A Reward Awaits!

Do you know that, right now, as you sit there reading this, something awesome is going on in heaven. In fact, many unimaginably marvelous things are happening in heaven just about right now. Let us read about a few of them.

“1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)

Wow! Notice the second part of this scripture. It is informing us of an incredible fact. That right now, as we speak, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Right now. Wow! How truly awesome! But the reason for this, as we shall be seeing shortly, is due to something that Jesus did while He was here on earth.

But let us read on further about what is going on in heaven with Jesus. Bear in mind this is happening real time.

The Apostle Peter, talking about Jesus, says:

“Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers made subject unto him.” (1 Pet. 3:22)

Wow! Jesus is not only seated at the right hand of God; but angels and authorities and powers have been made subject to Him. As we speak, Jesus wields power and authority over every angel, power and authority, whether in heaven or on the earth.


Let us read a little bit further.

In Acts 7:55-56, as the Jews were stoning Stephen, he lifted up his eyes in the Spirit, and the Bible declares:

“55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”

Again, Wow!

Jesus was not only now seated; He had stood up. He stood for this man Stephen.

Who do we stand for, anyway? We stand for those who are worthy of our respect: the elderly; and those who have accomplished something worthy of our honor. In athletics, as the winner comes round the last bend of the final lap, we all stand to cheer. It is what took us there in the first: to experience the thrill of victory. We cheer wildly for the victor. We cheer wildly for someone who has done well.

I remember one time, during a great football match, that the great master of football, Ronaldinho, playing for the great team of Barcelona, played such a fine game against another great team, Real Madrid, that, at the final whistle, not just the Barcelona fans, but all the Real Madrid fans stood up to honor him. They stood up to honor an opposing player. That was the great maestro, Ronaldinho. He and Pele are the greatest pair who ever touched a ball.

But the Christian believer runs a different race altogether. All these great worldly accomplishments by earthly people are nothing when it comes to what we are called to do in the Spirit. Nevertheless, they are there for us to imitate in the Spirit.

As the man great man of faith, Stephen, made his final victory sprint across the finishing line of eternity, Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, could not bear it; and He stood up. He stood up to cheer Stephen, and to honor him. When the Bible says that Jesus stood up, that means all heaven stood up. All heaven stood up to applaud and honor a great athlete in the Spirit.

Back to Jesus. The Bible firmly affirms that Jesus is set at the right hand of God in heaven. But, as I said earlier, the reason Jesus is seated at the right of God in heaven was because of something He did while He was here on earth. Yes, Jesus did something right here on this earth that earned Him such a great reward from God. What, pray, could one do on this earth that could give one such a mark of distinction in the presence of God? The Bible has the answer. It tells us that Jesus:

“… endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

While He was here on earth, Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame. For this reason, He is seated at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers subject to Him.

You cannot have your cake and eat it. That is a worldly saying; but then God has given men the wisdom to coin such sayings, for their own good.

When He was here on earth, although He was God, and although He was Lord of all and had all power and authority both in heaven and on earth (Mat. 26:53); yet Jesus

“7 … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)

Did we read the word “humbled himself” there? Yes, Jesus humbled Himself. He made Himself of no repute. He willingly surrendered all He had. He gave His body to sinful men, to do with it as they wished. And they rent all their anger and rage upon that body. He stood silently as they did so. He did not lift a finger to defend Himself.

This is what the cross is all about. That was Jesus, who was God and who was Lord of all. He endured the cross.

How much more we? How much more ought we to humble ourselves under the cross? How much more ought we to count ourselves as dung in this world, that God might lift us up in the Spirit? How much more ought we to confront situations (and wilful men) with grace in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit in us? For this was exactly what Jesus did.

For this reason God has greatly exalted Jesus.

“9 Wherefore God also hath exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Again, Wow!

What a great calling we have! Yes, right now. What an incredible opportunity we have! What an incredible grace, to be able to follow Jesus in His sufferings and death, that we might enter victorious in heaven, and to be equally exalted?

What is our reward, anyway?

It is to live with Him forevermore. To behold the face of God forever! The Bible in Psalms 16:11 says:

“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy: at the right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

We normally associate the word “pleasures” with the worldly pleasures that we know of. But I sure am glad to read that with God there are “pleasures”; which are no mere worldly pleasures! We have no business pursuing worldly pleasures, which are so temporal. God has in store for us eternal pleasures.

