Loving Jesus, Loving His Church – Part 3

Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. Acts 20:31

Have you ever seen a grown man weeping? It is an unforgettable experience. But a grown man can only shed tears out of deep, heartfelt bitterness. I remember a famous Congolese musician named Franco. In the early 70s this man lost a brother in a car accident. Franco composed a song to commemorate his brother’s death. He sang it in his local Lingala dialect. This song became one of the most touching songs in the 70s. Not because it was sang by Franco, but because of the depth of the feelings that were embodied in that song. The song bemoaned the fact of being left alone.

And it is said that ever since that time, the sound of mourning never left any of Franco’s songs.

That’s how powerful a grown man’s sorrow is.

And yet the Apostle Paul freely wept for the church. He wept for it out of sorrow; but it was sorrow in the Spirit. The love that Paul had for the church was a love that no earthly parent could never know for their child. Paul could not bear to imagine even one hair of the church being harmed.

That’s the kind of ministers that Christ left to look after the church. The 5-fold ministry is not about numbers; rather, it is about carrying the heart of God the eternal Father.

In order for a believer to go to heaven, he needs to be loved, to be prayed for, to be cared for and ministered to in many different ways. That’s called nurturing. Jesus left behind people who would do exactly that: hence, the 5-fold ministry.

We can thus begin to imagine the greatness of this man, Paul. Paul perfected ministry. And, in perfecting ministry, Paul defined the word “love”. He writes in Ephesians:

“25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Eph. 5:25-32

In these verses, Paul shows us the true meaning of love.

Let us look at something else that Paul writes in Galatians. In chapter 1 verses 6-8, he writes:

“6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

Now, pause and think about that. Scripture here states clearly that there is no other gospel that can be preached other than the gospel that Paul preached! In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul talks of the gospel that he preached.

“But we preach Christ crucified…”

And here, in Galatians, he says that anyone who preaches a different gospel is troubling the church and is stands accursed. I will leave it to your imagination to work out what “trouble” it is that Paul is talking of here. That should not be too hard for anyone to do. Today, in particular, “trouble” is written all over the church. Why? Because God’s people have put aside the gospel of the cross and they are preaching a different gospel.

But Paul says, “If anyone preaches a different gospel than the one we preached to you, let them be accursed!”

The church is greater than anyone. It was greater than Paul himself. Which brings us to the question, What does Paul mean by the “we” in verse 8?

He means that even he had to be careful. Yes, Paul, the great apostle, had to be careful lest he mishandle the church! He had to be careful what he preached. God is no respecter of persons and Paul himself stood the risk of being accursed if he preached any other gospel than “Jesus Christ and him crucified”! (1 Cor. 2:2)

If every minister of the gospel could crucify his lusts and his desires and serve the church, it would be a blessing both to the themselves and to the church. But today everything is upside down.

Notice, in our key scripture in Acts, that Paul’s tears were to warn the church. Paul did not shed because there was no bread on the table. Bread is important; but the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about bread. But Paul’s tears were to warn the church.

What was so important about the gospel that Paul preached?

Paul was careful about the gospel he preached because it is the singular gospel that prepares Christ’s Bride, the church. How would you feel if, on your wedding day, they brought you a bride who was filthy, unkempt and thoroughly un-mannered in the ways of housekeeping?

I believe you wouldn’t touch her unless you were a madman.

But Jesus is not a madman. He wants a perfect Bride.

The gospel of the cross perfects the Bride of Christ. The cross crucifies the flesh and leaves behind a Bride without spot, and without blemish.

Finally, let us look at yet another example of how Paul cared for the church. In Philippians 2:19-21 he writes:

“19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. 20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.”

Paul wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians because he wanted to “be of good comfort”. And Paul would only be comforted if he knew their “state”.

“State”. What a word!

I work with a team of four other pastors in my town. We meet every Thursday. Our motto is: “The only problem between us is the state of our hearts!”

Paul wanted to make sure the Colossians were well in their hearts. This was the only thing that could comfort him. So he sent them Timothy, the only man he could trust to truly care for their spiritual welfare.

Paul had other guys with him but he feared that if he sent them, they would go and become burdensome to God’s people. They would tell the church, “Your pastor needs a new car”, or something of that nature.

Timothy was the only person who would not say such a thing.

If faithful ministers were so rare even in Paul’s day, we can imagine how the situation is today. There are faithful ministers; but they are few. Many today look at the offering basket more than they look after the condition of people’s hearts. Many do not have the ability to deal with the problems affecting God’s people because they do not have the revelation of the cross in their hearts.

But Paul, and the few faithful men he had with him, had crucified their flesh and were thereby able to fully focus on the spiritual well-being of God’s people.

