The Eminence Of The Cross – Part 3

12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. 13 For what is it wherein ye were inferior to the other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. 2 Cor. 12:12-13

One day I had a dream. In the dream, we were at a sort of pier, and people were queuing up to pay for their tickets. Upon looking behind me, I saw Jesus standing right behind me. He had a sort of string purse, and He was trying to dig inside, looking for some money. But there was nothing inside.

In the dream, I turned around and, with tears in my eyes, I said to Him, “Jesus, I could never have thought that you would not be having money!”

At which I gladly took out my own money and paid for His ticket.

I woke up from my dream my heart pounding with excitement. This was one of the clearest dreams I had ever had, and in it I had unmistakably served the Lord in the clearest way possible! I stayed there in my bed for a while, awed by the wonder of it that dream.

The Lord, however, was not about to let me have a picnic with that. He quickly brought me down to earth by bringing a few scriptures to my mind.

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17); and,

“14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (Jam. 2:14-17).

And, finally,

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 Jn. 4:20)

The Lord showed me that loving and serving Him was all about loving and serving my brothers and sisters whom I dwell with down here on earth. Doing so pleases the Lord just as much as if I had served Him in person.

I have not written this story to show how cozy I am with Jesus. Only God truly knows about that (1 Cor. 4:5). Rather, I have written it to illustrate that when He was here on earth, the Lord walked in need, in spite of the fact that He had many women ministering to Him (Mk. 15:40-41). It was the kind of lifestyle He had chosen.

But, back to Paul. Let us have another look at that scripture.

“12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. 13 For what is it wherein ye were inferior to the other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.” (2 Cor. 12:12-13)

This is the only place in the scriptures where Paul refers to the mighty works that were done through him by the Lord. Is that not so different from many modern preachers, some of whom have raised up ministries based solely on the mighty works they perform? Many years ago, when I was living in our neighboring country of Kenya, I saw a poster that said, “A man of miracles comes to Nairobi.”

The Apostle Paul would not have written such a poster. A man once asked me, “Who are you in your church?”

He wanted to know what position I held in church.

I told him, “I don’t know.”

He thought I was being arrogant. But he was trying to back me into the very corner that I was scrambling to get out of.

Today, many men of God want to be something. But neither Jesus nor the Apostles had that goal.

Anyway, to end. The Apostle Paul talked extensively about himself in all his epistles. But all the talk about himself was only about his weaknesses, or his “infirmities”, as the Bible refers to them. He talked only about the things he suffered for the gospel’s sake. That was his singular boast. He would gladly have boasted in his many accomplishments; but the Lord told him, “No.”

And now, in these scriptures, he reveals a mind-blowing fact about his life. That he gloried in his LACK. Paul worked in the church at Corinth in great want. So much so that the church in Macedonia had to come to his aid (2 Cor. 11:9)

Whilst great miracles and mighty deeds were done through him by the Lord to confirm Paul’s calling as an apostle; yet Paul would not glory in these. On the contrary, he was looking to and rejoicing at his material and financial lack in the midst of the Corinthians. In other words, what concerned him most was the cross working in him!

I don’t know about you. But my heart rejoices when I see the beauty of the cross. The cross was the singular revelation that drove Paul’s life. And today, you cannot afford to preach the gospel without mentioning Paul, so influential is his life.

