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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Sarah’s Daughters – Part 2

“3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;3:2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.3:3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;3:4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.3:5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:3:6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” (1 Peter 3:6)

What sets Sarah apart is not the fact that she called Abraham “Lord”, but that she did it from the heart. I am sure you could have all the women in the world calling their husbands “Lord” if you put a gun to their heads.

I have lived long enough to know that most women, especially those in church, appear humble on the outside, but in their hearts it is a different story. There are many even who, deep down, despise their husbands. After all, nobody knows a man better than his wife does, and a woman knows all her husband’s weaknesses. If a woman’s life is not grounded on the cross, she may go through all the right “wife” motions; but in her heart she will not submit to her husband.

But Sarah did not do that. Sarah was a truly spiritual woman. She showed this, not by joining her church’s worship team but, on the contrary, she did it by the way she obeyed her husband. She feared her husband! By fear I mean respect, the same way we respect God. What a price Sarah paid!

Most women wouldn’t even call their husbands “Lord”. For a wife to call her husband “Lord” it requires true humility; it means someone who has rejected their own selves, and who can truly give honor to whom honor is due.

Here in Africa, most women call their husbands “Father”. They think that sounds very respectful. But, of course, he is the father to their children, so there is nothing really special in calling their husbands “Father”.

I believe all saved women should try calling their husbands “Lord”. And they should do it from the heart! Then it will be clear who is spiritual and who is not.

The Bible says that if we do the things that Sarah did, then we will be her daughters. Now, I know you could tell me, “Who is Sarah? I will walk right by her and go greet my Lord (Jesus).”

No, you won’t. The Bible tells us that we are to strive to become Sarah’s daughters. That means that God has magnified Sarah beyond any woman living or dead. And the Bible gives us the reason that Sarah is so magnified in heaven: it was because she humbled herself before Abraham to the extent of calling him Lord.

Actually, the issue of humility does not concern women alone. In 1 Pet. 5:5 it says:

“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”

I don’t know how the apostles learned all these things, about how Sarah called Abraham “Lord”. But know them they did, and they made them known to us.

Sarah’s Daughters – Part 1

3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;3:3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;3:2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.3:4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.3:5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:3:6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. 1 Peter 3:1-6

Hmmm. This is a tough one. Not on account of the fact that this scripture appears to forbid women from plaiting hair and wearing diamonds.

Actually – and this is the first thing we should point out – this scripture does not forbid women from treating their bodies any way they like. That is not what the Apostle Peter was trying to do here. On the contrary, his emphasis was on the INNER LIFE that ought to flow outwards from the wife towards her husband.

If I tell you that eating hamburgers will not take you to heaven that is not the same as telling you to desist from eating hamburgers.

On the contrary, the lesson we learn from this scripture is that the attitude of your heart is far more important than what you wear – or don’t wear.

There are pastors all over the world who forbid women in church from putting on this and that ornament, or wearing this or that dress. Here in Africa wigs, trousers and lipstick are on top on this list.

All this is on account of law in the church. Well, with law comes every kind of sin. A pastor who is into law can’t take the heat. They see a part of a woman’s anatomy and it is all trouble in the pulpit!

I recall a woman coming in to wipe Jesus’s feet with her hair. With her hair! If it were up to some pastors this woman would have been wearing a headscarf. She would therefore have never been able to do what she did, and we would never have heard the beautiful story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene!

Some pastors, pastors who are into law, are envious, and others lust after the women, so they put law on them.

But it ought not to be so. Women in church should be free to dress any way they like and to put on any ornaments they wish to put on. Freedom is a right that every believer has, and they have it from Christ Himself (Gal. 5:13). Women are therefore free to dress as they want in church. There is only one law that governs the saintly woman of God and that is the law of self-control (Gal. 5:23). But bless the Lord, this is a law of the Spirit! In other words, it is a new covenant law, and it is acceptable both to God and to men.

The lesson of self-control is a lesson that only the Holy Spirit can teach us. Actually, you hardly need to arrive anywhere near the “excess” area. The Holy Spirit will warn you long before you even turn the corner.

But when a saintly woman bulldozes her way and crosses a certain boundary in her adornment and/or dressing (through a hardening of her heart, because the Holy Spirit will have warned her over and over), she is no longer exercising her freedom in the Lord but she has unwittingly gone back to indulging the flesh (Gal. 5:13).

The flesh is the most cunning creature on the earth (Gen. 3:1). It can lead you to a 180-degree turn and leave you wondering, How did I arrive here?

That is why we need to stay vigilant and to walk in the Spirit at all times so we don’t get ensnared by the cunningness of the flesh which, incidentally, works in tandem with the devil.

 

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To Work! – Part 2

“5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:5:15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.5:17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.5:18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.5:19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;5:20 Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” James 5:13-20

It is incredible that God would use the example of Elijah, one of the greatest figures in the Bible, to exhort us to pray. But that is what doctors do when they want to bring back to life someone who is on the verge of dying: they blast a powerful jolt of electricity into his body and the person shakes back out from the grip of death!