The problem is that when our spiritual eyes have not been opened we do not see these things and we therefore live largely for the flesh and its desires.

But if we see these things in the Spirit, we will deny ourselves as Jesus did. That in effect means we will have no rights to fight for. We will endure the cross, and despise its shame.

[The athlete goes to great lengths to achieve his/her goal]


A Race To Run!

We were watching the clip below when someone remarked, “Their bodies are built like men’s!”

She was referring to the athletes’ bodies.

I almost made it to my feet, but I was a second too late. Hot, biting tears tore out of my eyes and I howled out in inexpressible anguish, right there in front of everyone. I was way beyond caring what anyone thought of me. For, at that very moment, I realized the enormity of the price that these athletes had paid to become… priceless.

These great athletes were the best of the best. They were the world champions. But, to arrive there, it was clear they had lost a vital part of their personality. They had lost their physical identity as women!

Biceps like men’s. No catwalk grace. It was the only way they had a chance of competing in this unique race. But at the end of it all, the world lay at the winners’ feet.

I spent the whole day crying. Or probably it was the Holy Spirit crying in me, I don’t know which. But I knew God was reminding me of the price that I needed to pay if I wanted to become a spiritual champion. I realized I had more than a lot to lose. I would need to lose my identity.

The world is wise to its own ways. Worldly athletes know the price they need to pay to win the top race. Businessmen and investors know what they need to do to get more money. Politicians know what strings to pull to get to the White House. Everyone knows what they need to do to arrive at their goal.

It is only the church that is not really serious with its race, the spiritual race. Much of the church is running a different race today. They are running a worldly race. When the church teaches a materialistic gospel, and when its preaching is nothing more than motivational speaking, that is a different race. That is not the race that demands we lose everything.

I haven’t seen any serious athlete running with their favorite 3-piece suit on, just because he or she loves showing off in it. Such an athlete wouldn’t have any chance of winning, unless he was running against non-professionals. But I can assure you that the devil, the world and sin are not non-professionals in the field of spiritual athletics. No one really knows how long the devil has been practicing his trade, but, in terms of years, it is comfortably in the thousands. He is a real professional, and he has beaten many in the spiritual race to eternal life.

There are many things that we need to give up if we are serious about winning the spiritual race that we have began in Christ. But we need a gospel that deals with the heart, for all the things that Christ tells us to die to have to do with the heart. The heart is the crucible of man. This is where God works with man. God does not work outside a man’s heart. Dealing with the things of our hearts is what is called giving one’s life. That is why Jesus told the Pharisees,

“25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also” (Mat. 23:25-26).

Our Lord was telling them to clean out their hearts first. A sacrifice that does not come from the heart is no sacrifice at all. Our Lord, Jesus, gave His life for us. He did so by sacrificing the things of his heart. Here is what the Bible says:

“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. 2:21-25).

Our Lord ran the race powerfully. Although reviled and shamefully treated, He did not threaten, nor pay in kind. At no one time did He allow the flesh to have its way in his life. He crucified it. He therefore became our ultimate example, and the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

Are we dying to self? How much are we giving away of ourselves, that others may gain?

How about the ministry? How much are we giving for the gospel? In my country, in the 80s, I heard of working men who heard the call of God upon their lives, and they would suddenly stand up from their desk and leave without saying goodbye, never to return. Some were in very powerful positions, but the call of God was infinitely more powerful. I know of such men who are still serving God today.

These were genuine men, who heard God’s genuine call upon their lives. They were unafraid of the consequences, economic or otherwise.

Today, God’s call to serve seems to have been handed to charlatans on a silver platter. Many who come into the ministry today are impostors and wolves dressed in sheepskins. They are people who are out to fill their own bellies.

The reason, of course, is that the foundations have been destroyed, as the Bible says in Psalms 11:3. The Psalmist most likely was seeing into our day. Today, definitely, the foundations of the gospel have been destroyed. There is no genuine-ness in the gospel.

But God had foreseen all this. He therefore prepared a time in our generation when He would reveal His Son to the church. That time is today. Were it not for the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ, and the grace revealed therein – a revelation that has come just in time – today, we should soon have witnessed the total submergence of Christ’s true gospel under the tyranny of the false gospels of prosperity and materialism making the rounds today.

But praise God, that will never happen. God by His grace has brought us the revelation of the cross. The revelation of the cross has brought light – the light of the knowledge of Christ. There are many areas that the church needs to wake up and run the race – and win big. And it is possible, thanks to the Spirit of Christ and his sufferings.

