“Much Tribulation”

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. Acts 14:21-22

What would you rather have preached in your church?

Today, the church has a wide range of choices when it comes to what people want to hear. But this wide range of choices is a dangerous thing for all these things cater to the flesh. The Apostle Paul warned his young protégé Timothy:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

To which he added an admonition:

“5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

Notice that “endure afflictions” is firmly tucked in there. We may have a choice today, but the early church did not have the luxury of hearing what they wanted to hear. No doubt they, just as much as we, would have liked to hear a “soft” gospel, one which promised them a comfortable and trouble-free life here on earth and eternal life in the hereafter. But God would not allow that, for in surrendering to the flesh there is no life.

The apostles were men sent of God. They had in their hearts a revelation of Christ, Christ crucified. They therefore had only one message to deliver:

that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

I wonder how you can reconcile this Biblical message with the man-made messages of financial and material prosperity, promotion and whatnot. In today’s gospel setting, it seems you are not allowed to upset people. It is more important to talk about the “abundant life”, whatever that is, than the suffering that we are to endure for the gospel’s sake.

But if we live, we live for Christ, and if we die, we die for Him also. This is borne out by the example of the Apostle Paul himself who, when addressing Timothy, writes:

“16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me… 17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

It would have been wonderful to read that God delivered Paul from harm in order that Paul could continue living his own life. But this account states otherwise. It says here that God preserved Paul in order that he might continue preaching the gospel. God preserves us for a purpose – His purpose. There is no place in scripture to believe that God preserves us in order that we might continue doing our own thing here on earth. God preserves us in order that we might preach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason that God brings the cross into our lives. The cross is God’s plan for mankind. The cross involves all the things listed in 2 Corinthians 12:10:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

In this gospel, people will stamp on you and you will tried and tempted in many different ways. And God expects us to take all that patiently.

The Bible makes clear that you can enter into the Kingdom of heaven minus many of the things that we think are important in our lives – financial success, promotion at work, healing; Jesus even said you can enter with one eye and one hand (Mat. 5:29,30) – but you cannot enter the Kingdom of God without living out the cross in your life. The Bible says that we must through much tribulation enter into God’s heavenly Kingdom. That means suffering and bearing with a lot of negative things in our lives as believers.

That being the case, how about we begin thanking God for the problems instead of wishing them away. We might have been taught otherwise in the mega-churches; but we just might find we are on the right track here. Actually, the Bible says we are.

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

To exhort means to encourage. You encourage someone when they are undergoing challenges and hardship. The Christian life is a challenge. Living the Christian life is actually the greatest challenge there is in life. The reason for this is because this challenge is not necessarily about physical or material deprivation. Rather, it goes deep into the nether parts of our souls and challenges us there. Here, the deepest things of our hearts are challenged. Here, our pride is challenged. If you are white, your whiteness will be challenged. If you are an African, your Africanness will be challenged. If you have a greed for material wealth like the rich young man we read of the other day that will be challenged also.

These and other carnal traits are the things that make up the un-Christlike character in us, and God wants them out of our lives. God sends us His servants to exhort us to bear with hardships for the gospel’s sake. They encourage us to die to self and to our lusts. After we are truly and fully dead, the grace of God – which is the life of Christ – will increase in us, and we will be able to please God in every area of our lives.

[What would you rather have preached in church?]

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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 only 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 say with David in the Spirit:

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

The Need For Sound Doctrine – Part 1

1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. 2 Tim. 4:1-5

What a charge Timothy had! And yet it is today, more than ever, that this charge needs to be carried out to the maximum, despite the dangers that accompany its execution. Dangers, yes, for Paul here tells Timothy that, once he set out to implement this charge he would “…endure afflictions”.

There was a time when I used to wonder at the present-day phenomenon of the mega-church. These are single churches with mass congregations of ten, twenty, or thirty thousand people. It is in most of these churches that the “pop” gospels of prosperity and other doctrines made up by man are preached. In these churches also is where you find a form of hype and sensationalism which would turn the world green with envy.

I used to wonder about these things, just as King David also wondered at how God could allow evil men to prosper (Ps. 73:16).

I used to wonder… until I read 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

Mark the “they” in this scripture. “They” are God’s people and with this particular group of people lies the whole problem of the church. Not all, certainly, but the majority. With God’s people lies the problem of the church. That’s incongruous, to say the least.

Notice there is “sound doctrine”, or “truth”; and there are “fables”. A time would come, Paul told Timothy, when God’s people would not endure sound doctrine. You don’t endure good things; you endure bad or difficult situations. Apparently, therefore, sound doctrine is not good for the flesh. Paul’s reference to sound doctrine here is to the gospel of the cross. He was saying a time would come when people would not endure pain. They would not endure the hard choices that the cross offers. Instead, they would choose the broad and easy road of the flesh.

That’s hardly surprising today, with the feel-good gospels that are being preached in most churches today. That is why people are flocking to these churches. The sad fact, however, is that the people who go to church to hear feel-good sermons are not spiritual people; they are worldly-minded people.

If there was one person who should have had a mega-church here on earth, it was our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that He had such a large following that, at one time he fed five thousand men, apart from the women and children. That means that the number of people who followed Jesus were in the tens of thousands. But these people were not the church.

On the day that Jesus decided to start His church, He turned to these same people and to spoke them these words:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (Jn. 6:53)

At this, His followers scattered like flies. They could not endure His hard words. Only 12 remained – the apostles. And they, too, hang on by a thread! (v. 67)

So, when Jesus was here on earth He had 12 members in His church! And we know that one of them was a devil. That left only eleven.

If things were so difficult in Jesus’ time, how can we possibly think that things are any different – or easier – today? The Bible expressly says that in the last days, the noose will get tighter. How can a man possibly claim to be breathing easier when the noose is getting tighter?

Today, we are living in times like the nation of Israel’s during Elijah’s time. At that time, the nation of Israel had forsaken God and they were worshipping pagan gods.

The nation of Israel is a type of the church. Now, we don’t want to make Elijah’s mistake and declare that there is no church in the world today. Even at the worst of times, God always has a remnant. And so it is even today. God has, within today’s apostate church,

“seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” (1 Ki. 19:18)

And yet, you realize, seven thousand in a nation as big as Israel was is a very small number. The number was so small that Elijah had no idea these people existed!

Now, more than ever, true ministers of God ought to heed Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:

1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine…

5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

[Children play in a drain. They have absolutely no idea the danger they are in if flood waters came crashing through]

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