How Many Cups Of Water?

[The original title to this post was: “A Heavenly Reward”]

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Mat. 10:42

Today I have four stories to narrate and they are all related. They all point to the same moral.

The first story involves the biggest mansion (actually, the only one-storied mansion) in my town.

It belongs to the bishop of the largest Pentecostal denomination in our region.

End of story.

The second story is about another bishop of that same denomination who resides in a neighboring district. His mansion, which happens to be the biggest personally-owned building in his town, is currently under construction. But this story stretches out a bit. The bishop also owns two vehicles, both 6-cylinder SUVs. Actually, one is a Range Rover.

This minister’s church, however, is heavily tasked to contribute to the construction of his big mansion. The church also takes care of the running of the bishop’s two cars. Every parishioner has been allocated a large portion of money to contribute, and the deacons have been instructed to enforce it.

A friend of mine who used to worship in this minister’s church once asked him why he needed to build such a big house. The man replied, “Our God is a big God. We should be able to enjoy the big life because all things belong to God.”

When he asked him why he had to task God’s people to pay for his house instead of receiving directly from God, the minister replied, “God has put them there to serve me. That is how they will receive their reward, while I receive mine by preaching to them.”

At about the same time, a friend of mine from the U.S. sent me a video clip of a church that had rioted against the pastor during a church service because they were asked to tithe 1,000 U.S. dollars each. (The tithe goes directly to the pastor.)

Those who could not afford the 1,000 dollars were coolly asked to give not less than 300 dollars.

And yet this pastor drives a Rolls Royce, he owns a number of mansions, and he has satellite churches from which he “reaps” tons of cash every Sunday. But the community that he “serves” is dirt poor and there are families who cannot afford a decent meal.

Finally, the “sheep” had woken up to the fact that they were being pimped and they decided to do something about it.

The Bible does not say we pay back evil for evil, nor that we should riot in church. But these people did not know any better, so they rioted.

The last story is about our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus talked about a reward. He did not say that we would receive a reward by building a mansion for ourselves or by driving the most expensive cars in His name. Jesus, however, said that we would be rewarded by giving a cup of cold water to one of God’s servants (children).

Imagine that. Not even warmed water, but cold. A cup of cold water is worth nothing. And yet, the littlest thing we could do for God’s Kingdom and for His children will get us an eternal reward in heaven.

“And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”

We can serve God’s people with the littlest thing we have and expect a reward; or we can serve ourselves by pampering our flesh, for which the Lord made no promise.

I am trying to calculate how many cups of water this American preacher could get from selling his Rolls Royce. According to our Lord Jesus Christ, each cup of water that this man would give to a saint has a reward in heaven. Now do your maths and tell me what kind of reward this preacher would have in heaven. But he is wasting it away on self.

Jesus said,

“19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Mat. 6:19-20)

Self (the love for this world) is the saint’s biggest enemy. That is why God gives us the revelation of the cross, to the end that we might crucify the flesh and move on and serve God in the Spirit, where there is a reward. The revelation of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” gives us a spiritual vision and we lose sight of the pleasures and glories of this world.

[“But we preach Christ crucified… Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” 1 Cor. 1:23-24]

Image20821

David’s Generous Heart – Part 2

26 And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD;

27 To them which were in Bethel, and to them which were in south Ramoth, and to them which were in Jattir,

28 And to them which were in Aroer, and to them which were in Siphmoth, and to them which were in Eshtemoa,

29 And to them which were in Rachal, and to them which were in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, and to them which were in the cities of the Kenites,

30 And to them which were in Hormah, and to them which were in Chorashan, and to them which were in Athach,

31 And to them which were in Hebron, and to all the places where David himself and his men were wont to haunt. 1 Sam. 30:26-31

I know of a man, right here in my backyard, who has never owned a bank account in his life. Granted, in Africa, the majority of people do not own bank accounts because they are poor and cannot afford to. But not this man. This man could have had two or even three bank accounts if he wanted to. He was educated and he had a good-paying job. But the only money he ever owned was the money that you would find in his clothes pockets at any given time.

This man was a good friend of mine and one day I asked him why he did not keep his money in a bank account. Did he fear it would be stolen?

“Oh no”, he answered. “But I cannot possibly keep money in a bank while there are so many people suffering from a lack of it.”

I knew well what he meant. I had seen him go – and sometimes I had accompanied him – at every end of month, from house to poor house delivering bags of charcoal and assorted groceries to less fortunate families and to widows. He used a pick-up truck which he borrowed from a fellow brother in the church. (The man could have bought a car of his own but he chose not to.)

