible says that these are the things that please God. Not those other things which we saw so forcefully put forward in church.

But we must realize that we can attain to doing the things that please God only when our flesh is crucified; when we are crucified with Christ, as the Apostle Paul says of himself in Galatians 2:20:

“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.”

[Goodness is doing no ill to your fellow man, only good]

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Paying For Peace

21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. Mat. 5:21-26

Let us begin right away with verse 25.

Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge…”

The Bible is talking in the Spirit, not in the natural; therefore, it is not talking about an earthly judge, but a heavenly one. There is a heavenly court, and there is an earthly court. Jesus was not therefore lawyer-ing in the natural; on the contrary, He was talking about things in the Spirit.

Here on earth, there is no place you can put someone on trial for being angry. Not even in the most despotic countries. There is no judge in the world who can utter the words, “You are hereby accused of anger.” Or of hatred, or lust.

These are things of the heart. Their court is heavenly, not earthly. And God, and not men, is the judge of these ‘crimes’ of the heart. And the Bible says we are to be reconciled with whoever we have committed these things before we reach to the judge. The Bible says,

“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him”.

When exactly are you “in the way” with your adversary?

It is now. Now – right now – is the time to make our inner peace with every man. Who knows tommorrow? If we have anything – anything – in our hearts against a brother or sister, or, indeed, anyone, we need to make sure we clear that situation as quickly as possible with them. Then shall we be at peace with God, who is the true Judge of these things. As I said, no earthly judge is going to judge these things; but God will.

The Bible talks about issues of the heart. This is therefore a state of one’s heart. The heart that can do this is a repentant heart, a heart that pleases God (Is. 57:15; 66:2). This is the essence of the cross: to crucify our pride, and whoever and whatever we are, that Christ might live in us.

Recently, our church decided to hold an outdoor meeting in a certain village, and we were directed to the only person who could rent us sound equipment in that region. The minute we made contact with the man, that same evening he began sending us threatening messages, telling us that he would rent the equipment to other people if we did not pay immediately. We hurriedly came up with the money and paid him.

Unbeknownst to us, much of the equipment was unserviceable, and it would not perform. The worst part was that we realized this too late, just when the meeting had started. We went through a lot of trouble trying to get other equipment, and at more cost.

When I called him to explain the situation, the man again became hostile.

It was the perfect setting for hearts, especially mine, to be tested. The meeting was succesful, and a number of souls came to Christ. But, unknown to me, something was not right in my heart. But I only realized this after the meeting ended. After the meeting ended, something in me kept saying, “Call the man, and thank him.”

But I would push the thought away with the logic, “Why thank him? For failing us?”

I realized the problem was the pride in me. I feared that if I called, the man would not respond the way I wanted him to respond. I had discovered he was not a peaceful man. Probably he might insult me? Probably he would chastise me? So many scenarios came to my mind.

But, during one of those days, I locked horns with my heart. I said, “What if he were to kill me? Would I still stand up for the gospel?”

With that bold thought, I dialled the man’s number. I was determined to make peace with him at whatever cost.

When the man picked up the phone, and after the initial greetings, I told him that I wanted to thank him for the help that he had given us, and that I was sorry for whatever shortcomings might have arisen in our dealings with him.

I waited for his response. But it was not forthcoming. The man kept quiet for a while, and I thought he had gone away, but he had not. Finally, he spoke. He said, “Forgive me also for all that happened.” He spoke a few more words; but for me, that was enough.

I told him, “Forgive me also.” I loved the man.

Our peace was restored. But, at what a price! But it was a small price to pay compared to what I would have had to pay if I had allowed that situation to fester in my heart.