The Antiochians – Again! (Part 1)

25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

Let us read that last line once again.

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”

Now, please don’t tell me, “Oh, Mwita, you just wrote on this a few days ago.”

Actually, I am surprised we do not talk much on this particular scripture. No. On the contrary, this scripture needs to be turned into a mantra that every believer should be chanting every minute of their lives.

The disciples were called Christians. Oh. I cannot imagine the price that these believers in Antioch paid to be called so. When I see the defeat in the church today, I just cannot imagine what kind of people these believers were. Once again, I salute them.

Today, Christianity is, to a large degree, just a label, for there is everything in church except victory over sin and over the flesh. There is very little victory in church over these things. But there is so much of everything else: knowledge, signs and wonders, high class sermons, music. The church today is very much like the Corinthian church was in Paul’s day, for Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 writes them:

“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; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Corinthians had all the wonderful things listed here but they lacked the singular thing that would make then Christians. They lacked the cross in their lives. They had lost the revelation to deny themselves and living a life of daily crucifying their flesh. And therefore the Apostle Paul told them pointblank,

“1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ… 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3)

You could not possibly call such people Christians, for a Christian is one who reflects the character of Christ in their lives.

But, in Peter 2:21-23 we read of the example that Christ left us.

“21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously”

What exactly is verse 23 trying to tell us?

It is telling us that Jesus did not do anything to defend Himself. On the contrary, He allowed His flesh to be crucified.

The word “reviled” means “insulted”. When people insult us, it hurts. Our gut reaction therefore is to insult back; or, at the very least, answer back. We want to hit back!

But Jesus stood still and let the wave of insults ride out its full strength on Him. He did the same with all the other sufferings that were meted out on Him.

And the Bible says that this was the example that He left us. This is one of the most difficult things for us to do, our religious exterior notwithstanding.

The believers at Antioch portrayed this same resilience in the face of the opposition against their faith.

But they did more than that. They lived the life of Christ to the full. Verse 22 says of Jesus:

“Who did no sin”.

This means that Jesus lived a perfectly holy life. He did not give in to the unclean lusts of the flesh but, on the contrary, He crucified them.

The believers at Antioch depicted this same sacrificial character of Christ in their lives. They saw the believers sacrificing their bodies. And all who saw them saw Christ revealed in them. And they said of them, “There are of Christ. These be Christians.”

In our second part we shall see what it was that the Antiochian believers proved to be such a testimony of the life of Christ in them.

[“And be ye kind one to another…” Eph. 4:32]

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Dar es Salaam Youth Camp 2018

Normally, youth camps are feisty affairs with a myriad of events including outdoor games and different other activities. But this year’s annual ZGACT youth conference was molded on an entirely different format: it was unofficially labeled a “Word tsunami”. Everything else was put aside and the youth were inundated with the Word of God.

The youth camps were held in 12 different locations all over the country. I, together with Brother Boni from Mwanza, were scheduled to minister at the Dar es Salaam camp.

And so it was that, by the grace of God, for five days we engaged the Dar es Salaam youth in the Word and in prayer. The young people left the conference thoroughly refreshed in their spirits, and ready to face new challenges in the Spirit.

Here, below, in pictures.

  • The small auditorium was packed to capacity
  • The greatest praise and worship team ever!
  • With our host, Joshua Goodluck
  • My co-worker, Brother Boni
  • Some of the young people shared their testimonies
  • There was great fellowship all around
  • After the conference, an early morning trolling of the beach…
  • … And we encountered some fishermen hauling in their catch
  • Finally, at the bus terminal ready to travel back home

 

 

Of Apostles And Prophets – Part 3

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit Eph. 3:1-5

Finally, let us look at the New Testament. In John 21:18-19, Jesus told Peter,

“18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.”

First, let us consider verse 19.

I used to think Jesus was talking about Peter’s physical death. But scripture here is talking about how Peter would glorify God. It is so banal to think of Jesus telling Peter, “When you grow old, someone will come, bind you and go kill you” even if Jesus wanted to communicate such information to Peter.

But scripture is no ordinary writing. So there must be something more to what Jesus was saying to Peter. I believe He was telling him, “You will glorify God by dying to self. By surrendering your life (and rights) and allowing the crucified Christ to fully live in you. You will glorify God by dying to your own selfish ways and desires.”

Which brings us to Jesus’s words in verse 18:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

Who is this “another” that Jesus was talking about?

It is Jesus Himself. We are to be prisoners of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to the Apostle Paul and the great work that he accomplished in the Spirit.

Remember that Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“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.”

