Understanding The Cross

The more you understand the cross of Jesus Christ, the more you begin to see things… things that are hidden. That is why the Apostle Paul calls the gospel of Jesus Christ a mystery, and a revelation (see Ephesians 3).

More and more as you understand the cross, you begin to realize that the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with the things of this world; in fact, one day, it becomes crystal clear to you that God’s Kingdom has absolutely nothing to do with anything of this world; that it is spiritual, and not material.

When it comes to the material life, for example, you begin to understand why Jesus had “not where to lay his head” (Mat. 8:20); and yet this same Man could walk on water, He could feed more than 5,000 people at one sitting; and He could raise the dead.

For which is greater: having a place to lay your head or walking on water?

You begin to understand why the Apostle Paul could tell the Corinthians concerning himself and the apostles:

“9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” (2 Cor. 6:9-10)

You begin to understand why the apostles would walk about without a dime in their pockets (3:6) and yet the Bible indicates they could have been rich had they chosen to.

“34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, 37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:34-37)

All the church assets were at the apostles’ disposal. And yet, they would not use any of it on their own persons. Their hearts were not in these things.

It is as you grow in your understanding of the cross that you get to understand the vanity and the futility of this earthly life. You begin to understand even why Jesus did not marry; nor Paul. You understand Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2:

“1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”

Marriage is holy, indeed (Heb. 13:4); but these earthly marriages are not God’s original plan. In other words, earthly marriage is not God’s plan in the Spirit. That is why a man and woman are not joined in their spirits, but in their bodies. They only become one in their spirits if both are living for Christ.

Jesus made it clear that in God’s heavenly Kingdom,

“… they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Mat. 22:30)

Earthly marriage exists simply to prevent us from fornication, as Paul states. Earthly marriage is a testimony to the power of the flesh and it is allowed because of the weakness of our flesh. God of necessity had to sanctify marriage; otherwise, it would be unholy and we would not be allowed to marry.

But our Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul and others, by the grace of God, crucified the flesh and were therefore able to not engage in earthly marriage. They were able to live only for the heavenly marriage.

The Roman Catholic church tried imitating this heavenly lifestyle of abstinence in the flesh and they have ended up destroying more lives than have all the wars in the world.

As you understand the cross more, you realize more and more that the spiritual man or woman indeed has nothing in this world to live for. The Apostle Paul realized this fully well. Hence he declares in Galatians 2:20:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

That means that every breathe of earthly air that Paul took, he took for Christ; every motion he made with his earthly body, he made for Christ; and that his thought processes were wired in the Spirit to Christ’s. He lived, not for himself, but for Christ. He never did, thought or spoke anything for himself, nor for the flesh, but for Christ. He says again,

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

For Paul, to live was Christ.

We, on the contrary, live a ragtag life, where we try to infuse Christ and the flesh together. But that cannot be called a spiritual lifestyle. If we really want to be spiritual, we have a long way to go in disentagling ourselves from the earthly and living for what is purely spiritual.

But take heart… It is a journey, and a long one. As long as you are denying yourself and taking up your cross and following Christ, you are on the right track even if you are not perfect yet.

[JESUS – What a beautiful Name!]

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Of Oxen And Cribs

Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox. Prov. 14:4

A crib here is not the thing where a baby is raised in. According to the context, this particular crib refers to a cow pen or paddock. This is the place where cattle live and sleep. It is their home.

Now, we all know that this is not a particularly clean place. Cattle keep urinating and defecating here all the time. Naturally, this gives the farmer a hard time cleaning out the pens if he has to. In Africa, however, we don’t bother cleaning cattle pens precisely because they are not stationed indoors. The cattle are simply penned in outdoors and there they will comfortably live all their lives. We allow the manure to compact and mature during the dry season and, just before the rains come, we take it out and pile it in the farm to await the planting season.

I have never heard of a clean cattle pen. But, again, the Bible tells us here that a pen can only be clean if there are no cattle living there! In other words, if there are cattle living inside, the pen can never be clean.

The men who wrote the early Wisdom were practical men. They could relate to life in a down-to-earth manner. That being the case, it is true that even in a big house there are bound to be many people, and all these people come with their different habits and characteristics. Without a doubt they are bound to do things that are not pleasing to the owner of the house. But it is also true that they will in turn do many things that are helpful in that house. You cannot have ten people living in your house and it turns out that it is you who is running every errand. The truth is that many, many chores, duties and errands will be accomplished without your knowledge even.

There are many people who opt to live lone lives. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t for one minute defend how we Africans treat our dogs; but I am tempted to believe that many Westerners also have a hidden agenda in their love for their dogs. I think many do so because dogs are easier to cope with than human beings. After all, dogs are so subservient and humans so intractable. But, still, it is human beings that we are called to cope with.

At any rate, most people would rather not dirty their hands or suffer in any way; and yet, with the gospel, we are called to suffer for the gospel’s sake.

That said, notice the word “increase” in that scripture. The Bible says that if the crib is clean, the farmer has no increase or profit; he will experience only loss. Why? It is because there are no oxen in his crib!

These are the same words that our Lord Jesus echoed in Matthew 10:39.

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

In the natural, the more the oxen you have in the stall, the dirtier that stall is bound to get. But then, again, it means you will have more strength in those oxen to accomplish things that will bring you profit.

It is the same in the Spirit.

“… much increase is by the strength of the ox”.

In the Spirit, the more stumbling blocks you meet on your spiritual journey; the more trials and temptations you come across, the more spiritual you are bound to become as a child of God. The stronger spiritually you will become. A weak Christian is one who does not experience challenges to their faith. If you hold onto your life, you will lose it.

It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul said:

“9 … Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

It is only by allowing more trials and tribulations into our lives for the sake of the gospel that we will develop that inner spiritual strength needed to please and serve the Lord in the Spirit.

[It is for this reason that I, too, would not want to know any other gospel than that which was preached by the Apostle Paul: Jesus Christ, and Him crucified]

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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.