[Paul cared deeply for the spiritual well-being of God’s people]

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Loving Jesus, Loving His Church – Part 2

And he is the head of the body, the church… Col. 1:18

During the 1990s, I was an ardent follower of the faith teachings, and I recall reading the interesting account of a famous American faith preacher who had gone to preach in a certain church; and it was Christmas. He claimed that he had asked God that he should receive a certain amount of money as an offering from that church. He needed that amount because he wanted to do Christmas shopping for his family.

In other words, long before he went to preach, this man had already prepared his family budget!

On the final day, as he and the church deacons were counting out the money the church offered, the offering failed to add up. It fell short a few dimes.

The preacher told the church deacons that he had believed God for a certain amount of money, and there was no way he was leaving that room without the money he had believed God for.

The money was recounted a couple more times and – abracadabra! – the missing amount was found hidden among the loose change.

In those days, I believed that the preacher’s attitude constituted Godly faith. Today, I realize he was sowing the seeds of what would become the biggest scamming scheme in church. The present despoiling of the church began innocently enough as a “faith” teaching.

Today, preachers are not just paid to preach, but they go beyond there and demand extravagant sums from churches in order to preach and do ministry. One famous African preacher would always demand a plane ticket from the hosts to travel wherever he was asked to go and minister. Without a plane ticket he wouldn’t budge!

Preachers today have mounted up so high they have become God. They are full of carnal, self-serving authority. They rob God’s people, they oppress them, they rape them. And they do these things in broad daylight. They are so hungry they eat without even first washing their hands! The level of carnage that preachers today are unleashing on God’s people is truly unspeakable.

The Apostle Paul castigates the Corinthians for accepting such preachers in their midst.

“19 For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. 20 For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.” (2 Cor. 11:19-20)

How clearer could it be stated? And yet believers in their hordes are throwing themselves at these very preachers’ feet. And they are being destrrrrroyed!!

It is preachers today who are leading the pack in defiling the church. In Philippians 3:18-19, the Apostle Paul writes:

“18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”

Paul is talking of ministers of the gospel here for, in the preceding chapter, he had been talking of the faithfulness of Timothy and Epaphroditus.

If a preacher is an enemy of the cross of Jesus Christ, he will destroy the church of God. His God is his belly (he is not a true servant of God); and he minds earthly things (he minds, not the things that cater to the church, but the things that cater to his flesh). This means that this preacher is a self-serving person. Such a preacher is a wolf amongst the sheep!

Now, if you haven’t seen such preachers yet, you must have just dropped from Mars. They are packed to the brim on our planet. So much so that finding a preacher that truly minds God’s people is akin to finding a needle in the proverbial haystack!

The reason for all this is because the church has gone blind. By blind I mean there is no revelation of the cross in their hearts. A lack of the revelation of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) is what brings about spiritual blindness. The church does not know that it has been called to crucify the lusts of the flesh. It is not aware of the danger that these lusts pose. These lusts are therefore allowed to reign supreme in the church and neither the shepherds nor the sheep are safe. And these blind preachers, who are men and women of the flesh, once given the power of the pulpit, work out, or fulfill, their lusts instead of serving God’s people in the Spirit.

They say power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is true with the church also. Give a carnal preacher authority, and he defiles the church. Give him unbounded authority and he completely destroys the bodies, souls and lives of God people.

These things are happening, not in the closet, but right out there in the front yard.

[“Feed my lambs”]

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Loving Jesus, Loving His Church – Part 1

And he is the head of the body, the church… Col. 1:18

Many years ago, when I was living in Musoma, a young man I knew was given the job of preparing a small piece of farm land down by the lake (Musoma is a port town situated on the shore of Lake Victoria). As he was digging up the earth, suddenly the hoe hit against a polythene bag that had been buried under the earth. The young man gingerly pulled up the bag and, as he did so, all the alarm bells in his body began ringing. He had the horrid feeling that the contents of that bag were not something he would want to see. But curiosity killed the cat, as they say. The mouth of the bag was tied with a thin, tight rope and, very cautiously, the boy began untying it. Upon peeping inside he saw what looked like the beginnings of human hair; and he did not wait to see the rest. He already knew what it was: it was a human head.

He dropped the bag and blazed a trail from that farm that would have been hard to erase. He ran as if the devil himself was after him.

I suspect none of us would have responded differently had we been in the same situation. Encountering a body-less head, or a headless body, would be an terrifyingly unspeakable nightmare for any normal human being.

If that is the case in the natural, should it not be much more so in the Spirit? Should it not be the scariest thing in the Spirit when we split up Jesus from His Body, the church? But, unbeknown to many, that is exactly what many believers are doing. And more terrifying is the fact that no one seems horrified by this attitude on the part of Christian believers. It appears as if it is the most normal state of affairs!