Paul says that he labored more than the other apostles. That word, “laboured” as we shall see below, could better be translated “loved”. But Paul does not give himself credit for his accomplishments; on the contrary, he credits the grace of God. In clearer terms, Paul had more grace than the other apostles.

So how did Paul come to have more grace than his counterparts?

It was because he allowed himself to become a bond-slave of Jesus. He allowed Jesus to bind him hand and foot and to lead him where he would not want to go. In Ephesians 6:20 Paul says:

“I am an ambassador in bonds…”

Bonds are not the most comfortable thing for one to be in. Which means that Paul was forced into that situation. Willingly? Yes. And this brings us to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

“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.”

The truly ‘abnormal’ thing about the Apostle Paul was that he realized that there was only one way to “labour” for God effectively. And by laboring for God it meant loving the church. Why do you think Paul wanted to be “strong”? It was for the sake of the church. Paul loved and cared for the church with everything that he had in him! And Paul realized He had to surrender self. He had to die to self in order to truly love and serve Christ’s Body, the church.

When Paul realized this, he happily stretched out his hands and allowed the Lord to bind him. He gladly gave his flesh over to the cruel messenger to be buffeted. And thus it came to be that Paul got filled to the brim with the grace of God. Grace to enable him to fulfill his desire to love the church as Christ loved it.

You can see the grace of God in Paul’s life written all over his epistles and in the Book of Acts. He was full of humility, compassion, and love towards God’s people.

And then, again, he was full of Godly wisdom. He could bring the revelation of the cross right up to any level you asked him to (1 Corinthians chapters 1 -4).

But Paul could also compassionately tackle issues which did not have a direct answer from scripture. He would therefore write the Corinthians,

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me… I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” (1 Cor. chapter 12)

What humility! And what Godly advice without a “Thus saith the Lord!”

That was the Apostle Paul. Fully surrendered to God, and fully fulfilling the purpose and calling of God upon the church, which was to love it.

That’s who a true apostle is. He is one to whom the cross is revealed, to the end that he may love the church as Christ loves it.

[I do not know many things. But I do know I love the old Hillsong songs]

The Call Of God – Part 1

Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called… Rom. 8:30

The lady seated in front of me picked up her ringing phone and spoke into it.

“Asalaam aleykum!” she said.

At the other end of the line I heard another female voice faintly echoing the same greeting.

The lady seated with me was one of our church members and I was intrigued to know whom she was addressing in the standard Islamic greeting.

After a few minutes of conversing, I was surprised to see her handing the phone to me.

“It’s Mama Zulfa, she wants to greet you”, she said.

“Oh”, I said in astonishment. Mama Zulfa was a secret disciple in one of our churches. She was married to an Arab Muslim. We rarely talked, even on phone. But it was I, rather than her, who feared the most. She was an intrepid soul, and she came from a family of equally fearless people. Her sister had also converted, even though she was also married to a Muslim. And both her two children were also believers, albeit secret ones.

But the journey leading to this state of affairs had began a long time ago. It had began with the call of God upon a little girl’s heart. A long time ago, when she was just a little girl, Mama Zulfa’s family lived across the street from a pastor’s house. It so happened that this pastor, his wife and two daughters would always come out onto the verandah of their house at a particular time of the day and loudly sing Christian hymns.

The girl was entranced by this spectacle. But it was the songs that captivated her most. A deep longing grabbed at her heart whenever she heard the pastor and his wife singing the Christian songs. It reached a point where, whenever they came out to sing, she would be there, waiting. She recalls that her worst nightmare was when any member of her family would call out to her at such a moment! At those times she was lost in a different world altogether.

Because her family was Muslim and the pastor’s Christian, the two families did not interact in any way. But one day, she was all alone at home when the pastor’s family came out to sing. As they were winding up and preparing to go back inside, she could bear it no more. Without thinking, she burst out from the house, dashed across the street and hurled herself into the pastor’s wife’s arms.

“Please don’t leave me!” The cry came from the depths of her heart. “I am one of you!”

Shocked and unable to comprehend what was happening, the pastor’s wife quickly opened the door and let the distraught girl in. And there, inside the pastor’s house, the young girl heard the gospel and hurriedly gave her life to Christ.

But that was as far as the honeymoon would go. She was never to step inside that house again for, soon afterwards, the pastor and his family left the neighborhood and moved elsewhere.

Time moved on and it came time for the girl to get married, and she got married in the traditional Muslim fashion. But the call of God never left her heart. A Hand stronger than any force held her firm in her faith. But she would not dishonor her husband by joining any church. But one day she crossed paths with one of our pastors and that was how I would find myself talking on the phone to this incredible woman of faith.

By the time Mama Zulfa joined us, she had secretly preached the gospel to nearly half her family members! After she joined with us, she preached the gospel to her sister-in-law (the one seated in front of me), who also gave her life to Christ.

