So Much Gain In Suffering!

“So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto the crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself; and he sat down among the ashes. Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.” Job 2:7-10

My sights today are set on those words in verse 10:

“What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

Have you been through some challenges lately? Have I?

Of course, we have. But what, pray, should our attitude be when we go through trials and temptations?

Our attitude should be the same as the one that the righteous men and women of old had. And Job was one of those righteous men of old. The Bible says about Job:

“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” (Job 1:1)

You couldn’t get a more righteous man than that, could you? But God allowed this righteous man to go through the most difficult situations that any man can experience in the natural. Job suffered!

But it is in suffering especially that God can accept or “receive” us, as it says in Hebrews 12:6:

“For whom loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”

The olden saints who knew God also knew His ways. To know God is also to know and acknowledge His ways; and the truest sign that we know God is when we can be at peace when we are passing through difficult situations in our lives. There are times in my life, unfortunately, when I have been rudely forced to face up to the fact that I did not know God. A situation will arise, and I will find myself hitting all the panic buttons available, just because I was looking at the situation with my natural eyes. And soon enough God will show me how blind I am because in virtually every one of those stormy seasons where I was panicking and generally behaving like an unbeliever, He was working out things for my good!

Indeed, the Bible says,

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

The flesh would rather not suffer. That’s a fact. For most of us, we would rather be saved and never have a single problem in our lives. We want a smooth ride in life. We would rather not face or experience a single problem, sickness, challenge or difficulty all our lives. How thankful we would feel! But we all can acknowledge that that is the way of the flesh. As long as things are going well in the natural, we are happy and rejoicing.

But even the blindest believer can at least acknowledge also that God’s ways are hardly our ways! If that is the case, therefore, rejoicing and dancing on our part does not necessarily mean that God is happy and rejoicing. God rejoices only in the Spirit. As far as God is concerned, therefore, the important fact is not whether we should suffer or not. The important thing with God is that He is working His good will in and through us. And God’s good will could hardly be the ‘good’ that we know of in the natural.

There is something else we should learn about God in this regard. It is that God is perfect. That means that there is nothing in God that we can criticize or fault. The Bible says there is no “shadow” of turning with Him! (Jam. 1:17)

What does that mean?

This should mean that whatever God allows into our lives, we should not question or feel bad about. As long as our hearts are for God, we should trust Him that all will turn out well for us.

What does the Bible say about Job?

“So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…” (Job 42:12)

Imagine that! No one would want to go through the hell that Job went through. And yet the Bible says that his suffering turned out his latter end better than his beginning.

Job’s wife did not see this coming. She was blind in the Spirit. So she told Job, “Curse God and die!”

When we, too, are not seeing in the Spirit, we moan and complain and want situations to change for good in the natural. But the spiritual person can allow something to go absolutely bad without protesting for out of it, he knows, more life will come!

The Greatest Promise Of All

11 It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him… (2 Tim. 2:11-12)

What powerful words! What an incredible promise! And right here, as an aside, let me say that I have heard both powerful and unpowerful preachers enumerate the promises that God has for us in the Bible, and I have never heard them mention this one. You wonder, What are Christians being taught in churches today? Aren’t Christians being taken for a ride by the very preachers they have entrusted their souls to? And it is a ride straight to hell.

But let us embark on our lesson today by looking at another incredibly powerful scripture.

“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” Acts 2:24

That’s talking of our Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture here plainly states that it was not possible that death could hold Jesus.

If language is anything to go by, the words “not possible” mean something, don’t they? Another word for “not possible” is “impossible”; and other words for “impossible are, “impracticable”, “unachievable”, “out of the question”.

It is clear, therefore, that there are some things that death can achieve; and there are others that it cannot. That’s interesting, because even the Bible makes clear the power of death, for in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, we read:

“25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

Death is an incredibly powerful enemy. No man is free from the grip of death. Even the great partriarch David was held by death, as the Bible says in Acts 13:36,

“For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption.”

But of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible states:

“But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.” (Acts 13:37)

Death had no power over Jesus simply because it was not possible for it to have power over Him!

“not possible”. What beautiful words! In the context they are in, they probably are the sweetest words in the Bible. But they are not just beautiful; they are also powerful. The power in those words is incomprehensible. And the stratospheric question here is, Why was it not possible that Jesus should be held by death?