The Bar of Bigotry – Part 1

9 … seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;

10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;

13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. Col. 3:9-13

I once wrote a post in which I stated that my favorite sport is athletics. (They say opposites attract each other which is true in my case: despite my love of athletics, I could easily bag a gold medal for being the most un-athletic person in the world! I could take a week to finish a city marathon.)

Anyways, on reading that article, my friend Suzanne Young sent me a clip of an inter-school high jump competition. I don’t know how she knew that I would appreciate a high jump clip, but I believe she was in the Spirit because actually two of the athletes that I admire most are female champion high jumpers Ariane Friedrich from Germany and Blanka Vlasic of Croatia.

I have written about the high jump here because the scripture that we are going to consider today has something to do with clearing a certain bar, the bar of bigotry. My Thesaurus offers a rich collection of words to describe bigotry: prejudice, racism, intolerance, narrow-mindedness (my favorite). We could even add narcissism. If a believer can clear the hurdle of bigotry in his or her life, then such an one is a truly spiritual man/woman. But clearly, this can only be achievable when a true spiritual transformation has occurred in that person’s heart.

In the natural we as humans have many differences. Some of our differences are less harmful than others, like an African’s preference not to walk dogs (I hope I got the terminology right). You would need to pay me a huge amount of money – and that’s just because I needed it – to make me walk a dog up any boulevard. It’s simply not in my system to walk dogs, although I think I love dogs.

Cats I simply detest. I love them only when they are catching rats. Actually, I once had a cat which I really loved. He was a champion rat-catcher.

Both these preferences are very African and I daresay quite harmless – as far as I am concerned, that is. (But there probably is someone on the other side of the hemisphere who is about to burst a neck vein over the fact that I don’t like cats!)

The fact, however, is that being pro-cat or not has nothing to do with the gospel. There are other, more dangerous ‘preferences’ which are the true poison for the child of God.

The really dangerous stuff are things which are rooted deep within our natural makeup. There are, for example, racial perceptions embedded deep in the genes of our physical make-up, things that we can do nothing about. A white man has perceptions about the black man (some justified and some not) over which he has no control. The same is true of the black man. Even if he was born and bred in the Western world, he still has inbred perceptions about the white man which are just a part of his African nature.

These genetic forces/differences are extremely powerful, and it is only the gospel of Jesus Christ that can truly set us free from their power.

[Below: on a wintry day in Singida, a young girl looks wistfully out of a window]


Are We Wise? – Part 1

Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it. Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone. He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death. The flood breaketh out from the inhabitant; even the waters forgotten of the foot: they are dried up, they are gone away from men. As for the earth, out of it cometh bread: and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires: and it hath dust of gold. There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen: the lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it. He putteth forth his hand upon the rock; he overturneth the mountains by the roots. He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.

But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living. The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me. It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it, neither shall it be valued with pure gold. Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven; to make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure. When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out. And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. Job 28:1-28

When I was in secondary school, there was a boy (whom I shall call Hercules) who was a few years my senior, probably two classes or so. This boy was, quite simply, a phenomenon. He was involved in virtually every field activity; and he outshone everyone in whatever he chose to do. I remember in particular that he was the all-time best hockey player and best swimmer at school. He excelled in every swimming style: backstroke, butterfly, breast.

During one of our school dormitorial swimming contests I was chosen to represent my dorm against other contestants, one of whom was Mr. Hercules. It is a mistake my dorm leaders must still be mulling over, 3 decades on.

The guy must have hit the water before I even heard the whistle. The rest, as they say, is history. By the time I finished the race, he could have gone to the Hilton downtown, had his lunch and walked back.

“Life’s not fair!” says the graceless Scar in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’. Hercules was built to bring much more misery to us. One can be athletic without necessarily having an athletic body, right? But it was not so with Hercules. He had the most athletic body that I can recall even to date. Broad, powerful shoulders, a muscle-ribbed torso, powerful legs, the works. You did everything you could to avoid being found anywhere near this sensation of a man.

Naturally, Hercules was also one of the top school prefects. It seemed life revolved only around him.

