Spiritual vs Carnal Believers – Part 1

… Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.
51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.
52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? Mat. 26:50-54
In our country we have a tribe called the Maasai. The Maasai men always – always – carry with them three things: a sword strapped to their waist; a club carried in the same manner and, finally, a longish stick. Carrying these things with them is part of their culture.
Moreover, the Maasai are incredibly skilled in the use of these things.
Now, you will find tourists taking pictures of the Maasai in this cultural environment, and these pictures become famous world-wide. But there is something of deep significance in this entire setting which neither the tourists nor anybody else is aware of. What most people do not stop to think is that the sword, the club and the stick that the Maasai carry with them are weapons; and where weapons are there is war and violence. Despite their postcard beauty and popularity, the Maasai weapons do not announce peace. On the contrary, they declare the war in a Maasai’s heart. If you rub a Maasai the wrong way you will learn, to your woe, the reason he carries these things!
The Maasai are among the tribes that are referred to in Africa as “war-like” tribes. In the world, somehow, that is an admirable quality to have. In today’s highly competitive world especially, aggressiveness is a good quality to have. It makes sure you stay at the top of the pack and, in some situations, it guarantees your very survival.
But in this post we will learn that God does not need aggression to ‘survive’ or to be who He is. Above all, God does not condone the violence that we carry in our hearts.
God is a God of peace.
In this regard, let us begin by looking at the attitude that Jesus had towards Simon Peter. In the Gospel of John, chapter 18 verse 10 we learn that it was Simon Peter who carried the infamous sword and it was he who cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear.
The sword that Peter carried on him was not a bar of chocolate. That thing was cold steel and it was designed to do just one thing: to kill.
For Peter to carry such a thing, it meant there was violence in his heart and, when the opportunity arose for him to use it, Peter did not hesitate. Acting on the anger in his heart, he drew his sword and cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear.
Peter was one very angry man.
But these are the issues – issues of the heart – that Jesus came to deal with. Did you know why the Bible says,
“Be ye angry, and sin not …” (Eph. 4:26)?
It is on account of the weakness of our flesh. There are many things that God allows us, not because they are beneficial to us or that they please Him, but He does so because our flesh is weak.
But God would want us to run the race with strength to the end.

Now, many people read Ephesians 4:26 and they allow themselves to get angry because they think God allows them to. But, contrary to what we may have been taught, the fact is that God is never happy with our anger. God does not condone anger and, in many more places in the Bible, God actually condemns anger (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Tit. 1:7).According to James 1:20 our anger is very different from God’s anger:
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
Our anger is tainted with sin.
But God’s anger is pure and it does work His righteousness.

[Below: Mt Kilimanjaro as seen from neighboring Kenya]

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Defeating the Devil

26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

27 Neither give place to the devil. Eph. 4:26-27

This scripture is talking about anger and wrath. In the Swahili Bible, the word “wrath” is translated as “bitterness”.

Notice the scripture here warns us against “letting the sun go down upon your wrath”. That is not something we should take lightly. This is because the devil is mentioned right there. In fact, it says to not give place to the devil. That means the devil is pressing in against us. And the devil is not someone to tangle with. If we are weak, he will break into our lives – and destroy us!

If we “let the sun go down upon our wrath” we will lose the battle with the devil.

Anger and bitterness do not come out of the blue. They occur in our hearts when we have been offended, when we have been wronged in one way or another. But Jesus said, It is impossible but that offences will come…” (Lk. 17:1)

Notice Jesus’ use of language: It is impossible…” In other words, if offences do not come to challenge us, then we are outside of Jesus’ realm of operation! Of necessity, things will come to test our faith.

Now, if you tell me that you do not ever get angry, it will definitely be interesting to know who you are because even the Apostle Paul got angry (Acts 23:1-5)! We all come against situations that will make us angry, and sometimes bitter. The biggest challenge that we have as Christians is keeping our hearts pure when these offences come.

