Tortoise Or Giraffe Meat?

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,

16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus…

21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;

22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.

24 And they glorified God in me. Gal. 1:11-24

The people amongst whom I live eat tortoises. Or at least they used to eat in former times, for the story I am about to narrate is of long bygone days. Tortoises, though, were eaten as a last resort, when there was no other meat available. The story goes that one day, a man was walking in the bush when he came across a large tortoise. He immediately caught it and put it on his head and headed home. As he walked along he met two men going in the opposite direction. The men asked him, “What is that you are carrying?”

“It’s a tortoise”, replied the man.

“Throw that away”, the men told him. “We just received news that a giraffe has been killed in the valley and you can go take as much as you need.”

The man quickly threw away the tortoise and headed to the valley with his two friends. There they found the dead giraffe and all the vllagers were taking away as much meat as they could.

In a related development… Two years ago, myself together with a team of five other pastors were travelling to a neighboring country to attend a conference. These were pastors who had recently ‘converted’ to the gospel of the cross, and they were eager to hear more about the cross.

A few hours into our journey, one of the men received a call. After the initial greetings, the conversation proceeded as follows:

The caller: “Where are you?”

The pastor: “I am on a bus.”

“What bus?”

“I am travelling to Nairobi.”

“What?! What are you going to do in Nairobi?”

“I am attending a conference.”

“What conference? You mean you will no longer be attending our classes?”

“Er, not exactly, but for the next few days I won’t.”

“If that’s the case, then we need you to hand back our books, how do we get them?”

“Unfortunately, you will have to wait until I come back”, said our man.

We were all seated on adjacent seats, so we all could hear our man’s side of the conversation. In any case, there are people (myself included) who, when on the phone, have an undefiable inclination to talk in a loud voice. The reason for this propensity to talk loudly on the phone is another story altogether which I shall reserve for later. And our man was talking as if he was in a shouting match.

After he had hung up, the pastor seated next to him asked him, “What was that about a class and books?”

“Oh, it’s a class on discipleship that I have been attending.”

“What discipleship?”

“Well, y’know, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

“Do you have those books with you here?”

“I have one”, replied the pastor.

“Let me see it.”

At which the pastor pulled out from his bag a medium-sized Christian manual.

Without even opening it, his fellow told him, “Throw that tortoise out the bus window. How can you still be carrying a tortoise when we are going to eat giraffe meat?”

Ever since that day, our team has fashioned many anecdotes based on the story of the tortoise and the giraffe.

But, on a more serious note, such a conversation can tell you immediately the man whose eyes have seen in the Spirit and one who has not; the man who has caught the revelation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the gospel of the cross, and one who has not. The one who has caught this revelation talks like the Apostle Paul:

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

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

The first thing that happens when a man or woman receives the revelation of the cross is that they think and talk differently, not just from the world, but from the charismatic gospel. The cross is always on their lips. They talk a language you cannot hear in the charismatic gospel.

In his epistles the Apostle Paul talks about the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This revelation was the basis of what Paul preached. He preached “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23); an assertion which, as we just saw, he repeats in 1 Corinthians 2:2.

But this revelation was not a burst of light nor some form of inspiration. On the contrary, it was a work of the Spirit in the inner man, as he tells us in Galatians 1 above:

“23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 24 And they glorified God in me.”

As we see here with Paul, we live the gospel that we preach. Our lives transform and we change. In other words, we live the crucified life, where the old man in us is daily crucified to this world and the new, who is formed in the image of Jesus Christ, is daily formed in us, unto perfection. As the Bible says in Galatians 5:24:

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”

These people heard about the transformation that had taken place in Paul’s life!

[Children playing in a village in central Tanzania]

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The Value Of Patience

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. Ps. 119:71

A brother recently called me on the phone and he wanted me to lend him some money. He has a small business in a faraway village and the revenue people here in town had travelled there and given him and his fellow businessmen in the village a deadline to pay for and collect their tax identification licences. But the man did not have the money. He told me his fellows would be leaving the next day to come to town to pay for their licences and he alone would be left behind.