The Bible says it is because God would not allow it.

“Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (Acts 13:35)

God would not suffer, or allow Jesus to be held by the power of death. Again, that is awe-inspiring. How could that be so? Why?

You see, God is the determiner of everything. He is the I AM. All things exist in Him. All things and everything therefore is easily under the control of God. So when God says or does or even so much as wishes something (for He always does so according to His irrefutable wisdom), there is NOTHING that can rebuff Him. In fact, it is much more than that. When God was creating the universe, He just wished it, and it was so.

In the same manner, God did not wish Jesus to see corruption – and it was so.

So how come that every man since Adam has seen corruption but not Jesus? What made Jesus so special? Why would God wish and therefore not allow Jesus to be held by death? Was it on a whim?

Certainly not. The reason why God would not allow Jesus to see corruption is, simply, because Jesus obeyed God! It is that simple; and yet, again, it is not that simple. The price that Jesus paid to obey God is uncomprehendable. The Bible says in Isaiah 53:12 that

“because he hath poured out his soul unto death”.

Jesus poured out his soul unto death. The Bible is full of the sufferings and ultimate ignoble death of Jesus. Jesus lived the kind of life that we find practically impossible to live here on earth.

It is in this context therefore that the Apostle Paul makes clear the importance of our identification with Christ. He tells us that in order for us to achieve anything of value in the Spirit, we MUST identify our lives with the sufferings and death of Christ.

“11 It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him…” (2 Tim. 2:11-12)

Notice the sequence of events here. If we die to self as Christ died to self, we shall have the life of Christ in us here on earth. As the Apostle Paul says,

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Gal. 2:20)

If we suffer with Christ here on earth, we shall reign with Him in heaven.

And pray, what, exactly, is suffering with Jesus?

The words of Jesus Himself explain this best.

“39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” (Mat. 5:39-41)

[God’s call to the church is to crucify self just as Christ did]

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The Eminence Of The Cross – Part 2

Firstly, in 1 Cor. 1:17-18, Paul states,

“17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

Notice what verse 18 is telling us. It is making a difference between being saved and taking up your cross and following Christ. These are two completely different things. In other words, you could be saved but not be under “the preaching of the cross”. You could be a believer who panders to his or her carnal lusts. One who is not fulfilling the righteousness of God in their lives. But the Bible declares that to those who have accepted salvation, the cross is “the power of God”!

In other words, when we are allowing the cross to work in us, the power of God is revealed in us! The power to do what? To defeat sin and to work the righteousness of God in our lives.

The Apostle Paul feared lest the cross of Christ should be made of “none effect” in the lives of believers.

Wow! What a mighty revelation!! But Paul goes even further and writes similar words in Philippians 1:29:

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”.

The believer has two mandates. Actually, one – salvation – is not our mandate. The work of salvation has been wrought by God Himself; we were dead in sin, and God resurrected us in Christ Jesus. A dead person cannot resurrect himself, so we were not involved in any way in our salvation. Salvation is all of God’s grace (Eph. 2:5).

The singular mandate that we have been given is to crucify our flesh. God calls us, by the Holy Spirit that He has given to us, to crucify our fleshly lusts and desires. Galatians 5:24 puts it thus:

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

Again, this is of grace. According to His great mercies and love, God has decided to make us co-workers with Him. He makes us co-workers with Him in His fight against His enemies. And, pray, how do we fight God’s enemies?

It is not by screaming at the devil, as most believers have been taught. Nor is the believer’s victory in the thousand and one “steps” that fill most charismatic teachings.

On the contrary, there is only one way to defeat the enemy. It is by crucifying the flesh! God gives us His Holy Spirit for the express purpose of crucifying the flesh. Once we have crucified the flesh, we are done. Done, I said. That is what it says in Ephesians 6:10-20. Here, it is well documented how our spiritual warfare is waged solely on the battleground of the flesh. Just look at our armor (vss 14-18).

Truth. Righteousness. Peace. Faith. Salvation. The Word of God. Prayer. All these things require a denial of self.

It is all about crucifying the flesh! Once we crucify the flesh, the devil has nothing in us (Jn. 14:30). The devil fears a dead Christian! But when he meets a ‘live’ believer (i.e., one who is living for himself), the devil has a powerful weapon. We do the devil’s work when we fulfill the desires of the flesh.