Now, you would think that if there was a God (something I was taught to believe since I was a child), He would have mercy on us poor ungifted souls and put a brake on things right there. We thought things could not possibly get worse, but they did. This time God did not simply turn the handle a notch higher; He sent it hurtling into space. A disaster of Herculean proportions was in the making and none of us boys had the slightest hint of it until the day it hit us like a tornado. This one must have affected the entire student body…

Apart from his many other superior virtues Hercules was also extremely handsome. This, however, was not too much of a problem since we had no girls to compete for in our school. But all this was about to change and, unknown to any of us, Hercules’ good looks would provide the coup de grace that would wipe out the last vestiges of life in us.

What happened was that one of our teachers decided to bring in his family from England; and one of his children was a girl. She was a girl of extreme beauty.

I know it is not true, but sometimes it is the most difficult thing to not believe that God is unfair. There were hundreds of boys in that school, but this girl fell in love head over heels with… Hercules! No boy was allowed to have a girlfriend but somehow, every evening after school, the girl’s dad would allow Hercules to walk the girl around school in full sight of everyone. Sometimes one did not know what was more bearable – to have them safely in your sights as they walked hand-in-hand or to see them disappear around a corner and not know whether a secret kiss or a whisper was passed from one to the other!

The rest of us were, in a word, dead. We were the walking dead. It was more than we could take. But the situation was beyond our reach and there was nothing we could do about it. We concentrated on our studies as best we could and it was with a sigh of relief that I personally saw Hercules wearing a graduation gown and knew that that was the last I would ever be seeing of him.

The thought never crossed my mind that he might be coming back to check on his English sweetheart. God at last remembered us and did not allow that to happen, otherwise a considerable number of us might have become nervous wrecks!

I cannot remember for sure but if I ever had Hercules in mind during any prayer that I made (assuming I did pray) there was no doubt as to the kind of prayer that I would have had for him. It would have to do with asking whoever was in charge to send a bolt of lightning to strike the fellow dead.

After I left that school I joined a gym to try and get Hercules’ chest and shoulders, but it never worked. I would lift irons but no muscle developed. Only my sinews got tougher. So I resigned.

With time I forgot my race of life against Hercules and moved on…

True Spiritual Victory

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,  And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Php 3:7-14) 

In every race, each athlete’s eyes are fixed on the finishing line. Once he or she touches that line they consider they have finished the race. But over and above that they make every effort to finish in a winning position so that they can receive the prize. After all, the really important person is the one who wins because he or she is the one who receives the prize.

The Apostle Paul desired to not only finish the heavenly race but to be that winning person. Paul got the revelation that the way to this was to conform to Christ by partaking in His sufferings and death. That meant forgoing, or denying all his earthly and fleshly rights. Only through this means could he attain to the prize of God’s high calling, which was the resurrection of the dead. And what is this resurrection of the dead? True, it includes the hope of eternal life that we have. But it also involves carrying the life of Christ in the here and now – victory over the flesh, the world and the devil.

The gospel that the Apostle Paul carried needed to be a revelation so that it would not get mixed with the craftiness of human wisdom. The latter appears like it has Godliness in it, but it never changes someone. It simply has not the power to do so. A revelation was what Paul got and he testifies that it changed him completely. He became, not a religious person, but a changed man.

How we need that revelation in our hearts today! That revelation will break us, and make us vessels worthy to carry the life of Christ. Through the manifold riches of God, the winning spot is one that is available to all of us.

We who are saved need to ask ourselves many questions today: whether that change is taking place in our lives daily; whether we are continually carrying a heart of true humility? Whether we are guarding and maintaining a pure heart at every cost? Whether we are paying the price of walking in true love and a tender, forgiving heart. These are things that require a high price indeed. And these are the things that the spiritual athlete is made of.

Christians today are busy boasting of their victories over the devil; but how often do we see the Apostles talking of the devil? They talked more about another more subtle and infinitely deadlier enemy: an enemy who does not and who cannot submit to the will of God. That enemy is the flesh. Unfortunately, today there is ‘another’ gospel being preached, which gratifies the flesh. It caters to and pampers the flesh. God’s people are not taught to crucify the flesh. On the contrary, in this ‘new’ gospel the flesh is very important . Live well, eat well, drive well, dress well, etc. Success is measured in financial and material terms. The ‘good life’ is emphasized. God’s people become, in effect, enemies of the Cross of Christ!

Well, I am sure God has no problem us living that good life. But He expressly instructs us to crucify the flesh. How we can reconcile the two is a gymnastic tightrope that much of the time we are unable to walk carefully enough. We easily play into the hands of the spirit of the world. Note the freedom of the man who, in Apostle James’ words, can live contented with the simple life: Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.” James 1:9-10