Identifying With Christ

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Jn. 6:66

This is, incidentally, one of the few scriptures embedded with the dreaded 666 logo; and it probably is no coincidence, for what happened here is indeed disturbing.

Y’know, you can be reading the Bible for a hundred years and you won’t notice some things until one day God pulls aside the curtain, and it hits you like the Chicago Express.

The problem, of course, is that we have a tendency to romanticize things. You might, for example, have some really idyllic ideas about the writer of this blog; but after you meet him, you might begin noticing things that will make you to become less cozy with him. That is called reality.

In the same vein, we could read a scripture like the one above and drop our jaws in “utter disbelief” that people could leave off from following our Lord Jesus Christ. But the reality closer home could be that we are also walking “no more with him.”

The Bible says that “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof” (Eccl. 7:8). When it came time for the Lord to reveal the end of His calling to His disciples, for many of His followers it was not “better”, but rather the exact opposite! Notice that not a few, but “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”

As much as Christ desires that all men be saved, still the church is not about numbers. When the church begins to understand the true message of Jesus Christ, not many will remain true to their calling. For the truth is that our calling to follow Christ is not so rosy in the flesh.

The cold fact is that many today are in church to get things from God. There are many who are after riches, material things. Others are after vain glory. (There are many false apostles, prophets and teachers within the church today, and all they are seeking after is the glory.)

Many, many more people are following after Jesus to receive bodily healing and such-like things. But few are there to identify their lives with Christ’s by taking up their cross and following Christ in His sufferings and death.

That is why we thank God for the Apostles who, led by Peter, stayed put and endured the difficult prospect that was staring them in the face. By then, they probably had began to understand that even though Jesus had entered Jerusalem “triumphantly”, ultimately He would lose His life right there.

Today, more than ever, we need to walk in the reality of our relationship with our Lord Jesus… the reality of living a crucified life, the reality of losing our life, however difficult and painful it might be.

Jesus said, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Lk. 17:33).

We need to marry our lives to that very principle.

[Below: A pride of lionesses in the Serengeti National Park. Needless to say, lions have incredibly fast reflexes and are not to be tangled with]

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Photo Credit: Prisca Ambe

Persecution and Grace – Part 1

32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;

33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.

34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Heb. 10:32-34

The early church certainly did undergo persecution. There is no question about that. But there is also no question about the fact that, despite this persecution, or probably because of it the early church was also a church in which the grace of God flowed abundantly.

In Acts 21:8-11 we read: 8 And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. 9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. 10 And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. 11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. Acts 21:11

This man, Philip, had four girls, all virgins, who prophesied! Without a doubt, this ought to be declared the first wonder of the modern world.

Here we have all four sisters in one family prophesying. Not one or two, but all four. And the Bible goes to pains to point out that all these girls were virgins, which I am sure points to the importance that God attaches to those who are willing to pay the price to become “vessels of honor” (2 Tim. 2:20-22).

But notice also that these four girls were not prophets; they simply prophesied. This is a ministry of exhortation or direction to the church through a direct Word from the Holy Spirit. It is a slightly lower ministry than the ministry of the prophet. (The functioning of the Holy Spirit within the church is infinitely unlimitable, and that is why we cannot have a tunnel vision of the Holy Spirit’s operation within the church.)

And, therefore, these girls stayed with Paul for “many days”, but it was not given them to tell Paul what would befall him in Jerusalem. It required a prophet of God, Agabus, to travel all the way from Judaea to come and confirm to Paul the weighty matter of his impending persecution in Jerusalem.

Notice also that the Bible refers to both Philip and Agabus by their spiritual offices, “evangelist” and “prophet”. The Bible does not call the girls prophets.

In other words, women may not hold office in the Spirit, which designates authority; but women can minister in the Spirit in many different roles.

(One more thing we need to point out is that these girls were prophesying in the church. There are people who will say that women ought not to open their mouths in church; but I can assure you that these girls were not prophesying in their father’s living room. They were prophesying in the church. There are all kinds of misunderstandings of scripture simply because people will not rely on the Holy Spirit, but on their minds. But the Holy Spirit is faithful, and the minute we turn to Him, He opens up the Word to us. Actually, there are two ways of reading scripture: you can read and try to understand it by using your very fine mind; or you can decide to become a fool for Christ’s sake and pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide and help you. One approach will bring you life; the other, law (“It is written!”) – and death.)

But what I want us to notice here is the incredible grace that was in the early church. This church, which was persecuted left, right and centre, was the same church that produced men like Philip, Agabus, and Paul – and these four extraordinary sisters.

Probably the modern church is not as persecuted as the early church was, and that is why it is difficult to find this pervasiveness of grace operating in today’s church as was the case with the early church. Maybe someone will point to the great move of the Holy Spirit during the charismatic era, and the many miracles and healings that took place then. That was the grace of God at work all right; but it is what I would call the “tip of the iceberg”. There is so much more grace at work when people are denying their flesh and partaking of the sufferings of Christ: there is so much more inner glory. There is victory over sin, joy, and peace. Even death has no power over such people.

