First Things First!

One of the most poignant stories in the gospels is the account of the ten virgins as Jesus told it in Matthew 25. It is a story of great triumph and joy on the one hand, and yet one of tragedy and deep sorrow on the other.

The fact that Jesus talked of virgins here straightaway indicates that He was referring to the church. The bridegroom, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

The truly alarming aspect of this narrative is that even the five foolish virgins knew they could not enter the wedding banquet without light in their lamps!

The scriptures say: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” Mat. 6:22-23

Actually, the Kingdom of God is first and foremost all about the light of God in our hearts. If our hearts are dark – if they are impure – we cannot hope to enter that Kingdom.

We learn from the Bible that the first thing that God brought to be when He created the earth was light. You see, there are first things with God, just as it is with us. Light was the very first thing that God brought into being. It follows, therefore, that light is the most important ingredient in the Kingdom of God. Without light there is nothing else that is allowed to be.

We (as human beings) are professionals at working things downside up. Had we been in God’s place, we would have created the cows and the trees first, and then we would  probably have thought about the light. That is why there are many people in church today who are more concerned about doing many things “for the Kingdom” except carrying a heart of grace, a pure heart!

The oil talks about God’s grace. It is a matter of paramount importance that we make sure we are constantly carrying the grace of God in our hearts. Grace is the power of God. It is what keeps the light – our good Christian deeds – burning in our lives.

The Bible says that each born-again believer has been given grace “according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Eph. 4:7) This means that, just like the ten virgins, we all start out with a measure of “oil” in our hearts. But that oil needs replenishing. That is why Jesus talked about ‘watching’.

Have you noticed how some of us begin well our Christian walk, but after some time, we seem to lose that magic touch? We become stunted in doctrine and our hearts grow cold and hard. The bowels of mercy dry up in us and we become judgmental and unforgiving. Sin in its many forms soon begins to press hard against us from every side. That is because we are not watching and making sure we are carrying oil – God’s grace – in our lives.

The only way to serve Jesus is by having grace in our hearts.

Paul admonishes the Philippians: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:14-15)

We can clearly see that the word light here is associated with the life of grace that we live in this world.

There is only one way to carry the grace of God in our lives. It is by losing our lives. Why do you think the Apostle Paul has been maligned from the day of his conversion to the present? It is because at the moment of his conversion, Paul caught a revelation of the only thing that can crucify the flesh, and Satan has understandably been mad at him ever since!

The cross is the only place where we can crucify the flesh and its lusts and be able to carry that all-important grace in our lives.

The Apostle Paul was able to live the crucified life, and we are all witnesses to the kind of life that he lived and the great work that he accomplished for the gospel’s sake. Indeed, the true church can only be a product of the gospel of grace that Paul preached.

Paul had a revelation of what the cross was meant to accomplish in his life. We, too, must arrive at that place, the place where we will not just lay our burdens at the cross, but where we will also be willing to lose our lives there.

When Jesus comes, He wants to find us carrying grace. He will want to hear all about the many miracles we performed and the beautiful worship songs we composed, of course, but He wants to find us carrying a heart of grace. He wants to find forgiveness, mercy, tenderness, righteousness and holiness in our hearts. Those are the first things He will be looking for.

It is sad but one day, even though God is love, He will tell some of His children, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”

‘Verily’ means truly. Making sure we have grace in our hearts – always – is no joking matter.

The Priorities Of Life – Part 1

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Prov. 4:23

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1 Cor. 13:13

There are two posts which I need to write, after which I will be done. After I have put down these 2 posts I feel I can say as the prophet Simeon said on seeing the Child Jesus, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…”

I probably am not ready to “depart” yet, but the issues I address here  are so important (I believe) that, if I can present them clearly and unequivocally to a part of the Body of Christ, I feel that a part of my work here on earth will have been done. I do not imply that what I will be sharing in these two posts is the entirety of the gospel. But they are issues that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about.

The first one concerns forgiveness. What is forgiveness? Forgiveness has the simplest of definitions. It is a deliberate act of letting go, or a releasing of that person or that wrong which we have a right to make a complaint against. In order for it to become true forgiveness, though, it must come from the heart.