Now we have a thriving underground church who would never have known the wonder of salvation were it not for the call of God upon a little girl’s life.

But this story just has no ending. In a strange twist of events, Mama Zulfa would meet again with the pastor who led her to salvation…

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Loving Jesus, Loving His Church – Part 3

Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. Acts 20:31

Have you ever seen a grown man weeping? It is an unforgettable experience. But a grown man can only shed tears out of deep, heartfelt bitterness. I remember a famous Congolese musician named Franco. In the early 70s this man lost a brother in a car accident. Franco composed a song to commemorate his brother’s death. He sang it in his local Lingala dialect. This song became one of the most touching songs in the 70s. Not because it was sang by Franco, but because of the depth of the feelings that were embodied in that song. The song bemoaned the fact of being left alone.

And it is said that ever since that time, the sound of mourning never left any of Franco’s songs.

That’s how powerful a grown man’s sorrow is.

And yet the Apostle Paul freely wept for the church. He wept for it out of sorrow; but it was sorrow in the Spirit. The love that Paul had for the church was a love that no earthly parent could never know for their child. Paul could not bear to imagine even one hair of the church being harmed.

That’s the kind of ministers that Christ left to look after the church. The 5-fold ministry is not about numbers; rather, it is about carrying the heart of God the eternal Father.

In order for a believer to go to heaven, he needs to be loved, to be prayed for, to be cared for and ministered to in many different ways. That’s called nurturing. Jesus left behind people who would do exactly that: hence, the 5-fold ministry.

We can thus begin to imagine the greatness of this man, Paul. Paul perfected ministry. And, in perfecting ministry, Paul defined the word “love”. He writes in Ephesians:

“25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. 29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. 31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. 32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Eph. 5:25-32

In these verses, Paul shows us the true meaning of love.

Let us look at something else that Paul writes in Galatians. In chapter 1 verses 6-8, he writes:

“6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

Now, pause and think about that. Scripture here states clearly that there is no other gospel that can be preached other than the gospel that Paul preached! In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul talks of the gospel that he preached.

“But we preach Christ crucified…”

And here, in Galatians, he says that anyone who preaches a different gospel is troubling the church and is stands accursed. I will leave it to your imagination to work out what “trouble” it is that Paul is talking of here. That should not be too hard for anyone to do. Today, in particular, “trouble” is written all over the church. Why? Because God’s people have put aside the gospel of the cross and they are preaching a different gospel.

But Paul says, “If anyone preaches a different gospel than the one we preached to you, let them be accursed!”

The church is greater than anyone. It was greater than Paul himself. Which brings us to the question, What does Paul mean by the “we” in verse 8?

He means that even he had to be careful. Yes, Paul, the great apostle, had to be careful lest he mishandle the church! He had to be careful what he preached. God is no respecter of persons and Paul himself stood the risk of being accursed if he preached any other gospel than “Jesus Christ and him crucified”! (1 Cor. 2:2)

If every minister of the gospel could crucify his lusts and his desires and serve the church, it would be a blessing both to the themselves and to the church. But today everything is upside down.

Notice, in our key scripture in Acts, that Paul’s tears were to warn the church. Paul did not shed because there was no bread on the table. Bread is important; but the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about bread. But Paul’s tears were to warn the church.

What was so important about the gospel that Paul preached?

Paul was careful about the gospel he preached because it is the singular gospel that prepares Christ’s Bride, the church. How would you feel if, on your wedding day, they brought you a bride who was filthy, unkempt and thoroughly un-mannered in the ways of housekeeping?

I believe you wouldn’t touch her unless you were a madman.

But Jesus is not a madman. He wants a perfect Bride.

The gospel of the cross perfects the Bride of Christ. The cross crucifies the flesh and leaves behind a Bride without spot, and without blemish.

Finally, let us look at yet another example of how Paul cared for the church. In Philippians 2:19-21 he writes:

“19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. 20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.”

Paul wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians because he wanted to “be of good comfort”. And Paul would only be comforted if he knew their “state”.

“State”. What a word!

I work with a team of four other pastors in my town. We meet every Thursday. Our motto is: “The only problem between us is the state of our hearts!”

Paul wanted to make sure the Colossians were well in their hearts. This was the only thing that could comfort him. So he sent them Timothy, the only man he could trust to truly care for their spiritual welfare.

Paul had other guys with him but he feared that if he sent them, they would go and become burdensome to God’s people. They would tell the church, “Your pastor needs a new car”, or something of that nature.

Timothy was the only person who would not say such a thing.