No one desires persecution, nor does the Bible tell us to pray for persecution. But on the other hand, if you give the flesh too much rope, the Spirit is stifled. That is why, whether we are persecuted or not, we should always carry the mind that Christ had of denying the flesh. The flesh is our No.1 enemy. The Bible says about our Lord Jesus Christ, “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me… By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb. 10:5, 10).

Notice the word “offering” there. The believer’s body has been given him/her, not to be pampered, but to be sacrificed. And that is the mind that we need to carry.

[Below: Life for the early Christians was a life of great persecution and profound want]

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A Contrast – the Corinthian Church

This post stems from Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9.

Do you know what “contrast” means? For our purposes, let us use the word which my computer’s Thesaurus provides me with here, “dissimilarity”. In this post I want us to see how dissimilar the Corinthian church was to the Macedonian churches.

Talking of prosperity, let me point out at the very outset that at the time of Paul’s writing, the Macedonian churches were the richest entity on the face of the earth. At their time these were the richest people in the world. No earthly conglomerate existing today could boast even a whiff of the wealth that these churches had.

But, of course, it was wealth of a different kind altogether that these people had. It was the true heavenly riches, the riches of a gracious heart. It could well be that there were other equally spiritually rich churches, but we have no need to speculate.

But at the same time that these Macedonians were exhibiting such riches of the grace of God in their lives through their liberality, the Corinthian churches were exhibiting the exact opposite through their stinginess! I am sure that had the Corinthians been half as generous as the Macedonias were, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 might never have been written!!

The Bible clearly says that the Macedonians were poor in worldly riches. But it does not say the Corinthians were poor. Nowhere does it indicate that these guys were anywhere near poor materially. On the contrary, history is replete with accounts of how rich the Corinthians were!

Moreover, after granting them salvation, God graciously blessed the Corinthian churches with every kind of spiritual gift. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7: 4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift…”

This church was bristling with the gifts of the Spirit, so much so that Paul even had to write and put order in that church with regard to the usage of these gifts! (1 Corinthians 14)

But alas! this church lacked the most important gift – the grace of God. It is incredible, but true. You can have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and still lack in the most important gift of all, the gift of the grace of God upon your life. It is a contradiction of terms, but it certainly did occur with the Corinthians.

This fact manifested it self in their lives in the following manner: these guys had been promising – indeed, they had bound themselves – to give a financial gift, a certain amount of money, for the poor saints in Jerusalem. And yet, for a whole year, they had not parted with a single cent!

The Bible says that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. We can have every kind of spiritual gift working through us but still lack in the most important gift, the gift of the grace of God upon our lives. In today’s spiritual context, we highly regard men who work the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are so enamored with the manifestations of these gifts! And yet, while it is true that these gifts are needful in church, it is clear from Paul’s words to the Corinthians that the greatest “gift” that we can have as believers is the Holy Spirit working in our lives to produce the character or grace of Christ in us. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Hey guys… just as you have been enriched in every kind of gift in the Spirit, including your love for us, may you also be enriched in the grace of giving” (2 Cor. 8:7, paraphrased).

Apparently, they needed to be “pushed” in some areas. That is not grace.

Actually, when it comes to ministry, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 provide the clearest example of the practical application of grace in a preacher’s life. In these two chapters, the Apostle Paul finds himself confronted with a situation where apparently only law could work. But Paul was a man of grace! He therefore used every means possible, embedded here in these two long chapters, to cajole these hard Corinthians into living a life of grace.

Paul was a true spiritual father!

This goes to show that we cannot bring back the spirit of law into the church, however big the sin or infraction. We must go out of our way to make sure that whatever needs to be dealt with in church  is dealt with in a spirit of grace.

The way Paul dealt with these Corinthians gives his ministry great esteem in light of the gospel.

As for the rest of us, may we never forget that walking in grace is fulfilling the royal law, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Bible says that the person who does this has fulfilled the whole law of God.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves, of course, demands that one deny their own self. That means we die. And, pray, what can you do with a dead person?

Need we say it again? Yes, we certainly do – that it is only at the cross where this grace can be found. When our lives are identified with Christ’s in His sufferings and death, when we are constantly (daily) denying our own self and taking up our cross and following Him, there will this grace be found in its fullness.

[Below: The spontaneity in the lives of children provides us with the clearest example of the grace of God]

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The Price of Following Jesus/‘Worldly Correctness’/“Who is my mother, or my brethren?”

57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.

58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

59 And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.

60 Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.

61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.

62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Lk. 9:57-62)

I was first drawn to this scripture by the phrase, “Let the dead bury their dead…” I wondered so much why Jesus would call a grieving family “the dead”.

But before we discuss that, let us see what Jesus said to the first man, the man who told Him, “I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest”.

Jesus told this man, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

That is incredible, to say the least. The Son of the Most High God had nowhere to lay His head? while even foxes and birds have somewhere to lay down and sleep?! The Kingdom of God is a worldly paradox. That is why Jesus’ words cannot marry with the “Money, come to me now!” gospel or lifestyle that worldly preachers try to propagate today (see the clip in my post “Prosperity Gospel vs Suffering for Christ”). Suffering is the price for following Christ.

Jesus was here telling the man the price to pay for following Him. He was to expect to gain nothing of this world.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

The Apostle Paul knew the price. In his writings, he puts it this way, “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” (1 Cor. 12:10).

