Our Two Agendas

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

Oh hallelujah to that!!

I doubt that any man would doubt the two facts of life and death. Well, these are the two agendas that God has for the church. To live and to die. In the above scripture, God, through the Apostle Paul, shows us the two singular agendas that He has for the church. Both living and dying. Now, to live is earthly; to die is heavenly. In other words, here on earth we believers have the singular agenda of living. We are involved. Somehow, we have a responsibility here on earth! We have the responsibility to live “Christ”. And what, pray, is “Christ”? “Christ” talks of a life that is fully pleasing to God.

Now, no man has ever lived a life that is fully pleasing to God. No man is capable of that. Actually, no man can even dream of coming close to scratching the surface of this particular undertaking. No man.

It was for this reason that God sent His Son Jesus Christ. God sent His own Son. And Christ proved Himself capable, and well able to please God fully. God Himself put His stamp of approval on the verity of Jesus’s accomplishment by declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mat. 17:5)

Moreover, Jesus did all this for us. He became the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. Now, when God sees us who believe Christ, He sees us as perfectly pleasing Him.

But Paul tells us that here on earth we have the responsibility of living out “Christ”. We are called to live the life of victory over sin that Christ lived when He was here on earth. Christ has sent us His Holy Spirit to enable us to live that life. Paul followed hard after Christ’s footsteps. That was why he was able to say, “For me to live is Christ”!

Our responsibility here on earth is to live the crucified life that Christ has won for us. We saw in our last post how the Macedonian churches were able to live this life so fully. Praise God for the Macedonians!

But with the latter, the dying part, that is all entirely God’s territory. He alone knows what awaits us in heaven. The Apostle John declares,

“Behold, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn. 3:2)

Notice, “it doth not yet appear”.

That means that no one really knows how heaven is like; nor how things will turn out in heaven once we die.

But heaven is a beautiful place and for those who shall be found worthy to be with the Lord, the Bible says that it will be a place where they shall receive glory, honor, peace, immortality, eternal life (Rom. 2:7,10).

And if the Apostle Peter describes our present state in Christ here on earth as one of “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8), how much more joyous and glorious can we expect heaven to be?

But suffice it to accept John’s words above, that “it doth not yet appear”.

John’s words here ought to suffice for us; but there are people who are never content with the simple truth of God’s Word. They have itching ears; and they become easy prey for the many false teachers whom the devil has brought into the church to deceive the elect.

For this reason don’t let anybody tell you that they have been to heaven and that they saw this and that. Remember the Apostle Paul was also taken to heaven (2 Corinthians 12). When he came back to earth, he wanted to boast about what he had seen in heaven. He wanted to tell all! But God instead placed a thorn in his flesh. And God told him, “Mind that!”

It was then that Paul understood that the things that he had seen in heaven are secrets that are meant to remain in heaven. Actually, upon reading Revelation chapters 21 and 22 we realize that heaven is such a spiritual place that we here on earth would probably wouldn’t understand anything about it at present. Hence John’s words, “It doth not yet appear.”

Instead, God made Paul to understand that his singular calling on earth as far as his relationship with God was concerned was to mind the thorn in his flesh.

This applies to the church even today. If anyone begins preaching about how they have been to heaven and begins to tell the things they saw there, you should have only one question for them: “Do you have a thorn in your flesh?”

And should they answer that they have one, you should tell them, “Blessed are you. Now, please, mind that alone.”

What happens after we die is God’s sole prerogative. But we are assured that the outcome of what happens to us after we die depends entirely on how we live out our lives down here. It all depends on our ability/willingness to live “Christ”, Christ crucified.

Through what God showed the Apostle Paul in the vision about the thorn, it is clear that we have only one agenda here on earth: to live the crucified life of Christ. This letter was written to the Corinthians. But it is this very message that Paul reiterates here in his letter to the Philippians. Everywhere he went, Paul had a singular message. The message of “Christ crucified” was the singular message that Paul preached (1 Cor. 1:23).

God has no other agenda for us. God does not even really care whether we live or die, as we know living and dying. Preachers today are so blind! You will hear a preacher preaching an entire sermon on how God cares for you and how His favour is upon you, and how He does not want you to experience the slightest discomfort.

Well, try telling that to Jesus, the Early Church, and all the saints who lived before them. Do we really believe that they did not experience any discomfort?

