Food For Thought

57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. Lk. 9:57-58

Y’know, I often think about Jesus’s words above, and I cannot imagine a grown man speaking such words in today’s world. Even in church, it would be anathema to speak such words. Had Jesus been in today’s hyper-materialistic church I know exactly what they would tell Him.

“You are lazy! Go work and put something over your head.”

And they would have turned away in disgust, muttering, “Stupid!”

They would do their best to shame Him.

But the Lord was about His Father’s business. He had no time, nor inclination, for the business of this world and the things that pertain to it and the flesh. Actually, Jesus did not speak those words because He needed a house. He was not soliciting for help. A house meant nothing to Jesus.

In Philippians 4:10-13 the Apostle Paul, who had the same heart as Jesus, writes:

“10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

“Not that I speak in respect of want”.

The spiritual men and women of old never lusted for the things of this world. When you are pursuing after spiritual things, you have absolutely no time for the trappings of this world, however ‘necessary’ they might be.

Isn’t a reproach for the church today that a person’s worth would be measured by what he owns material-wise? That a person with a car, a house, who has been to university, who is better dressed and who has all the symbols of this world upon him would be looked upon in church as someone? That’s the real shame – in the Spirit.

Jesus told Martha:

“41 Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:41-42)

We are so careful and troubled about many things: but one thing only is needful: to see into God’s spiritual Kingdom and to live the life of the Spirit.

The good thing about Jesus, of course, was that, try as you might, you could not shame Him. He knew what He was about.

Do you know what you are about in God’s Kingdom? When you think about how unacceptable Jesus’s words are in today’s charismatic church setting, there’s much food for thought there.

God’s Power In Earthen Vessels

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Cor. 4:7

I never appreciated how powerful this statement was until I understood how prone we as humans are to two things in particular:

  1. We are prone to sinning; and
  2. Taking credit for each and everything that we accomplish.

Actually, I never thought much about this scripture until I began noticing how truly weak I was. I could be up in the heavens one minute (holiness-wise); and the next I would fall so far and so hard I would need to be resuscitated, so to speak. And yet, still, whenever I scored a victory in the good fight of faith I found myself thinking, “Oh, how good I am!” or “How well I have done that!”

In fact, thinking that we are something is one of the greatest weaknesses we have. But the Bible states here exactly who or what we are: mere earthen vessels. What insight the Apostle Paul had into the wisdom of God!

Earthen vessels. Earthen vessels are things that are made of clay; and things that are made of clay are fragile and easily breakable. Now, if that doesn’t talk tons about our character! We are liable to sin at the drop of a heart, have you ever noticed that? We are so weak! And the Apostle Paul tells us this realization comes to us to the end that we might give “the excellency of the power” to God. When God gives you the grace to see things in the Spirit as Paul saw them here, you will be giving all the glory and honor and power to God with all your heart. You will be praising Him every minute of your life.

In a sense, “earthen vessels” points to the cross. It talks of our willingness to be broken and moulded, in order that we might be fit to carry God’s treasure in us. But this moulding is a work which can happen only when we have allowed our lives to be crucified. A soft and malleable spirit is what allows God to accomplish this work in us.

And let me tell you that, once you accept the fact that you are nothing but a mere “earthen vessel” to be broken, you have locked onto God’s perspective of things. From there onwards, any victory, any good thing that comes to you will be credited back to God, and this gives God the glory.

But notice also that this scripture mentions “the excellency of the power… of God”.

Anywhere you see the word “power” mentioned in the Bible in relation to us, beware. It references the cross, for the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that the preaching of the cross is the power of God to those who are called.

Actually, “the excellency of the power… of God” is the subject of the Bible. If there is atomic power then there is the power of God. And the power of God does things that no other power can. It changes us. It transforms us from being nothing to becoming God’s powerhouses. We declare and showcase the power of God in our lives. Sin – powerful sin – and all the works of Satan are broken and they lie powerless at our feet. One day, even death itself will be defeated in our lives. That is the power of God at work in us. And this transformation is the “treasure” that Paul is talking of. The “treasure” is our sinless life.