At least, now, we know the price. It is to lose all.

Let us get back to Jesus and the man who wanted to first go bury his father then come follow Jesus. Jesus told the man, “Let the dead bury their dead…”

In African society we highly revere a family that has undergone a death, and we would hardly use such words as Jesus used here in a situation where a family is grieving, even in our imagination. But here Jesus tells a man who wants to go bury his father, “Let the dead bury their dead…”

I will tell you one thing: a man who has nowhere to lay down his head can talk a little differently than a man who owns a private jet. He has that luxury because he has nothing to lose. Jesus certainly made full use of that advantage.

But why, pray, would Jesus call this grieving family “the dead”? Was He irreverent?

No, Jesus was neither being irreverent, nor was He callous. I am sure that He loved this family very much, and it is inconceivable that their grief would not have touched His tender heart. But Jesus always stayed in the context of the heavenly Kingdom, and here He was stating a very important fact concerning what He came to do in the world. Jesus came to bring eternal life into the world. The Word of God teaches that anyone who has not received Jesus into their lives is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3).

In the natural, there is only one thing that we can do with a dead person: bury them. Once someone is well and truly dead, all we can do is bury them, to rise no more.

But – thank God! – in the Kingdom of God, we have another option. We can choose to bring resurrection life to people through preaching the gospel. Jesus opted to work with this option: preach the Kingdom of God and bring resurrection life to the people of God.

You can’t be callous with a dead person. In fact, you can rattle them until their teeth fall off if it will bring them back to life again. The people that Jesus was referring to (this man’s family) were spiritually dead. If He truly loved them, there was only one thing He could do for them: give them eternal life! That is why He told this man, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.”

What a glorious combination!

Today the modern world has coined a phrase: ‘political correctness’. Many in the world today believe that ‘political correctness’ among worldly leaders is killing civilization as we know it. In the spiritual world, we have an equivalent, though probably unspoken term: ‘worldly correctness’. ‘Worldly correctness’ means we do not want to step on people’s toes with the gospel because we feel we will offend them. I am sure that this attitude on our part will send a lot of people to hell.

A Muslim friend of mine told me that as long as I did not mention Jesus in my discussions with him concerning religion, he would listen to me. I told him, “Whatever I have to tell you begins and ends with Jesus”.

Jesus was not ‘worldly correct’. Jesus had only one aim: to be ‘heavenly correct’. He talked and lived the only life that really matters: the eternal heavenly life. When Jesus therefore told the man “Let the dead bury their dead”, He was stating a spiritual reality of the life that He came to live.

We expend an inordinately large amount of energy and time trying to please and to fit in with the world. But that is not love. Smiling is good, but we cannot smile and expect to save the world. The same goes for intellectual arguments and counter-arguments. If we truly love the world, the only thing of worth that we can give them is to solidly preach to them the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus tells this man, “Go thou and preach the kingdom of God”.

Only the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ can bring true life to people.

Let us have one last glance at this scripture.

If there are “the dead” in this world, then there are also the living. This refers to the church. In this context, I believe  also that Jesus was telling this man to appreciate the church, more than his worldly flesh and blood kith and kin. He was laying upon him the importance of the church vis-à-vis his flesh and blood relations.

This aspect is a challenge to many people in church. Many do not know where to draw the line between their worldly relations and the church.

But Jesus did not have any uncertainties, hesitations or misgivings in this regard. He knew exactly where to draw the line. When His mother and brethren came to fetch Him, the Bible says, “33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34 And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” Mk. 3:33-35.

That’s pretty tough to swallow. We are called upon to love and care for our own flesh and blood, and even the world in general. But we ought to know where our true inheritance lies. It lies in the church, which is the true Body of Christ. True spiritual brethren are our spiritual inheritance. The church is our “portion”. That is why our true value with God is connected to how much we value His church, the brethren.

Our worldly relationships with our worldly kin should be whittled down to the bare minimum. (In the Spirit, of course, we will be working overtime to get them saved!)

But on the contrary, we should love and devote ourselves to the church with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength. Jesus set the example for us.

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[Photo credit: Carol Lanthier]

Our Life

[I meant to post this article yesterday, Monday, but it got delayed a bit]

32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;

33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.

34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.

35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.

36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.

37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.

38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. Heb. 10:32-39

Yesterday, Sunday, in our tiny fellowship I shared with my fellow congregants about this particular scripture. I reminded them particularly concerning verse 32, that the calling card of the gospel for the early church was trouble, suffering!

The early church began with suffering! But it is not that these people began with suffering and then later on “upgraded” to a life without suffering. No. Indeed the whole gist of Paul’s message in this portion of scripture is to remind them not to put off or to deny the spirit of suffering with which they first received the gospel. Here in the Book of Hebrews, the Apostle Paul reminds the Jews of their initial ‘baptism’ into salvation through sufferings, and tells them they should continue in that same spirit of expecting suffering in their lives, for that is where their faith is tested.

I reminded my brethren about their calling also. I challenged them to remember when they first got saved. Did they not experience suffering of some sort? For suffering is the calling card of the gospel. I told them we must continually carry that same expectation and that same heart of perseverance, for in those things our faith is tested.

I felt in my heart that God wanted me to bring this out clearly to them, and to emphasize it. So I did exactly that.