It is unfortunate that God’s people are therefore so concerned with living a comfortable earthly life. No partaking of the sufferings of Christ! But, in so doing, we risk dying and finding out that what awaits us in heaven is loss, and not gain.

During these extremely uncertain times that we are living in, the church should make sure it is on the right road. Now is not the time to think of living a comfortable life in this world. Now is the time to make sure we are fulfilling the only real agenda that God has for us: daily dying to self. That is our sole reason for living.

After that, we die… and on to gain.

[The church in the village of Matongo, Singida Municipality]

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In Kobe’s Death, A Lesson

24 After certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. 26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him. Acts 24:24-26

We are all instruments in the hands of God. God has the right to use us in any way He wants; after all, it is He who created us.

A few days ago, in one of our large cities here in Tanzania, over 20 people were trampled to death as they were rushing to dip their feet in so-called holy oil in an open-air meeting held by one of the many fake apostles and prophets that nowadays characterize the modern church. Many more people were injured.

Many theories were presented as to what could possibly have caused such a huge disaster. But to me it was clear that, after having warned His people through various means against these false apostles and prophets, God decided to use a different method. He chose certain of His subjects (the people who died) to teach others a lesson. God said, “Maybe the rest will learn from these.”

In other words, God was exercising His right to use those people any way He liked. And He liked it that way. Not that it was necessarily pleasing to Him to see them die. (And I have no idea where they went.) He was not cheering their deaths. But He had a point to make and He would have it made. Nothing that happened on that day was accidental. Even the people who died were very carefully chosen by Him.

Now, God used those people to make a statement concerning the dangers inherent in the present-day false apostolic and prophetic ministries. (You would have to be very high on drugs to not realize or acknowledge that a ‘ministry’ where people are trampling each other to death is not of God). God was telling His people, the church, “Come out from among them!”

Now the whole country, at least those who are willing to acknowledge it, are aware that these ministries of ‘anointed’ oil, ‘anointed’ water, etc, are not of God, but of the devil. They kill, defraud and do many other harmful things to God’s people.

In the same way that God used these people in my country, I believe He used Kobe Bryant to make a wake-up call to the world. I have no way of knowing whether Kobe had made his peace with God before he died. But whether he had or not, the first and foremost fact is that Kobe was an instrument of God. God had every right to use him any way He wanted.

And God used him. I doubt there is anyone out there among the world’s high and mighty who now doubts the fact of death. And that it can pick you out anywhere and at any moment.

Kobe was not only famous. He was also a powerful and influential figure in worldly circles. People like Kobe are people who are generally viewed by the world as indestructible. That is the way human nature is: we tend to place people on impossible pedestals. That is why his death, which came right out of the blue, was such a shocker to many.

Felix was the governor of Judea, and when Paul met him, he did not mince words with him concerning his final resting place. He told him the truth. Paul pinned down on the important aspects of life. He told Governor Felix that if his life was not built on righteousness and temperance, he would face eternal damnation in hell. Paul did not look upon the greatness of Felix; he saw a sinner before him.

The Apostle Paul was chosen by God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to kings and rulers. Paul was also an instrument in God’s hands. He preached the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom of righteousness and temperance – to these powerful men and women. These were men who had the opportunity to live lives of excess, and he warned them against it.

Larger than life or not, we will all come into the judgment seat of Christ. I am not in any way judging Kobe. I hardly know him. And as I said, it could well be that he had made his peace with God before his death. But God used him to loudly proclaim to a sinful world that death will ultimately usher us into His presence and that for this reason we should hearken to the message of Paul to Felix:

“… he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come”.

Many memorial services will be held for Kobe Bryant; but none of these things matter now as far as he is concerned. What matters is the life he lived prior to his death. God expected him to live every day of his 41 years here on earth in righteousness and temperance, and that is what he will answer for before God.

And so it will be with every one of us. May God help us all!

Fully Dead!

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. Heb. 11:17-19

Recently, during sharing time in one of our services, an old man in our congregation slowly stood up and walked up to the front. Slowly, he turned and faced the congregation. Then, haltingly and with great difficulty, he spoke up. He said, “Brethren, this gospel of the cross is very difficult to live. I have come to the realization that I have to fully and truly die. That is something that I find very difficult.”

And with those words the old man made his way back to his seat.