Hence the cross. This mandate that we have from God – to crucify our flesh – was the reason the Apostle Paul held the cross in such esteem. You can see in his epistles that the singular thing that the Apostle Paul defended was the cross. Unlike many preachers in his time (but more so today), Paul did not boast in the great works that were done through him; nor in visions and heavenly visitations, all of which he had in abundance. On the contrary, Paul boasted

“in mine infirmities” (2 Cor. 12:5)

What does Paul mean by “infirmities”?

We shall see that in the next chapter of this series.

‘Unfriending’ God

14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.

15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. Lk. 16:14-15

I am pretty sure that when we get to heaven, there are many, many things that will surprise and probably shock us. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were to faint right off and have to be resurrected twice – if that option is there. If you don’t read the Bible carefully while you are down here on earth, it is a given that you could find yourself in a very regrettable position when you get to heaven.

People will be shocked, but it is not because the Lord did not inform or warn us of these things. It is because we have hard hearts, and the revelation of God cannot penetrate our spiritual consciousness.

When they read Jesus’ words in the above scripture, for example, many believers, upon reading these words, think that Jesus was referring to the world. They therefore waste the precious opportunity to look into their own state and instead point fingers at the world. But the church, of which Jesus is the Head, has absolutely no business with the world except to preach it the Good News of salvation. We cannot talk of the world in church. A preacher cannot, for example, waste a whole sermon talking about the great king of pop, Jacko the Wacko in church and claim he is preaching the gospel. He could mention the man in passing, but the king of pop could never become the subject of a church sermon.

Jesus could not, therefore, have been addressing the world when He spoke these words. Jesus was addressing the church. Indeed, we find that here He was addressing the Pharisees, who were the bona fide ‘church’ of that time. It is in this regard that we need to understand also that the Bible is a spiritual Book, and it is written to spiritual people – believers, the church. The Bible is not written to the world for the Bible is scripted in spiritual language, and the world does not understand spiritual language. That is why even a born-again believer, if he does not have a spiritual mindset, cannot understand the Bible. By spiritual mindset I mean the desire, thirst or hunger for the things of the Spirit. There are believers, for example, who seek for material gain in the Bible. Such people cannot understand the spiritual gist of the Bible.

Having therefore established that Jesus was addressing these words to the church, it is imperative that the church WAKE UP!! What is going on in church today is shocking beyond belief. Today the church is nurturing the most obnoxious strain of people on earth!

Who are these people? They are the worldly-minded preachers. The church is coddling and holding in high esteem men (and women) who preach and live any kinds of gospels other than the true gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the cross.

Today the most vociferous, the most televised, and the most revered preachers today are men whose lives are not desirable to the Lord. Most are lovers of money. And they are lovers of many other things that are not of God. But when men justify themselves before men, it is easy for men who have no revelation to follow them.

What does it mean to “justify yourselves before men”?

A preacher who has no revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ in his heart cannot preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, he will preach a gospel in which he justifies his own ways. The Pharisees, for example, were lovers of money, and they preached things that justified their covetousness. They went to the extent of teaching that whatever financial help one should have given to his parents, he could put into the church coffers instead – and that he would be “blessed”.

That is what the Bible means by “justify yourselves before men”. It means that men preach whatever justifies their own lusts.

In our country I heard of a preacher whose ‘ministry’ is to “comfort” widows. He “comforts” widows by sleeping with them. But he uses scripture to carry out his diabolical ‘ministry’.

But where the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ is preached, such people will never be allowed to see the light of day. There is simply no place for them in the true church! The gospel of the cross reveals and confronts the evil in our hearts. The preacher who has the revelation of the cross in his heart is the only person who can usher people into the Kingdom of God.

The Pharisees had just heard Jesus say, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon”; and because they loved money, the Bible says they “derided”, or mocked, Jesus.

One of the truest signs that you are a man or woman who is not going to heaven is when you find yourself deriding the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. How do you ‘deride’ Jesus, or His message? It is when you find yourself being a ‘fan’ or follower of a gospel other than the gospel of the cross. It is when you cannot deny yourself. The message of the cross is the true message of the road to eternal life. It is the message that the apostles preached, and it is the message of which God commissioned the Apostle Paul to write more than half the New Testament about. It is also the message that righteous men and women throughout the ages have suffered terribly on account of.