“That”, I told them emphatically, “is our life!”

Later that the evening I was sitting in my 2-roomed house with my son Joe when my daughter gave me a call. Keren studies in college across town from where I live, and since she has to live near the campus, she resides in a student’s hostel situated nearby.

“Daddy, are you home?” she asked.

“Of course I am”, I said. We had just been together a few hours ago.

“Okay, I am coming over”, she said, and quickly disconnected the call.

I was left wondering why she had to come back again, and so late. I sensed trouble.

After about half an hour she knocked on the door and when I opened it, to my horror she was carrying her bags with her. One look at her face, and I knew it was a worst-case scenario. She had probably been expelled from college, I thought desperately.

“Come in”, I said, trembling.

To my relief, it did not have to do with college. She told me she had been expelled from the hostel because I had not cleared a certain balance that I owed the hostel. At least the news was a bit more welcome for me. I had assumed the worst!

But still the situation was a rough one. There had been no notice that this was coming, and it threw everyone into a state of not knowing what to do.

We all sat there for some minutes, each one lost in their own gloomy thoughts. This one really hit us hard. And the sudden-ness of it made it even more difficult to bear.

But soon enough, God’s light began to shine in that room.

“Hey guys”, I said, “remember today’s Word in church?”

“Yes”, they both said.

“Well, the gospel has just knocked on our door. Do we open the door or do we close it?”

I could see the light begin to shine in their hearts.

“Keren”, I said, “there is a couch here big enough for you to sleep in. And you can commute across town every day for the remainder of the semester”.

“Yes, dad” she agreed.

Within minutes the cloud had lifted and the atmosphere suddenly changed. Life began once again in our house, just as we have always known it. Talk of breakthrough!

Actually, within a very short time, I realized that God had turned what threatened to be a major disaster into a blessing. Our family has always been close-knit and we love living together. Keren being here with me and Joe once again just gave added joy to all our lives.

[Below: Some of the brothers in our Singida church. My joy and boasting is that each one of these brothers understands well the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ. To me, each one of these brothers is worth more than their own weight in gold!]

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A Most Welcome Visitor

14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Gal. 6:14-15

For the believer who truly desires to follow after Christ, the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ is the most welcome guest they could possibly receive in their hearts. Nothing – no physical miracle, no heavenly vision, no celestial visitation – nothing in earth or in heaven could compare to the beauty of the revelation of the cross in our hearts.

The Apostle Paul says that in Christ Jesus (which means that as far we believers are concerned) nothing is needed apart from a new creature. This is a creature that is completely cut off or separated from this world. There is an umbilical cord that connects us to this world. That umbilical cord is our flesh.

The cross of Christ is the the only force that can deal with our most attritive enemy, the flesh. The Apostle Paul said that this revelation was what set him free from the power of the world.

If we are truly intent on following Christ and partaking of His glory, then we ought to joyfully welcome the revelation of the cross into our hearts and into our lives.

Let us consider the two famous scriptures that Paul wrote to the two churches which had backslid from the doctrine that he had initially given to them. Notice that nowhere in the scriptures are we told the doctrine that Paul taught the churches that he pioneered; but in these his two epistles he gives us clearly what it was that he taught them: he says he brought to them the revelation of the cross of Christ.

To the Corinthians 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).

And to the Galatians he wrote: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Gal. 3:1)

These two statements make us to understand the gospel that Paul preached to every church that he founded or visited. If this generation is serious with God, we can only desire to understand and to welcome with open arms this revelation.

Let us conclude by considering Paul’s words in Galatians 5:5: “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”

Here it is clear that Paul is saying that we may not be completely righteous at the present time, but we do have one thing: faith. Faith sees into the future. Faith sees the unseeable. And here Paul says all that God has given us for now is faith. And through this faith we await, having in us the hope of being made completely righteous one day; and that hope is there with us through the faith that the Holy Spirit gives to us.

Let us therefore cast aside doubt and run to embrace this revelation. It does not matter how it may have come to us; in whatever way it has come to us, if we have seen and understood it even slightly, let us quickly and wholesomely embrace it, by faith. Walking by faith means we may not understand everything at the present time, but if we have faith we will trust and hope! Through that faith we can embrace the revelation that God brings to our hearts and trust Him to work everything out to complete the transformation that He needs to in our lives.

In practical terms, embracing the cross means accepting to suffer for Christ’s sake; and suffering means walking in love, as Paul makes it so clear in Galatians. It means walking in forgiveness, and in every aspect of the love of God. That is God’s interpretation of love!

[Below: In the heat of the mid-day sun in Dar es Salaam, it is not unusual to find everybody in a city bus, including the driver, asleep at the traffic lights]

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(Un)Loving This Life

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.  Mat. 20:20-24

While everyone in Jesus’ camp was thinking about the glory that would be theirs once they had arrived in Jerusalem (or wherever), and while the more bold ones were taking matters into their own hands in charting their own destiny by seeking to secure those all-important positions of importance, we see one person, the Lord Jesus – alone – thinking about something entirely different.

He was thinking of the cup and the baptism. He asked James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

While everyone else was thinking about a worldly kingdom and worldly glory (v. 24), Jesus was thinking about suffering – and death. He was thinking of what He would need to undergo in order to be finally free of the dictates of His earthly body.