There is only one way to experience this power and hence have this treasure in you: nail your flesh to the cross. Give up who you are; give up your rights as you consider Christ’s example. You will never experience the power of God if you are holding onto your life.

But if you let go your life and allow God to deal with you as one deals with an earthen vessel, you will experience the power of God in your life and you will carry God’s hidden treasure in you.

Little Things Matter

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jn. 15:12-13

42 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

[The inspiration for this post came from a sermon given by a very good friend of mine]

I know this might appear like a vain attempt on my part to reach for the stars, and I know it will most certainly sound surreal to my friends and readers. But I will go ahead and make this astonishing claim: that I have met the most beautiful woman in the world. Yes, among the many blessings that God has bestowed upon me, worldly speaking, is that He has granted me to set my eyes on the most physically beautiful woman in the world. For those willing to believe, yes, I have. In the flesh, I mean. And up close and personal, if you will. Now, just to set the record straight, I know it is said that beauty resides in the beholder’s eyes, but with this woman (who I will call D) it is not a matter of the beholder or the non-beholder. It is, simply, that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, period.

But, even a die-hard believer in this blogger might be tempted to stop believing me when I make my second claim, which is that this woman also has the most beautiful heart I have ever seen. How I arrived at the conclusion of the latter is the subject of this post. (The fact of D’s physical beauty, as I indicated, is not up for debate here).

Here is how it all unfolded.

A number of years back I visited the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to attend the annual Church Team Ministries International (www.ctmi.org) conference. It was my first time to go ‘abroad’ (meaning outside of our two other East African countries of Kenya and Uganda). I met the most wonderful people on this island and I saw firsthand how hearts that have been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ truly look like. But I had to overcome my personal fears first.

When I arrived there I was taken to one of the elders’ homes where, to my horror, I found many other visitors from different parts of the world also accommodated. Coming from one of the more backward parts of Africa, you can imagine I was not exactly the most inviting sight to see. By the time I arrived in Mauritius after a 4- hour flight, my hair had reverted to its original African state of uncombedness and, even though I had tried my best to really scrub myself, an abrupt landing into a more ‘developed’ environment brought into sharp focus every mis-detail about my physical appearance. Moreover, I was completely uneducated in the art of etiquette and, in a desperate attempt to make an impact, I quickly bungled the few chances I had and I ended up making one wrong impact after another, especially with my mouth. For starters, I called our host’s wife “Mama”, thinking I was being social and polite. But in Mauritius you don’t call women “Mama”, and I later learned that it was simply because everyone in that house was full of the grace of God that I was not immediately tossed out.

But it was a girl who was in that house that really made the difference with me. D took everything to another level, so to speak. But before we get to that part, I cannot help but mention again her incredible beauty. Despite the large number of people there, you couldn’t help noticing her, simply out of the fact that she was the most beautiful young lady anyone could ever have set their eyes upon. The minute I saw her I remember thinking, “This cannot be real. She must be a model.” There are simply no words to describe D’s beauty.

Anyways, the very first evening I arrived, after I made my debacle with the “mama”, D walked up to me and warmly greeted me with a hug and a kiss on my cheek. To this day, I cannot forget her smile as she came towards me. I thought she was greeting me as a formality and I remember wondering whether the next morning she would find the grace to even say hi to a half-moron-looking fellow like me.

But it was what D did next that completely blew me away. During the course of my stay in that house, D literally owned me. She made me her personal responsibility. Every day she would come from work and she would make a beeline for me where she would come up and hug and kiss me. After which she would sit by my side and take her time making small talk. One of the questions that I recall she would ask each time was, “Zakaria, how was your day?”

And I remember thinking: It is me who should be asking her how her day at the office was! It always struck me how energetic and joyful she seemed after a day at the office, a time when most people are so tired they have no energy left to do anything physical, let alone deal with people.

Even when I was transferred to a different residence and we were separated with D, she doggedly followed up on me. We would meet in church on Sundays and she would shower me with her peculiar love and kindness.

Later on, long after I had left Mauritius, D wrote me an email in which she confided to me that, at the time I was in Maurtius she was undergoing a particularly tough phase at her workplace and that soon after I left she had had to give up her job. The realization came to me that, at the very time she was sacrificing her life for me, she was going through hell herself!

