Christ Crucified, Our Firm Foundation

10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,

11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured… 2 Tim. 3:10-11

Unravel. That’s one word you would not to hear in connection with your life. There you are, your life all neat and tied down pat and, all of a sudden, it begins to unravel. I wouldn’t wish that for myself nor for anyone else.

But many lives have unravelled in this world. One of the lives that unravelled horribly fast was that of a man in the U.S. called Joe Paterno. The sequence of events that led to Joe’s life unravelling was started by a man called Jerry Sandusky. Jerry Sandusky preyed on young boys and sodomized them. But then, Joe and Jerry worked on the same team. Joe was – had been for decades – the much-celebrated coach of the powerful Penn State college football team and Jerry was Joe’s technical assistant. The story goes that Paterno & co. knew about Jerry’s evil deeds but they firmly put a lid on it, unwilling to divulge Jerry’s dark secrets and end up compromising the sports image their team held, over the fate of a few boys. But one day, in the natural course of such events, the pressure forced the lid to fly off, and all that was known (and not known) about Jerry’s rot became public news, including what Joe and and his other assistants knew. Sandusky was jailed, of course but, within a few months of the publicizing of the allegations, Joe Paterno, one of the greatest legends of the sporting world, died of a broken heart, leaving behind a legacy forever tainted and a name irreparably damaged.

There is nothing to rejoice over such news. In fact, this is news that should break the hearts of each one of us. It is extremely depressing news.

Not all lives will unravel in this world. But in heaven, every life that is not built upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, will unravel. That is exactly the thing to avoid.

One of the best lines in the scriptures is found in 2 Timothy 4:7. It was written by the Apostle Paul. It says:

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…”

This is a line that each one of us should desire to have written for our lives.

Notice, “I have finished my course”.

This is one man whose life will never unravel in this life, nor in the next. The reason is because he fought the good fight, he kept the faith. But pray, how did Paul keep the faith?

It was through the life he lived. His life was an open book. There were no folds where he hid things in his life. Nothing was hidden from view. He laid out his life for all to see, and among the people who would see Paul’s open life would be his young disciple, Timothy.

But Paul’s was also a victorious Christian life. That was what made the difference.

I wish I could speak to my family, without wincing, the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy:

“10 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, 11 persecutions, afflictions…”

Unravel. This is a word that is designed to send fear and terror down our spines. But it ought not to. There is a place of safety from the terror this word inspires. It is in the cross. Here we are free from such terrors. When we accept to deny ourselves by taking up our cross and following Christ, we are assured that here on earth we can walk in the greatest liberty of spirit. We have nothing to hide, for we have become more than victors over sin. And, when we get to heaven, we will stand tall in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and before His holy angels.

I wish I could become more of an example to my wife, my children, and to those around me. I wish people would see more of Christ in me. That was what the Apostle Paul accomplished. That was what guaranteed that his life would never unravel. Paul denied himself and took up his cross in order that he might show forth in his body the only life that would not unravel, the life of Christ, Christ crucified.

[Below: Arusha is the most well-known of Tanzania’s towns. Little-known Singida is some 300km down south]

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“Much Tribulation”

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. Acts 14:21-22

What would you rather have preached in your church?

Today, the church has a wide range of choices when it comes to what people want to hear. But this wide range of choices is a dangerous thing for all these things cater to the flesh. The Apostle Paul warned his young protégé Timothy:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

To which he added an admonition:

“5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

Notice that “endure afflictions” is firmly tucked in there. We may have a choice today, but the early church did not have the luxury of hearing what they wanted to hear. No doubt they, just as much as we, would have liked to hear a “soft” gospel, one which promised them a comfortable and trouble-free life here on earth and eternal life in the hereafter. But God would not allow that, for in surrendering to the flesh there is no life.

The apostles were men sent of God. They had in their hearts a revelation of Christ, Christ crucified. They therefore had only one message to deliver:

that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

I wonder how you can reconcile this Biblical message with the man-made messages of financial and material prosperity, promotion and whatnot. In today’s gospel setting, it seems you are not allowed to upset people. It is more important to talk about the “abundant life”, whatever that is, than the suffering that we are to endure for the gospel’s sake.

But if we live, we live for Christ, and if we die, we die for Him also. This is borne out by the example of the Apostle Paul himself who, when addressing Timothy, writes:

“16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me… 17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

It would have been wonderful to read that God delivered Paul from harm in order that Paul could continue living his own life. But this account states otherwise. It says here that God preserved Paul in order that he might continue preaching the gospel. God preserves us for a purpose – His purpose. There is no place in scripture to believe that God preserves us in order that we might continue doing our own thing here on earth. God preserves us in order that we might preach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason that God brings the cross into our lives. The cross is God’s plan for mankind. The cross involves all the things listed in 2 Corinthians 12:10:

“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.”