Now, let us embark on our study of Hebrews 11 above. Notice the word “figure” there. The Old Testament is all about figures. Figures and shadows. But there are no shadows or figures in the New Testament. It is all real. The New Testament is the reality of God.

God does not chase shadows. He goes after the real thing. And right here, in this portion of scripture, we find probably the most profound truth concerning the gospel: that, under the Old Covenant, Isaac did not die; but in the New Covenant, Isaac died. We all know from the account in Genesis chapter 22 that Abraham did not kill Isaac on that fateful day. An angel of the Lord appeared and stayed Abraham’s hand and therefore Isaac’s life was saved.

But in the New Testament, the real Isaac, Jesus, was killed. And that is why both Abraham and Isaac are such important figures in the Bible. For, long before he lifted up the knife to plunge it into Isaac’s heart, long before the angel appeared, Abraham had already offered up Isaac. In fact, we could surmise that Abraham offered up Isaac the minute God told him to. In Abraham’s heart, Isaac was long dead before any physical deed ever took place.

The Isaac that lived after the event at Mt. Moriah was therefore a ‘resurrected’ Isaac. That is why it says in verse 19,

“Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”

The Bible says right here that Abraham received Isaac from the dead. In other words, Isaac died. He died to Abraham.

Now, notice verse 18 which is central to our understanding the New Covenant.

“Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”

This is why Abraham is such an important figure in the Bible. The Bible says that Abraham, to whom the promises were made, accounted that God was able to raise Isaac up from the dead. Moreover, the Bible says that Abraham “received” him from the dead! In other words, Abraham received the promises of God through a ‘resurrected’ Isaac, an Isaac who had died and risen from the dead!

Try as we might, we will never know the true promises of God this side of life. The true promises of God are received on the other side of a resurrected life. Most believers think that the promises of God are miracles, signs and wonders. But no. The true promises of God are a life that is victorious over sin. It is that simple. That is why, one day, Jesus stopped all miracles and brought up a different gospel, the gospel of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. He was introducing the true gospel, the gospel of identifying our lives with His life in dying and resurrecting.

And after Jesus we see the Apostle Paul, who declared that he wanted to know nothing

“save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor.2:2)

That is why the doctrine of the cross is central to the faith of every believer. Not the doctrine of miracles, signs and wonders (1 Cor. 1:22-23).

The church needs to come to an understanding of the need to crucify the flesh. And, being that the New Covenant is more real than the old, the flesh must die a true death. Not half dead, not make-believe dead; but fully and truly dead. That is how we will come into the promises of Abraham: a new, victorious life in the Spirit.

This is a difficult lesson. The cross is a difficult undertaking. But thank God we have the Holy Spirit to help us. He is our Helper (Jn. 14:16-18).

[The grand old Hilton Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya]

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Interlude: Tribute

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Acts 7:55-56

Two days ago, a terrible tragedy occurred in our country. An overloaded ferry which was making a crossing between two islands in Lake Victoria capsized and, as I write, more than 150 people have been confirmed dead from that accident. The social media in our country is clogged with photos of the bodies of these our fellow countrymen and women . Our nation is currently in a state of deep mourning. So many lives have been needlessly lost; and so many lives left irreparably scarred. Lake Victoria islands are closely-knit communities, and many families lost more than one relative. At any rate, the nation of Tanzania is like one big family, thanks to our founding father, ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere, who managed to unify it under the banner of one language, Swahili.

This tragic accident occurred at about 2 p.m. local time. That same evening, another death occurred, far from and quite unrelated to the one on Lake Victoria. At 8 p.m. of the same day, a lady in one of our churches went home. She went to be with the Lord. I was informed of the news by her pastor at the exact time she died, since she died in his arms.

When I heard the news, I broke down and cried. In fact, I cried the whole night. I cried, not because this lady had died, but because I knew the circumstances surrounding her demise. And my tears were tears of joy, not of sorrow.

For those of you who read my recent post titled “Kishapu!”, immediately I left the town of Kishapu I passed by one of our churches in a town called Igunga. Being new in these parts, it was my first time to visit this church. I intended to sleep over and have a little chat with the pastor there.

Early the next morning, however, before I left, the pastor took me to see one of his parishioners. He informed me that the lady in question had been suffering for a while now with what appeared like the beginnings of paralysis on one side of her body. She had been to the hospital and all the doctors could diagnose her with was high blood pressure. But no medication brought any relief. The pastor wanted me to pray with her.