In church, needy brethren would pass him notes at the end of every service asking him for financial help of one kind or another. He never refused help to anyone.

He was like a government ministry. He had a long list of needs over which he pored at the end of every month; a list, not of his own needs, but of others’. Then he would jump into action.

Twenty years ago, this man started building his own house. To this day, that house stands there, unfinished. The man and his family live in a rented house. But his sacrificial love for God and for God’s people has never waned. If anything, it has only increased.

This is a true story. This is a man whom I have known for over 30 years. I know everything that goes on with him. The testimony written here is true.

Some stories sound like fairy tales, but so would David’s story have sounded also were it not written to be believed. But it is a story of an incredibly generous heart. It is clear here that David’s joy was in sharing what he had with his brethren. He sent gifts

unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends… and to all the places where David himself and his men were wont to haunt.”

This is the heart of God. No doubt David, as all men, was tempted to hoard his spoils and to use them for himself and his family. But David rose above such a temptation.

I heard a preacher say he was a billionaire. Unless I am mistaken, being a billionaire means that that person is worth a billion dollars in his personal assets over and above his necessary needs like food and clothing. A billion dollars! I heard about another who owns jets and mines (note the s’s). Another billionaire preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I wonder where one would find the spiritual nerve to own billions, or even millions in this needy world. But be that as it may be, I am assured that the true riches for a man of the Spirit lie in his heart. God’s true spiritual riches reside in the heart that is willing to lose. It is the heart that is ready to share whatever one has with the needy. The Bible says of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)

Where there is grace there is much giving, much sacrifice. This is what we see with our Lord Jesus Christ, with David; and with the Macedonian church (2 Cor. 8:1).

[The ubiquitous African cockerel silhouetted against a fading eastern sky]

Image17212

David’s Generous Heart – Part 1

20 And David took all the flocks and the herds, which they drave before those other cattle, and said, This is David’s spoil.

21 And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them.

22 Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart.

23 Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the LORD hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand.

24 For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.

25 And it was so from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel unto this day.

26 And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD;

27 To them which were in Bethel, and to them which were in south Ramoth, and to them which were in Jattir,

28 And to them which were in Aroer, and to them which were in Siphmoth, and to them which were in Eshtemoa,

29 And to them which were in Rachal, and to them which were in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, and to them which were in the cities of the Kenites,

30 And to them which were in Hormah, and to them which were in Chorashan, and to them which were in Athach,

31 And to them which were in Hebron, and to all the places where David himself and his men were wont to haunt. 1 Sam. 30:20-31

I am aware that somewhere in this blog I have written a post on this very scripture, but the subject matter is so beautiful I just have to write on it again. No matter I might end up repeating my earlier post word for word, but still I will write on it again. This portion of scripture is epicly delightful. It sings like an ode – an ode of God’s love for His people. It is not for nothing that David is one of the most 1) loved, 2) admired, and 3)written-about characters in the Bible. And it is not for nothing that God called David:

“… a man after mine own heart (Acts 13:22).

Notice in our key scripture above that it says of the spoil that David and his men seized from the Amalekites, that it was

“…David’s spoil.”

It was his and he was free to do with it as he pleased. But what David did with his spoil draws us to simply love this man of the Spirit.

In the first place, this pursuit against the Amalekite invaders had been incredibly exerting, to the extent that two hundred of David’s men – tested men of war – had fainted and had been forced to remain behind, by a certain brook called Besor. David and four hundred of his men had forged on ahead. They finally caught up with the Amalekites and, for two whole days, they routed them and killed off every one of them.

The Bible proceeds to tell us what followed next.

“20 And David took all the flocks and the herds, which they drave before those other cattle, and said, This is David’s spoil. 21 And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them.” (v. 20-21)

The men whom David had left behind went to welcome back their leader, their comrades-in-arms, and to hug their wives and children. They were excited and happy.

And David came up to them and saluted them. David saluted the men who had been left behind! And ‘saluting’ here probably means that he came up to them and hugged them. And he said to them, “Gentlemen, how have you fared? I hope you had a wonderful rest.”

I love this. I love it with all my heart. David did not come up to these men with a twisted heart. He came up to them with the love of God in his heart.

But David’s actions did not go down well with some of the men who had gone on with David to the battle. David being pleasant to these men who had not participated in battle was not rubbing off some of his men. But the reason for their antagonism was because they feared what would follow with David being so nice to the stragglers. It was a certain fear running deep down within them that drove these men to do what they did next.

These men got together and came up with a plan. They declared that those who had not gone to battle would be sent away with only their wives and children, but otherwise empty-handed. They would not be allowed to share in the spoils that had been brought back.