Too many believers today are thinking about the good life – the good earthly life. But here we see Jesus’ spiritual mindset, which was to die to this life. That is why He told James and John, “Ye know not what ye ask.”

Too many of us do not know what we ask for when we pray. Unfortunately, we have been taught to “claim” blessings in Jesus’ name. We have never been taught to lose, and we see nothing wrong with this “claiming”. Our desires are all wrong, built on the foundation of self-preservation.

(I saw a big church on TV where they have been taught to hug their chests – to hug things to their chest – by faith – whenever the preacher says, “Receive!” It looked so childish.)

But there is everything wrong with a receiving mindset. With this kind of mindset, we will never be willing to share in the sufferings of Christ, and we therefore shall never know Christ’s resurrection life in us. We shall probably have everything of this world, but nothing of the true character of Christ and of the Kingdom of God in us.

We need to catch a certain revelation in our hearts – the same revelation that Jesus had, which was the same revelation that the apostles later on carried also. It was the revelation to lose.

I am not here to answer whether the good life is desirable or not for the believer. People with a worldly agenda want to dwell on these kinds of things. They pose their arguments with words like, “Do you mean to say that…?”

Why not, rather, we dwell on Jesus’ words, ““Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Why should we not want to know more about this cup and this baptism that Jesus talked about? Why should we not want to identify our lives with the kind of life Jesus was willing to undergo here? What a wonderful place this is for the believer! It is a place of spiritual ecstasy as well as a place of spiritual safety.

People, let us desire the spiritual aspect of our calling rather than the material side. Yes, it is true Jesus can also give us the material things. But where were Jesus’ eyes fixed? While the worldly-minded apostles’ eyes were fixed on the worldly glory, Jesus’ eyes were fixed on another glory – the heavenly glory. And you do not arrive there by singing, “Glory, glory, hallelujah!” Jesus knew He would arrive there by first having to lose everything that He had of this world: worldly dignity (soon even the slave girls in the high priest’s house would be slapping away at Him!), worldly riches (His last worldly possession, His robe, was taken by the Roman soldiers); even His very life.

May God give us the grace to lose our lives as Jesus did.

To Glory in the Crucified Life

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Gal 6:14

I am sure that the Apostle Paul could have preached the gospel all the way from the Arctic to Antarctica ten times over, and on foot, until his feet bled blood – and still that would have meant nothing to him. There would have been nothing for him to glory in there.

Did you ever notice that God spoke audibly of Jesus, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mat. 3:17) before Jesus had began His earthly ministry?

And the Bible does not say that Jesus was glorified before the Father because of all the marvellous works that He did here on earth, but rather because He “endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).

Paul’s not glorying in his ministry achievements was not false humility on his part. Paul would not glory in them simply because it was a fact that he had nothing to glory in them.

What a revelation! Paul was looking to another glory, the glory of Christ’s cross working in him and producing the character of Christ in him, which thing alone would please God. Paul realized that as far as God is concerned, a personal transformation comprises true glory.

It might be true that God is concerned with what we do for Him; but there is no doubt about the fact that God’s real concern is in what we allow Him to do in our lives to transform us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

The church needs to get serious with God. Today there is an emphasis on outside showing, and on works. But during the Early Church you would not have heard of “Paul of Tarsus Ministries”, or “John and James Zebedee Ministries”. The apostles were not concerned with any such outside stuff. Far from even naming a ‘ministry’ after himself, Paul would not even dwell on what he had done. Instead, he emphasized on Christ’s work in him.

This astounding revelation desperately needs to come into our hearts today. There is an incredible work that needs to be done deep within our hearts. If we are to be truly co-joined with Christ, then we need to undergo the same work of death and resurrection that Christ underwent.

Many Christians boast in the things they can accomplish for God. But they will not allow God to touch their lives. They are proud, self-centered individuals, and there is no humility in their lives to allow God to transform them. As a result, every work of the flesh is evident in church today.

It requires humility to acknowledge that a work needs to happen in our hearts. It requires even greater humility to allow that work to take place. The most important thing that we can do in our calling as born-again believers is to allow the cross to bring the sufferings and death of Christ that will transform our lives into the image of Christ.

That is faith. When we are not able to see the work of transformation that needs to happen in our hearts, it is really not faith that we have, even if we are raising the dead. The faith that we can truly boast in is the faith that allows God to change us, change us on the inside. True faith is born of humility.

In other words, God is more pleased with a humble heart than today’s “mighty man of God” syndrome. I know of great preachers who cannot forgive. You can be a mighty man in men’s eyes, but be very small in God’s sight. Pride is a byword in today’s ministry fold. And these same sins are to be found in the lives of millions of Christians today.

That is why we need be on the right foundation, the foundation of Christ, and Him crucified. This is the foundation that will break us as men and bring us to bear the image of Christ, the only thing with which God is pleased.

[Below: Whenever I am at home in Dar es Salaam, this rooster wakes me up every morning]

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Of Proclamations and Our Worship of God – Pt. 2

I haven’t read anywhere in the Bible where God is upbraiding His people for not praising Him loud enough. On the contrary, I have read many Scriptures where God tells His people, both in the Old and New Testaments, that He does not actually need their praises. In fact, in one scripture in the Old Testament, God has a particularly nasty reaction to the Israelites’ songs and their ‘empty’ worship of Him.