Unfortunately, I did not have the money he needed and I told him so. But I also told him, “Brother, it is not a sin not to have the money. I am sure God has a very good plan for you in the midst of all this.”

The brother did not sound reassured by my words, but still there was nothing either of us could do except to trust the Lord for His intervention. When I cut the call, though, I said, “Thank you, Lord, for those wonderful words that you have given me to give to this distraught brother.”

Very early the next morning my phone rang. It was my brother from the village calling, and he sounded very excited. He said, “Praise the Lord, brother! Brother, the Lord certainly knows how to deliver us from evil. Had I come to town yesterday I would have wasted a lot of money on bus fare, but the Lord delivered me. When my fellow businessmen arrived at the revenue offices yesterday, they were informed that the licences were not ready. They were told to go back at the end of the month, which is OK with me because by that time I will have acquired the money. Thank you so much for your words, they were true!”

I can recall any number of times that I have been afflicted; but I truly cannot say that at that particular moment that I considered the afflictions good for me. No, and in most cases I “kicked against the pricks”, as it were.

Yet King David saw in the Spirit and here he says that the afflictions he underwent were good for him!

We need spiritual eyes to see things as God sees them. Without spiritual eyesight we will forever be fighting God and His good ways.

It is in hindsight that I have come to appreciate and thank God for the valuable lessons that I have learned in the Spirit through the afflictions that I have undergone. I never would have admitted it before but I can now freely confess that there was – and there still is – a lot of folly, stupidity and downright hardheadedness in me that the cross of Jesus Christ needed to deal with. Moreover, I can sincerely thank God for these afflictions. I never would have thought to thank God for allowing things into my life that were so hurtful.

When we are walking with the Lord, we have absolutely no need to fear – or to feel resentful. David said in Psalms 23:4,

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

The reason for this lack of fear is because it is the Lord Himself who is in control of everything. All those circumstances that come our way, whether good or bad, have been programmed and passed by God Himself for a good purpose in our lives. And God is not like us: He is faithful and He will accomplish His good will in and for us.

The problem comes only when we do not allow God to accomplish His purpose in our lives through the afflictions He allows us to go through. The Apostle James says:

“2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (Jam. 1:2-4)

We need patience in order to have God perfect us.

As for resenting those who do us evil, the Bible tells us to love them instead. Why?

Once again, David gives us the answer in Psalms 23:

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (v.5)

It is a matter of time before those who cheered as you were being ‘roasted’realize that it was God who was at work and that He was working, not bad as they supposed, but good for you in all things.

In all cases that pertain to a child of God, evil is like manure. Manure may be distasteful in itself, but what it accomplishes to a plant is life itself. In the same manner, afflictions, tests and trials are the catalyst for our spiritual growth. We should therefore arrive at the place where we can with David in the Spirit:

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”

God’s Kingdom – In Us!

20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Lk. 17:20-21

The inspiration for this post came from a conversation I had this morning with an elderly neighbour. I was out sweeping my front yard when my neighbour showed up and asked me, “Pastor, are you not going to church today?”

“No, madam, why?” I asked.

“Today is Good Friday!” she answered with surprise in her voice.

“Well”, I told her. “I know it is Good Friday all right but today I am not going to church.”

“Doesn’t your church hold a service on Good Friday”, she asked, clearly taken aback.

“No, we don’t”, I said simply.

“How come.”

This lady and I are very good friends, so I took the liberty to preach to her a proper Good Friday sermon. In as few words as I could, of course.

“Lady”, I said, “ever since Jesus came into this world, there is only one religious observance that we are called to and it is the purity of our hearts.”

Today, Good Friday, there will be so much activity going on in churches all over the world in honor of the crucifixion of Christ. I even know of people who will not be eating meat today as part of their religious observance. There is nothing wrong in all these things. The only thing we could fault them with is that the Kingdom of God is not found there.

The Apostle Paul preached one singular thing: the cross. Notice his words in 1 Corinthians 1:17:

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”

But I probably am getting ahead of myself… There is still much to talk about this religious observances.

When Jesus said, “Lo here! or, lo there!” He was referring to the entire spectrum of religious observances that people carry on with in church. And when it comes to religious observances in church in general, they are too many to mention here.