My heart broke. To think that it was I who should have been comforting her at the very moment she was comforting me!

But God is incredibly faithful. All that is behind her now. Today, D is a happily married young lady, with an incredibly happy and fulfilling family life.

I remember writing her and telling her about the little things that she did for me while I was in Mauritius. She wrote back, saying, “Yes, sometimes the small things we do without knowing can impact people’s lives”.

Indeed. Jesus gave us the opportunity to use even the little things in life to show forth His love. Remember Jesus spoke highly about giving someone a cup of cold water. There is nothing remarkable about a cup of cold water; but it means the world to a thirsty soul.

There are many little things that we can do with the love of God in our hearts, and these things can bring a difference in people’s lives. Say “hi’ to people. Stop and help (there is much of that on our streets). Visit your neighbor. Visit the sick and elderly. Call back, write back. Go out of your way. Purpose to be a blessing to someone. Above all, don’t think only about yourself.

The Price

… but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. Rom. 16:19

Do you know the price you need to pay to fulfill this scripture? You will have to give up many, many things. God will see to that, if you allow Him.

Evil, as spoken of here, is synonymous with the flesh. In other words, we need to be simple when it comes to the flesh. That is what this scripture is saying. Scripture is warning us here that if you decide to answer this high spiritual calling, you will, without a shadow of doubt, arrive at a place where you will not only live without many of the trappings of this world, but where also people will view you – and probably call you to your face – as stupid, a simpleton, poor, classless, a fool. Today, many of my brethren from Africa are losing limb and life (and marriages and children) in the desperate bid to get to the West to escape the so-called hard life. But, with the gospel, the hard life is exactly what we have been called to. A true child of God will not fear to live the hard life, nor to be viewed as, or called, any of those negative things, for the sake of the gospel.

Today I want to narrate to you the story of Mzee (Old man) Mgoloka. Mzee Mgoloka was a beauty in the Spirit, and he died leaving behind a legacy that shook all our churches at Zion Gospel Assembly.

Mzee Mgoloka was an elder in our church in Shinyanga. But he lived an interesting spiritual life; simple, frugal and extremely down-to-earth. The man did not even own a bicycle.

But Mzee Mgoloka had a working son and one day this young man decided to buy his father a truck so his father could relaxedly earn some income. The truck came complete with a driver.

Early the next morning after the hand-over, the truck was driven out to begin ‘rolling in the money’. But it hadn’t been gone ten minutes, though, when Mzee Mgoloka received a phone call from the driver.

“Hello, Mzee, please rush to such and such a place, I’ve just encountered a problem.”

“What problem?” Mzee Mgoloka enquired with surprise.

“Oh, just a small problem with the traffic police, sir”, the driver answered.

Within minutes, Mzee Mgoloka arrived on the scene. He went straight to the driver and asked him, “What’s the problem?”

“Oh, nothing, sir, except I didn’t come with any money.”

“What money? Money for what?” enquired the old man.

“Er, well, you know the way it is with the roads, Mzee.”

Immediately, it struck Mzee Mgoloka that in owning this truck, he had just stepped onto a very narrow road; but it was not the strait and narrow road that he had read in the Bible. This was a narrow road of a different kind. And he knew exactly where it led to.

BUT Mzee Mgoloka also knew what he needed to do.

He walked up to the traffic officer and addressed him.

“Sorry, sir”, he said, “I understand there is a problem with my truck. Please, sir, kindly, please, I beg you… if you can forgive an old man like me only this once, I promise to not bother you again.”

The traffic officer was fascinated by the old man’s show of humility and, after thinking it through, he granted him his request and waved the truck through.

Mzee Mgoloka got into the truck with the driver. He instructed the driver to turn around and head for his son’s house. When they arrived, Mzee Mgoloka asked the driver for the truck’s keys. He then got out of the vehicle and purposefully walked into the house. Once inside, he called out to his son.

When the young man arrived, Mzee Mgoloka handed him the truck’s keys.