Let us take the example of the Christian who does not watch pornography, does not listen to worldly music, does not curse – indeed, someone who has kept themselves pure from the world. That is truly good and commendable in God’s sight.

But remember the devil is always looking for somewhere to latch a foothold in our lives. He will keep circling around us, looking for that “place”, or space.

My wife works as a nurse in a certain organisation in Dar es Salaam. I, on the other hand, live and work for our church in the town of Singida, 700 kilometers from my family. (Hopefully, by next year my family will have moved to join me in Singida, we are working on that.) That being the case, my wife and I get to see each other once in a blue moon.

Anyways, recently an opening occurred in the organisation where my wife works whereby some nurses were required to come to the very town that I am  in, to work for several weeks. My wife did not know about the mission – until the selection was done and the nurses were just about to leave!

Someone came to her desk and told her, “You were shortlisted for this project, but the manager vetoed against you going because she said she needed you here.” But this manager also knew (indeed, everyone within the organisation knew) that I was in Singida, and she knew  that this would have been as good an opportunity as any for my wife to be close to her husband!

And the lady who brought my wife the bad news added, “All of us who were involved in the selection process were very bitter when the manager crossed out your name. We all wanted you to go.”

My wife told me, “I knew it was a test of my heart, but God gave me grace. I stood steadfast. I told this lady it was okay and I went and bade my fellow workers goodbye with a good heart as they left. And I have not felt a tinge of bitterness in my heart.”

In other words, the devil wanted her to feel hurt, and to react.

I told my wife, “Flo, by keeping a pure heart in that situation, you have won a bigger victory in the Spirit than if you had come here. I am so happy you did not come.”

I felt a deep victory in my heart at the ‘loss’. I, too, did not feel any anger or bitterness at the manager. I am sure the Lord had prepared us long before against this attack of the enemy.

Much of the time, losing in the natural is the only way to gain in the Spirit. Sometimes, though, we are not so grace-full, and we are not ready to lose in the natural. Sometimes we lash out in anger or we harbor bitterness in our hearts, and when this happens we get robbed of the victory in the Spirit.

In such cases, we can chose to repent immediately, and regain our victory; or we can chose to “let the sun go down on our wrath” – and lose the battle. And when we lose the battle, the fruits are there. We begin ‘spreading the word’, an evil word. We want to tell people about our situation. We want to explain things. In extreme cases, we can even curse people, backbite – or even fight physically!

And when we arrive at such a place we suffer miserably at the hands of the enemy. Things like depression set in easily into our lives.

I am glad that God’s Word gives us the chance to not go through such a horrible experience.  We can easily walk in victory against the devil, 24/7, simply by guarding the purity of our hearts. This can only come about as we deliberately crucify the flesh and its lusts in our lives.

[Below: “My sister, guard your heart. And then the joy of the Lord shall fill you up!”]

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No Law, No Sin!

Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Romans 4:15

[This is a rather long post, but please read to the end]

What picture do you have of God? I am sure that however much we sing and preach and believe about a loving God, somewhere in the back of our minds we have a tiny, nagging picture of God as a strict (sometimes unforgiving) authoritarian. The way we are, it would require a lot of grace to see God in a totally different light.

One of the people who had the grace to see God as He really is was Abraham. Why do I say this? It is because the Bible calls him the father of all those who believe (Rom. 4:11). God said something to Abraham and the man believed, just like that. And the Bible declares that because of Abraham’s simple, unquestioning faith, God accounted him righteous in His sight.

Have you ever wondered why Abraham would believe God so easily? Why did Abraham believe – and ultimately inherit – God’s promises? I believe that in his spirit Abraham saw a different God than the one many of us see in the secret recesses of our hearts. I am convinced that Abraham saw a good God. Abraham saw the goodness of God, and when he saw this goodness, he was assured that because of this goodness God would do all that He had promised to do.

In other words, Abraham saw not the God of law, but the God of grace. In Romans 4:16 the Bible talks of the circumstances that surround our inheriting God’s promises: Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace”.