But we need to understand that the church is the apple of God’s eye. God looks upon nothing but the church. That is where His heart is. Just as a parent’s heart is on their child, God’s heart is on His church. That was why Jesus said,

“5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” (Mat. 18:5-11)

Jesus was talking of the church. The church is God’s “little ones”. You cannot destroy someone who has been washed by the blood of Jesus and get away with it.

But destroying the lives of God’s people is exactly what we do when we have no revelation that we need to lay down our lives. But, as we shall see in the second part of this post, preachers have taken it to an entirely new level.

Jesus told Peter,

“Feed my lambs” (Jn. 21:15)

“My lambs” was Jesus’s affectionate reference to His church.

Everyone is loudly declaring how much they love Jesus. You just go to any worship or prayer meeting and you will hear people emotionally telling Jesus how they love Him. But few can pay the price for the words they say, for the price of saying we love Jesus is to love God’s people with sacrificial love. God’s love demands that we lay down our lives for one another. Indeed, God’s love is the love that looks out for the spiritual wellbeing of your brother/sister-in-Christ.

You can easily gauge how much you love Jesus by measuring how well, especially, you wish God’s people in their spirits (3 Jn. 1:2).

Unfortunately, this kind of loving is one of the most difficult for most believers to do. This is clear from the fact that there are so many divisions within the church! There are inter-personal divisions: husband vs wife; parent vs child; brother vs brother, etc. There are social divisions: the rich are divided against the poor; the educated are ganged up against the illiterate; the Africans are gossiping against the whites; etc.

I believe with all my heart that God’s people first need to stop telling Jesus they love Him. When you tell Jesus that you love Him while you do not love the church, it is as if you were addressing a head which has no body. It is as if you are talking to the head and telling it, “I love you, head, alone, but not the body you are on. Cut yourself off that body and I will love you even more.”

Strange language indeed. This is the sort of thing that can only happen in voodoo. In voodoo they do these kinds of things.

But loving Jesus means loving our earthly brothers and sisters. The Apostle Peter tried to dodge the bullet, but Jesus would not allow it.

Jesus asked Peter,

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”

Simon Peter answered,

“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

Jesus then told him,

“Feed my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)

In other words, If you love me, give your life for my sheep!

Do we love the Lord?

In Part Two we will talk about the worst culprit of them all, the modern-day preachers.

[The price for loving the Lord is loving His church.]

The Cross, The Final Solution – Part 2

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 Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Phil. 3:7-11

In the Swahili Bible, the word used for “righteousness” is the same word used for “justice”. Therefore, we could re-write verse 9 thus:

“And be found in him, not having mine own justice, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

The Apostle Paul wanted, not his own justice, but Christ’s.

Now, that word, “own”, is crucial here. We all know that nothing good comes from the word “own” as far as it refers to man. So what is our “own justice”?

Our own justice is our rights. It is our worldly, human rights. According to the Bible, we should give them up. All of them. Including the right to life.

With the Bible, there are only two things: law and grace. If we are to be men and women of grace, we are to surrender our rights. If seek after justice for ourselves, we have become men and women of law, and Christ is become of no value to us. Christ is of value to whoever will lose their lives.

Notice verse 7:

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”

What were the things that were gain to Paul? Paul is talking about his worldly rights. He counted his rights loss for Christ. That means he gave them up, that he might gain true life, which can only be found in Christ.

Paul surrendered all. Not some, or half, but all of his worldly rights. He surrendered even his life (Acts 21:13).

But Paul was simply obeying what our Lord Jesus taught. Jesus taught:

“38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” (Mat. 5:38-41)

And,

“10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Mat. 5:10-12

Moreover, in Romans 8:35-36, the Apostle Paul himself writes:

“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

And, finally, in 1 Peter 4:1 we read:

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin”.

All these scriptures go against what the world teaches; but, again, the Bible is not the world. The Bible is the Word of God. The world teaches an eye for an eye; the Bible teaches to surrender your life. If we would have true life in us, we must account ourselves as given to suffer and to die with Christ – literally.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is no soap opera. On the contrary, it is all about being man enough to face the cross of Jesus Christ.

Emboldened by the realization that nothing else could save this woman, my pastor friend asked the lady, “Would you be willing to take your own life because you cannot bear to lose? Ultimately, the real problem here is not your husband, but you, if you cannot bear to lose. In Jesus Christ there is abundance of everything you are lacking: peace, joy, and love. You need to love your husband just as he is, with all his weaknesses. But these things can come into our own lives only when we allow Jesus into our hearts, and we do that by losing.”

And with many other words he preached Christ to the lady.

The lady bowed her head and let the words sink into her heart. When she raised her head, she told the pastor, “I will come to church on Sunday.”