“Son”, he said, “I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the good thoughts you have had towards me in buying me this truck. But I have perceived that this truck will take me straight to hell. This truck will prevent me from entering heaven, and I cannot allow that. So, here are the truck’s keys. And I thank you very much.”

The old man turned around and walked out of his son’s compound and that was the end of the matter. Not too long afterwards, Mzee Mgoloka died and went to heaven. He died on a Sunday afternoon, right after he had delivered a sermon in church. It was one of the rare Sundays that he had gotten the opportunity to preach in church. No doubt, God wanted this spiritual major-general to bid a proper farewell to the church.

Such is the price that we will need to pay to get to heaven. Mzee Mgoloka’s example might appear extreme, but in reality it is not. Not at all. On the contrary, that’s the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s how the simple, ordinary life of a spiritual person ought to be lived. The notion that such a lifestyle is ‘extreme’ is what has spawned the prosperity gospel and all the other gospels that cater to the flesh.

To this day, Mzee Mgoloka’s legacy stands, and it stands tall.

It is the flesh that fears to lose. Fear of this life is driving many of God’s children to do many spiritually regrettable things. The flesh wants to be coddled, and to receive the things of this world. But the spiritual person does not fear to lose. Remember Jesus’ words:

“Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Lk. 17:33)

If we decide to cater to the Spirit, we must be prepared to lose. And, for some of us, we probably will need to lose more than what Mzee Mgoloka lost.

[Beginning today, for a while, I shall be posting here the old Hillsong gospel songs. They are timeless. I hope they will be a blessing to you]

 

Prosperity Not Gospel

When John the Baptist came preaching in Judea, he did not have even a shirt on his back. The Bible says:

“And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”  (Mat. 3:4)

The man was that poor materially. Moreover, John went on and preached, saying:

“He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” (Lk. 3:11)

When Jesus lived here on earth, the Bible says of Him:

“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Mat. 8:20)

And, pray, what have we here today? We have preachers who own private jets and million-dollar homes and cars and who claim to preach the same gospel that John and Jesus preached.

Aw, c’mon! C’mon!!

[Prosperity preachers are not much different from this fellow. Scheming and conniving to get their paws on their material “dues”]

Jacob’s ‘Mistake’

13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.

14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,

16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.

18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. Gen. 48:13-20

What a contrast! A man who can see God’s plan in the Spirit, and one who does not. And, we see here what happens when someone does not see in the Spirit and is confronted. Notice Joseph was “displeased” by his father Jacob’s actions.

In our country, my tribe is renowned. It is famous for all the wrong reasons, notably anger. I heard there is an anger management centre in New York. What is needed is for my entire tribe (which is very small, actually; this is affordable) to be airlifted to that centre in New York, NY and be given a crash program in anger management. I personally wouldn’t mind such a trip since I would get the chance to set my foot in the land of opportunity (although, truth be told, I was watching a clip of a street in Philadelphia recently and my conclusion was that some part of this great country has gone to the dogs).

Anyways, I was telling you about my tribe. In my country, when you introduce yourself as coming from my tribe, people generally step back a pace or two just to feel safe. We are feared that much.

With such a record-setting reputation, it makes it that much harder for someone from my tribe to have their right taken from them. They will fight to the death to hold on to their right. Nor do they take censure lying down.

That is how it has been for a big part of my life. I have been a fighter, and it was not the good fight of our faith. It took me a long time to finally come to the realization that I had a problem with people generally, but with my wife especially. It started out slowly, but I would criticize whatever she said or did. Nearly nothing she said seemed right or praiseworthy. I reached a point where even the slightest mistake on her part became a Mt. Everest for me. I was blowing up 24/7.

One time we had visitors at home and in the course of their stay, we took them to do some shopping in town. They wanted to buy a certain item, and my wife had already told them the price of the item, without my knowledge. When we arrived in town, they found to their dismay that the actual price of this item far exceeded the money they carried with them.

I asked them, “Who gave you the price?”

They said, “Mama” (my wife).

I was livid. I knew the right price and my wife had given them the wrong price without consulting with me! I took it personally that she would do something without consulting me.