But these men were selfish and did not have the love of God in their hearts. It was the fear of losing that was eating at them. And the Bible calls them

“wicked men and men of Belial” (v.22)

They were children of the devil. When we fear to lose we become children of the devil.

I cannot imagine at this stage the condition of the hearts of the men who were so addressed. Their hearts must have fainted within them. They had tried their best, and their best had taken them only up to the brook Besor. And, apparently, their best was not good enough for some of their fellows.

But notice David’s heart.

“23 Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the LORD hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand. 24 For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.” (v. 23-24)

And the conclusion:

“And it was so from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel unto this day.” (v. 25)

The heart of God was in David. He not only attributed he and his troop’s victory to God, but he also had compassion upon the weak. And upon realizing that there were “men of Belial” within the ranks of Israel, David immediately instituted an ordinance that would forever rule over Israel:

“… as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.”

That is God’s heart for His children. As children of God, it also ought to be our heart towards one another.

“I Can Do All Things”!

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Phil. 4:12-13

Recently, someone approached my wife and I with a financial need. It was a large sum the brother was asking, but the circumstances mitigated it. Now, when someone comes to me with a need, I become very sensitive. Not just because the Bible says to be merciful, but it is also because I have been in similar situations myself and I know how easy it is for people to misunderstand you.

On the other hand, my wife and I don’t have much in terms of savings; actually, for years we have been trying to save and save, but to no avail. When this person came to us, we were in the middle of another attempt at “saving”. As far as we were involved, he couldn’t have come at a worse time!

Faced with the challenge, my wife and I looked at the options. We discussed the fact that she had no guarantee with her job, and that I as a pastor had no salary. Our kids are still in school and there were so, so many other things that we needed money for. As we talked on the need to protect our meagre savings, a particular phrase suddenly popped up in our conversation: “Anything could go wrong at any moment!”

When I heard these words, something extremely powerful rose up in my spirit. Something rock hard. I will never forget that feeling.

At that instant, I remembered the words of the Apostle Paul:

“12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

In a flash, my whole life passed before me. I recalled the many times when I had been down in life, times when I sank so low financial-wise that I was reduced to begging. (In such times, people will say this or that about you. Some will try to judge or shame you – while, conversely, you try to excuse or justify your situation. But the fact is, there are always times when God will take every child of His through tests of deprivation, one way or another.)

I then called to mind the other (not-so-many) times when I had more than enough. There was a time in my life when, if I had wanted to, I could have flown to New York City, first class.

As these contrasting scenarios flashed through my mind, I could feel a tremendous strength rising up in my heart. At the time that we were having this conversation with my wife, we were in town, walking. All of a sudden I came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road and turned to her. Looking deep into her eyes, I said, “No, my wife. We shall live. No matter the circumstances, we will live. We have been living all these years and you and I know it was never by our own strength. Much more so, now, we shall survive!”

I love experience. Experience is a good thing, however painful. That is why the Bible says we should not appoint to the office of a bishop one who is a “novice” (1 Tim. 3:6).

The Bible also says that a deacon must “…first be proved” (v.10).

People should not be appointed to office in church before they have been proved. ‘Proving’ talks of experience.

I believe the many experiences that God takes us through as saints strengthen our hearts. It is this strength that the Bible calls ‘grace’. Through the grace that God gives us, we can arrive at the place where we can literally laugh at life; a place where we no longer fear anything! We do not fear lack, nor do we fear being full. Not that we are stupid. But we know something that the world, the devil and ‘life’ do not know.

Many years ago, when I was in school, we read a book called “Things Fall Apart”, written by the renowned Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe. I no longer remember anything that was written in that book, but the title of the book is firmly etched on my mind.

Even if things were to literally fall apart in my life, I have come to the joyful realization that I would not fear, for both my heart and my mind are firmly founded on my God and King, Jesus Christ, who is my real Provider.

In both experiences involving me being in lack and being full, I made ghastly mistakes, mistakes which I am keen not to repeat. Unlike then, now, if I lacked and needed to work with my hands, I would work – as I do now. Conversely, if I were to have all the money in the world, there are things I would do in far different ways than I did before.

And yet, in all these things… the greatest mistake that I could ever make is the mistake of trusting in my self and in my means rather than in God. This is where I really need the death of the cross to work in me. In this regard, as in everything else, my heart’s cry is that I might pattern my life after the Apostle Paul’s:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

What circumstance could possibly terrify me when my life is hidden in Christ?