Finally, Jesus declared:

“… for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

What does that mean? Lacking the capacity to deny himself, a preacher who does not take up his cross and follow Christ will bring up a doctrine that will draw people to him in order that he might gain in the flesh. He might be seeking after fame, or financial gain. There are many things that a preacher in the flesh could be seeking after.

Jesus’ words here are a shot across the bows, so to speak. Such a preacher cannot please God. God hates preachers who would draw men to themselves. If we are to please God, it can only be if we are to follow Christ’s doctrine as laid out in Matthew 16:24:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

He who teaches and lives such doctrine is the true friend of God.

[Below: Here, no doubt, the writer meant “No love, no stress”! In Tanzania, as probably in other countries, truck drivers write out their frustrations on the back of their trucks]

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Living The Resurrection Life – Part 2

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Phil. 1:21

 

Part 2

“…and to die is gain.”

I haven’t heard anyone speak that kind of language lately. It appears that, today, the world has so much to offer!

But, again, the early apostles were men who saw in the Spirit. They were men who were ready for another world. They had leavin’ (this world) on their minds. In the Spirit, they saw and desired another world, God’s spiritual Kingdom. The Apostle Paul says,

“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (v. 23)

For Paul and the other apostles, being with Christ was “far better”!

But then, apparently, today, many believers cannot see as much into the Spirit. The reason for this is that other gospels have come in and blinded them to the heavenly vision. The churches with the biggest numbers today are those that preach on materialism. But the gospel of materialism is not taking anyone anywhere near heaven. On the contrary, it will most likely take many to hell.

Most people think that if they can throw in an “In the name of Jesus” to anything they say or do, then that thing becomes spiritual. But that’s not true. Jesus Himself said many would even do miracles in His Name and still not enter heaven (Mat. 7:22).

How can someone say, “to die is gain”?

It all depends on the gospel that one is hearing. There is only one gospel that has the power to make someone say such words. It is the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Christ. Today there are many gospels that abound, but they do not bring a revelation of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”. And yet…  “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” is the only true message for the church today.

THE CHURCH NEEDS TO HEAR THE TRUE GOSPEL, THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED! THE REVELATION OF THE CROSS IN A MAN’S HEART IS THE POWER OF GOD THAT BRINGS THE TRANSFORMATION NEEDED TO MAKE A MAN WORTHY OF HEAVEN.

Upon reading the epistles, we find that many in the early church were men and women who did not count their lives dear to themselves (Acts 20:24), on account of the gospel that they heard. Through this gospel, they had a true heavenly vision. That means they saw the glories of heaven. They saw into the Spirit, and what they saw made them willing to trade in their worldly lives for the heavenly one. That is why they were willing to die. For them, death for the sake of the gospel was the Golden Gate to heaven.

But, pray, how can one be so willing to leave this world? And how can one be so unafraid of death?

It is because they had met with the resurrected Christ.

The classic example of this are the apostles. Many died for their faith. They were killed. We recall the Apostle James, who died at the hands of King Herod. But before the revelation of the cross in his heart, this man had so much of the world in him that Jesus nicknamed him and his brother John “the sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17).

These were the men who were so chagrined that a particular village would not line up and obediently clap for Jesus as He passed through, so much so that they asked Jesus whether they could not be allowed to call down fire upon that little village as Elijah did.

James and John were they also who wanted each to be sat on either side of Jesus in His kingdom, thinking His was an earthly kingdom.

In every instance, Jesus rebuked them vehemently. It is safe to say that with the kind of outlook that they had in life, these were earthly, carnal men. They could hardly expect to go and live with Christ in His heavenly Kingdom.

But after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we find a new attitude in James. It is clear now that in the Spirit, he had seen something different. He had seen “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” – and he had been transformed. He was willing to trade in his life for Christ.

In Acts 12:1-2 we read,

“1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. 2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”

I am sure that, now, James welcomed death. In his spirit he must have been saying, “Hurry! Take me to my Lord!”