In this gospel, people will stamp on you and you will tried and tempted in many different ways. And God expects us to take all that patiently.

The Bible makes clear that you can enter into the Kingdom of heaven minus many of the things that we think are important in our lives – financial success, promotion at work, healing; Jesus even said you can enter with one eye and one hand (Mat. 5:29,30) – but you cannot enter the Kingdom of God without living out the cross in your life. The Bible says that we must through much tribulation enter into God’s heavenly Kingdom. That means suffering and bearing with a lot of negative things in our lives as believers.

That being the case, how about we begin thanking God for the problems instead of wishing them away. We might have been taught otherwise in the mega-churches; but we just might find we are on the right track here. Actually, the Bible says we are.

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

To exhort means to encourage. You encourage someone when they are undergoing challenges and hardship. The Christian life is a challenge. Living the Christian life is actually the greatest challenge there is in life. The reason for this is because this challenge is not necessarily about physical or material deprivation. Rather, it goes deep into the nether parts of our souls and challenges us there. Here, the deepest things of our hearts are challenged. Here, our pride is challenged. If you are white, your whiteness will be challenged. If you are an African, your Africanness will be challenged. If you have a greed for material wealth like the rich young man we read of the other day that will be challenged also.

These and other carnal traits are the things that make up the un-Christlike character in us, and God wants them out of our lives. God sends us His servants to exhort us to bear with hardships for the gospel’s sake. They encourage us to die to self and to our lusts. After we are truly and fully dead, the grace of God – which is the life of Christ – will increase in us, and we will be able to please God in every area of our lives.

[What would you rather have preached in church?]

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Two Lessons – Part 1

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:

7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. Gal. 2:1-10

I have been away for a while but I thank the Lord that He has helped me through many difficult stutations; and I am glad to be back.

Today I would like to address two issues that are on my heart, both of which are to be found in the above portion of scripture.

The first issue I would like to address is found in verses 1 through 6. It is about the liberty that we have in Christ. It is clear here that, even if the gospel first sounded out from Jerusalem, yet there was a problem that simply had failed to go away in that church. That problem was legalism and its resultant bond-brother, hypocrisy. Hypocrisy always attends legalism (to those who accept to be bound by legalism).

The apostles in Jerusalem had failed to handle legalism, and it therefore had the upper hand within the church. But Paul had received a slightly different gospel: the gospel of the grace of Christ, in its fullness. He knew what true liberty was in the Spirit. Christ had revealed Himself to him in a way He had not done with the other apostles.

Paul’s words, therefore, in verse 6:

“But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me”

were a stinging rebuke of the hypocrisy that was going on in the church in Jerusalem. Titles were meaningless here. Apostle or no apostle, stand for the truth of the gospel!!

The problem in the church in Jerusalem was made clear when men from Jerusalem came and found Peter eating with the Gentile brethren. The account states that these men had come “from James” (v.12). Peter immediately withdrew from associating with the Gentiles, fearing a backlash from the Jerusalem party. The law was so powerful that every other Jew, including even Barnabas, a long-time associate of Paul’s, was taken up in the hypocrisy.

There are few men, even today, who can go against the formidable tide of the spirit of the world to defend the gospel of grace and freedom in Christ against law and hypocrisy. Pastors, apostles, prophets and leaders of every sort of the gospel will arrive at a place in their ministry where they will be tested in this regard – and, sadly, many will compromise. They will find it hard to defend the gospel against men.

Uncompromising men like Paul are rare. But the important fact to understand is that these can only be men and women who have died to self through a realization of the cross in their lives.

Notice what Paul says in verse 2:

“And I went up by revelation…”

What wonderful news! A man of God who can be led only by the revelation of God in his heart, and not by James or John or Peter!! Paul did not go to Jerusalem because any of the apostles had sent him summonses, no. Paul went by revelation, thank God – and that after a long time ministering under that same revelation.

The men and women who walk by revelation of Jesus Christ in their hearts are they who will bring the true gospel of the cross to triumph in a world that is clueless about the true meaning of the cross.

[Below: Paul went up to Jerusalem by revelation]

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Patience In Suffering

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 2:18-25

The Swahili version of verse 19 reads: “For this is true goodness, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”

There it is, just in case you were wondering at the exact meaning of the word “thankworthy” in this verse. In other words, there is what we could call ordinary goodness; and there is true goodness. Ordinary goodness is the goodness that responds only to like goodness but cannot endure opposition to self. This goodness is of our carnal nature and it does not please God for it does not respond well to Christian suffering.

