“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)

Godly Chastisement Brings Godly Character

Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. 2 Cor. 12:5

This is an awesome scripture. Notice Paul talks of two different people here: “an one” and “myself”. Of this “an one” he says he will “glory”, or boast; but of the persona he calls “myself” he says:

“yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.”

Who is this person of whom the Apostle Paul is willing to boast in?

He tells us exactly who this person was: he was a person who

“was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (v.4)

This was a spiritual person because Paul says of him:

“(whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)”

We could use language here to describe these two – the “an one” and the “myself” – as two personalities within the same person. The “an one” is the spiritual man and the “myself” the carnal man. These two personalities dwelt inside Paul, just like they do in each one of us. And the Bible in Galatians 5:17 tell us that the two are in a perpetual state of war.

“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

The incredible fact about the Apostle Paul was that he took sides with the Spirit in its war against the flesh. That is a detail that we take so much for granted; and yet to take the side of the Spirit against our own selves is without a doubt the most difficult undertaking that any human being can attempt. It is therefore profound what Paul says of himself:

“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” (v. 10)

It is a powerful testimony of a man who had surrendered his life completely to Christ that the resurrection power of Christ may dwell in him. Paul allowed himself to become weak in the flesh in order that the power of Christ may rest on him. Christ had told Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (v. 10)

To which Paul responded by declaring:

“Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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.”

Oh, the glory of that! The long and short of it is that when we are strong in the natural, we are weak in our spirits. Conversely, when we allow ourselves to become weak in the flesh through Godly chastisement, we become strong spiritually. If, for example, an argument arises between me and my wife, I as a man am tempted to use my ‘machismo’, or male chauvinism, to remain on top. And she, having heard about the Beijing Conference and women empowerment, will try and stand her ground. Neither one will be willing to go down without a fight.

But the Bible tells us exactly how to bring the power of Jesus into our homes, into our churches and even into our communities: it is through spiritual humility. And spiritual humility comes about through buffeting of the carnal mind in us.

The Bible says in Rom. 14:17:

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

How do we bring righteousness, peace and joy into our lives and into our homes?

It is by following the Apostle Paul in accepting Godly chastisement. It is the only way we can let the Spirit to win in us.

Carriers of God’s Plan and Purpose

11 Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.

12 Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it. Jer. 1:11-12

In this scripture, the rod of almond tree stands for chastisement. In other words, God was telling Jeremiah, “I will chastise you.”

The rod stands for chastisement.

But it is God’s last words to Jeremiah that are of interest to us here. God tells Jeremiah,

“Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.”

In other words, God was telling Jeremiah, “I will chasten you all right. But it is not the chastening that I will be considering, It is not the pain that you will experience that is of importance to me. What is important to me is my purpose.”

God’s purpose and plan supersedes our lives, much less our comfort, or our comfortable lifestyle. The Psalmist said,

“Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.” (Ps. 119:143)

We are mere vessels – albeit living ones – in the house of the Lord. Vessels are made by men. In the same manner, God moulds and shapes us to fit his purpose and plan. It is the height of presumption for a man to think that he knows the ways of God. But God has His ways, which He desires to teach us.

To carry God’s purpose in our hearts, the flesh in us must be crucified. We must die to our ways of sin. That is why if someone desires to carry God’s plan and purpose in his life, he must be willing to suffer much. God told Ananias concerning Paul,

“15 Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)

In our human weakness, we are very concerned with our suffering. When God started dealing with Saul (who would later be called Paul), Saul “kicked against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).

But a time came when Paul lived only for God’s purpose and plan. Then, he realized the wisdom in God’s chastisement of him. He writes:

“9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Paul gave himself completely to be destructed for God’s plan and purpose to be fulfilled in his life.

The Bible also says of our Lord Jesus Christ:

8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; 10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:8-10).

We will never amount to much in the Spirit if we are not willing to be chastised by the Lord. The Lord has only one instrument to shape us with: the rod, the cross. If we are to become true vessels in the house of the Lord, if we are to accomplish anything in the Kingdom of God, we must stop moaning and complaining when God applies the rod to us. We must see in the Spirit and see God’s hand of chastisement upon us, moulding and shaping us to fit His plan and purpose.

For, ultimately, our lives are of no value if they are not fitted into God’s divine plan and purpose.

At the end of the day, we are carriers of God’s plan and purpose. It is only be God’s grace that God esteems us so much higher than the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on.

[The MV Sengerema, one of two ferries that ply the Mwanza-Sengerema channel on Lake Victoria. Nowadays, these ferries operate 24/7]

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Peter, A Humble Apostle (Part 2)

Would you endorse someone who had publicly humiliated you? I am not talking about politicians here; I am talking about we believers. You see, one trait about a believer is that he walks in the truth, and the truth is not always sweet. In the world there is a lot of lying and covering up, and we cannot use the world as our model.

So, would you endorse or truthfully approve of someone who had publicly shamed you. There are some things which are easier said than done, and this is one of them. But we see the Apostle Peter giving his approval, in the Spirit, to the Apostle Paul, someone who had withstood him to the face… before them all.” (Gal. 2:11-14)

Paul had rebuked the Apostle Peter in front of the church. Now, let’s face it, that’s a hard one to take. It is like a slap in the face. What Paul did to Peter would have many church leaders today literally running to civil court to file libel charges.

But not Peter. We see him writing to the church: “15  And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” 2 Pet. 3:15-16

He open-heartedly endorsed the ministry of the Apostle Paul. This scripture alone reveals Peter’s heart far more than anything else that he did or said.