When we arrived at her house we found her alone; her children had gone to school. She was attempting to go about her normal chores, but it was clear she was in extreme pain. Her body seemed bent completely to one side.

My heart went out to this sister. I could not imagine someone living in that condition for any amount of time. But in my heart, I knew I had to do something more than just pray. I told her, “Sister, before we pray, I want to know a little bit about your life history.”

Although she was in pain, she managed to talk clearly and she told me quite a lot about her life. She told me that she had suffered much in life (I could see it in the poverty surrounding her). She had four children to take care of; but what really hurt her was that her husband had left her. Life was therefore very difficult. She ended by saying that she was “bitter at life”.

When I heard that, I knew I had nailed what was troubling her.

Right there, in the presence of her pastor, I told her, “Lady, you have to let that go. You have to let go that bitterness. You cannot take one step forward in life with that heart condition.”

Immediately, I said that, she went into a paroxysm of pain as the paralysis hit her.

But I was unrelenting. I told her, “The condition that is tormenting you is a result of what you have allowed into your heart. You have to forgive where you need to forgive, and you have to let go where you need to let go.”

With many such words, my fellow pastor and I coaxed this lady to once again submit to the Lordship of the Lord Jesus in her life even though she was already saved. I waited for her to respond.

At length, she nodded her head in acquiescence, and I prayed for her. I prayed for God to heal her body and her soul. As is normal with me, I laid in heavily when it came to praying for her soul; my heart was all there!

When the pastor called me to inform me of this sister’s demise two days later, I was surprised. She hadn’t seemed that close to dying. But then the pastor told me something that made my heart to dance with joy. He told me that the sister’s last words were: “Thank God for the words you and pastor spoke to me. I am well in my soul. I have let go everything and I feel at peace with God.”

After which she said, “I am having a splitting headache, pastor. Please pray for me.”

Those were her last words. She tried to talk further, but nothing else coherent came out of her mouth. Her body gradually lapsed and death made its final futile grip on her.

That was when the pastor called me.

When I received news of her death, I spent the whole night visualizing the kind of welcome that sister must have received from the Lord Jesus Christ. I played the scene over and over. And I cried and cried.

With the stroke of a pen, so to speak, this precious lady had accomplished what none of us could accomplish were it not for the grace of God. Even though it were a matter of something that she probably had accomplished in a single day, yet this lady had joined the ranks of the Apostle Paul, who wrote,

“7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8)

For the believer, death is all about finishing the race that has been set in front of us in the Spirit. It is a matter of grasping the incredible grace that is available to every child of God, and putting it to good use.

[Home – our eternal home – calls]

True Goodness – Part 2

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. 19-25

Jesus did so much good during His earthly ministry but, in the epistles, the Bible does not talk about those things. Instead, it talks about Christ’s sufferings and His endurance in the same! The Bible exalts the cross above anything that Jesus did or underwent. In fact, in Philippians 2:5-11, the Bible talks about the different stages that Jesus allowed Himself to descend from glory to shame and death. But it ends by stating that He

“became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (v.8)

The death of the cross. That is not any death. The death of the cross is not physical death. It is death to self. And it was on account of this death that scripture declares in verse 9:

“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name”.

You can die every kind of death; but if you have not died to self, you are nothing in God’s eyes.

I have an interesting illustration in this regard.

One day, a brother called me and told me he was travelling to the village to attend the burial of a close relative. I knew this brother’s financial condition, so I wanted to bless him with some money. I decided I would surprise him, so I called him back and told him to meet up with me at a certain place. He answered, “I am leaving right away.”

I walked briskly to our meeting point, my heart beating with excitement at the good I was about to do. When I arrived there, the brother was nowhere to be seen. True, he lived some distance away, but I expected him to take some form of transportation and hurry.

I called him and told him exactly that. I told him, “Take a motorcycle!”

He mumbled an answer and the phone went dead.

Finally, the brother showed up after about 20 minutes. By that time, my heart had turned charcoal black. The man had kept me waiting – and I was livid. I almost did not greet him, and I had to dredge up all the remaining dregs of grace left in me to hand him the money I had come to “bless” him with.