Neither the visitors nor my wife had the additional money needed to purchase the item. I had the extra money; but in my heart I vowed I wouldn’t give out a dime. I vowed to let her suffer for her ‘stupidity’. I therefore whistled my way around the stalls as, from the corner of my eye, I watched my wife, visibly distressed,  haggling with the dealer for a price reduction. I felt extremely satisfied when the shopkeeper firmly kept repeating that a price reduction on that particular item was not possible.

If there is one person who can say that God is merciful and mean it, that person is me. At that particular moment that I was looking at my wife, God opened my eyes to see a vista of sorts. Deep inside me something stirred and I saw that God had all along been trying to do something to or for me through my wife’s many seeming mistakes, missteps, miscalculations, and oversights. Yes, the Lord showed me that it was He who was at work in all those things in my wife’s actions that were displeasing to me.

As children of God, we must acknowledge that nothing happens in our lives is by chance. More importantly still, we must realize that what appears displeasing to us in other people’s actions towards us is actually God at work. Joseph was “displeased”; but it was God at work in his father’s actions! And God works all for our good. It was all for Joseph and his sons’ good – and for the good of God’s Kingdom.

What displeases us in our natural ‘habitat’ is what we see in the natural. In the Spirit, though, what appears harmful to us in the natural is, in nearly every case, good and profitable to us in the Spirit. In the natural, Manasseh was the firstborn and there was absolutely no reason for Jacob to overstep him. But Jacob did overlook Manasseh – because he was answering God’s call in the Spirit.

When God sets out to do things His way, He does not need our permission. Our wills, our plans and our purposes are all twisted, and God is out to put things straight in our lives. God knows what is best for His Kingdom – and for us.

To end my saga now… As I stood watching my wife desperately trying to save an unsavable situation, and as the Lord put his finger on my pride and spiritual blindness, I broke down. Deeply humbled, I walked up to my wife and asked her, straight up, “How much do we need to add?”

“Five thousand”, she said.

I dipped into my pocket and came up with the money and humbly handed it to the shopkeeper.

Ever since that time, I have been very much aware of God’s dealings with me through my wife. I realized I had gone ‘overboard’ in the way I viewed and dealt with her and there is a lot of backtracking I have had to do in that regard since that day.

[Below: My wife is bound to make many mistakes; but God uses her actions to chastise me]

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A Bewitched Church

5 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler:

6 Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.

7 I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth. Ecc. 10:5-7

You may not understand what the Preacher was alluding to here; but then, everything in the Bible points us to Christ.

In my country, I have heard many stories of witchcraft. But probably the most startling aspect of this trade, according to the stories I have heard, is how these witches and wizards enter a victim’s house. They enter backwards. Apparently, the door cannot open “abracadabra” unless it is knocked upon with the buttocks. So the witches enter houses back to back and after that they are able to bewitch their victims.

The true sign that God’s people have been bewitched is when they begin to do things back to back. They do not know the right way to go about doing things in God’s Kingdom. Priorities are overturned and trivialities are given the places of importance. The Apostle Paul, astounded at this state of affairs with the Galatians, berates them in Galatians 3:1 with similar words:

“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you…”

When we begin seeing things other than Christ crucified in the gospel, then we have been bewitched. We have, in effect, set folly in great dignity, and the rich in low places. And notice the Bible says that this is “as an error which proceedeth from the ruler”.

The Preacher calls this state of affairs “an evil”. But this evil “proceedeth from the ruler”. The ruler is us. We have been raised to sit in high places with Jesus; and when we fail to appreciate the spiritual nature of our calling, the Bible calls this an error, an evil, on our part.

Today, a majority of God’s people are running after the vanities of this world. They do not see the great spiritual riches that are ours through Jesus Christ. Such believers see the trivial material blessings of this world – but not the things that pertain to true life in the Spirit, which can only be obtained by denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Christ. In the process, they die spiritually for trivialising the cross.

In Galatians 5:19-26, the Bible shows us the things that are of importance in the Spirit. The true spiritual riches – the things that really matter – is the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

“19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.”

[Below: The Preacher was an exceedingly wise man. What do you see when you read God’s Word?]

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