I remember one time, many years back, Pastor Amas and I had gone to a certain village to preach the gospel. In those days, unlike today when even in the most impassable routes there are motorcycle taxis, in those days much travelling into the villages had to be done on foot. So, on this particular occasion, after we had dropped off the bus, we had to walk for a full hour and a half to reach our destination.

As we were walking along the road we saw afar off a man approaching us. From afar we noticed he was wearing a suit and tie. Deep in the village! Even before we had got anywhere near him, I said, “That’s a pastor.” And true enough, when we finally met him, he was carrying a Bible. He was probably going to preach in the city.

Yes, wearing suits was once – and it still is in some circles – considered a religious duty, just as wearing a gown and crucifix is considered a fulfilment of some religious role in some denominations. There are churches where one cannot preach without wearing a suit and tie.

The list of Christian religious duties and observances, as I just said, is too long to write down here. People are looking for God in every nook and cranny. There are some who are looking for Him in form. Many more are looking for Him in miracles and signs and wonders. But the Kingdom of God is not found in these things. Jesus told us exactly where the Kingdom of God is to be found:

“…behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

What did Jesus mean by these words?

He meant that the Kingdom of God is the life that we live. We as the church should be very careful that we do not get carried away by all the “star-spangled” (to borrow a phrase) shows and goings-on that men can put out in the natural. Nor even in signs and wonders. Instead, our sole duty is look deep into our hearts and to make sure there is a work going on there – the work of the cross! The Apostle Paul said,

“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.”

To which he added,

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

Are we crucified to the world and is the world crucified to us? Have we become new creatures, not in name, but in truth and fact? Do we live transformed lives?

These are the central questions that we need to ask ourselves, not whether we can do a little gardening on a Sunday afternoon or not.

[Water geese at the Musoma pier]

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Patience In Suffering

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 2:18-25

The Swahili version of verse 19 reads: “For this is true goodness, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”

There it is, just in case you were wondering at the exact meaning of the word “thankworthy” in this verse. In other words, there is what we could call ordinary goodness; and there is true goodness. Ordinary goodness is the goodness that responds only to like goodness but cannot endure opposition to self. This goodness is of our carnal nature and it does not please God for it does not respond well to Christian suffering.

True goodness can only be of God. That means that the bar for true goodness is set very high. Remember the girl in Philippi who had a spirit of divination in her and who followed Paul and his team and proclaimed after them:

“These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17)?

Our God is the Most High God and his standards are equally high. True goodness cannot therefore be the feel-good stuff that our flesh craves. As a matter of fact, true goodness can only be something that the flesh detests, and which it desires to run away from.

In the world, our hearts automatically warm towards those who will us no ill. But when we meet people who would do us harm, we close our hearts. It is the easiest thing, even in church, to align ourselves with the people whose hearts are open to us. But we tend to close our hearts to those people who will not open their hearts to us, or to those who criticize and torment or persecute us. And if this is the case in the church, how much more so when this suffering comes from the world? The Apostle Peter here puts his finger on what is probably the most difficult thing for a believer to do: to suffer wrong patiently and to maintain a pure heart when in that situation.

Notice, again, “… but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

The word “acceptable” here again attests to the high standards of God. “Acceptable” means what is right with or pleasing to God. If it was me, what Peter describes here is not what would be acceptable with me. But this is what is acceptable with God.

On the flip side, it means that if we suffer when we do well and are unable to take that suffering “patiently”, this is not acceptable with God. We have a long way to go in pleasing God!

But the Apostle Peter gives us the example of Christ Himself. Christ endured suffering from sinners, although He Himself was sinless! In that way, Christ did that which was acceptable with God. But even more so, the Bible tells us, it was through this endurance that Christ became the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

If we are selfish, we cannot take evil, and for that reason can never be of value to anyone from God’s perspective. Jesus said,

“24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. 25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (Jn. 12:24-25)

Hence the need for the revelation of the cross in our lives, where “Christ crucified” becomes the foundation of our Christian lives. It is only through a crucified life that we can live this kind of life, the life that pleases God.

[In the midst of suffering may it be well, Lord, with my soul.]

