Welcome, 2019

… for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Mat. 5:45

On this particular day, 1st January 2019, I feel a great sense of thanksgiving to God. The reason for this is because I feel He has been overly gracious to me. I can plainly say that during the last year, I cannot put myself anywhere near those who have been “good” and “just”. I have not only not done many things that I ought to have done; but I have also done things that I ought not to have done. And yet, come the year 2019, and I can clearly hear God whispering in my ear, “I love you.”

In Psalms 51:10-13, David wrote:

“10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. 13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

After David had confessed his sin, he was given the chance to start doing anew what he loved doing best: teaching transgressors the ways of the Lord, and converting people to the Lord.

I feel forgiven, re-born, and ready to start anew. It is a difficult mountain to climb, this way of the cross. But through His Holy Spirit the Lord gives us a love for such a challenge. I cannot comprehend the joy that awaits me as I return again to the place of restoration, and to serving the Lord wholeheartedly.

It is therefore with a deep sense of thanksgiving  that I welcome the year 2019.

[I kick off this year with my favorite song]

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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]

Away!

For more than a week I have been away from this blog and, as usual, I left without saying bye! It is for this reason that I humble myself and ask again for forgiveness from my readers. I am very poor at preparations (whenever I am traveling, I always pack in a rush the morning I am leaving; can’t pack earlier!)

Thank you all for forgiving me. I have been away from home also, and right now I am in Dar es Salaam for our annual regional youth camps which are held all over the country. I will be giving you some updates when time allows, but I will give a full report next week after the camp has ended.

Let me end this post by encouraging you all to keep close by the cross. If we are serious about going to heaven (which is the only thing we ought to be serious about; we are to take everything else lightly), let us constantly adhere to the words of Jesus Christ:

“If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mat. 16:24)

[And now for the light touch. For me, the ending of anything, especially a song, is probably more important than the song itself!]

 

Mercy, Not Law

For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. Jam. 2:13

I looked at the lady seated in front of me. I had prepared some hard words for her and I was ready to let fly. I had all the reasons in the world to do so. Then, all of a sudden, God’s Word knocked on my heart.

“… mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”

Mercy. That’s a word that ought to be always on our lips… and in our hearts. Unfortunately, much of the time our hearts are, literally, hearts of stone. Remember, under the Old Covenant, Moses carved the law into tablets of stone. But, under the new covenant, God’s law is written onto our hearts; hearts, not of stone, but of flesh. Now, we all know that there is a big difference between stone and flesh. One is hard and unbreakable; the other is soft and malleable.

Do we know how merciful God is towards us? He is incredibly merciful towards us. In the first place, He provides us with food, clothing, protection, and everything else that we need in this life. Yes, it is God who provides us with these things, despite our inclination to think otherwise. Some even attribute it to luck! You are not lucky to be alive; God’s hand of protection has been upon your life throughout. And have you ever thought of all the free things of nature that God has given us to enjoy?

Secondly, and this is the most amazing of all, He forgives us of our sins. The Psalmist wrote:

“8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” (Ps. 103:8-10)

I don’t know whether you have ever stopped to think about this, but God forgives us of our sins more times every day than we can even think of. And I am not talking about the cases where we ask Him to forgive us. Much of the forgiveness is for sins that we are not even aware we have committed – just as much, unsurprisingly, as we are not aware of His forgiveness! He forgives us silently, without creating a fuss, or even making us aware of what He has done, because He loves us. He does all this out of compassion for us. God is extremely compassionate!

It has come to my notice that nearly, or all, of the people we interact with need mercy, and not judgment, from us. And more so those who have sinned or wronged us. But it is only when we are taking up our cross that we can carry this heart in us and be able to have mercy upon others. When we are men and women of law, it is so much easier to throw the book at someone. We don’t mind too much whether it will hurt, maim or kill them; as long as the law in our hearts is fulfilled.

But the Bible even says to feed our enemies! Not with that heart, of course. But here the Bible is talking about being compassionate even to our enemies.

We need to realize that people are as weak and prone to fall just as much as we ourselves are. That is why we need that heart of compassion, for that is the nature of God Himself.

Finally, the Apostle Paul tells us, when it comes to confronting a brother or sister who has sinned,

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)

That talks of grace and mercy, not law.

[John Starnes reminds us of God’s merciful providence upon our lives]

Joy In The Cross!

21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. Mat. 5:21-26

God wants us to grow and mature to the point where we can look scripture in the eye. The words that Jesus spoke here are not to be trifled with. But, many years ago, I read these same words and concluded that God did not really mean what He said. I had so much bitterness in my heart! In the early years of our marriage, I cannot count the number of times when I did something in church while in my heart I was at war with my wife. Anything close to me was susceptible to my violent temper, and she just happened to be the closest thing to me.