I can imagine if they had tried to kill James before the revelation of the crucified Christ had come into his heart. He would have died cursing and kicking. Not a spot of heavenly light in his life. Just seeing the dark world he was leaving behind, nothing else.

That is why the church needs the revelation of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) today more than ever. This is the only gospel that can make us to consider dying as gain. The words of the Apostle Paul need to be heard more and more in church today:

“… to die is gain”

In another place, the Apostle John says,

“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).

We must leave the spirit of the world behind if we are to have confidence at Christ’s coming. We must be found abiding “in him” – in His sufferings, and in His death. Having this mind in us, we shall not fear physical death; on the contrary, we will welcome it, for it alone will usher us triumphantly into Christ’s presence.

[Below: The approach to Iguguno, a small town just outside Singida]

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The Gospel Brings Persecution

6 … And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.

11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within.

12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth,

14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice:

15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out.

16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home.

17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out.

19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. Gen. 39:6-20

More often than not, the devil comes dressed as a woman. And if you refuse his advances, he has only one option for you: persecution.

It would have been the easiest of things for Potiphar’s wife to let things be, after Joseph had fled from her. But she would not. Through this action Joseph had proved that he would never lie with her, and she vowed in her heart to make him ‘see red’.

And red he did see, even though not to the extent she probably had intended. As a slave, he ought to have been killed immediately. But God’s hand was upon Joseph, and He was working all things for his good. Instead, Joseph was thrown into the king’s prison, and there he languished for 13 long years!

As children of God, persecution is the only thing that awaits us in this world. I realize that is not exactly ‘good news’; but it is the news of the hour – and the hour is now. If you have been hearing the gospel of how much God only wants to bless you and how He will not allow the devil to touch you even with his small finger, I can assure you that you have been hearing the wrong gospel. Actually, there is nothing in the Bible to support such beliefs. On the contrary, our Lord Jesus said,

“I am come to send fire on the earth…” (Lk. 12:49)

He also said,

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Mat. 10:34)

Where do we get the idea that Jesus brought peace and prosperity?

Right at the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God had told the serpent:

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

In other words, God said He would allow the devil to do something against us!

In the Bible, we see that this happened with Job, the Apostle Paul and all the men and women who walked with God. They all followed in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. They were persecuted!

The problem with the church today, of course, is that it is complacent and worldly. In other words, it is world-friendly. But that is no position for the church. It can only be so for a church that is avoiding persecution. Persecution refers to a person who has turned their back on the world and its ways. The Bible says about Joseph:

And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her.” (v. 10)

In the days that we are living especially, persecution is bound to increase. The world has so suddenly become emboldened against God it’s almost surreal. We will have a choice to make.

That is why we need to have the mind of Christ in us. That statement, “To have the mind of Christ” might have appeared banal a few years back, but today it is imperative. Having the mind of Christ means denying yourself, taking up our cross and following Christ.

And that is exactly why any other gospel simply will not do! Nothing apart from the gospel of the cross can prepare us for what is coming.

Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem, knowing He would suffer and die there. Nothing would turn Him back. But again He knew it was the will of the Father that he undergo the suffering. Resurrection life would come out of that suffering.

We, too, must accept and be willing to undergo suffering in this world. We must be prepared to undergo opposition of every sort, for the enemy’s anger against us has been kindled. And yet… the enemy is inconsequential here. It is God who is in control of everything, and He uses even the enemy’s anger for His purposes. That is why scripture says that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28).

We therefore need not fear as we go through persecution. On the contrary, we should be emboldened and strengthened in hope of receiving something far much better.

As Joseph would prove later, in dying we live – and live big!

[Below: The sun sets over Dar es Salaam City]

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Sharing In Abraham’s Reward Through Suffering

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Lk. 16:19-23

Notice that when Lazarus died he was carried by angels straight into Abraham’s bosom. That little piece of news has deep spiritual implications. It means, first, that Lazarus had the same faith that Abraham had. Secondly, it translates to the fact that, ultimately, Lazarus shared in Abraham’s spiritual promise.

But Lazarus must have paid a heavy price for his faith, and this is the essence of this post. His physical condition must have been the butt of his neighbors’ jokes. I actually give this rich man credit for allowing Lazarus to be laid at his gate. But, obviously, he would not allow himself to interact further with such a lowly species.