I had done good, but my good was not acceptable with God. In God’s eyes, it was the exact opposite of what you could call good. Why?

Because I had not accepted to suffer. God was not looking at the good I had gone to do. He was looking to see whether I would endure patiently when something grated at my will. Those 20 minutes of waiting were more important to God than any good intentions I had to help someone.

God waits for us at the point of suffering. He does not wait for us at any other place. He waits for us like the umpire waits for the athlete. The umpire does not wait for the athlete at any old point along the track. He waits at the finishing line.

Jesus waits for us at the finishing line; and our finishing line is the cross. When we accept to suffer patiently “for conscience toward God” we find God waiting for us right there.

By introducing the cross, the Bible destroys any notion of “good” that we have in the human sense. With God, “good” can only be when we serve Him under His terms, not ours. Actually, the cross is all about dying to our old man, self.

In John 21:18, we read Jesus’s words to Peter,

“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.”

Imagine that. Jesus told Peter that a time would come when Peter would not serve God under his own terms, but under God’s terms!

Did you know that Peter carried a sword to serve the Lord with? That was his will at work. In fact, Jesus once rebuked him with the words:

“Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Mat. 16:23)

That is how we are much of the time: serving God, but carrying carnal weapons. If someone hurts us, we hurt back because we are not willing to suffer. We, just like Peter, are carrying weapons of our flesh with us.

We begin to understand why the Apostle Paul would not preach any other gospel other than “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23)

It is the cross alone that can deal with the flesh so that we may serve the Lord on His terms, not ours. Nothing else can. Not even prophecies. There are too many self-styled, self-willed ‘prophets’ roaming about. It’s time to show them the cross – or the door.

So, finally, what is true goodness? What is thankworthy and acceptable with God? It is when we submit ourselves to another’s terms, not our own. It is when we crucify our wills. Biblically, the flesh is our will.

All our good, all our striving, all our effort comes to nought if we have not reached the place of crucifying our flesh. God is not interested in what we do. He is interested in what we allow Him to do in us.

If we are good on our own terms, despite all the good we do, we, just like my brother John at the brook, will not even have began our spiritual journey.

[I love the arts!]

A Grand Passing

Late in the evening of Saturday 16th, I received news that my sister-in-law, my younger brother’s wife, had passed on and gone to be with the Lord. Death has a power that defies normalcy, and I am still reeling at the news. Joyce was more than a sister-in-law to me; she was just as one of my sisters. Her face was pasted with a permanent smile, and I cannot imagine not seeing that again; nor her deep, infectious laughter. It is these two that I shall miss especially.

But the Bible is filled with spiritual comfort at every turn, and in 1 Thes. 4:13-14, the Apostle Paul gives us reason to rejoice even in death, for he writes, by the Word of the Lord:

“13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”

I am therefore filled with much comfort, even as the whys and the hows assail me. The most important thing is that she died in the Lord and that, if I also live with the Lord, I shall one day see her in the only place that matters – HEAVEN.

The passing away of a saint is, indeed, a grand passing.

[Joyce Paul]

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Making It

The wife of a pastor friend of mine died yesterday afternoon, right after church. She was a woman whom I knew intimately. Just last Friday I was with her and her husband at their house. As we sat she complained of a headache, and her husband brought her some painkillers. No one thought anything else about it until she fell down in her sitting room and died. She died instantly.

It was a poor family and she lived a poor life. She never knew the good life.

Today, at her vigil, all the men were sitted outside and the women inside, as is customary when there is not enough space inside the house. Everyone’s thoughts were on what caused her sudden death. But, as her husband was narrating the ordeal, he said something that made me realize that the really important question was not what had caused her death, but where she’d gone.

A week ago, her 14-year old son had been involved in an accident. He had been riding a borrowed bicycle when he was broadsided by a motorcycle as he was making a turn. It was a ghastly accident, but luckily he came out largely unscathed. Within four days he was out running again. But the near-miss had shaken his mother badly.

Her husband told us, “My wife’s last words were to my son. She called him over and said to him, ‘Do you realize what could have happened to you in that accident? You could have died instantly. You should not play with going to church. Tell me you will not be missing church again.’

“At which”, proceeded the pastor, “the boy said, ‘I promise, mother.’”

It was then that his mother let him go. Not long afterwards, she collapsed inexplicably and died instantly.