Our fiercest brawls always occurred on Sunday mornings. I remember one Sunday morning the pastor had appointed me to lead the morning service. On that morning my wife and I had a row which would certainly have found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, if only they recorded such things. After the epic row I rushed off to church, leaving wife behind.

I went to church and ambushed my wife there. I stood behind the pulpit and pretended to be leading the service, but in actual fact, I was waiting for her. From where I was I could see all the way to the gate of the church, so when she rounded the corner at the gate, I prepared myself. The minute she stepped into the church, I let go one single salvo that I knew would cripple her completely. I cannot remember now the exact words that I spoke (indirectly, of course), but I do remember it was a perfect hit. As everyone else was cheering at my words, she sat down like a rock.

That was mission accomplished for me.

But God wants us to grow. When we grow, we find we can carry a heart of mercy, we can forgive, and, probably most important of all, we find we can repent. Repentance is not simply saying, “I am sorry.” In those early days, I would say “I am sorry”, but I never really meant it. There was no work in my heart. At that time I was hearing the gospel of prosperity, and there was nothing going on in my heart.

Years later, I came to hear “the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ”. The change in my life began right there.

I believe that when we carry bitterness and unforgiveness, somewhere we will miss a blessing (v. 26). That is what scripture is telling us here. It could be in our personal lives, or in our relationships; but definitely in our spirits we will miss God’s blessing.

But when we are hearing the right gospel, we allow the work of the cross in our hearts, and we can grow up to the stature of Christ. This pleases the Lord exceedingly, for it is His will for us.

Today, the biggest accomplishment I can boast of in my life is where I have arrived at in my relationship with my wife. If I can go to church on Sunday morning and feel the peace of God emanating from me to my wife and vice versa, that gives me greater joy than anything else.

I believe that it is only by surrendering to the work of the cross that we can rise to the level of looking scripture in the eye, which is God’s will for us.

Need we wonder anymore why, when the Apostle Paul went to the Corinthians, he “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2)?

[Below: True joy is found where there is true repentance and forgiveness]

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God’s Nature, Our Nature – Part 2

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Mat. 5:43-45

35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful (Lk. 6:35-36).

I was shocked to learn recently that of the most hated group amongst prisoners by their fellow inmates are child molesters, also known as paedophiles. The other group that is equally hated in prison are rapists. These two groups of people are amongst those who are most likely to be attacked in jail by their fellow inmates. In other words, the men that we loathe most (criminals) do not like people who mercilessly prey on the weak.

Now, I know it is not easy to talk well of jailed criminals, many of who themselves have hurt people in extremely bad and cruel ways. But it is contemplative to know that somewhere in their dark hearts, these people can sport some form of kindness. I am also assured that, to the dismay of many of us, we will find many of these violent criminals seated in the front row in the Kingdom of God. They will have heard the gospel and they will have repented of their sins. And God forgot long ago that they ever sinned!

The heart of man is God’s abode. It can carry incredible riches – riches of the grace of God. That is why when we get to heaven, you will find these violent murderers seated up front. It is because one day, these men and women opened their hearts to the grace of God and it transformed their lives. God’s Kingdom is all about the heart.

Just consider the sun again. The sun has been around since Adam. That talks of how rich God is. That thing could be up there for eternity if God so desired, burning up and never diminishing. That talks of His power.

In the same way that He is rich and powerful physically and materially, God is more so spiritually. Amongst His many Godly characteristics (of which He is extremely rich) is the trait of kindness. Kindness goes hand in hand with mercy, and that is why Luke’s account is so helpful here. The root cause of kindness is mercy. Mercy talks of a soft heart. That is one reason why when we believe God gives us a heart of meat. He removes a heart of stone from us and gives us a soft heart so that we may be kind to people.

Kindness is something very deep, and spiritual. Kindness also speaks of humility. You have to be humble in order to be kind. Otherwise, you will lord it over anyone unfortunate enough to ‘benefit’ from your selfish brand of generosity, which is no generosity at all.

In the natural, when people hurt us we immediately think of ourselves. Self  takes over. That is when anger and little things like resentment, and irritation set in. We are so weak!

But kindness is the basis for forgiveness. You don’t forgive because it is written; you forgive because you love that person. With God, when we hurt Him, He thinks of us. When we hurt God, He comes up close and looks us up. He is not thinking about revenge, but He is looking for where the problem is. Once He finds the faultline, He lovingly fixes it. That is mercy.

God is calling us to carry the same heart that He has. And that can only be accomplished in the Spirit when we go to the cross, just as the Author of our salvation went to the cross. The gospel of the cross alone can cause us to have the heart that Jesus had and still has.