But, as he sat at his neighbor’s beautifully-emblazoned gate waiting for the crumbs, Lazarus must have shared his message of salvation to anyone who cared to listen. He preached! The rich man’s words in verse 27 indicate he was aware that Lazarus could deliver a message. He must have heard him share often of the hope that he had in him.

But I can imagine people shaking their heads as they passed by and saying to Lazarus, “If you have a God, where is He? How can you be in such a condition and claim to have this all-powerful God?”

They would have told him, “Look, man; you have a wonderful message, but we don’t see much of this great God you talk about!”

And Lazarus probably would have tried to explain to them that God is not found in outward conditions but in the things that have to do with our hearts. But people look on the outside. Few would have paid any attention to him. As far as they were concerned, he was not representative of an all-powerful God.

People of the world cannot see into God’s spiritual Kingdom. They cannot discern the deep inner work of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart, a work accomplished through suffering. Unfortunately, this worldly spirit has also crept into the church. God’s people no longer see in the Spirit. They look on the outside. They see God only in blessings. You will hear people say, “So-and-So is so blessed! He just bought a new car.”

Well, we thank God for cars for they can take you from point A to B much quicker than walking on foot or riding on a bicycle. But cars are hardly the blessing that God promised Abraham. When you die, the fact that you owned a car will not usher you into Abraham’s bosom.

In most churches today, if someone is poor, or if they are suffering in one way or another, it is automatically translated that they do not have faith. And yet, it is in this very crucible of suffering that God works on us to perfect us! Sometimes God will even allow a sickness to stick with us just so He can work in us through it.

And so, in the midst of his very difficult situation, Lazarus kept his faith. As people jeered and wondered aloud where his God was, Lazarus allowed God to perfect His work in him. He kept his faith.

When he died he was received in Abraham’s bosom. He shared in Abraham’s reward.

As children of God, we cannot allow outside circumstances to dictate to us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who also suffered in the flesh. Jesus suffered in His flesh, but He kept His faith. He is our example. We must be ready to identify our lives with His, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

[Below: On some routes in Tanzania, “bora ufike” (just as long as you arrive) is the key word. In this photo, to the left, in a space reserved for only one passenger, four more are crammed in. The lady on the near right side is seated directly on my lap]

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Grace, Grace For The Church – Part 2

28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first. Mk. 10:28-31

2. The second significant thing that we find in the above scripture is the manner in which Jesus answered Peter. Jesus was always – always – in the Spirit. Everything He did was spiritual; and if you asked Him a question in the flesh, like Peter did here, He would answer it in the Spirit. Jesus never answered anyone in the flesh, no matter the spiritual mode in which the question was made. He never missed the mark. This is because in His heart Jesus never lost focus of the Kingdom of God.

Peter’s question was in the prosperity-gospel mode, which is a carnal approach; but Jesus answered him in the Spirit. He hit the bullseye: He told him it was all about the church.

I believe that in answering Peter, Jesus found the best opportunity to talk about the glories of the church. This must have been one of His finest moments. He must have enjoyed this moment tremendously.

But judging from the way Peter presented his question, it was a tense moment. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to believe that Peter was even contemplating leaving. At that particular moment, after Jesus had made the no-riches declaration, the atmospehere within the camp was verging on the mutinous.

The wonderful news is that Jesus remained cool as a cucumber. He gave it to them exactly as it was, and stayed put. He did not compromise God’s standards to please anyone. I am not saying that Jesus would have loved to see His disciples leave; but He would not have been fazed in the least had they left.

“…he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Mat. 10:38).

The bottom line is that God is not a respecter of men. He respects those who humble themselves and take the road of the cross.

But Peter had a humble heart, and he stayed, despite the disappointment. So did the other apostles.

3. Finally, let us consider the essence of Jesus’ answer to Peter.

Notice carefully Jesus’ answer: “29… Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions…”

That is Jesus’ promise to the church concerning what it would receive in this world.

When Jesus said, “But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands”; do you really think Jesus was talking about worldly material things here? No, sir!

On the contrary, Jesus was talking about the abundance of God’s grace that would be found within the church. The Kingdom of God is not about things. It is about God’s grace, the grace of God that is revealed in God’s people’s lives as they give their lives sacrificially one to another.

The Kingdom of God never has been, and never will be about the things or riches of this world.