As the pastor was speaking, we were sitted outside, under a clear, blue sky. Just about then, I glanced up and espied an airliner making its way across the sky. It was travelling from the north to the south. It was very high up, probably 30 – 40,000 feet. It was so high that were it not for the jetstream, I might not have noticed it.

Something told me, “No, she is not on that plane. She has left the splendors of this world that she never knew. But she is somewhere”.

And I knew, even as I looked up, beyond the airliner, that she had made it. Yes, she was finally with the Lord Jesus Christ. The thought was too tremendous for me to comprehend. It still is, even as I write.

The Thorn For His Grace

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

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

9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

Many years ago, before I got married, I was the sweetest, kindest human being you could ever meet. My pastor would tell the congregation, “Look at Mwita. You can call him anything, and it doesn’t trouble him one little bit. He is always at perfect peace!” I was a star.

In fact, I was so lovable that, one day, some ladies from our church paid me a visit. Ours was the biggest Pentecostal church in town, and you can visualize the kind of ladies who attend such churches: not simple housewives, but teachers, managers, office workers, etc.

Anyways, they came in a sizable group and they found me in my bachelor quarters. At that time I was working, so I was living in a nice apartment. After the usual greetings and introductions, they brought out their objective. They all expressed their love and affection for me. After which they let slip that the sun waiteth not even for the king, so to speak. The years were moving on and that I should consider moving on to the next stage in my life. Finally, from the folds of their loving hearts they pulled out a name.

I silently considered their proposition. To be honest, it is many years since, and I do not recall exactly how we wound up that conversation. But the fact that I did not marry that girl means that I turned down their proposal. And the fact that I refused certainly has nothing to do with the girl in question: not only was she very beautiful, but she was also considered one of the spiritual pillars among the youth in the church. But I do remember also that at that time I was fully engaged to Christ and, except for my job, I had no other commitment, hobby or interest except Him alone.

Fast-forward to a few years later when I finally did get married – to a different girl. This girl was not from our church, so she did not know me. Unbeknown to her, though, a nightmare was awaiting her. Within a short period of time into our marriage, she was shocked to find that she had married… well, the devil himself.  Even I was surprised by the change that I saw in me. The Bible says we should be transformed to become Christ-like, but this particular transformation occurred the other way round. I changed from being the picture-perfect representation of the Christ-like life that I supposedly was, to something completely different. I discovered I had little patience – and tons of pride. And she was rubbing up against my pride so hard! My wife originates from a tribe where women do not fear men; while I come from one that seeks to put the fear of God in every soul it meets. I wanted her singing my praises all the time; but that was the last thing on her mind. In fact, she had some unflattering thoughts about me which she was not afraid to voice out loud. Having someone by my side who could not be coerced into playing my tune proved to be the biggest trial of my life.

Not too long after our honeymoon ended, we were into fighting, scraping and everything else in between. And, to the utter dismay of my pastor who had spent the better part of his sermons praising my patience and resilience, my wife and I were now regular visitors to his house; and all for the wrong reasons.

Finally, my thorn had arrived, beautifully wrapped and packaged; and hand-delivered by God Himself. It had come to battle with my flesh. And the flesh in this case was my pride.

There is an immeasurable difference between good old human goodness and the grace of God. When we talk about the former, no man is totally bad. Even Hitler must have had some feelings for his wife and children. However, when we talk of God’s grace, it can only be had if we allow that thorn in our flesh. That was exactly what God told Paul, and we can hardly expect God to tell us something different from what He told the apostles. Paul says to the Corinthians, therefore,

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)

It has taken me many long years since then to allow God, through my wife, to put His finger on the one spot He wants to deal with in my life, which is my pride. But a time came when I had to choose between whether I wanted to keep my pride or to carry the grace of God in my life. And it is a choice that I am forced to make every day. Sometimes it is difficult to make this choice. But, whatever the case, I certainly have learned my lesson. If I desire to walk with God and carry His grace, I must allow the thorn to be there in my body, permanently.

[God can use anything to bring about the death of the flesh. The death of the flesh brings much grace to our lives. Are we truly dead and buried?]