Why would God use the example of Elijah?

He wants to show us not just the incredible work that we are called to do in His Kingdom, but the unspeakable power that is available to us.

The Apostle James tells us that Elijah was a man of like passions as us. That means he was a man who had the same struggles that we have with the flesh, and who made the same mistakes that we make.

But Elijah did not look at his own weaknesses; on the contrary, he was filled with faith and through this faith he went to WORK for the Lord.

Now notice the monumental task that Elijah put his shoulder to. The Bible says he prayed for it not to rain for three and a half years. And that God heard and answered his prayer. After the three and a half years were over, Elijah prayed again, and the rain came, and the earth gave up its fruit.

What an incredible man! What a patient man! What a serious man! And what a man of faith Elijah was!

I am sure that when the Bible says that Elijah prayed, I am sure it meana he did not just mumble a prayer and hope for the best. Nor did he attend a one night prayer meeting.

Elijah prayed for many days, probably months. And he did not pray just because God had probably told him to. The “Oh, ok Lord” prayer. On the contrary, Elijah had a ZEAL for the Kingdom of God, the same zeal that Jesus had when he drove out the temple merchants from the temple in Jerusalem with a scourge. Elijah had the same burden on his heart that God had. He wanted to see the righteousness of God restored back to the nation of Israel.

And so Elijah went to work in the only way he knew how… through prayer. And guess what… Mountains were moved! According to the word that he had spoken, it did not rain in the land for three and a half years. He prayed again, and it rained.

Elijah was a man who was serious about God.

Likewise, the early church was a church of a holy life and much prayer. One time they prayed and the place where they were gathered was shaken (Acts 4:31). Shaken! Throughout the book of Acts, we see the Early Church praying and great things happening (Acts chapters 9, 10 etc.)

The Apostle Paul was a man of much prayer. Probably the scripture that underlines this more than any other is 1 Cor. 14:18.

“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all.”

For Paul to state such a fact so boldly, it underlines the fact that he prayed, prayed exceedingly.

There are people, believers, who do not believe in speaking in tongues. There are others who even scoff at it.

We are called not to judge anyone. But it is like people would like to argue with God. But I would rather believe a true servant of God like Paul than anyone who holds a contrary view.

But even more closer to home… When I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart and joined the church, I heard through the teachings that there was something called the Holy Spirit. I had a deep hunger for the things of God, and I wanted the infilling of the Holy Spirit above anything else. I therefore went into “search” mode. I would spend nights upon nights in our school’s prayer room praying for the Holy Spirit. And one day, I was filled right there in that room and I spoke in tongues.

So what difference did that make, you might ask.

The only answer I can provide is what Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:2:

“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.”

Try that.

Actually, what a waste! What a waste of divine power and opportunity, denying the infilling of the Spirit with tongues, just to pander to one’s ineffectual wisdom and intelligence.

The Early Church… These were great and unique men and women who had a clear revelation of God and His Kingdom, and of the nature and scope of the work He had called them to do in this world. And they laid into it with all their heart, mind and strength.

We too are to follow suit. We are a part of that Early Church. We are to pray for the sick, to cast out demons, to provide for the needs of others. We are to minister LIFE to a dying world, and we are to minister it through the power that the Holy Spirit gives us.

 

To Work! – Part 1

“12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;12:7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;12:8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.12:9 Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.12:10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;12:12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;12:11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;12:13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.12:14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.12:15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.12:16 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.12:17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.12:18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.12:20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:1-21

Notice the progression of events here. First we crucify the flesh. Verse 1 calls crucifying our flesh our “reasonable service”. The Swahili Bible calls this “your meaningful service”.

Meaningful service. What a potent statement. We could stretch that further and say that any service that is not founded on the crucifixion of the flesh is meaningless. Tough but true.

The crucifixion of the flesh, and not our works, is what will count on that great and awful Day.

“When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye shall begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us… We have eaten and drunk in your presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” (Lk. 13:25-27)

This is something we cannot repeat often enough, nor underestimate. For the sake of not meeting with such a reply from the Lord, we need to make sure that we are daily denying our own lives, taking up our cross and following Christ.

Notice, now, how, in Romans chapter 12 above, the Apostle Paul ties up the crucifixion of our flesh to the work that we need to do for the Lord. Paul reminds us that we have a work to do in this life. After we have laid our lives on the altar, we can now go on and effectively work for the Kingdom of God. We are not to be idle and fruitless; Paul shows us that there is much to be done! Moreover, there is room for everyone of us to do whatever God has placed on our hearts to do.

This is something that is extremely important for the church. It is a part and parcel of the sacrificial lifestyle that we have been called to. We cannot just stand by and uselessly wring our hands while we have been called to be both the SALT and the LIGHT of the world.

Actually, the cross compels us to give our lives for others through… MINISTRY.

The Cross: God’s Singular Calling

I am not saying there is no genuine church today, don’t get me wrong. But I often wonder how it would have been for the modern believer to have lived and walked and worked with the Apostle Paul, a man who said of himself,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Gal.  2:20)

The comparison most likely would have been equivalent to one living with an alien – we being the alien, of course.