Forgiveness is something we should carry in our hearts 24/7, to use a modern coinage. Have you wondered that we have to bathe every day, sweep our houses every day, check our car’s oil levels, and do many other things as daily routine?

If you fail to do any of those things with any degree of regularity, the result will be catastrophic.

The same goes for the spirit. We need to clean our hearts daily. We need to check our level of forgiveness every day.

Recently, I felt the Lord leading me to take stock of my heart in the area of forgiveness. I was shocked by what I found! Minute (and not-so-minute) bits and pieces of grudges, resentments, criticisms, complaints, whinges and wheezes surfaced in my heart. Worse still was the fact that I found that I had something against nearly everyone! I found I even held resentment against Hitler and all the Nazis who started WWII!!

It was clear the problem was with my heart; it was not clean. That realization truly shook me.

I had always taken these fragments of attitudes in my heart as a ‘normal’ part of my Christian life (they were small, you see), but now the Lord was showing me (for the umpteenth time, I believe!) that what I was accommodating in my heart was terrible sin. And He was showing me that it was all a result of my not being careful to guard my heart.

Upon realizing this I cried to God to forgive me and give me grace.

It is the easiest thing to move on in our salvation and in our ‘service’ to God without regularly keeping in touch with God Himself. When we are in touch with God, when there is in our hearts a revelation of what Jesus came to accomplish on the cross, our sin is revealed and therein we will find the grace to always keep our hearts pure.

The Apostle Paul, talking about our union with Christ who is the Head, says, “… from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col. 2:19).

When we are living a real life with God, we will pay the price to keep our hearts pure – and the life of Christ will flow from our lives to touch other people’s lives.

I know I wrote this in an earlier post, but bear with me as I again share something Brother Miki Hardy said in a Nairobi conference a few years ago. During the course of his sermon he said, “I have purposed that I will never hold anything against my wife, whatever the circumstances are”.

Those words grasped my heart then, and to this day their power has been a guiding light in my life. This is the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is a sobering thought when we think about just how much God has forgiven us. I am sure that many of us, myself included, do not know the true depths of what God did for us in sending His Son to die for us on the cross. If we knew we wouldn’t allow unforgiveness to stay in our hearts for even a second.

The Obedience Of Jesus

And sitting down they watched him there… Mat 27:36 

This is speaking of the soldiers who had crucified Jesus on the cross. The Bible says that after they had crucified Jesus on the cross and cast lots for His garment, the Roman soldiers sat down and watched Jesus.

Probably not many of us stop to think of what was happening here. The soldiers were watching the Lord as He hung struggling on the cross. He was going through the throes of death; and death took a long time to come. The pain He went through during that time was incredible. But He bore it.

What even many don’t realize is that Jesus was obeying His Father.

In Philippians 2:8 the Bible says this about Jesus: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” This scripture is profound. In other words, it is telling us that Jesus could have decided that the pain was too much to bear, and He could have come down from that cross when the pain became too much for Him. But He persevered till the end. He obeyed God to the last.

As He hung there on the cross in the most extreme of agonies – not to mention the jeering from His enemies – Jesus was accomplishing something profound in the spiritual world. Through this prolonged suffering and ultimately, death, He was bearing the sins of the world upon Himself.

And through it all He was strong enough in the spirit to think about the men who were subjecting Him to this excruciating torment: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luk. 23:34).

We are called upon to obey God. Obeying God is not something easy. There is a price involved in obeying God. But Jesus set us an example.

These two facts – the fact that we are called upon to obey God, and the example that our Lord Jesus set for us – this is something we should remember the next time we find someone stepping on our toes and we find ourselves hard-pressed to forgive a brother or sister.

It is something we should remember the next time we are required to humble ourselves and say, “Sorry”.

It is something we should remember when we are called upon to minister to someone, probably visiting the sick in hospital or even in prison.

It is something we should remember the next time we find ourselves undergoing a little (or even much) suffering or discomfort for the Kingdom of God.