Notice the word ‘grace’ there. The faith that Abraham had was based on a vision of a God of grace.

Contrast that with Moses. Moses spent a considerable time arguing with God when God was commissioning him to go to Egypt. Moses also failed to circumcise his firstborn son and the Lord would have killed him on the way had it not be for the quick thinking of his wife who immediately took a stone and cut off her son’s foreskin. (Remember Abraham circumcised every male that was in his house, himself included, the very same day that God told him to do it. That is incredible obedience. It challenges me so much!)

No wonder, then, that this halting, questioning Moses was given the law to deliver to the children of Israel. I very much doubt that God would have given Abraham the law as He gave it to Moses. Written on tablets of stone. No way! Abraham had God’s law all right, but it was written elsewhere. Moses was, alas! a transitory figure. He came in at the wrong time, just when God had to introduce the law. But the law was for a time. Therefore Moses represented  a passing shadow, the law. Moses is a sad figure in the Bible. There is no joy about him. On the other hand, Abraham represented the bright light of the full knowledge of God, and of His grace.

And with the law, it was a complete clampdown on any freedoms the Israelites had. They had to obey that law to the letter – on pain of death.

Recently my eyes were opened to the meaning of this scripture (Romans 4:5) as I was evangelizing a certain lady. I told the lady that the way of salvation was through believing in God’s Son Jesus Christ whom God sent to become a propitiation for our sins.

“But your deeds are important”, she said.

“No”, I countered. I calmly told her that our righteousness with God is accounted to us solely on account of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I used scripture to show her that there was no way we could possibly please God until God Himself had intervened on our behalf.

“A person has to prove their ‘holiness’ by their righteous deeds!” she insisted. She couldn’t for the life of her imagine God accepting anyone unless they had first cleaned up their act.

The lady is a teacher, so I used an English expression. “You cannot put the cart before the horse”, I told her. I told her that I agreed with her that our deeds are important, but they come after the fact of the free gift of righteousness.

“Only believe”, I said.

As I spoke with this lady, the Lord opened my eyes to see something that I had not seen before. The question came at me out of nowhere: Why are we so angry at those we perceive to be sinners? Why does it rile us when we see the imperfections in others, or even in ourselves?

In that instant I glimpsed the indescribable grace and mercy of God. I saw the true character of God. I saw how in Jesus’ sacrifice, God put away His anger (represented by the law) and how in doing so He stopped seeing any sin in us. Being a just and righteous God, had He seen any sin in us, far from fulfilling any promise He had made to us, He would immediately have had us punished.

(This is most clearly seen in the strict observance with which God bound the children of Israel to uphold His laws. You can also read about what happened to the Egypto-Israelite boy who cursed God’s Name in Leviticus 24:10-14, 23. Or the man who was caught collecting firewood on the Sabbath – Numbers 15:32-36. For those of us who wonder at the cruelty that God allowed His people to mete out to the pagan tribes in their path, the answer is: law. There is a lot of anger in the Old Testament.)

The Bible says that God introduced the law to contain sin as the time was awaited for the appearance of Jesus Christ, who would not only bring eternal salvation, but also reveal the true character of the Father. During this time of law God could not do otherwise, other than become a God of law Himself, although His tender nature more often than not showed through.

But now, praise be to God because He sent His Son Jesus Christ, who came, not with law, but with truth and grace. And the truth that Jesus came to reveal is that our God is not an angry God. On the contrary, He is a loving Father, merciful, gentle and kind-hearted. In affirming this the Bible declares, For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved”! (John 3:17)

Why are we so easily aware of sin? It is because we are still under law! We become angry at the sin we see in us and in other people because law has to do with anger and that law is still in us. Our hearts have neither comprehended fully nor grasped the grace of God.

The classic example of this in the Bible is the woman caught in adultery. Were it not that the Pharisees thought they could capitalize on this unfortunate woman’s plight by using her to challenge Jesus, they most likely would have stoned her at the scene of her crime; they were so mad at her!