And yet Peter does not always come out in the Bible as a very ‘spiritual’ person. He had many weaknesses and shortcomings which the Bible strangely finds the liberty to lay out for all to see. Every born- again believer today is aware of Peter’s failings. In contrast, only a very small portion of the other apostles’ failings are listed in the Bible.

But even within the Body of Christ today we know who the most lovable of Jesus’ disciples is. Everyone will tell you it is Peter! Which means that even we understand that simplicity of character and a willingness to expose our lives pleases God.

As a result of Peter’s humble character, God gave him more revelations than any of the other apostles. And because of this Jesus automatically chose Peter to lead His church.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat. 16:17-19)

You notice that Jesus used the expression “rock” on Peter, the Peter whose weaknesses everyone was all too aware of. But Jesus was laying the foundation for what the Apostle Paul would later tell us about the Godly nature: “… It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:43)

Notice also that when it came to choosing who would lead the church Jesus did not cast votes. He knew it in the Spirit – and from the character of the man himself.

Peter had a trait which many people, especially church leaders, do not have. He had humility. Many of today’s church leaders are chosen on the merit of “proven leadership skills”, which much of the time translates into a well-educated, groomed character. Jesus chose the rough stone which was Peter. He was looking for someone spiritual, not any ‘perfect’ persons.

Remember Jesus said, “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” – Lk. 9:48. (What He meant was, ‘He who humbles himself most’). He did not say, ‘He that is most educated’ or ‘He who is richest among you’. Were we to use the same gauge that Jesus used in choosing church leaders, the church would be far more spiritual than it is today!

[Below: Sunset in Mugumu Town, the last stop before entering the Serengeti]

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We Should See Chastisement

Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.

And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north.

Then the LORD said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.

For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.

And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.

Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. Jeremiah 1:11-17

Even with the gospel, unfortunately, things sometimes “go with the territory”, as the saying goes. People “see” all kinds of things, and it goes with the environment they are living in. The “seers” in the more affluent West see different things than what those in less developed countries see.

It is highly unlikely, though, that many of these “seers” have the vaguest idea which direction God is headed in.

Listening to many of our local so-called gospel songs (sang by the aptly-named ‘gospel artists’), one hears the craziest things! Africans are generally a poor people and if they are not in the Spirit, they tend to “go with the territory”. In other words, they talk and behave according to the environment of poverty that they are living in. That is why the message of prosperity is so popular in Africa. Preachers of this gospel are the richest people in Africa because they have made money out of promising riches to a desperate and poor people, who in turn give all that they have into the church coffers, expecting to reap a hundred-fold in return!

People are seeing all kinds of things! One time I heard a local song that began with the words, “What are you seeing in the Spirit, my brother?”

That sounded pretty deep, so I sat up to listen. The singer had the answer to her own question, though. She screamed: “Say, ‘I am being lifted high! Like Esther and Joseph of old, I am being lifted up high! From the dust I am being raised to glory!’”

I have no grudge against gospel artists, but seriously, if they have to sing, they should just sing “Glory, Hallelujah!” and no more. They especially should not try to “preach”.

In the scripture above the Prophet Jeremiah saw many things. But here I will talk of only one of the things that he saw in the Spirit. He saw a rod.

What does  that mean and what are the implications for the Church today? A rod means chastisement. That scripture means Jeremiah saw chastisement. In other words, he saw the cross of Christ. In his spirit he saw the crucified Christ and understood the message of the cross, just like the Apostle Paul would many generations later.

Jeremiah had seen well. He suffered much and he endured many things during his ministry.

When we are not on the right foundation we see what we want to see. We see all kinds of things. Another artist asked in one of his songs: “Why should I suffer when Christ is in me? Why should I have any trouble in this world? In Jesus’ Name, I command all problems to leave immediately! Right now!!” And you can hear people in the background literally going around the bend.

It goes with the territory, as I said. When we are poor, and we do not see in the Spirit, all we see is our poverty; and we begin looking into how Jesus can get out of our poverty.

If, on the other hand, we are well off financially and materially (and if we are spiritually blind), pride, arrogance and apathy become our bane.

But God has news for us, just as He had news for Jeremiah and the nation of Israel. Christians today are worshiping at the idols of materialism and the desires of the flesh. God’s servants are preaching a gospel of the flesh, for the flesh. God says He will punish them. But God in His boundless mercy always begins by punishing His servants, the faultless ones. This speaks of the true apostles and prophets in our generation who will have to suffer for the Church just as Jeremiah suffered for the nation of Israel. In other words, God always pays the price Himself! God begins by chastising His own servants.

The Apostle Paul tells the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”! Gal. 4:19

There are many people today who are calling themselves apostles and prophets, but they are not. They are counterfeits. You can tell them by the lifestyles that they live. These kinds of ‘ministers’ would not suffer for the gospel or for the Church. But a true apostle or prophet of God will suffer much for the Church.

It is clear today that the Church is working wickedness through the gospel of materialism that it is preaching. Someone has to pay the price to bring the Church back to God.

Just as Jeremiah saw a rod, the Church today will experience chastisement in order for it to return to a true relationship with God. That is why an understanding of the cross is so vital for the Church today. We need to embrace the revelation of the cross that Christ is bringing into the Church.

The gospel of prosperity, as it is being preached today, is simply idolatry. It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is one true gospel: the gospel of chastisement, like the one Jeremiah saw. That is the revelation the Church needs to catch today.