The Kingdom of God is all about the grace of God in believers’ lives.

The Bible says of the early believers:

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32).

They had all things common.

In our contemporary self-driven, self-made and self-possessed setting, it probably is rather hard to imagine such a state of affairs where people have all things in common. But that is simply because we have allowed the flesh into the church.

But personally, I have tasted of this joy of the church. I have spiritual brothers and sisters and mothers galore all over the world. And when it comes to the things of this world, I have everything I need on account of the church. I have houses, I have cars, I have lands. None of them is in my name, of course, but they are mine all the same simply because they belong to brethren who literally love me as their own soul.

Finally, notice the phrasing of Jesus words, “with persecutions…”

“With” speaks of “going together”. In other words, grace for the church and persecution go together. Jesus was making it clear that there is no grace without the crucified life. Grace goes with persecution. Where an abundance of grace is there is also an abundance of persecution. We can see that with the Early Church, and with the life of the Apostle Paul.

Persecution comes in many forms, but the crucified life is a state of heart. You have either seen the light or you have not. You are either ready to surrender your life or you are not.

This grace that would be found in the church would come from people whose lives have been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20).

If we are not carrying the crucified life, we will end up like the Corinthians. There was no grace, and there was not much of a “church” there at the time of Paul’s writing. Only divisions and selfishness.

But where there is the revelation of the cross there is much grace, grace for the church.

And the final reward?

“…and in the world to come eternal life.”

[Below: The fire of persecution brings much grace to the church]

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Paul’s Thorn in The Flesh

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

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. 12:7-10

I remember in my early days after I became born-again, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. As foggy as my memory is, I do seem to recall that no preacher seemed to have a grasp on this one, nor did I receive much help from the many books that I read. Looking back now, I find that to be incredibly strange because the answer to this question is right there in these very verses. Paul says in verse 10, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake”.

These things, “infirmities… reproaches… necessities… persecutions… distresses”… these were what constituted Paul’s thorn in the flesh.

By infirmities Paul is not referring to physical illnesses, no. He is referring to something far more profound, a forfeiture in the inner man.

In this post, however, I want us to go beyond there and attempt to see why God gave Paul a thorn in the flesh, and why this thorn would accompany him throughout his earthly life. It is clear from the scriptures that God allowed this thorn in Paul’s flesh for just one purpose: so that Paul could serve God the way God wanted him to serve Him. These are the kind of things that make me root for God – that God is God and that He will always work things to the end that He alone receives the glory.

God made it clear to Paul that the minute that thorn was removed from his flesh, he would cease to serve God in exactly the way God wanted him to serve Him. And so God put Paul permanently “in the stocks”, so to speak.

That is a far cry from how many of us serve God. Yes, we serve God all right, but without the thorn in the flesh. We serve God with too much freedom in the flesh. Which translates to the fact that we do not serve God effectively.

But the things that Paul endured in the flesh enabled him to serve God more effectively than any of the other apostles: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” 1 Cor. 15:10

You don’t want to think that something for which a man like Paul prayed three times to have removed from his life was a small irritation. No sir. I can say with all confidence that Paul most likely was involved in a life-and-death situation every day of his life. And God told Paul he would have to endure this state of affairs all his life here on earth.

To paraphrase God’s words to Paul: “Paul, I cannot allow you to be not without this thorn. This thorn is what will confine you to Me. It is impossible for you to serve Me without this thorn. If I allow you to serve Me without this thorn, you will easily boast in your achievements for Me, and not only will I not receive the glory, but you will lose your reward in heaven.”

And so God sent a messenger of Satan to buffet Paul.

in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses…”

In Paul, God had found a willing servant. Having accepted this thorn as God’s will in his life, Paul was ready for God to invest in him the fullness of His revelation of the cross of Christ.

Many people are in church today, not to partake of the thorn in the flesh, but to seek reprieve for the flesh!

Many people are in church today because they want God to put food on their table, to help them pay their bills, to prosper their businesses, to heal their bodies, to provide them with a marriage partner; the list is endless. In short, many are in church to have God solve the many problems they are facing in the flesh.