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Dying To Live

31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Mat. 8:31-38
In the world, when men die, we say they’ve lost their lives. That is as it should be, for here we are speaking from a worldly point of view. It is fair and correct to say that someone has lost their life because they have no other life.
But when we believe in Jesus Christ, we gain another life. Not that we get to have more than one life like the proverbial cat. On the contrary, through losing this temporal earthly life we gain the eternal heavenly one. This is our singular calling as believers. Many believers know and are affirmed of the hope of eternal life. But there is the experiential grasping of this hope, which can only be achieved through losing our worldly life.
Unfortunately, many people do not have this revelation. Even after they have been born again, many believers are not aware that they need to lose this earthly life in order to gain the heavenly one. That is why they will fight and scrape for self-preservation in every sense of the word. They do not learn to lose their love for this life.
But losing or denying one’s self is not easy, as we see in Jesus’s example. It goes absolutely contrary to what we in our flesh would want to experience. Notice what Jesus stated would happen to Him:
“And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed”.
Nothing in these words is easy by any standards. But with Jesus it went far beyond comprehension. He did not deserve to undergo any of this. Normally, after a terrorist attack you often here people say, “The terrorist killed innocent people”. But there is no such thing as an innocent person. All human beings are guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23).
The only Person to whom that word “innocent” ever applied in this world was our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible declares that “He did no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22).
Jesus therefore did not derserve to suffer in any way. On the contrary, He needed to be praised and exalted and lauded. But He suffered, and terribly. And for this reason – His sinlessness – our own suffering cannot be held in comparison to His.
But still the Bible exhorts us to have the mind of Christ,
“6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8)
It is not easy to have the mind of Christ. Such a mind will take you to places you wouldn’t want to be. It will lower you to levels you would not wish to be at. And sometimes it will cause you to suffer physical pain. That is why worldly-minded men will try to stop you from suffering for the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as Peter attempted to do to the Lord. I have heard believers say, “Being saved does not mean becoming a fool” as they attempt to justify fighting for their rights. That is why you will find them in the civil rights movements, etc.
But Jesus said clearly,
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it…”
May we learn to deny our selves. Denying ourselves means denying our own rights and whatever else the flesh craves. The flesh craves the world, literally. It has thousands and thousands of desires. But the cross comes to crucify these desires. It comes to reveal another glory, the heavenly glory. In the process, we count the glories of this world, including our rights and material comforts, as dung.
[In the world, dying is counted as losing. In the Spirit, it is gain]

Freedom In Christ – Part 1

13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 1 The. 4:13-14

Oh, the liberty that the gospel brings!

One of the things that money cannot buy in this world is reprieve from sorrow. And, without a doubt, one of the most painful sorrows that affects us here on earth is the loss of a loved one. Imagine the pain that death brings to those who are left behind by the passing away of a loved one. It affects us in our deepest parts. It is bad enough when it is an ordinary death but, in today’s violent and unpredictable world in particular, death sometimes is attended with terror, pain, suddenness and a host of other additional calamities that make it all the more difficult for the deceased’s relatives to bear. I cannot imagine the pain that the violence that accompanies so many deaths in a place like the U.S. city of Chicago, for example, causes to those left behind. It is estimated that every day, 12 people are shot dead in Chicago.

It is in this light that we can better appreciate the Apostle Paul’s words here. This scripture makes it clear that people ignore Christ at their own spiritual peril. It is in Christ that both the dead and the living can enjoy this liberty. What Paul says in essence here is that when we lose a brother or sister in Christ there is no sense of loss on our part! The brother or sister is simply sleeping, he says! Who would mourn a person who was only sleeping?

What a blessing, to be set free from such incredible pain! Imagine being set free from the many bondages and hurts that death brings! It is an incredible thought.

But these things, though hard to comprehend, are true in the Spirit. Remember when Jesus was told that His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus did not break out wailing. He simply told His disicples:

“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” (Jn. 11:11)

Jesus said this because He was the resurrection and the life. He did, in fact, raise Lazarus from the dead.

Today, Jesus is still the resurrection and the life, and He will remain so unto eternity. We may grieve for a brother or sister who has died in the Lord in the short term, but that is due to our human weakness. In truth, however, that person has gone to a far better place – to be with the Lord.

This realization affords us incredible freedom – freedom from sorrow. And sorrow is one of our greatest enemies. Sorrow can hit us where nothing else can.

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ in John 8:36 ring out true and clear when held in this perspective.

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

[Below: Women mourning at a funeral in rural Singida]

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