Christ Crucified – A Heavenly Visitation

10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. 1 Pet. 1:10-12
One day, my wife and I were recalling a certain man of God, well known the world over through his ministry who, a few years back, had graced our annual CTMI (www.ctmi.org) conference in Mauritius.
My wife asked me, “Did you ever hear of that man again?”
I answered, “No.”
“You mean he never came back again?” she persisted.
“I think so”, I said.
The significance of what we had just spoken sank deep into us and we both fell silent. It dawned on us that this man had been unable to grasp the import of the gospel of the cross. It dawned on us even further how difficult and, in some cases, how downright impossible it is for the great men of God in this world to see in the Spirit “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.
Scripture tells us that the prophets of old “enquired and searched diligently… of the grace that should come to”… us!
The prophets of old were great men in the Spirit. They saw and heard in the Spirit that “which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4).
Moreover, these men performed great and powerful miracles in the Name of the Lord. These were truly powerful men in the Spirit. Also, they underwent some of the most severe sufferings in order to bring God’s vision to fruition in our lives. And yet these men and women were denied the right to understand or experience the grace that is ours today. What a powerful realization!
But that is not all. God’s Word tells us something even more awe-inspiring about the grace that is ours today:
“…which things the angels desire to look into”.
Angels are heavenly spiritual beings. They are unparalleled in power and might and wisdom. But here the Bible declares that they long to “look into” the grace that we are experiencing today.
What does scripture mean by “angels desire to look into”?
It means that God’s holy angels desire to understand, or experience the grace that can be found in the crucified life. This understanding makes us to realize that the crucified life the highest manner of life that can be lived on earth and in heaven. That is why Jesus is so exalted, because He was able to live the crucified life.
The revelation of a crucified life is the privilege that God has reserved for all who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an indescribable privilege to be able to understand “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” Herein, in the crucified life, lies the measureless grace of God in its entirety, and God’s glory also (1 Pet. 1:11).
That is why the Apostle Paul declares that when he went to the Corinthians, he “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)
Why should he? Paul had seen in the Spirit the glory of this privilege, and he was not about to play games with it.
But this is also a glory that has bypassed the great men and women of God in this world. For only the humble in heart can experience the crucified life and the grace and the glory to be found therein.
The Apostle Peter therefore shows those of us who have seen this glory of the crucified life and who have allowed themselves to be under the hand of God the great responsibility that we have:
“13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:13-17).

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True Glory vs “Bakshishi”

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. Acts 14:21-22

We have to decide whether we are going to go with what the Bible says or whether we are going to work with what we want or think.

Notice very carefully Paul’s words here: “… we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

Paul did not say “we will through much blessings enter into the kingdom of God”.

But that is the way it has turned out today… God’s people are crossing vasts tracts of ocean and land seeking after only one thing: blessings.

When, I ask, did scripture change “tribulations” to read “blessings”?

I will tell you what: the church has been invaded; and we probably are not aware of it. The church has been invaded by the flesh!

What am I saying? That blessings are of the flesh? By no means.

But when we go seeking after those blessings, that is the flesh.

Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Notice the word “added” there. Blessings – and even our basic material needs – are an addition. They are not the real thing. That is why God can bless one man and not bless another materially: it makes no difference to Him. He knows they are of little consequence.

In Swahili, we call this “bakshishi”. “Bakshishi” is that little extra that the shopkeeper adds on top of the full measure that you paid for in the first instance. “Bakshishi” makes little difference to the full measure that you had gone to purchase.

Google Translate calls “bakshishi” a tip. For an employee, a tip is hardly the salary.

Is “bakshishi” bad? No.  But at no time did “bakshishi” become the full measure that we went to buy at the shop.

Since when did blessings become the measure of what we have been called to in God’s Kingdom? But blessings have become the central desire of God’s people today.

And yet, the Apostle Paul declares that the full measure of what has been paid for is – alas! – the very thing many believers are running away from today: tribulations.

“… we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

People are avoiding sufferings like the plague! And yet… Paul himself rejoiced at these tribulations (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Initially, he had sought to rejoice in the blessings; but when he got the revelation of the crucified Christ, he did not seek after the blessings anymore. He says:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

For what purpose?

“…that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

The church is losing out. It is losing out to “bakshishi”. That is what is happening.

We are losing out on the true glory. We are left holding the “bakshishi”; by chasing after blessings we are left holding onto what amounts to nothing. Where, pray, did we lose the true measure of what Christ called us to?

We must get back to the crossroads…

But Philippians 2:5-11 exhorts us, “5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

[Below: A street in Singida]

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A God of Grace, Not Law!

In concluding this series on the goodness and grace of God, ultimately we must come to the most important conclusion on this subject: that God is not a God of law, but of grace. Now, I am aware that many believers come up against, or have even probably been raised in a permanent atmospehere of law, to the extent that they have been systemized to nothing but law. There are believers who cannot understand grace at all. In fact, there are entire denominations where nothing but law is taught.