The single reason there are so many un-Godly doctrines in church today, including the doctrine of prosperity, is because people went to church in the first place to seek for something other than the life of Christ. But Christ’s church has only one thing to offer: the cross. But men do not want to hear of the cross. The minute men saw the cross, they fled Christ’s church and started another church right across the street. And there, they comfortably allowed in every doctrine that would cater to the flesh. As they sang, “Glory, Hallelujah!” they consoled themselves that they were in the perfect will of God!

Every doctrine in church, apart from the singular doctrine of the cross that the Apostle Paul preached, is there because men have a hunger for things other than the righteousness of God.

But praise be to God for men like Paul who, in the face of God’s thorn in his flesh, said, “I rejoice!”

God had told him, “There is only one way you can serve me: it is by carrying this thorn in your flesh!”

That is a question we should all seriously ask ourselves. Where is the heart of Christ in Christian ministry? It can only be there when there is that thorn in our flesh.

[Below: Despite the thorn in Paul’s flesh, yet he was the happiest of men!]

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Christianity Is A Call To Suffer

25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:

26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? Lk. 24:26

Notice that Jesus tells His disciples here that all the Old Testament spoke of His sufferings. All. Not one prophet did not speak about the sufferings of Christ.

More importantly, though, notice how Christ’s sufferings are tied up with the glory to come. In other words, for Christ to enter into His glory, the door that He had to pass through was sufferings!

It is incredible how carnal – how un-spiritual – the church today has become. We have no vision of the eternal glory. Less so is our perception of the road we need to take to arrive at that goal.

Nowadays, the church is full of prophets and other ministers who prophesy about what God’s people are going to enjoy once they believe on Christ. I remember, many years ago, I went to a lunch-time fellowship in the city and I heard one of the most famous preachers of that time saying, “God is about to give you that Mercedes Benz that you have been praying for!”

And the hall was packed full of God’s people.

In retrospect, now, I cannot understand the logic of that statement. A Mercedes Benz! What does a Mercedes Benz have to do with the Kingdom of God?

That’s how far today’s ‘prophets’ have gone from hearing from God.

But with the Old Testaments prophets, the singular message they heard from God was the sufferings of Christ. They did not hear any other message. They did not hear the message of prosperity.

In the New Testament, God brought the message of Christ’s sufferings closer to His people, beginning with His apostles. God always begins with the apostles.  He reveals His message to them, then He applies that message to their lives. The Apostle Paul received a singular revelation of the sufferings of Christ for the church. When he went to the Corinthians, therefore, he says, “1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” 1 Cor. 2:1-2

In effect, Paul was saying he received the same revelation of the sufferings of Christ that the Old Testament prophets received.

After He gave him this revelation, God brought this revelation to work first in Paul’s life. In Acts 20:22-23, the Apostle Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, says, “22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”

The Holy Spirit did not witness that Paul would suffer in a few cities. No. The Holy Spirit witnessed to Paul that he would suffer in every city. Every city! And so this most faithful of God’s servants walked about with a thorn in his flesh all his life.

That is the spirit that we need to catch. Failure to do so will find us out of league with Christ. We are all aware that after our initial confession of Christ into our hearts, life goes on. What many of us do not realize is that this life that goes on must of necessity be an identification with Christ in the Spirit, in His sufferings and death – towards the goal of eternal glory. In other words, the life that we now live in Christ is a lost life in the natural. It is not a life where we simply rejoice because God has “put food on my table”. The latter – which is all too common today – is too simplistic an interpretation of the Christian life. It is too basic! Ultimately, it is a carnal understanding of the Christian life that we have been called to. Significantly, it is an interpretation that is bound to keep us spiritual “babes” forever. And there is no sadder place for Christ to find one of His children when He comes back!

In today’s tech world there is something called “upgrading”. People are always upgrading from one app to the next.

In the Spirit, too, we need to upgrade. For, since Christ was to be a true Son of God, the Old Testament prophets did not see Him in the Spirit receiving childish things like Mercedes Benzes. On the contrary, they foresaw Him suffering and dying in the flesh. They saw Him in His perfect “upgraded” status. This is the core of spiritual maturity.

Let us pray to God to reveal to us the singular gospel that He revealed to the Apostle Paul, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Then, and only then can we be sure we are on the right track – the road to the eternal glory.

[Below: In a village deep in rural Singida, a young girl poses for a photograph]

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