[In the African savannah during the dry season, when the ground is parched and dry and both it and the vegetation are all color-less, it is the women in their stunning attires who bring color to the landscape]

image13725

Of God’s Grace And Strangers

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Heb. 13:2

God sets incredibly high standards for us as His children! But again, such stringent standards are almost nothing compared to the responsibilities that He has reserved for us in heaven. Amongst them, the Bible says, is that we will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3). Now, we would hardly expect a person who will judge angels in heaven to be someone who does not care about the attitude of his or her heart – or his actions. That is why when such a person momentarily loses their faith and becomes careless in their actions, like Abraham did with Hagar, the repercussions reverberate far beyond anyone’s realm of sight. They are beyond catastrophic.

But, anyway, back to our subject.

Right at the outset, notice that this scripture is tied in with the exhortation to “Let brotherly love continue” (v.1).

A brother is someone whom you know, someone close to you. A stranger, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He is just that… a stranger. He is someone you do not know. In today’s violence-prone atmosphere, we could even fear strangers. But scripture here firmly instructs us that, while our first priority is to uphold brotherly love, yet we have a responsibility to those who are outside our fold. That’s a Godly charge. As people who have God’s nature in us, we should not only minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to strangers. There are believers (and church communities) who live such insulated lives they spend all their energy on themselves and their close ones.

But the Bible here tells us to “be not forgetful” because you can become so inward-looking that other people become of little value to you. You become insensitive to people’s needs, people’s suffering.

Hebrews 13:2 refers specifically to Abraham, among others. Abraham was a man such as you and I, but he entertained angels unawares. Now, you would expect that when angels visited men they would come in all their glory, trumpets sounding and golden wings flashing. But these came to Abraham’s tent in the form of strangers. Flesh and blood, tired strangers. Abraham’s story is well-known.

Here is the account in full:

“1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. 7 And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. 8 And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.” Gen. 18:1-8

It is clear from this account that Abraham did not know that these men were angels (and the LORD was among them!) Abraham just saw three men approaching his tent “in the heat of the day”.

Under such hot conditions the men must have appeared tired and worn out. Upon looking at their dust-covered feet Abraham knew they must have travelled far and that they were hungry. And Abraham pleaded with them to accept “a little” generosity from him. The “little water” and “morsel of bread” that Abraham prepared for them turned out to be probably the biggest feast of their lives, and the service they received from this dusty nomad and his wife far exceeded what any modern man would receive at the top Hyatt hotel.

“A morsel of bread”! God’s people are incredibly humble!!

It was not like Abraham spent all his time seated outside his tent forcing any Tom, Dick and Harry into his house to eat and wash their feet. But he knew when a man was in trouble, and he spared no effort in making them feel welcome and comfortable in his house. The heart that Abraham carried was what mattered.

When we are taking up our cross and following Christ, we will do the same. A stranger is someone who in a sense is at our mercy. A stranger is a man or woman who has a need. And he does not have to come from our denomination. The Bible is actually talking about people who are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we have the heart of Christ, who died for us while we were yet strangers, all because of mercy.

Meeting such a person’s need, therefore, requires a heart of mercy. May we not harden our hearts. Some, the Bible tells us, have entertained angels unawares.

In the final analysis, I wonder what a full, contented angel would do by way of thanking us? No doubt, much more than we could ask or dream! Such was the blessing that befell Abraham.

[Abraham took a heifer “tender and good” – the best – from his herd and prepared it for total strangers]

Image6515

God’s Nature, Our Nature – Part 1

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

Luke adds something there:

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).

People want to be paid for every little thing they do! More so today than ever before, fewer and fewer people can think of doing anything for anyone – even God – without attaching a financial tag to their ‘good’ work.

And it is not just money that people are after. Appreciation and gratitude is another thing that people avidly seek after. People love the gratification of self. A simple “Thank you” can turn into a deadly trap for the heaven-bound person. The minute you demand to be acknowledged or thanked in your heart, the good you just did is forgotten, lost forever. Jesus specifically said so:

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Mat. 6:2).

There are many things that the human heart desires, and when these desires are appeased, the Bible considers it as payment. But regardless of this warning by our Lord, even believers want to gain in this world.

But that is not God’s nature. God is kind, and He gives freely. Just stop and think about the many good things that God does for us? Who pays Him?

Let us consider what Matthew says:

“…for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Why does the Bible here mention only the sun and rain? It is because these two things form the basis of life on earth. And the Bible says that God gives them to us freely and without measure.

Think about the sun. The sun is not a spiritual something; it is matter. Now, definitely, a lot of physical energy is used to run that raging orb of fire! So who runs it? God does. God physically runs the sun. They say nothing is free in this world, but you haven’t seen a bill for the sunlight lately, have you? But God runs the sun at His own material and physical expense. God keeps the sun burning to provide the heat and light that is needed for us to stay alive, healthy and happy.