[Below: The roundabout leading to Singida Town]

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God’s Abundant Mercy

The word “retribution”, which I will be using a lot in this post, means “delivering or granting justice”, much like an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or a life for a life, etc.

But I will begin way off somewhere else.

The Apostle Paul told Titus about the Cretians, in Titus 1:12-13: One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”

Paul was talking about a hereditary trait that these Cretians had.

I understand that in every society or culture, people have certain traits which they inherited from their forefathers, and which they can do nothing about, save by an intervention through the washing of their sins by faith in Jesus Christ.

Recently, someone told me about a certain people, “Once those guys put a black mark on you, they never let it go!”

I thought, How sad! How so very sad! How sad for people who cannot let go.

This was particularly poignant to me because of late the Lord has been teaching me what a merciful God He is. He has been showing me that His grace and mercy are extremely abundant; indeed, incomprehensibly so. The Lord has been reminding me of some things, and revealing new things to me. The following is the account of how the Lord has been going about with this lesson in my heart.

(And let me affirm here that I am not writing stories. I am writing something real and aunthentic that has occurred in my life).

The Lord has been reminding me of my past. He had been reminding me of how He saved me.

During the years before I got saved I did some really bad things which even today I believe I should have been punished for. With all my heart I feel I ought to have been punished for those things. I cannot for the life of me comprehend how I could have got away with some of the things I did; and that here I am, 25 years later, moving on with my salvation as if nothing happened.

In the course of my un-Godly lifestyle during those years, there was even a time when I had to run away from home for a time because of some things I had done and there were people who were coming after me. Had those people got me, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this blog. The world cannot stand any injustice done to it. It is unforgiving, much like those people my brother told me about.

At the height of all this un-Godly lifestyle, out of the blue the Lord saved me. And this is the part I keep wondering about: that immediately afterwards, there was absolutely no retribution, neither from anybody, nor from God Himself. It was like God put a protective arm around me and said, “No one touches you.” Right there in my hometown, I began living a completely new life. No one ever came after me, even though I had done things that deserved retribution of the highest sort.

Moreover, the word “retribution” never surfaced even in my thoughts. The sense of punishment vanished from my life. God had wiped all my sins away!

It is now 25 years since I got saved, and I am still amazed that I can walk about a free man, not just physically, but more importantly, in my spirit. There is not a whiff of condemnation or that word, which awes me so much, “retribution”.

Were you to bring up all the bad things that I did and bring them right to my face and tell me, “Here is what you did!” I wouldn’t understand a word of what you were saying. On the day the Lord saved me, He paid for all my sins more perfectly than if I had given my life to pay for them. I have absolutely no sense of guilt over those things.

Now comes the even more interesting – and exciting – part. Many years after my salvation, I find I am still doing some of the things that I was doing before I got saved. (I know this sounds bad on a Christian blog, but I just have to say it.) For me, this is worse than living the sinful lifestyle that I lived before I got saved. It hurts me so much to find that I can still do these things.

In Hebrews 5:12-13, the Apostle Paul rebukes the Hebrews for being forever babes in the Spirit. “Much time has gone by”, he says. “You should be mature by now, and you should not be doing the things you are doing!”

We like to believe that we have grown with the passing of time; but much of the time, to our shame, we are much like these Hebrews.

And here is where the climax of the matter occurs. Remember we are talking about retribution, the remembrance of sins and the punishment due. But in the Book of Hebrews, it is evident that even though Paul scolds the Hebrews, yet was there not mercy with God, he would not bother writing them anything else. He would say, “God is so tired of you!” and there end the matter.

But the Apostle Paul writes 13 full chapters to the Hebrews because even after failing to achieve God’s best for themselves, God still has hope for them.

God was reminding me that even though He expects us to grow, yet there is so much grace with Him.

Now, I know people take opportunity with God because they have a skewed understanding of God’s grace. They go and do obvious and acts of sin and expect God to forgive and forget. Of course, God forgives and forgets once we repent. But God also looks upon the heart. You cannot deceive God. He knows those who are sincere, and those who are playing games with Him.

The best part, though, is that, even if you are the playboy type, the minute you decide to get serious with God, the very next second God forgets all those things you have doing trying His patience. He forgives you completely and sets you on a course towards spiritual growth and maturity.

And for those brethren whom my brother told me cannot forgive… Many preachers teach on forgiveness. But it is impossible for a believer to walk in forgiveness if they are not aware of how much God has forgiven them, or how much ready and willing He is to forgive them the minute they turn to Him in true repentance.

That is why today, more than ever, the church needs to hear the message of the cross, and not another.

[Below: A ripe pawpaw]

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