The reason God was so angry with them is because they were walking in sin but at the same time praising Him.

The Christian world today is outdoing itself in its efforts to praise and uplift God. Many beautiful new songs are being composed, old songs and hymns are redone and presented with ever greater passion; singers with the most beautiful voices are being discovered; piano chords and guitar strings are tweaked to the highest levels of creativity – the whole spectrum is a sight to behold indeed. There are churches which have been set up solely on the praise and worship theme. I think all this is good, but at the same time I believe things are not as rosy in the Spirit as they appear to be on the outside.

There are also what we would call new age ‘Christian’ artists and preachers and songs that I would rather die than listen to or watch. I once went to Youtube and they were singing a song about “crying holy” or whatever, and it was the most revolting thing I have ever seen. There are thousands of these artists, and regrettably Christians are going absolutely gaga over them. I have never understood why we need to identify with the world in order to preach the gospel of Christ. Most likely, we misinterpret scripture.

I have not seen a preacher wearing earrings yet (I mean the male preachers), and probably they are there, it’s only that I have not seen them. But our choirs today are awash with male singers touting Rastafarian hairstyles and all decked out in gold chains and earrings, etc. I do not know what to expect next, but it is clear Jesus has quite a band coming His way…

Christian proclamations and declarations from the pulpit all the way to the street present a picture where the Christian world is one of total victory over the devil and all his works.

By now you probably are thinking that if I am not the Anti-Christ himself then I am a major pessimist who has failed to find joy and fulfilment in his Christian life. Don’t even consider the thought. I am as happy as Jesus Himself. And don’t get me wrong. As I said earlier, I have no problem with Christian worship when it is done in the right spirit. What I am pointing out here is that God is more interested in the state of our lives than our vocal proclamations. There are far too many Christians today walking in sin, and yet their mouths are full of proclamations of the glory of God. And God’s real problem with us today, just as with the Israelites, is sin. God loves praise, but He hates sin and He would rather deal with the latter first.

If I am playing with my children and I see a snake, I will kill the snake first then continue playing with my children.

We Christian believers should not therefore put a smokescreen of praise before God. God can see the sin that is ravaging the Church today. It is open secret that Christianity in our generation has a major problem with sin. Sin is rampant among lay Christians and preachers alike. Even big-time preachers who have been known to raise the dust on TV and some who served God faithfully in years past have been hit by scandals…

Something is wrong, and we should stop praising and listen.

It is time to go back to the basics. Let us go back to the Cross, where Christ was crucified. Therein is the power to defeat sin in our lives, the gospel of the revelation of the Cross of Christ. Paul preached this very gospel, and even if his ministry was not inundated with miracles as today’s gospels appear to be, it had the power to set men and women from the power of sin, and we see from his epistles that this was Paul’s chief concern: to set God’s people free from sin.

That gospel, though unproclaimed in similar terms, has always been there in earlier generations, and the men and women who walked in it lived a victorious life over sin.

I remember that in the 1970s and the early 80s, at least in the small world that I lived in, a saved person was a threat to sinners, who evaded them like the plague. My elder brother was the first to get saved in our big family. Whenever he would begin praying an overpowering Presence would fill our home and we would all run away – dad would walk staidly towards the village beer hall but clearly a man on the run! We would come back only when we were sure John had finished praying. Then, my mom, who had been a beer brewer, gave her heart to Jesus. Then followed two of my brothers, then my dad, who was the village champion drunkard. Many years later, I too accepted the Lord. I am assured we are all the fruit of not only the prayers of my brother, but also the victorious lifestyle that he led. In those years Christians lived a victorious life over sin, and we saw it, and it affected us.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing even for many of those same Christians today. Something has gone awfully wrong somewhere. We talk a lot, but there is a power that is simply not there. There is song, yes, but not the power.

Nowadays a preacher divorces their husband or wife then they come on TV and, to the accompaniment of a ‘powerful’ praise session, they begin talking and justifying themselves. Where is the power of the gospel in that? And there, in the auditorium, are thousands of Christians cheering him/her on. If you multiply that number with that of the faithful who are watching at home on TV and assenting to this preacher’s doctrine, you realize this truly is a big church, but then you begin wondering “What kind of ‘church’ is this going to turn out to be?” The answer is: a defeated, sinning church. I once saw a homosexual ‘church’ on TV in South Africa, complete with a homosexual pastor, and they were praising Jesus! But we ‘straight’ sinners cannot disassociate ourselves from this abomination if we are divorcing and remarrying in church and continuing with our praise and cheering sessions.

In all this chaos, it is not that people are not praying as before, or that they are not reading their Bibles. Rather, it is simply that wrong doctrines have been allowed into the Church, and have taken the place of the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ. Wrong doctrines which simply have not the power to deal with sin.