And just think about the rain. A lot of physical work is needed to condense and pour down all that water upon the earth. Physical work, I say. And who does all that work? It is God who does it. And once He is ready to pour down the rain, He does not ration the water for us. Year after year, generation upon generation He pours down rain far in excess of our needs.

The more interesting fact is that God keeps the fact of His ‘busy-ness’ on our behalf a closely-guarded secret. He keeps it under wraps, so to speak. So much so that most people think these things happen of their own accord.

The Bible says that God even dresses up the flowers, and that He feeds the birds! How busy God is. While we are busy defending our small little rights and protecting our insignificant little backyards, God is busy doing good on a physical and spiritual scale that defies any form of description.

There are people who work very hard and who believe that others should not benefit from their hard labor. God would put such people to shame!

And, by the way, did you happen to read that God neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4)? I haven’t read anywhere where it says that God would not want to ease up on His schedule and rest aways. But He stays awake and alert on our behalf. Have you ever thought how this world can remain in so much relative peace while there is so much evil abounding? That also comes from God. He holds back the evil.

God is the most selfless Person ever. This blog would not suffice to list the thousands of different kinds of provision that God affords mankind in the physical realm, free of charge.

Now, with all the physical and material cost that goes into the preparation and delivery of all these things, you would think that God would give them only to those who are obedient and pleasing to Him – those who do good. With God nothing is impossible, and it would be a very small matter for Him to only shine His sun on His good servant and leave the bad guy patting his way about in the darkness even if the two were sleeping in the same bed.

But again that is not God’s nature. Luke’s account says He is kind even to the unthankful. Now, I can assure you that dealing with a thankless person is an extremely testing experience. You do something for someone and they do not thank you well enough. That is highly inflammatory, to say the least.

But do you know how many thankless people are enjoying God’s sun and His rain and every other provision that God has to offer? In actual fact, God blesses the evil more than He does the good. Regardless of what you have heard taught in church, have you not noticed that the unrighteous people in this world are also the richest materially? Undoubtedly, that is one of the most obvious facts in this world.

And now we come to the mind-boggling final look at the nature of God. Have you, as a child of God, ever thought about the fact of God’s grace in choosing you to inherit salvation? You were no better than your fellow man who dies in their sin and goes to hell. You never paid a cent for your salvation. And the even more incredible truth is that you were rebellious right up to the minute that God saved you.

Personally, I recall that God came looking for me at the wrongest possible moment in my life. I was 25 years old at the time, and “enjoying life” to the full. And I was extremely rebellious. My grandmother used to call me the ‘king of the Baganda’. To this day, I never knew what she meant by that term, but I do know that in our family of more than ten members, I seemed to rule everyone and everything. Whatever I said in that house was law… even my father and my mother and my elder brothers were expected to obey it. Later on in my adult life, my mom would look at me and she would begin to laugh, and she would laugh and laugh and I would ask what she was laughing about, and she would remind me of any one of a thousand ‘epic’ dust storms that I raised in that home during my heydays.

Anyways, on the day that I got saved, as I knelt down and they began to pray for me, I do remember that I was tempted to stand up and walk away… the rebellious nature in me was rising up even as they prayed over me to get saved! But as the pastor and his team of three young men pressed on in prayer – with their hands firmly planted on my head – a miracle happened, and a transformation occurred in my life. I instantly became as meek as a lamb. You might think it a rather fictional account that someone would need four men to hold him down in order to get him saved; but Saul, who would later on become the Apostle Paul, needed a bolt of lightning from heaven to cool his heels!

Even today, I am awed by the grace of that moment. God held me down there until He had delivered me from the devil’s clutches. Somehow, He needed me that badly. Amazing!

In whatever fashion we were saved, though, the fact is that our salvation is totally a work of grace. It is God Himself who chooses men and calls them. And after He has called them, He washes them clean and begins forming them to become His sons and daughters in the Spirit.

[Below: Just like children, we are partakers of God’s hard labor, freely and generously given, both physically and spiritually]

Image11104

The Liberality of God

Have you ever paused to think how lavishly, extravagantly, excessively generous God is? You probably haven’t; but allow me to put this into perspective.

Have you ever noticed how easily we get dazzled by the night lights? I mean the man-made lights. The city lights dazzle us with their shimmer and people actually go out to see them.

Indeed, anything with lights on it at night appears exquisitely bright.

But any man-made light costs money. Man therefore pays heavily to enjoy any light or warmth at night. The world pays a lot for their nights. That is why they tell you to turn off the lights when you leave a room.