Again in Luke 7:37 we read about a woman “which was a sinner”, who came and anointed Jesus’ feet with oil as He sat at dinner in a Pharisee’s house. The Bible says that the Pharisee, on seeing this ‘sinful’ woman touching Jesus’ feet, said to himself, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”

Clearly, he was not happy at seeing this woman in his house.

In both cases, Jesus welcomed the ‘sinful’ women and they experienced amazing grace as Jesus (as God) set them free by not only forgiving them of their sins, but liberating them from the power of sin! In the New Covenant that Jesus brought (the new dispensation that we are living in right now), that ought to be the reality of our everyday life – living a life of freedom ourselves and liberating others through forgiveness and tender-hearted care!

There are some Christians who live as if they are in prison. They have a prison mentality and they believe every Christian should be in their prison too.

I have even heard Christians say, “If God were to put me in charge of this world for just one second…” meaning they would do things differently. They would burn, they would raze, they would annihilate every ‘undesirable’ thing in the world!

Well, praise God He is not about to hand over the reins of control to anyone, and because of that there is freedom and opportunity for everyone. Sinners are getting saved every day and believers are being perfected every minute of their lives. Isn’t that wonderful!

Praise be to God that all this “is of faith… that it might be of grace”! It all begins with a simple act of faith – believing – after which grace is released to bring out the good works of Jesus in us and to perfect us, all in perfect joy and in total freedom.

It is no longer of anger nor of law. In 1 Corinthians 15:56, the Bible says that the strength of sin is the law. We cannot defeat sin by being men and women of law. We cannot defeat sin by being angry at it. In order to defeat sin we must carry the grace of God in our hearts. We must put on Christ (the man of grace) – fully!

Our Struggle…

And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.

Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?

And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?

Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. Acts 23:1-5

There is nothing like a whack in the mouth to bring out the ‘snake’ in us. That was what happened with Paul. This is one of the rare moments when the Apostle Paul is caught breaking God’s laws. He ‘spoke evil’ of a ruler of God’s people, which is against God’s law. Actually, Paul insulted the high priest. That was a sin.

Paul was caught off-guard, which was a very fortunate thing to happen to him. Why fortunate? Because it exposed a fault in him which he probably did not know existed.

In a moment of weakness Paul allowed the flesh to triumph. He gave place to his old anger.

But Paul was quick to repent and move on. His defeat was momentary. He hurriedly stood up, dusted himself, and moved on.

Some of us lie there for hours, days, years even, wallowing in the mud of self-pity, unforgiveness, hard-hearted denial, and pure pride. But God is not going to take a knife and prune back His standards just because we want to nurse our flesh.

I wonder if Paul was embarrassed by the exposure of his weakness. Maybe he was. But again, maybe he wasn’t. Paul was a man who rejoiced in his weaknesses – even the revelation of a fault on his part.

Not that Paul would rejoice in the anger that he manifested here; and yet, I am convinced that Paul was very happy to have any such a failing in him exposed.

It is the hardest thing for a person to admit their weakness. We scramble to hide our nakedness, just like Adam and Eve, our ancestors in the flesh, did. But that is not God’s nature. God is the Great Revelator – and I am not talking about visions and dreams. I am talking about Him revealing our failings, weaknesses, flaws and faults.

Paul knew something about God. He did not waste time thinking, “This can’t be! How can I be caught like that, a great preacher of the gospel like me?” I am aware that there are times when I got angry with God for allowing me to be caught in such ‘embarrassing’ situations. But I am ashamed because that has simply been human pride on my part.

On the contrary, Paul realized that he was only a man and if there was any perfection in him, it was all by the grace of God. He was happy to admit his humanity.

God has never tried to sweep anything under the carpet. He has never spared anyone, not even His best ones. He exposed them all! How much more will He expose us. The things we try our best to hide from people He says that one day He will cause them to be shouted from someone’s rooftop!