Preaching Christ Crucified

This morning I feel heavily indebted to my readers. It is close to three weeks and I not only have not posted anything on this blog; but I went “off air” without so much as a goodbye! I feel like I have insensitively abandoned my readers, and I wish to apologize to you all. I assumed what I was engaged in during this time was something the blogging family would not care to be informed of. But I couldn’t have been further from the truth. During the time I was “AWOL”, I heard a sermon that stated that we must realize that we are a part of the larger Body of Christ and not than our small groupings. That was a real wake-up call for me.

Anyways, the reason I was kept away all this time was that I was busy hosting a small pastors’ conference in my town of Singida. Myself, together with the small group of pastors who work with me here had organised this conference in order to sound forth in this town and its outer regions the gospel of the cross. As we well know, today the gospel of the cross is dead and buried and in its place men have introduced other variant gospels which have no power to deal with the church’s No.1 enemy – the flesh.

Our guest speakers for the conference would be our church leaders, Pastors Eli Mpule from Shinyanga and Eliya Amas from Musoma.

In Singida, we had sent out about forty invitations to pastors both within town and in the villages and we had asked them to come with their wives. The number of pastors who actually attended, though, was far less: just about twenty came. But that did not faze us in the least. The conference was a huge success, thank God, for spiritual success is not measured in numbers! Many of the men and women who came caught on to the spirit of the gospel of the cross and ever since the conference ended on the April 2, we have been doing follow-up seminars. This was what kept me away from writing.

One of the pastors who attended our conference comes from a village that is called, surprisingly, Germany. The reason for this peculiar name is because this village is situated along a road that the German colonisers constructred in the latter part of the 19th century and which they regularly used for their expeditions. The road is still there today. It has been so overgrown by bush it is no wider than a footpath, but it is still there and the local people still use parts of it.

This Germany was the place of our first outreach and Pastor Amas and I took a one and half hour bus journey to see the brethren who had invited us there. Being a rural route, such a long journey by bus is probably the equivalent of a 12-hour journey by jet plane! But our fatigue was rewarded when we found the brethren eagerly waiting for us at the bus stop. We were warmly welcomed and just that evening, against all odds, a new church was started in Germany.

Against all odds indeed, for throughout that night the elders of this particular pastor congregated together to oppose our presence there. In the middle of the night they moved from house to house to try and persuade the ‘errant’ parishioners to go back to the flock. But there is nothing you can do to dissuade someone whose inner eyes have been opened by the Lord to see the truth.

I am glad to be back. And I am happy and eager to meet once again my regular – and new – blogging friends. Thank you all and may we all strive together to serve the Lord in the Spirit, as it pleases Him.

[The conference…

The Sunday service…

And, finally, Germany.

Our Father’s Love

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Mat. 7:11

Recently, the Lord taught me a powerful lesson about His love for us. On that day, early in the morning as I was working outside, my daughter came up to me and said, “Dad, I have a request to make of you.”

“Say on”, I responded cheerfully.

Now, my daughter is always asking things from me since she is a college student. But on this day, she had something entirely different on her mind.

“Can you give me one of your chickens to prepare for a friend of mine who will be passing by”, she said.

She explained that her friend and a family of four had attended a relative’s funeral in a distant town and they would be passing by our town on their way home in another distant town.

Immediately she said this, I remembered the story of the prodigal son in the Book of Luke chapter 15. I remembered the answer that the father gave to his eldest son when this son complained of how his father had never given him so much as a kid, that he might make merry with his friends. The father had answered his son:

“Son… all that I have is thine.” (v. 31)

I cannot express my feelings when I realized I was reliving a Biblical experience. On TV they call it ‘live’. I was undergoing a Biblical event, live! This one, though, had a vastly different outlook: unlike the son, my daughter was not complaining.

I looked straight into my daughter’s eyes and, my heart bursting with joy, I gave her the biggest “Of course!!” she will ever receive from me.

Taking her by the hand, I led her to the chicken house and asked her to choose the chicken she wanted to prepare for her friend. She chose a good, fat one.

I watched as she joyfully prepared the chicken. She put all her love into the operation, just as I had put all my love in giving her the chicken.