But, come day-break, and the world has more light and warmth than it needs! All the lighting companies in the world combined could not produce the light and heat that the sun gives. But the sun is not of any man; it is of God. The light and warmth that the sun provides come from God and it gives life to everything in the world.

There are two strange aspects about God and His sun. One is that God does not give His light in “candlefuls” or “torchfuls”. He is not stingy. On the contrary, God gives us light and warmth without measure.

During the daytime, I can see as far as my eyesight will allow. If I could see all the way to New York I would.

I am surprised that we can be wowed by the world’s night lights and yet all their brilliance combined is no match for the sun.

The other interesting thing is that God does not charge a dime for the sun. It is free. I have never seen a monthly bill for the sun I enjoy daily. And yet the sun is involved in probably 99% of my physical life! That’s incredible! All of it absolutely free.

The fact that God’s strange benovelence is showered on everyone provides us with another aspect of God’s nature: that God’s love is all-encomapssing. God does not shine the sun on a choice clique of “friends” or His obedient children only. He shines His light and gives warmth to everyone – the good as well as the bad.

There is no doubt as to what I would do if God gave me the controls to the sun. I probably would shine it on everyone the first day – no, make that the first minute, because by the second minute I would be so infuriated at all the evil people are doing in the world that I would turn off the sun in all the wicked people’s homes immediately.

If we go out to be dazzled by the night lights, I wonder how much more appreciative we should be of God’s sun? I am surprised that the world does not wake up every morning and ululate with wonder and joy at this unutterable gift.

Now, let us come to water. Water is life, they say. Have you ever been awed with how, with the coming of the rainy season, God just pours hundreds of millions of gallons of water over the earth? God is so liberal! He pours so much rain until we say, “Enough, Lord!”

He does not pour His water in cupfuls or panfuls. He has so much of it and He is extremely liberal with it. He wants us to see His glory.

(We are so graceless we do not even have the grace to say, “Thank you, Lord.” Instead, the minute we get home wet, or our car breaks down in the rain, we begin to complain about how “these rains have become too much!” And God is so merciful: instead of blasting us with a bolt of lightning, He simply forgives us and shines the sun on us the next day.)

And just imagine how much oxygen there is in the air. There is so much oxygen that God does not need a mechanism to recycle the air (which we would, if He left us to our devices).

Have you ever wondered about someone who murders another person. That person actually uses a lot of oxygen to commit his crime, and the oxygen he uses is freely provided to him by God.

Imagine what you would do if you controlled the oxygen supply in the world and you found someone doing a thing like that. I am sure you would cut off his oxygen supply immediately.

But God does not do that. He gives the man all the oxygen he needs even as he wantonly kills off his fellow man. God then waits on the killer to repent. If he repents, God forgets that he ever killed another man!

God is rich on so many fronts, and His liberality equals His richness.

Actually, none of us deserves the things that God freely gives to us – and which we take too much for granted. But God is so magnanimous He continuously gives us them – over and over, even when we are not walking in His perfect will – and without measure. And these things are just the tip of the iceberg. There are no words sufficient to tell of God’s mercy and provision for us.

Oh, depth of the riches of the grace of God! How good and gracious and compassionate and forgiving and merciful and tender-hearted is our God! Were everyone in the world a scribe, still they would not suffice to tell of the goodness and kindness of God. His richness is indescribable. And His praises are beyond words.

[Below: God gives us so many things to enjoy – and He gives us liberally!]

SAM_0964

Persecution and Grace – Part 2

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

I never cease to marvel at the grace that was given to the Macedonian church. It is, simply, indescribable. That is why we cannot say, ever, “Enough talk about these Macedonians!” I am sure their story will echo on into eternity.

The area of giving is one area in which nearly all of us struggle. The issue of giving is a real problem with many of us. Normally, when someone asks us for money or some material thing (but mostly money, since money is the god of this world), our immediate knee-jerk reaction is to feel something akin to an invasion. There is a certain privacy about our material possessions that we don’t like people intruding into.

But that is the flesh. When we are walking the road that Jesus walked, these attitudes are the kind of things that we battle against in the Spirit. And it is when we achieve victory over such attitudes that we can experience the joy of giving. In those rare – or not-so-rare – moments when God touches our hearts and we allow the grace of God to have its way in us, we receive that very rare blessing of giving freely and joyfully, and we come away much more fulfilled in our spirits.

But with these Macedonians there was so much grace in their lives that they gave as if with a primeval instinct – in other words, with a power that was not of this world.