As I said, I am not insinuating that there is no true church today. But I am also of the firm belief that there has never been a church that is as worldly minded as the modern church. All you need to hear are the sermons of how we are the head and not the tail; how we are blessed all the way from the field to the city, etc, etc.

But the true gospel of Jesus Christ is something different all together. The pinnacle of living the Christian life is crucifying self. Yes, the same self that we love so much. This crucifixion is the end result of our faith. It is the great “mystery” that the Bible talks of. The Apostle Paul alludes to this severally in his writings. And it was to this very end that he worked with all his strength, not just for others, but for himself also, as he says in Col. 1:27-29:

“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 workers in me mightily.” (emphasis mine.)

Notice the words “mystery”, and “Christ in you”. These words talk of the work of the cross of Jesus in a believer’s life.

And the words of God here are not calling us to “the good life” as we know it. On the contrary, notice the Bible’s use of the words “warning” and “teaching”.

This goes to show that the real gospel is meat, not mere milk. The gospel is tough food for thought.

And so, in Galatians 2:20, we see that Paul finally arrived at the destination that we are all racing towards: maturity in Christ; and readiness to meet Jesus in heaven. But the Bible warns us that it is not an easy destination to arrive at. Unfortunately, the Bible also makes it abundantly clear that not many (believers) will make it to the finish line.

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (Lk. 13:24)

It was our Lord Jesus Himself who said those words. That scripture alone should be enough to shake us awake. And Jesus gave the reason why many would not make it to heaven.

“25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us: and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: 26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drank in your presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. 27 But he shall say, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” (Lk. 25-27)

What will take us through the narrow gate is the holy life that we have lived here on earth, through denying self/crucifying the flesh. It is that simple.

The Bible says in Gal. 5:16:

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

What an incredible life we have been called to live in the Spirit!

Even though the Holy Spirit does so many wonderful things through us, yet it is what He accomplishes IN us that counts with regard to entering in through that narrow gate. We have been given the Spirit of God, above all, to enable us to crucify the works of the flesh (read self) in us.

Crucifying self is God’s singular calling to His children. It is only through entering in through this veil that we can touch the face of God.

What an incredible life this man Paul lived! But, again, at what a price.

 

Lest We Boast!

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7

Now, why would this altercation between God and Paul occur?

Actually, God had no alternative. It is like parking your car: the only way of making sure that it won’t slide down the sidewalk and run  away is to secure it with the hand brake. That was what God did with Paul. Had God any other option He would have used it. But God did not have any other option other than “securing” Paul by sending something that would buffet him.

That just goes to show the power of the flesh. Paul WANTED to boast in the flesh! But God would not allow that. He knew that if He allowed Paul to have any confidence in the flesh He would have lost him. So, God “locked” Paul.

Elsewhere, Paul says he was an ambassador “in chains”. What an ambassador!

What does it mean to boast in the flesh?

It means to have confidence in the flesh. The kind of confidence you have when you lean on your intelligence, your learning; or your finances, or your status, or accomplishments, or position… The list is endless.

I very much doubt that there is a different route to God’s Kingdom other than the one the Early Church followed. That is why the Bible in Philippians chapter 2 exhorts us to have the mind of Christ. And what, pray, was the mind that Christ had?

The Bible tells us it was a mind of humility, and of suffering, and of discarding all that He owned in the flesh. Jesus not only came down to earth (which was hard enough for Him as God) but, upon coming down, He sank to the lowest point, which the Bible calls  “even the death of the cross”.

We are not going anywhere with God until we have followed Christ in His sufferings and death. That was the race that preoccupied Paul.

And lest we boast in the flesh, if we are willing to obey God, He will always have a messenger of Satan to constantly buffet us, a reminder to not boast in the flesh.

The Gospel Is A Revelation!

“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words…” Ephesians 3:3

Notice the Apostle Paul says that he received the gospel by revelation. He says so also in Galatians 1:12. Now, if there was anyone who was learned in his day, it was Paul. The Roman Governor, Festus, referred to Paul’s “great learning” during his trial (Acts 26:24).  This proves that Paul was an extremely learned individual, so much so that even his peers took notice and acknowledged it.

But God would not use the highest intelligence in the world to reveal the glorious gospel of His Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says it is by revelation.  If the Word of God does not come through revelation, it is not legit.

Why would God not reveal the gospel through the human mind?

It is simply because the human mind cannot accept the way of the cross! The human mind cannot accept suffering. That is why churches today are full of believers who are only seeking for material, physical and financial comfort.

But the Spirit of Jesus Christ is the Spirit of suffering. This is something the human mind cannot accept.

Paul therefore paid a great price to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. He paid it by surrendering his mind, so to speak. In Philippians chapter 3 Paul alludes to this when he states that he counted the things that were beneficial to him as loss for the sake of Christ. Among these was his level of learning in Pharisaism.

And through giving up these things God invested His revelation in Paul.