True goodness can only be of God. That means that the bar for true goodness is set very high. Remember the girl in Philippi who had a spirit of divination in her and who followed Paul and his team and proclaimed after them:

“These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17)?

Our God is the Most High God and his standards are equally high. True goodness cannot therefore be the feel-good stuff that our flesh craves. As a matter of fact, true goodness can only be something that the flesh detests, and which it desires to run away from.

In the world, our hearts automatically warm towards those who will us no ill. But when we meet people who would do us harm, we close our hearts. It is the easiest thing, even in church, to align ourselves with the people whose hearts are open to us. But we tend to close our hearts to those people who will not open their hearts to us, or to those who criticize and torment or persecute us. And if this is the case in the church, how much more so when this suffering comes from the world? The Apostle Peter here puts his finger on what is probably the most difficult thing for a believer to do: to suffer wrong patiently and to maintain a pure heart when in that situation.

Notice, again, “… but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”

The word “acceptable” here again attests to the high standards of God. “Acceptable” means what is right with or pleasing to God. If it was me, what Peter describes here is not what would be acceptable with me. But this is what is acceptable with God.

On the flip side, it means that if we suffer when we do well and are unable to take that suffering “patiently”, this is not acceptable with God. We have a long way to go in pleasing God!

But the Apostle Peter gives us the example of Christ Himself. Christ endured suffering from sinners, although He Himself was sinless! In that way, Christ did that which was acceptable with God. But even more so, the Bible tells us, it was through this endurance that Christ became the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

If we are selfish, we cannot take evil, and for that reason can never be of value to anyone from God’s perspective. Jesus said,

“24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. 25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (Jn. 12:24-25)

Hence the need for the revelation of the cross in our lives, where “Christ crucified” becomes the foundation of our Christian lives. It is only through a crucified life that we can live this kind of life, the life that pleases God.

[In the midst of suffering may it be well, Lord, with my soul.]

Deception vs the Cross

I don’t know when this video was taken. Nevertheless, I thank the Lord Jesus Christ so much! The people in this video are men and women whom I would not, in a million years, have the faintest chance of matching in terms of brainpower, power, status or worldly wealth. (There are people here being asked for a single donation of 10,000 U.S. dollars!)

And yet, thanks to the grace of God, even though I am light years away from their class, I cannot imagine being scammed on the massive scale that these people are being scammed. Not that I am judging them. On the contrary, my heart goes out to them. These are people who had not the revelation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ – “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) – in their hearts. They probably had never heard it preached. But, again, in their day, there probably was no teacher of the gospel who taught this revelation.

But, today, God has brought to light the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ and it is spreading all over the earth. And yet, even today, there are equally level-headed people – God’s people – who are being conned on an even bigger magnitude than what we witness in this video clip.

I have no words to express my gratitude to God, who delivered me from gospels of preachers such as these, who do not have the revelation of the cross in them; to whom, I hasten to add, I was once enslaved.

“(The Lord) brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” (Ps. 40:2)

It is a sad tale, the tale of where today’s men of God have taken the church to. They have taken God’s people back into the miry pit.

Sadly, everything in this video clip – the beautiful piano music, the soothing voice of the man speaking in the background, the preacher’s well-modulated intonations – are all used to euthanize the minds of the people this preacher is targeting.

We Are One

26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal. 3:26-28
An argument was brewing up in church. Somebody had come to church with their sick child and another child had gone to play with him. The mother of the second child rushed up and hustled her child away from the sick one with the words, “Watch out! He is going to infect you!”
The mother of the sick child overheard the words, and she did not take it well. She came to the defense of her child – and her dignity.
Thus began a very ugly spat right inside the church grounds. The cross of Jesus had been thrown overboard.
Inside one of the cars going home after the service sat the mother who had snatched away her child from the company of the sick one. She was a well-educated and well-groomed lady.
The car had four other passengers, all equally well-educated. Still smarting from the unpleasant exchange she had had with her sister-in-Christ, the sister remarked: “Couldn’t she have had the sense to leave her child at home? How can one bring such a sick child to play with other kids?”
To which one of the company replied, “The problem is that that lady is not educated.”
From that point onwards, the conversation inside the car revolved around the merits of being educated and the disadvantages of being uneducated. Not one person who spoke made any reference to taking up their cross and following Christ. Instead, they all came to the support of the sister who was with them in the car.
This is not a story that I have made up. It is an actual incident that occurred in a certain church.
The first words in the Bible are:
“In the beginning…” (Gen. 1:1)
In everything we must start in the beginning. Where were you before you got educated? Where were you before you became rich? What were you before you became the self-made man or woman you have become? Where were you before you became white or black?
The cold fact is that you were nothing. You have no idea of your origins because it was God who ordained you to come into this world. And even after you were born, there was a time you did not know your left hand from your right hand.
Education, riches, status, cultural background, etc. – all these are things that we stumbled upon in this world. These things are of this world; they are not of God’s heavenly Kingdom. As spiritual people, therefore, we cannot boast in them. Nor can we allow them to divide us as children of God.
Rather, we are to desire to take up our cross and humble ourselves and realize that we are what we are simply because we are in Christ. Without Christ, we are nothing.
The Jew, the Greek; the bond, the free; the male and the female: all these are qualities that are of this world. They set the boundaries for us in the flesh. But in the Spirit, we are one. There is none of these things that divide us.
To be honest, I have a problem with being a man. There are certain inborn traits and expectations that come with this attribute which, in the Spirit, are more of a hindrance to me than the positive qualities that the world makes them out to be.
That is why I need the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ in my life will deal with the mind of the flesh that is inherent in these qualities. The cross of Christ will mould in me the mind of Christ, whereby I can have the grace to consider my wife a fellow heir with me of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7), rather than as just a woman.
The grace of God in me will make me to lift men of low estate and cause them to become my equals in the Spirit instead of looking down on them.
The grace of God in me will cause me to give the respect due to my superiors in life, not out of fear, but because I love them; they are my brothers and sisters.
The grace of God, that we receive as a result of the cross working in our lives, will make us truly one, the true Body of Jesus Christ.
God’s grace in us will make us to effectively do the will of God, which is “good, and acceptable, and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