You might appear a simpleton by admitting your human-ness. But that is exactly what we should be doing. Jesus said we should be like children! Do you think children are embarrassed when they make mistakes? Hardly! They move on with life as if nothing has happened.

Let us stop being God. None of us is perfect. Only God is; and we are not God. Let us be simple folks like the Apostles were. In that way, we will have much grace upon our lives, for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” James 4:6

The Power of Humility – Chronicles of a Bus Conductor (Pt.1)

Recently, I was riding the town bus in Dar es Salaam. Now, commuting by public transport in this hot coastal city is not your favorite cup of tea: demand for buses beats supply by far especially during rush-hour and the stakes are high since everyone wants to get a seat for the ride home or to work. No one welcomes the idea of spending one or even two hours standing in a bus, sweating! And because our forefathers queued long enough during the slave trade days, we have thrown that ‘Mzungu’ concept out the window. People prefer to rush the bus long before it comes to a stop. But this is strictly for the able-bodied. It is an unspoken rule that if you do not visit a gym regularly, you should not attempt that stunt. I tried it once and I am glad I lived never to try it again! When the first wave hits the bus, you can hear that banging sound – ka-boom! – as powerfully-built bodies hit the bus. One of the greatest miracles – literally – is that I have never heard of a person being run over by a bus in such situations.

Even after the seats have been occupied people are invariably stacked up, standing, like maize cobs. Sometimes you are so squeezed together you can’t even wave a finger.

In such circumstances it is only natural that patience is at a premium and tempers flair up at the slightest provocation. Bus conductors are not known to be very civil when provoked and the saying, “An eye or an eye” rules supreme. For them it is a defense mechanism; they do not allow themselves to back down under any circumstances.

On this particular day, a middle-aged lady had entered the bus and was standing shoulder to shoulder with me. I could feel her jostling for position, pushing this way and that and the word ‘Trouble’ was pasted all over her! I did not have long to wait. Soon the conductor began demanding fare from those around him and in the process he tapped this lady’s shoulder and asked her for her fare.

The minute he did that, the lady blew up like a landmine. She turned on the conductor and methodically tore at him with a barrage of insults. It turned out she did not like being touched on her shoulder, particularly by a bus conductor, and she made that clear in the rudest manner possible. Then she did what she should never do with any bus conductor: she threatened to not pay up. Well, as far as I knew conductors, this lady had just set the stage for one of the biggest showdowns in the history of this town. I could imagine the kind of reaction that would be coming from that conductor. You are allowed to insult the conductor, if he can take it; but threatening to not pay your fare is asking for a small world war. Normally, in such cases, the passenger will end up paying; but there is no clear winner because either verbally or physically, each party will have made sure they walk away with a piece of the victory.

I glanced at the conductor. He was looking down and I could not see his face. He was a young Muslim man (he had on his cap), and throughout the onslaught he had just stared at his sandaled feet. He must have a wife and kids, I thought; and, as a man, I knew he would fight his ground. When he looked up, I expected to hear him say: “Driver, stop this vehicle this instant! Someone here thinks I am their son-in-law and they are going to pay right now!”; or something like that.

Instead, the young man slowly raised his head, looked the lady in the eye and said quietly, “Madam, I am sorry, please forgive me.” I could see the expression on his face and there was no malice there.

Now, you wouldn’t understand the power of such a statement coming from a conductor unless you live here. It was not the words, really, but the way he said it. There was a deep sincerity and humility in his demeanor.

It suddenly became very quiet in our part of the bus. Everyone knew something momentous had happened. The conductor bypassed the lady and went on picking fare from other passengers as if nothing had happened. Everyone was paying as if they were before a priest. Then, humiliation written all over her face, the lady dipped into her purse and handed her fare to the conductor. The conductor thanked her and we continued with our journey without further incident

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Sometimes after my wife has gone to bed, I remain on the couch and turn off the lights. That night I thought about the kind of heart that young Muslim man had shown. His humility had won a major battle.

I sat there and let the tears flood down my face.