Some time ago I read about some people in England or the U.S. (I can’t remember clearly where) who engaged in bitter brawls as they fought to buy discounted goods in shopping malls.

The Macedonians did the exact opposite. They fought to give! I believe it is not that they did not need the things that they were giving away, but they were overcome with compassion for their brothers in need. And, having an enlarged heart, they saw this as an opportunity to make very good use the power of the grace of God in their lives.

The Macedonian example is an illustration of the extremities to which God’s grace can take us. That these people had literally nothing; but when they heard that their brothers were undergoing a period of want, they gave out their hearts. “Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”

That is a heart that we all need to have.

There are people who love talking about tithing. But in tithing one is trying to give to God in quotas! Can you imagine giving to God in quotas? It is the most tiresome exercise in the world.

And, pray, can you imagine trying to tell the Macedonians about tithing? At the very least, they would have regarded you with of utter confusion in their eyes! How can you talk to someone who has given away everything about now giving a percentage?

The Macedonians were so rich in grace that the ‘lesson’ of tithe would have have flown right over their heads.

But notice also that all this was accomplished at the time that this church was going through a period of “great trial of affliction” and “deep poverty”. It was in these difficult circumstances that their faith was tried and refined to produce these extremely fine examples of Christian-ity.

Whether through persecution or not, when we take the road that Jesus took – denying self, taking up our cross daily and following Him – we will always come up with this kind of life – a life of incredible grace.

[The Macedonians rejoiced greatly at the opportunity to give]

Image9916

A Contrast – the Corinthian Church

This post stems from Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9.

Do you know what “contrast” means? For our purposes, let us use the word which my computer’s Thesaurus provides me with here, “dissimilarity”. In this post I want us to see how dissimilar the Corinthian church was to the Macedonian churches.

Talking of prosperity, let me point out at the very outset that at the time of Paul’s writing, the Macedonian churches were the richest entity on the face of the earth. At their time these were the richest people in the world. No earthly conglomerate existing today could boast even a whiff of the wealth that these churches had.

But, of course, it was wealth of a different kind altogether that these people had. It was the true heavenly riches, the riches of a gracious heart. It could well be that there were other equally spiritually rich churches, but we have no need to speculate.

But at the same time that these Macedonians were exhibiting such riches of the grace of God in their lives through their liberality, the Corinthian churches were exhibiting the exact opposite through their stinginess! I am sure that had the Corinthians been half as generous as the Macedonias were, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 might never have been written!!

The Bible clearly says that the Macedonians were poor in worldly riches. But it does not say the Corinthians were poor. Nowhere does it indicate that these guys were anywhere near poor materially. On the contrary, history is replete with accounts of how rich the Corinthians were!

Moreover, after granting them salvation, God graciously blessed the Corinthian churches with every kind of spiritual gift. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7: 4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift…”

This church was bristling with the gifts of the Spirit, so much so that Paul even had to write and put order in that church with regard to the usage of these gifts! (1 Corinthians 14)

But alas! this church lacked the most important gift – the grace of God. It is incredible, but true. You can have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and still lack in the most important gift of all, the gift of the grace of God upon your life. It is a contradiction of terms, but it certainly did occur with the Corinthians.

This fact manifested it self in their lives in the following manner: these guys had been promising – indeed, they had bound themselves – to give a financial gift, a certain amount of money, for the poor saints in Jerusalem. And yet, for a whole year, they had not parted with a single cent!

The Bible says that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. We can have every kind of spiritual gift working through us but still lack in the most important gift, the gift of the grace of God upon our lives. In today’s spiritual context, we highly regard men who work the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are so enamored with the manifestations of these gifts! And yet, while it is true that these gifts are needful in church, it is clear from Paul’s words to the Corinthians that the greatest “gift” that we can have as believers is the Holy Spirit working in our lives to produce the character or grace of Christ in us. Paul tells the Corinthians: “Hey guys… just as you have been enriched in every kind of gift in the Spirit, including your love for us, may you also be enriched in the grace of giving” (2 Cor. 8:7, paraphrased).

Apparently, they needed to be “pushed” in some areas. That is not grace.

Actually, when it comes to ministry, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 provide the clearest example of the practical application of grace in a preacher’s life. In these two chapters, the Apostle Paul finds himself confronted with a situation where apparently only law could work. But Paul was a man of grace! He therefore used every means possible, embedded here in these two long chapters, to cajole these hard Corinthians into living a life of grace.

Paul was a true spiritual father!

This goes to show that we cannot bring back the spirit of law into the church, however big the sin or infraction. We must go out of our way to make sure that whatever needs to be dealt with in church  is dealt with in a spirit of grace.