If faithful ministers were so rare even in Paul’s day, we can imagine how the situation is today. There are faithful ministers; but they are few. Many today look at the offering basket more than they look after the condition of people’s hearts. Many do not have the ability to deal with the problems affecting God’s people because they do not have the revelation of the cross in their hearts.

But Paul, and the few faithful men he had with him, had crucified their flesh and were thereby able to fully focus on the spiritual well-being of God’s people.

[Paul cared deeply for the spiritual well-being of God’s people]

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Loving Jesus, Loving His Church – Part 1

And he is the head of the body, the church… Col. 1:18

Many years ago, when I was living in Musoma, a young man I knew was given the job of preparing a small piece of farm land down by the lake (Musoma is a port town situated on the shore of Lake Victoria). As he was digging up the earth, suddenly the hoe hit against a polythene bag that had been buried under the earth. The young man gingerly pulled up the bag and, as he did so, all the alarm bells in his body began ringing. He had the horrid feeling that the contents of that bag were not something he would want to see. But curiosity killed the cat, as they say. The mouth of the bag was tied with a thin, tight rope and, very cautiously, the boy began untying it. Upon peeping inside he saw what looked like the beginnings of human hair; and he did not wait to see the rest. He already knew what it was: it was a human head.

He dropped the bag and blazed a trail from that farm that would have been hard to erase. He ran as if the devil himself was after him.

I suspect none of us would have responded differently had we been in the same situation. Encountering a body-less head, or a headless body, would be an terrifyingly unspeakable nightmare for any normal human being.

If that is the case in the natural, should it not be much more so in the Spirit? Should it not be the scariest thing in the Spirit when we split up Jesus from His Body, the church? But, unbeknown to many, that is exactly what many believers are doing. And more terrifying is the fact that no one seems horrified by this attitude on the part of Christian believers. It appears as if it is the most normal state of affairs!

But we need to understand that the church is the apple of God’s eye. God looks upon nothing but the church. That is where His heart is. Just as a parent’s heart is on their child, God’s heart is on His church. That was why Jesus said,

“5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” (Mat. 18:5-11)

Jesus was talking of the church. The church is God’s “little ones”. You cannot destroy someone who has been washed by the blood of Jesus and get away with it.

But destroying the lives of God’s people is exactly what we do when we have no revelation that we need to lay down our lives. But, as we shall see in the second part of this post, preachers have taken it to an entirely new level.

Jesus told Peter,

“Feed my lambs” (Jn. 21:15)

“My lambs” was Jesus’s affectionate reference to His church.

Everyone is loudly declaring how much they love Jesus. You just go to any worship or prayer meeting and you will hear people emotionally telling Jesus how they love Him. But few can pay the price for the words they say, for the price of saying we love Jesus is to love God’s people with sacrificial love. God’s love demands that we lay down our lives for one another. Indeed, God’s love is the love that looks out for the spiritual wellbeing of your brother/sister-in-Christ.

You can easily gauge how much you love Jesus by measuring how well, especially, you wish God’s people in their spirits (3 Jn. 1:2).

Unfortunately, this kind of loving is one of the most difficult for most believers to do. This is clear from the fact that there are so many divisions within the church! There are inter-personal divisions: husband vs wife; parent vs child; brother vs brother, etc. There are social divisions: the rich are divided against the poor; the educated are ganged up against the illiterate; the Africans are gossiping against the whites; etc.

I believe with all my heart that God’s people first need to stop telling Jesus they love Him. When you tell Jesus that you love Him while you do not love the church, it is as if you were addressing a head which has no body. It is as if you are talking to the head and telling it, “I love you, head, alone, but not the body you are on. Cut yourself off that body and I will love you even more.”

Strange language indeed. This is the sort of thing that can only happen in voodoo. In voodoo they do these kinds of things.

But loving Jesus means loving our earthly brothers and sisters. The Apostle Peter tried to dodge the bullet, but Jesus would not allow it.

Jesus asked Peter,

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”

Simon Peter answered,

“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

Jesus then told him,

“Feed my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)

In other words, If you love me, give your life for my sheep!

Do we love the Lord?

In Part Two we will talk about the worst culprit of them all, the modern-day preachers.

[The price for loving the Lord is loving His church.]

ZGACT Conference & AGM 2018

Our church, Zion Gospel Assembly Church, recently held its annual general meeting, and a pastors’ conference, from the 23rd February to the 1st March, at our church’s headquarters in Shinyanga, central Tanzania. Here, in pictures.

  1. The pastors’ conference

2. The Annual General Meeting. This assembly sits tighter than the British Parliament.

3. A time to pause and reflect

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4. The team from Singida travelled 330 kilometers to attend the meeting!