But God is not a God of law. He is a God of grace. In John 1:17 the Bible says just that: For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

The word “but” in this scripture is so important. In other words, once upon a time there was law (with Moses), but now, today, in Christ, there is something else. There is only grace – and truth. There is no more law.

But verse 18 is also so very important: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

In other words, Christ has come to reveal the true nature of God. We cannot therefore seek to know a God of law. We must seek to know a God of grace, for that is whom Jesus has revealed.

In the Old Testament God allowed the Israelites to fight and kill, and to take revenge. An eye for an eye, and a life for a life.

But in the New Testament, Jesus comes and says that if a man strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the left also. And if a man takes your coat by force, remove your shirt also and give it to him. And if a person forces you to go one mile, go two. All with a good, humble, forgiving and loving heart.

That is who God is and that is what God does.

That is why we can enjoy incomprehensible grace under the New Covenant. God gives us so much rope. Not to sin, of course, but to walk the road of the cross.

But as much as sin is inadmissible under the New Covenant, so is law. In fact, sin and law go together. There are many examples that we could give in this regard, but none is as important as Moses. The “flag carrier” of the law was himself unable to enter the promised land! And, much as we would not like to admit it, yet the reason Moses failed to enter the promised land was because he sinned against God.

Notice what Paul says in Romans 5:1-2: “1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

The words used here are important and telling: “faith”, “peace”, “grace”, “joy”, “hope” and, ultimately, “glory”. There is not a word of law here, not a word of “Thou shalt not!” The only things that you can find in Christ, the things that God “through our Lord Jesus Christ” has given to us, are those mentioned above, and many other things of like nature.

God would not allow Moses to see His glory. He allowed him only to see the tail-end of His coat as He disappeared in the distance.

But in Christ there is so much freedom we can behold God as He is. Indeed, this is the delightful challenge that God Himself has put before us. He urges us to run the race to get to know Him as He is. It is open field for everyone. The vilest sinner can enter the race and win. The faltering believer can strengthen himself and finish in victory. Everyone is welcome, and God has given to us His Holy Spirit to enable us.

[In Tanzania, modernity struggles to edge age-old tradition off the road]

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Nature Glorifies God!

All of nature, except man, naturally declares the glory of God. Man is naturally so selfish that He wakes up every morning grumbling instead of giving thanks.

The birds wake us every morning with their joyous chirping. They are happy to see another day. The house rooster crows and flaps its wings in utter abandon upon observing a new day. The trees sway in unison to declare the glory of God. The honeybee begins its rounds to collect the materials needed to make sweet honey.

Every part of God’s creation wakes up bright and cheery – except man. He can only wake up cheery if there is anything that will profit him in the flesh, like a new job, or if he is getting married that day.

But in the Spirit, I believe we as believers ought to be bright and cheery all the time. That is one of the ways to declare the glory of God. If we could only see in the Spirit, we certainly would wake up shouting like madmen with joy every morning.

That is why Paul and Silas could pray and sing songs of praise after they had been badly beaten and were put in the stocks (Acts 16:25). Do you know what stocks are? It was a most agonizing form of  punishment way back in those days. It was difficult to breathe when in the stocks; but Paul and Silas were so happy they sang praises to God! They did not sing the blues, no; they sang praises!!

God has done so many things for us in the Spirit. Many of these things cannot be seen with the eyes of flesh. They are only discernible in the Spirit. And yet they are the most profound things that He has done for us. And when we see them, nothing can stop us from praising God.

The Lord also blesses us in the flesh. He gives us many things freely.

When we are seeing in the Spirit, there is nothing that can be above us. There is nothing that can prevent us from rejoicing in our spirits even when the flesh is undergoing persecution.

May we pray for a spirit of revelation and understanding. When we walk in the fullness of this spirit, it is one way that we can bless the Lord.

[Below: Children, too, naturally declare the glory of God]

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Christianity Is A Call To Suffer

25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:

26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? Lk. 24:26

Notice that Jesus tells His disciples here that all the Old Testament spoke of His sufferings. All. Not one prophet did not speak about the sufferings of Christ.