It is something we should remember the next time a situation – any situation – calls upon us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.

 

Abraham’s Instant Obedience – Part 1

And God said unto Abraham… ‘This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.’ And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him. Genesis 17:9-10, 23 (Emphasis mine. Please read also Genesis 12:1-4;  21:9-14 and 22:1-3).

We live in a world of instant everything. It began with Instant coffee, but now there is instant internet, instant laundry, instant chicken (I hate it!), instant everything!

Well, how about instant obedience?

What strikes me most in the life of Abraham is the alacrity at which he answered or responded to any instruction that the Lord gave to him. (Another word for alacrity would be ‘swiftness’, or ‘speedy’). The minute God told Abraham to do something, the man immediately and swiftly moved to execute it.

Have you wondered how we often struggle to do the things that the Lord requires of us? And I am talking deep here. I am talking about when God talks to us about the things of our hearts. When He says, “Forgive that sister” or, “Let go that bitterness” or, “Release so-and-so or such-and-such a situation from your heart” or “Rise up and go and ask forgiveness from that brother” or, “Swallow your pride and admit you are wrong there”.

God does not say “Do it right now”, because He is not a dictator; He just shows us the direction we should take then leaves the rest for us to accomplish according to the readiness of our hearts.

And these very attitudes are the ones blocking us from living a victorious Christian life. Oh, that we would release them instantly! We would be free men and women.

That is what makes Abraham such a great man. Abraham obeyed God instantly. If we want to arrive at the stature of Abraham, let us not waste time trying to crank up enough faith to own the herds of camels or the gold that he owned. God is simply not there. God is no longer in those things. God is in our hearts. I know I am going really deep now, but I must.

When the Bible talks about Abraham, the father of faith, it is no joking matter. You see, there are people who think of Abraham’s faith in terms of the herds of camels and the caskets of gold that he had! But I can assure you that in order for Abraham to earn the title ‘Father of faith’, it had to go deeper than his skin. It had to touch on the condition of his heart.

Remember God told the Prophet Samuel, “I look upon the heart”. People think so many things about God. But our God is a God of the heart. Abraham knew this and he therefore served God with his heart.

What does it mean to say that Abraham served God with his heart? It means that he was tested in the very things that we are tested in, the things of our hearts. And the very word circumcision here talks of the heart. We might not realize it, but Abraham got circumcised in his heart. That was the only way he could please God.

Anybody can jump up and have themselves immediately circumcised in their flesh if it suits their needs. But Abraham lived for God and this required him to be tested in the very things that we, too, are being tested in today. He had to have his heart tested.

But Abraham went beyond there. He did not just say, “OK, Lord, I am willing to obey You”, no; he ran to obey God. He prepared his heart to be ready to respond to God’s call “at the click of a button”!

You see, you can have religion up to your nose and still be a rebel. You can memorize the entire Bible forwards and backwards, but you still might not be speedy in obeying God. In other words, in order for us to be considered men or women of faith, God is interested with the speed at which we move to obey Him.

Leaders and pastors particularly have a problem here.

Can you imagine this grown man (God began dealing with Abraham when he was 75 years old), can you picture such a man trotting like a small boy as he ran to obey God? Can you picture Abraham every day looking into his heart and praying David’s prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psa 139:23-24

As a result of his obedience to God, Abraham developed a unique character. You won’t find many people like Abraham today.

He told Lot, Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Gen 13:9

And all the land was legally Abraham’s! That is not for many of the Christians that I know of today!

Free to Love.

The Jews trace their lineage back, not to Nahor or Terah or any of the early patriarchs, but to Abraham. Abraham was he to whom God gave the specific promise that he would become the father of many nations and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. God Himself set Abraham apart and, after taking him through a battery of tests designed to gauge his faithfulness, God set His seal on him that he and his offspring would eternally be a special people, unique in His sight.