Her friend would not be stopping at our house, so I would not have the chance to meet or know her nor her family. But I knew how overjoyed my daughter would be handing them her gift, and this thought alone filled my heart with inexpressible joy.

Jesus said,

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat. 7:11)

There are many times that I doubt the love of my heavenly Father. There are many times that I think He only looks at my mistakes. But my love for my children has taught me something awesome about the love that God has for me.

God loves me with unbounded love and He loves to do good things to me. All I need do is ask.

It is remarkable and awe-inspiring, don’t you think? Just think of how evil we are. And then just think of the love we are willing to bestow upon our children. How much more, the Bible asks, do we think God will bestow His love upon us?!

The fact that God loves us this much is not a licence to sin. But God’s revelation of His love for us is designed to make us cherish that love and to desire to love Him in return and to love our fellow men in like manner.

[Our Father’s love for us is as tight as it gets!]

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“Touch Me Lord”

For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Heb. 12:3

If there is one word I would rather not hear in my life, it is the word “endure”. That word implies trouble, suffering and discomfort. It implies also hardship; and one interpretation of the word “hardship” that I found in my Thesaurus says it is a lack of money. Well said, and this is the kind of hardship I could pray to God all day to never allow to come my way.

But none of the above would compare with what the Apostle Paul is talking of here (at least as far as I am concerned). Here he is not talking about hardships that the impersonal environment brings to us – things like hunger, sickness, or other deprivations, even tragedies, that we encounter in the normal course of our natural lives. These are hard enough to bear, but that is not what the Bible is talking about here. The Bible is warning us to be prepared to endure something far worse than this.

And what, pray, might that ‘something’ be? The Bible is talking of the time when people will rise up and say and do bad things against us. I don’t know about you, but I personally find it the most insufferable thing in my life when people rise up against me, whether rightly or wrongly. Generally, that translates into an attack on my pride and it is here, more than anywhere else, that my flesh literally “flies”  to respond in a way that God would not approve of.

But it is in this very situation that the Bible tells us to

“consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself”.

With Jesus, of course, things went way much further. One of the most painful things that can happen to someone is to have their friends betray them. This was exactly what happened to the Lord. Scripture says:

And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (Zech. 13:6); and

“But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table.” (Lk. 22:21)

The verse in Luke certainly refers to Judas Iscariot; but Zechariah might very well be referring to every man since Adam. Remember Adam was God’s friend before the fall: God would walk in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day and He and Adam and Adam’s wife would converse  together. (Gen. 3:8)

And we know all the things that men did to Jesus since the day of His birth (He was denied a room to be born in and had to be born in a cattle shed) until that awful final night and in His crucifixion. But none of that could compare with men’s rejection of Himself.

The Bible tells us we as Christian believers should be prepared for this same scenario in our lives. The notion of people praising us and telling us how wonderful we are is not Biblical. There are many things that men, both friend and foe, will do against us on account of Christ. No matter how ignorant we are of it, the fact is that the world is against the Son of God. Jesus Himself said,

“For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Lk. 23:31)

In the Bible, it is men that comprise the world. The heart of man is so full of evil. But the Bible exhorts us as believers to “endure” this opposition to ourselves. It will come, but we should be prepared to carry a heart of love, patience and forgiveness.

This is where the need for an understanding – a revelation – of the cross of Jesus in our hearts is most urgent. This is where the need for sound doctrine, the very doctrine that Paul exhorted Timothy to never let go of, is needed (2 Tim. 4:2). It is here that we get to understand Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2:

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

Finally, let us look at verses 5 and 6:

“5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

Notice that these verses are tied in with verse 3. In other words, when people rise up against us, it God who allows them to. They do so at God’s bidding, to the end that He might chastise us. Chastisement means, for example, crushing our pride.

In our key scripture above, the Swahili version uses the word “reflect” or “meditate upon” for the word “consider”.

Meditating is not something you can do in the blink of an eye. That is something you take time to do. That is why God’s work in our lives is not a one-time affair. On the contrary, it is a process that takes time as we patiently allow Him to mould and shape us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. To carry Christ’s grace. The Bible says of Jesus,

“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17)