The way Paul dealt with these Corinthians gives his ministry great esteem in light of the gospel.

As for the rest of us, may we never forget that walking in grace is fulfilling the royal law, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Bible says that the person who does this has fulfilled the whole law of God.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves, of course, demands that one deny their own self. That means we die. And, pray, what can you do with a dead person?

Need we say it again? Yes, we certainly do – that it is only at the cross where this grace can be found. When our lives are identified with Christ’s in His sufferings and death, when we are constantly (daily) denying our own self and taking up our cross and following Him, there will this grace be found in its fullness.

[Below: The spontaneity in the lives of children provides us with the clearest example of the grace of God]

Snapshot_20140613_23

Grace! – the Macedonian Example (Part 2)

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;

2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;

4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 2 Cor. 8:1-4

Grace is the church’s inheritance. The Bible says: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

Grace is the inheritance that Jesus gave to the church. Isn’t it wonderful to have, or to own what Jesus bequeathed us?

That is why we cannot lightly “fly past” this scripture about the Macedonians. We must encamp there and see what went on with these blessed brethen.

Y’know, today, to a large extent, we do not have preachers of the gospel in church. Today what the church has is mostly worldly-minded motivational preachers. (In this group, unfortunately, there are also fraudsters and scoundrels of the basest sort). Now, motivational preachers will not talk to you about the grace of God. Grace is heavenly business and these men and women have nothing of heaven in their hearts. So they talk of this world. They will talk about the things of this world. They will talk about money and such-like things.

But I think it would have been rather stupid for Jesus to leave behind the glories of heaven and to come to earth to become a billionaire in some church! It would have been extremely ridiculous, and I am glad Jesus did not do that.

There were only two things that Jesus owned when He was here on earth. Jesus had nothing of this world, but He had something else. He had grace and truth. I don’t know about you but me, I want what Jesus had.

These noble Macedonians certainly did.

Today let us look at verse 2 of this wonderful scripture.

1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

We read in verse 2 that when the Macedonian brethren were going through tribulation and suffering for the gospel’s sake, their joy was increased!

There is something called ‘diametrically opposed’. We all know that suffering and joy are diametrically opposed. So these Macedonians accomplished a mathematical formula which even Einstein could not achieve: the marriage of two diametrically opposed experiences, suffering and joy.

That is something that can only be attained through the grace of God.

The Bible says that in rejoicing through suffering, the Macedonians demonstrated the grace of God that was in their lives!

One thing I can tell you for sure is that I am not like these Macedonians. In all sincerity I cannot say that I am happy when things are going all wrong in my life. When things are not “working” for me, I tend to fret and there are even times when I have known myself to become absolutely grace-less (and probably even plain hostile) when the pressure became too much to bear!

But the Bible states here that when the Macedonians were going through trouble, it was all song and dance in those churches. That’s the one experience I sure would love to have and to own in my life! That’s grace.

No amount of writing could exhaust the riches to be found in this tiny portion of scripture.

Let us take a peep at the second part.

“… their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.”

Here we find another set of diametric opposites: poverty and liberality.

It is generally assumed that the rich should give to the poor. I also subscribe to that belief. He who has should give to him who does not have. That is Biblical.

But that has nothing to do with a generous heart. You can give away all your wealth until you scratch yourself like Job, but that does not mean that you are generous. I know of people who give of their worldly goods, but they are not generous. You can see it in the way they give. They will put you to an interview, where you can feel all the condescending fog from them descending upon you…

Let me put it this way: grace enables us to do things the way God does them. God does things willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When you have the grace of God in your heart, therefore, the natural outcome is to do God’s will willingly, joyfully and cheerfully. When it comes to giving, you will give in exactly in that manner – willingly, joyfully and cheerfully.

God is generous. I have been saved for a long time, and I can attest to the fact that God is generous. There was a time when I thought that I needed to be financially rich in order to affirm God’s generosity. But I have learned to appreciate God’s generosity towards me, a generosity which does not necessarily have to do with him blessing me financially. Money, as the saying goes, is not everything. That is especially so with the gospel.

What God gives us is a rich heart, a heart rich in grace. This is all that matters with the gospel. A heart rich in grace will accomplish everything God needs it to accomplish.

When the Macedonians received the grace of God, they became rich in generosity.

Let us take time to examine our hearts and to see whether we are rich in grace or not. Today, let us forget for a moment our nicely-trimmed bank accounts. Let us instead look into our hearts. Are we rich there or not?

Tomorrow we will take one final look at this exciting scripture.

[Below: Grace – free as a bird!]

Image9017