And, true to her word, the lady went to church on Sunday, and worshiped. She was filled with joy and a new hope in her life. The pastor had given her the secret to beating one of the most difficult situations she could ever face in life. It was to surrender her rights.

The cross is the final solution to absolutely any problem on earth.

[Women are the most oppressed members of society. In Christ Jesus, though, this state of affairs translates into these same women having the best head start if only they can take up their cross and follow Christ]

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The Cross, The Final Solution – Part 1

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 Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Phil. 3:7-11

It is verse 9 in particular that I want to focus on but, before we get there…

I have two stories to narrate, and these stories will form the backbone of the lesson that we want to learn today.

I was travelling in a bus recently when I overheard a lady seated behind me speaking on the phone. She said, “So-and-so is at our house.”

I thought, ‘Oh, how wonderful. They have a visitor.’

Then she said, “He has ran away from home again and he is now at our house.”

My heart broke. A young man had ran away from his home. For whatever reasons.

I arrived at my destination and, after narrating to my fellow pastor the sad tale I had overheard in the bus, it turned out he also had another harrowing story to tell. He told me that there was a lady, a neighbor of his, who had tried committing suicide on three different occasions upon learning that her husband was having an affair with another woman. This couple was very rich. The man had built a beautiful house where he lived with his wife and their two young children. But he had not only started an affair with another woman, but he had also built that woman a house in a different part of town. When his wife learned of it, she decided to kill herself. But on all three occasions either the overdose she took did not work properly, or someone had been around to help her.

When this pastor heard this story, he strengthened himself and, even though the couple are Muslim, he decided to pay the lady a visit. When he arrived, she stated that what he had heard was true. She also added that she was preparing for one final attempt at killing herself and this time she was planning to kill herself together with her two young children.

Upon hearing this, the pastor knew there was no other way. There was no time for him to talk to her about waiting for her husband to change. She was too far gone for that. There was only one way out. He had to talk to her about Jesus Christ… Christ, and Him crucified.

The gist of what this pastor spoke to this lady, and what happened after, is what I am going to share here.

[In the drier central parts of Tanzania, sunflower farming is one of the major sources of income]

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Circumcision vs The Cross – Part 2

There is no other way of becoming spiritual other than crucifying the mind of the flesh together with its lusts (Gal. 5:24). That is the singular most importance understanding that a believer can have in his or her life

We can therefore see the significance of Paul’s words in verse 11:

“Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.”

We can understand why he would want to put everything else aside and emphasise the importance of this revelation to the Galatians. The revelation of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) was the singular most important thing that they could grasp in their lives.

When we lack that revelation in our hearts, we look to form, tradition and anything that can be grasped with our human understanding. The Galatians looked to circumcision.

There are so many things that believers today think are important in their lives; but which are not.

The Apostle Paul puts it out so clearly the single most valuable thing in a believer’s life:

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

Not tradition or form; but a work of the Spirit in someone’s heart.

[The work of the Holy Spirit in us transforms us]

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Circumcision vs The Cross – Part 1

11 Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

15  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. Gal. 6:11-18

This post is a progression of my last post. I am sorry it has taken me so long to write it. But I pray it will bless whoever reads it.

Seeing that the Bible is God’s Word written by His own hand through men who were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we must be careful how we interpret scripture.

Let us take verse 11 above, for example. Let us try and examine what the Apostle Paul means by a “large” letter; and, secondly, “with mine own hand”. The answer to this question is important to our understanding the rest of this portion of scripture.

Does Paul, in verse 11, mean he wrote this epistle in unfamiliarly large script? Or that he wrote the letter using capital letters? And why add “with mine own hand”?

The keyword here is “emphasis”. Paul here was talking of the emphasis that he placed on whatever he was telling the Galatians in. And, considering they had waded knee-deep into circumcision (made with hands), he was emphasizing, not only the futility, but also the danger of this exercise in their lives, for he says in Galatians 5:4:

“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

This danger is as real in our modern times as it was in Paul’s time. It is just as we saw in our last post about the futility of the modern idea that making a pilgrimage to Israel had anything to do with our spiritual journey. It is a spiritually dangerous idea.

Am I saying Christians should not visit the land of Israel? Hardly. But religion as we know it today is, to a large extent, man’s way of evading the cross of Jesus Christ, for our sole calling is to suffer with Christ. And this is the very purpose of the revelation of the cross in our hearts: to enable us to partake of the sufferings of Christ. And what, pray, are these sufferings?

The Christians sufferings incorporates dying to the worldly lusts in us. The cross crucifies the world to the believer, and the believer to the world. And that, in a nutshell, is what it means to be spiritual; and the aim of our salvation is to be spiritual.

[Beating out the sunflower harvest in Singida]

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