Without going into too many details here, suffice it to say that the Bible makes it clear that the Hebrew nation that came from Abraham’s loins were considered by God to be His chosen people.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, to learn that many of the greatest of God’s heroes had a mixed lineage, that is, they did not come from a purely Abrahamic blood line. There is, for example, in the Bible a book named after an ordinary Moabitess girl, Ruth. This same Ruth became King David’s great-grandmother! The great King David had Moabite blood running in him! In Jesus’ day, this fact would have been unacceptable to some Jews, so prejudiced were they. I am surprised they did not raise a riot, but probably it did not register. At the very least, they would have been greatly humbled to learn this.

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mat. 1:1) is filled with names of strange people, and even stranger relationships:

– There is the incestuous affair of Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar;

– There’s Ruth;

– A great Israelite King, Solomon, was born of an adulterous affair, and worse. (The story of David and Uriah’s wife is one that puts God Himself right in the middle of a controversy. But the good news is that God is not afraid of controversy. He loves being controversial! Anyone is welcome to challenge Him.)

What I am driving at is that God is such a God of grace that He does things that are simply ‘unacceptable’ to us. He forgives those we would not forgive; He elevates those we would not even think to look upon; and He accepts those that we would not accept.

I read a story about a man whose cousin was lynched by white American racists many years ago, but after finding Christ he found the strength to forgive the murderers and the community that endorsed the deed. There are many such stories of God’s grace working in people’s lives and we thank God for them. But there are also countless other people struggling with unforgiveness and kindred attitudes, and they are dying a slow death.

Others struggle with accepting people who are different from them in one way or another – probably color, status or whatever.

We cannot hide behind anything. There are so many things we carry that are not a product of the grace of God and oh! how we need to repent of them. How we need to pray for that grace which we see God Himself having! That is exactly what the Apostle James says in 4:6-10, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble… Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

In carrying that grace, we shall show forth the true character of God, who is love. There are many things we will have to ‘swallow’ in order to walk in the reality of that grace.

We all need to be set truly free.  The Bible makes it clear that this freedom comes about through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If people continually hear the right gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, they will learn to stay in that place of true humility and repentance and eventually they will be set totally free. Free to love.

I do not write these words because I myself am totally free in my relationship with other people. On the contrary, these words are a prayer from the depths of my heart. I more than anyone else need the grace of God. I need and I want to arrive at the goal of true liberty which God has set for me. I can only thank Him for any victory that I find in my daily walk with Him.

The Gospel Challenges Us! – Pt 1

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” Matthew 16:24

In Philemon 1:17 the Apostle Paul addresses Philemon with these words: If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.” He is referring to Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave who had been touched and changed by the Lord after Paul had preached the gospel to him in prison. Philemon himself had got saved under Paul’s ministry; and here Paul is telling him to accept back his former slave.

Seen in proper perspective this was a tall order indeed for Philemon. In the first place, Onesimus was not just a slave who had run away from Philemon, but apparently he had done his master much harm.

But the hardest part was that Paul was asking Philemon, not to simply take back this slave, but to welcome him as a brother in Christ. Just picture that. He tells him, “…receive him as myself.” And that was not all. Paul tells Philemon that he expects him to “also do more than I say”! (verse 21) All in brotherly love, of course!

It couldn’t possibly have gotten tougher for Philemon. In plain terms, Paul was charging him in the Spirit to not only let go of any grudge he may have had against Onesimus but that he should do good to Onesimus.

If Philemon thought the gospel was about making ‘faith confessions’ and singing Hallelujah, he was mistaken. Paul was making it clear to him what it involved to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It involved carrying the heart of Jesus, which meant walking in true forgiveness, humility, and a desire to love your brother as yourself. In other words, Philemon was confronted with the reality that he needed to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Jesus. In even clearer terms, it meant he literally had to die to self.

This is the attitude we are called to carry if we are to proclaim the gospel. And we are not just called to relinquish our rights in a legalistic manner. Rather, we are to carry the heart of Jesus, who loved us unconditionally and gave His life for us.

Probably Philemon was saved, but he carried a hard, unforgiving, judgmental heart toward Onesimus. Probably in his own eyes he considered himself an important man because he owned slaves. These are the kind of attitudes that show that we do not know God, in spite of any proclamations we may make to the contrary.