More importantly, though, notice how Christ’s sufferings are tied up with the glory to come. In other words, for Christ to enter into His glory, the door that He had to pass through was sufferings!

It is incredible how carnal – how un-spiritual – the church today has become. We have no vision of the eternal glory. Less so is our perception of the road we need to take to arrive at that goal.

Nowadays, the church is full of prophets and other ministers who prophesy about what God’s people are going to enjoy once they believe on Christ. I remember, many years ago, I went to a lunch-time fellowship in the city and I heard one of the most famous preachers of that time saying, “God is about to give you that Mercedes Benz that you have been praying for!”

And the hall was packed full of God’s people.

In retrospect, now, I cannot understand the logic of that statement. A Mercedes Benz! What does a Mercedes Benz have to do with the Kingdom of God?

That’s how far today’s ‘prophets’ have gone from hearing from God.

But with the Old Testaments prophets, the singular message they heard from God was the sufferings of Christ. They did not hear any other message. They did not hear the message of prosperity.

In the New Testament, God brought the message of Christ’s sufferings closer to His people, beginning with His apostles. God always begins with the apostles.  He reveals His message to them, then He applies that message to their lives. The Apostle Paul received a singular revelation of the sufferings of Christ for the church. When he went to the Corinthians, therefore, he says, “1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” 1 Cor. 2:1-2

In effect, Paul was saying he received the same revelation of the sufferings of Christ that the Old Testament prophets received.

After He gave him this revelation, God brought this revelation to work first in Paul’s life. In Acts 20:22-23, the Apostle Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders, says, “22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: 23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.”

The Holy Spirit did not witness that Paul would suffer in a few cities. No. The Holy Spirit witnessed to Paul that he would suffer in every city. Every city! And so this most faithful of God’s servants walked about with a thorn in his flesh all his life.

That is the spirit that we need to catch. Failure to do so will find us out of league with Christ. We are all aware that after our initial confession of Christ into our hearts, life goes on. What many of us do not realize is that this life that goes on must of necessity be an identification with Christ in the Spirit, in His sufferings and death – towards the goal of eternal glory. In other words, the life that we now live in Christ is a lost life in the natural. It is not a life where we simply rejoice because God has “put food on my table”. The latter – which is all too common today – is too simplistic an interpretation of the Christian life. It is too basic! Ultimately, it is a carnal understanding of the Christian life that we have been called to. Significantly, it is an interpretation that is bound to keep us spiritual “babes” forever. And there is no sadder place for Christ to find one of His children when He comes back!

In today’s tech world there is something called “upgrading”. People are always upgrading from one app to the next.

In the Spirit, too, we need to upgrade. For, since Christ was to be a true Son of God, the Old Testament prophets did not see Him in the Spirit receiving childish things like Mercedes Benzes. On the contrary, they foresaw Him suffering and dying in the flesh. They saw Him in His perfect “upgraded” status. This is the core of spiritual maturity.

Let us pray to God to reveal to us the singular gospel that He revealed to the Apostle Paul, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Then, and only then can we be sure we are on the right track – the road to the eternal glory.

[Below: In a village deep in rural Singida, a young girl poses for a photograph]

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The Cross Reveals God’s Glory

12 And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments…

18 And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? Jdg. 14:12-18

In the Bible, honey is a symbol of the revelation of Christ. In other words, therefore, according to this scripture, what is sweeter than revelation to the soul of man?

Moreover, the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ is the single most potent force on earth, and, I believe, in heaven also. We know that one day, finally, Christ Himself will become “subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28); but at present there is nothing in heaven or on the earth that supersedes the work that Christ accomplished at Calvary.

Have you ever looked at the midday, or even the morning sun? Even a casual direct glance at this solar ball is enough to momentarily blind you, it is so bright. The sun is a testament to the power of God. And that is just in the natural.

At night also, in the natural, God awes us with the power and splendour of the starry sky. Astronomers tell us that this exquisite heavenly tapestry, the universe, is endless.

And have you ever seen the heaving ocean? It is formidable.

There are so many things in the natural that tell of the power and grandeur of God.

Now, just imagine this God who can amaze us so in the natural, just how much more can He accomplish in the Spirit? Much more, I believe.