Jesus came to earth to deal with sin and all its works once and for all. And He did that by crucifying the body of the flesh. If there is no crucifixion of the flesh, if the Christian is not having a daily revelation of that work of the Cross, there is no way he is going to live a victorious spiritual life. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:31: “…by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily”. In order for Paul to rejoice in his labors for Christ, he had to crucify his flesh daily. It means he partook of the sufferings and death of Christ. Now, if you cheer when all this is going on, God has no problem with that because after this there will be victory. Unfortunately, many Christians today are cheering while there is so much defeat in their lives!

The gospel bequeathed to us from Jesus Christ through the Apostles states that just as we were sold into sin, we have now been sold to righteousness. How? By dying to the body of the flesh. After which, by the working of the same Holy Spirit who resurrected Jesus from the dead we too are resurrected into the glorious life of victory in the spirit, victory over sin.

This is the gospel that needs to come back to the Church today, and which the Church needs to accept. I believe it is coming back, through true Apostles and ministers of God whom God is reinstating in our day. But is the Church willing to accept it? Or we will continue dancing while sin ravages the Church?

The Bible warns of a falling away of many believers just before the return of Christ. At no other time do we need to heed Christ’s and the Apostles’ warnings than in the days we are living in.

The Foundation of our Faith – the Pauline Doctrine (Pt. 5)

This post is very long, but I encourage you to read it to the very end… I am sure it will prove helpful.

The Apostle Peter says about Paul that in his epistles Paul talked about the same things that he himself had written about but he concludes by saying that in Paul’s epistles there were some things hard to be understood…” (2 Peter 3:16). If Peter could say that, then I also can safely admit that there are many things that I don’t understand in Paul’s letters. What is clear from Apostle Paul’s letters, however, is that he desires for every believer to arrive at the place of full and perfect knowledge of the Risen Christ – in other words, what was accomplished at the Cross – and to walk in that power of resurrection, the power that raised Christ from the dead. That should be the desire of each one of us.

In concluding this topic about the revelation or gospel that the Apostle Paul received, let me reiterate my contention that all the Apostles saw a revelation of the Risen Christ, but that the Apostle Paul received a vastly ‘superior’ revelation of Jesus than the rest. In other words, he understood what Christ did on the Cross more than the rest. (I am sure by now we all realize that we are not talking about a vision of Jesus – here we are way, way deeper than that!)

Romans chapters 9 through 11 makes us to begin to understand the special “wisdom” given to Paul. In talking about the Israelites in relation to the gospel he says that “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” (Rom. 11:25)

The Jews were God’s special people and will always be, because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. They are God’s chosen people, Israelites;  to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;  Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.  Amen.” (Rom. 9:4-5)

This scripture is very important in appreciating the special place that the Israelites have in God’s eyes. Note the Godly things that they have been guardians of through the ages. The Israelis are an incredibly special people. But we are not talking of that now.

What is important is that the ‘blindness’ that has now come upon them was prophesied long ago. We do not have time to look into these prophecies now but we can look into the reason for this blindness.

This blindness occurred because God wanted to do something that, out of the goodness of His heart, He had planned on doing since before Time began: to bring eternal salvation to all mankind.

Firstly, God had a score to settle with sin or the Devil, or whoever; I am not very sure here. What is clear is that sin had entered the world, and God had to do something about it. Unfortunately, His beloved people the Israelites happened to be sinners just like everybody else. (“All have sinned” – Rom. 5:12). That put the Israelites in God’s line of fire. Too bad.

Secondly, it is true that He had used the Israelites as His pack horse through the ages, as we have seen in Romans 9, and He would surely reward them; but the Good News of salvation was for everyone. In other words, the Israelites were God’s elect people in one sense, and in another they were not. Salvation was meant for everyone. There was no compromise there. Why?

“Is he the God of the Jews only?  is he not also of the Gentiles?  Yes, of the Gentiles also.”

“And so blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” In other words, God would not allow Jerusalem’s eyes to be opened until every Gentile in the world had heard the gospel. God put the Israelites to sleep until He had finished showing all His goodness to the Gentiles. Probably He feared they would throw a tantrum if they realized He was about to share their “cake” with strangers. Whatever the case, He put them to sleep nonetheless. That word there, “part”, however, indicates that not all Israel was been blinded; some were allowed to see, chief of whom was Paul the Apostle.

(As you can see from his doctrine and lifestyle, when Paul ‘saw’ he did not turn selfish. On the contrary, he gave his life as the Lord also had given His. This is crucial to our understanding of the Pauline doctrine).

God also wanted the Jews to know that they were sinners just like everybody else. You see, man has a will, and the will of sinful man is enmity against God. If man’s will was in line with God’s will, God would have no trouble with us. But we have a rebellious will. God wanted them to know that the only way He could have a truly satisfactory relationship with man was for man to put off his (rebellious) will and to put on God’s will. This was exemplified in the Bible by Christ’s obedience.

Our understanding of the need for the Cross is certainly getting clearer here.

But probably the most important fact in all this was that God wanted to stamp His sovereignty over all Creation. As we just said, man also has his will. God wanted everyone, particularly the Jews, to know that He is a Sovereign God. If any man wanted to partake of His nature, he would have to let go his will and submit to God’s rule.

To give an illustration of God’s sovereignty: One day, someone called Job, whom the Bible itself attested to as being perfect and upright was put through some suffering by God, and in his anguish he contested with God why He would let an upright man like him to suffer. God told him, “You cannot question me. I am God. I do as I please.”