Probably Philemon was an elder in his church, and he thought that was something. But God, in His inscrutable wisdom, allowed the slave Onesimus to bring him to a place where he would walk the way of the cross – where he would take the same road of brokenness that Jesus took.

We cannot just float through our salvation as if we were riding a broomstick. We must deal with the condition of our hearts, for that is what the gospel is all about. Whoever we are, whatever our position in this world, if we have answered the call of God, then we should tighten our seatbelts because God will bring us to a place where our pride and our individuality will be confronted. He will show us the way of humility, but we must choose to walk that road. He will bring us to realize that He has called all His children to be one in the Spirit, and that no one should consider themselves of any worth beyond another. He has called us to walk together as brothers and sisters, as a team; and we have only one captain – Jesus Christ.

Paul puts it well in this manner: …there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free:  but Christ is all in all” (Colossians 3:11) and,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Paul is making it clear to Philemon (and to us too!) that with the gospel there is no place for compromise. Either we agree to take up our cross and follow Jesus, or we remain holding onto our lives, but carnal Christians. We can only do this by looking deep into our lives, and being honest with ourselves and with God.

Philemon appears to have been a benefactor of Paul’s, for he tells him: But withal prepare me also a lodging…” (verse 22). But don’t be fooled. Paul was not building a relationship with Philemon in the flesh. He would not preach to him any other gospel than the one that Jesus Himself preached.

I love the gospel that Paul preached to Philemon. It allowed him to direct him and confront him when he needed to. Today, there are a thousand gospels floating around, but only one gospel can make the difference: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Cross of Christ sets a firm foundation for our lives to be confronted, for His death to work in us, that we may live His resurrection life.

True Gratitude

Our flight from Nairobi’s JKIA Airport to Mauritius Tuesday night was delayed by one hour, and, added to the normal check-in delays at our destination airport, we arrived at the Trianon conference hall when Brother Miki was halfway through his message. But the first words I heard him speak as I entered the auditorium were so powerful that even as I sat down I was already trembling.

He was sharing about how grateful we need to be to the Lord for the Gospel of the revelation of the Cross of Jesus and for what it has done for our lives. We need to have the joy of the Lord always in our lives. The person whose sins have been forgiven is the only truly happy man in this world!

But he said something else that equally shook me: that we cannot be grateful to God for the Gospel and at the same time have hard, bitter and unforgiving hearts towards one another.

This led me to think about the story of the servant who was forgiven much by his master, but who would not forgive his fellow servant a very little amount that the latter owed him, but had him thrown in prison (Mat 18:21-35). This man’s heart was rotten to the core. When the master heard what had transpired he was filled with indignant wrath and had the unforgiving servant put into jail until he had paid the last farthing!

For many of us it is not always easy to even rejoice in the Gospel of the Cross of Jesus; how much harder it is to forgive, love and give our lives to one another! And yet, this is the very challenge we are called to answer to in our Christian lives.

Sometimes we have all the peace and joy in the world – until a certain brother or sister’s name is mentioned in our presence, then we find ourselves losing our joy. Why is this so? It is simply because we are not carrying our cross and following Jesus.

Some Christians are grateful for the gospel, but for all the unimportant reasons. ‘Thank you, Lord, for giving me a wife; thank you for my new car; thank you for a job; thank you for this and that material thing.’ I am not saying that God has a problem with that.

But the Apostle Paul thanked God for the cross because it crucified his flesh. That way, he was able to walk in the fullness of the life of God – and we know God is love. As he walked in the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ, he had no place in his heart for the flesh, the world, nor for the devil. On the contrary the love of God and His holy nature shone forth in his life.

If we understand the spiritual nature of our calling, I believe we can agree with Brother Miki that we need to thank God for the Gospel of the Cross…. and be willing to pay the price that is needed to make that gratefulness a reality in our lives!

Alas! how easy it is for me to pen down these words! But they mean nothing if I am not ready to allow the work of the cross in my life. Even now, I kneel down before my Father in heaven and pray for His grace to live out this life. Without Him I am nothing.Imagerue