The Need For Sound Doctrine – Part 2

Sometimes the problem is not the mega-church and all it entails. Paul also told Timothy:

“1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” (1 Tim. 4:1-3)

Sometimes the problem is “seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils”. Imagine… God’s people literally being led by demonic forces! And when you hear the devil, don’t expect to see him in horns. Oh, no. What you will see is a priest or pastor or preacher who has probably even been to Bible school. And, actually, when you read this particular scripture, you will realize that the Bible is talking about mainstream denominations!

Take, for example, a ‘church’ that forbids people to marry, or one that forbids people to eat certain foods. The Bible here states that both these doctrines are doctrines of devils. And yet… false denominations and cults use these same teachings to deceive their members.

The Bible calls these doctrines of devils because they aim to found people’s faith on something else other than the sound doctrine of Jesus Christ.

The second thing – which is the subject of the second part of this series – is that you would think, as I had always thought, that the culprits in these modern-day charades are the greedy, worldly (and sometimes demon-possessed) preachers. We love talking about how these preachers are ripping off God’s people and how they are leading them into error. But lo and behold… the Bible has news for us! According to 2 Timothy 4:3-4, the real culprits are not these preachers. The real culprits are the people themselves, who have given these preachers the platform to deceive them. That is what the Bible says right here:

“…after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers”.

The whodunnit in this crime are the believers who attend churches where the cross of Christ has been stripped of its power (1 Cor. 1:17)!

False preachers’ tentacles reach far and wide. I have a brother right here whom I one day found letters in his office from a famous American preacher directing the brother to send to that preacher’s ministry a large sum of money in exchange for an upgrading of his status in the ministry’s roll of honor. He was told he would be sent a gold-edged certificate.

The letters had come in thick and fast. With each succeeding letter the demands got more strident. The last letter was an actual threat. Luckily, our man got to hear the gospel of the grace of God just in time, and he and his family were saved from an impending catastrophe.

Countless other people have not been so lucky.

Now, when we see or hear of these people being deceived and fleeced by these mega-preachers and other demon-possessed cultists, we are prone to sympathise with them. But God’s outlook is radically different. God’s outlook is that a blind man who accepts to be led by another blind man will fall into the same pit that his blind leader fell into. In other words, they shall both perish. It is not a matter of God pitying them or not. God has given them the freedom to choose the path they wish to follow.

And when you come to look at it in light of scripture, there is really no excuse for a person who has been born again by the Word of God to be deceived. God’s Word has the power to hold and to keep! We get deceived when we reject the truth of the cross.

That is why Paul charges Timothy to:

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”

There is nothing ‘good’ about God’s Word. Notice the words Paul uses here:

“reprove, rebuke, exhort…”

The word “exhort” here means “warn”. There is nothing good about being reproved, rebuked or warned. They are all hard, difficult things to bear. But these are the things that constitute the sound doctrine of Jesus Christ. That is exactly what the cross comes to do in our lives!

When you accept to listen to a different gospel than this, it means you have changed course and you have begun chasing after other things. When you hear a gospel that does not lead you to deny yourself and to take up your cross and follow Christ, you are being deceived and you ought to ask yourself how you arrived there in the first place.

[In a homestead deep in central Tanzania, dinner is served!]

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