Job was stunned! This perfect and upright man realized he had never really known God. He said, I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear:  but now mine eye seeth thee.   Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6! In his perfectness, Job grovelled before God! What a challenge to us! Surely, we could not compare ourselves with Job! How much more should we humble and cry out to God for mercy!

May God have mercy on the Jews, but may He have even more mercy on us believers. I believe that of all the confused and blind and ungrateful people in the world today it is we Christian believers whom God has graciously chosen and called into His Kingdom. I really don’t care much who you think you are – and I am sure God doesn’t, either – but that is the truth, my friend. In spite of all the wonderful proclamations we make (“I love you, Jesus!”, etc.) and all the beautiful songs we sing, the things we do and the attitudes we have towards God and our fellow brethren and mankind in general (and even animals and everything else) accuse us of these things.

And this is all centered on the kind of heart that we have. All our negative attitudes and actions are the result of a rotten heart. The Bible calls it an uncircumcised heart.

And this is where Paul, or rather, the doctrine that he carried comes in. While the Jerusalem Team of elders were busy thinking about circumcising believers in the flesh, Paul was being taught about the circumcision of the heart!

We have a heart problem, and the Pauline doctrine is the solution to that problem. This was the revelation that Paul caught: how the power of the resurrection life of Christ in us would transform us and make us into the image of Jesus Christ; how it would break the power of sin over our lives; how it would give us the very heart of Christ; how it would enable us to walk in the perfection and fullness of the Godhead Himself… which is perfect, unselfish love.

That was why he preached Christ crucified, “the power of God”! There is power in the Cross, to not just save us in the elementary sense, but to bring a full realization of the Godhead in us, as Paul says in Colossians 2: “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;  That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;  In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

In order for this resurrection life to manifest itself in our lives we will need to first take our cross and follow Jesus, just as Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:24-25: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.   For whosoever will save his life shall lose it:  and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” There is no other way to experience the resurrection life apart from partaking of the sufferings and death of Christ.

In other words, there are two kinds of lives: the physical, material life; and the spiritual life. If we want to gain the latter, we have to lose the former.

That was why Paul said he would only boast in the Cross of Christ, by which the world was crucified to him and he to the world (Galatians 6:14). He rejoiced in the work of grace that God would do in him as he partook of Christ’s sufferings. That was why he did not want to be set free of them. He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He was talking about partaking of the sufferings. He wanted to be identified with Christ’s sufferings and death so he could partake also of the resurrection life.

It was a deep revelation indeed that the Apostle Paul received, and we can hardly compare it with much of today’s flippant, materialistic-oriented ‘gospels’. If any preacher mentions Paul today, it is hardly in the depth that he is revealed in the Bible.

Paul’s gospel reveals that there is far more to salvation than just saying the sinners’ prayer. Through experience I personally have also come to know that you cannot go far with this prayer or the initial experience of salvation. Much more needs to happen, and this is where the Apostolic doctrine of the revelation of the Cross of Christ comes in.

Instead of being merely (or largely) religious people, God purposed that through a revelation of the Cross in our hearts, and our identification with it, we would show forth to the world and to spiritual forces in the heavenlies the manifold grace of God, and that through the death of sinful flesh, we would shut the mouths of God’s enemies by living a holy, spiritually fulfilling and victorious life.

That has been God’s plan all along. He could have shut His enemies’ mouths any other way without our involvement, I am sure. But He loved us so much that He wanted to make us a part of that victory! What a grace, what an honor, what a privilege! And in order to involve us, He did what in our wildest dreams we could not have imagined – He sent His only begotten Son Jesus to die on the Cross for us. He then went a step further and chose us, and then gave us the grace to believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And finally He came to live in us by His Holy Spirit so that we could grow into mature sons and daughters in the Spirit by dying to the body of the flesh.

Imagine the grace that God has personally bestowed on us in all these things. It is He who chose us and caused us to believe! It is He who touched our hearts! And for us Gentiles, we who were so unworthy, He did us a double honor by rejecting His people Israel so He could accept us!

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself less than a dead dog in God’s eyes. The fact that He could shower me with such undeserved favor staggers me. I am awed beyond comprehension…

Dear brethren, do we realize our position? Do we comprehend the magnitude of the grace that has come upon us – that, more than simply dying for our sins, Christ has come to live in us in the fullness of His resurrection life?

Let us tremble and fear before this awesome God, and before His awesome plan, even as we rejoice with holy thanksgivings.

Today’s Christians are not known to be very fearful or even reverent towards God. Believe me, I have seen Christians – preachers and laymen alike – doing the most offensive and detestable things, in the Name of Jesus!

The Apostle Paul signs off with this warning: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God:  on them which fell, severity;  but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness:  otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” Rom. 11:22

Let us fear God, and not take God lightly. But, beyond warning us against these church antics that go on today, for the truly serious Christian this is a warning to not ignore the Pauline revelation. If we fail to enter into the fullness of the knowledge of Christ, and to show forth that fruit of transformation in our lives, we have renounced the Apostolic doctrine that was revealed to Paul, and our Christianity is, quite simply, ‘another gospel’. And yet… the New Testament gospel we are called to live is the gospel that the Apostle Paul carried and preached.