But God amazes even more. For, in the Spirit, God in His wisdom chose to show forth His power through weakness, through the breaking of the flesh. Remember when we break bread during communion we are symbolically breaking the body of Jesus Christ. At the cross, Jesus showed the power of God by breaking His flesh thereon.

Today, the church teaches us to covet earthly riches, but in the natural, Jesus was not a rich man. Today the church teaches power and influence; but Jesus the Son of God was made baser than the most ignoble of us. When He was taken to Caiaphas’ house, even the house servants slapped Him in the face! (Mk. 14:65) Ultimately Jesus gave up His earthly life at the cross.

That is why the church needs to understand the cross. In other words, the church needs a revelation of the cross. Actually, that is all that the church needs.

The cross is where the power of the flesh is broken. It is where the spiritual man is formed and made whole.

And may God bless the soul of His servant, Paul, who would preach nothing else apart from this great revelation. Throughout the centuries, the enemy has tried to bury this revelation, and he has brought in “damnable heresies” into the church (2 Pet. 2:1).

But in our day, God is again bringing to light His wisdom and power through His servants the apostles and prophets – the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ. If there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain today, it is that God’s plan and purpose is again gaining the ascendancy over these heresies that have held the modern church captive all these years.

The church would do well to desire to humble itself and to prayerfully seek out this revelation instead of continuing to rush to nowhere with its much-publicised wisdoms which are nothing but a manifestation of man’s pride.

[Below: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork…” (Ps. 19:1)]

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Christmas!

It could well be that our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December, some 2,000 years ago. That, after all, is the basis of our celebrating Christmas. But, important as it is that Jesus was born on whatever day it was that He was born (and for sanity’s sake let’s just presume it was the 25th of December), I believe the fact of His crucifixion far supersedes that of His birth. If we are to celebrate days, we therefore ought to be celebrating the day of Christ’s crucifixion more than the day of His birth.

I do not wish to dampen anyone’s spirits here, but I believe the church must begin to move away from the frivolousness into which churchdom has been cast. Celebrating Christmas is all right, and indeed I believe that for the believer every infinitesimal second in their lives should be a moment of celebration. We have so much to celebrate! And celebrating our salvation even physically is no sin at all.

But we should be celebrating with a sense of maturity in our hearts.

When we look at the scriptures we realize that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus – for what? It was so Jesus could become the sacrificial Lamb. It was so He could die for our sins. Jesus did not come to earth to open bottles of champagne, no. He came specifically to die, to die for our sins.

The death of Jesus, therefore, is of far greater importance than His birth. Had Jesus been born and not died on that cross, nothing would have changed in our relationship with God. To date we would still be sinners in God’s sight. Had Jesus not come to the right decision at Gethsemane, believe me, things would be a whole lot different for us today.

But thank God that Jesus – worthy is He! – made the decision to accept the Father’s will. It was God’s will that Jesus be tortured and killed for our sins (Isaiah 53), and that was exactly what happened because Jesus accepted that responsibility, although He knew it would cost Him dearly. That is why He is worthy of all praise and glory.

Today, through believing in the sacrifice of Christ on that cross we stand righteous in God’s sight. Praise and glory be to our Lord Jesus Christ! So much worthy is He!

And now God in His incredible love for us calls upon us to not only believe in the sacrifice of Jesus, but to identify our lives with Christ’s in His sufferings and death so that we may experience and share in His glory and power. He wants us to be victorious over the flesh and sin, just as Christ was victorious. If we are to have a taste of Christ’s glory in our lives, then we need to realize that we have to lose in this life, just as Jesus lost. But this loss is temporal.

If we are not willing to walk in this identification with Christ, we stand to experience the real loss. The real loss for the believer is when we are only content with evading the fire of hell. Here we will lose in eternity. When we live a lifestyle that simply wants to stay saved but holding onto our lives, we will lose heavily in the Kingdom to come. Better we lose our lives now.

“13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” 1 Cor. 3:13-15

The “work” that Paul is talking of here is the work of identifying our lives with Christ’s by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him. Here Paul was addressing a carnal church, the Corinthian church. When the Corinthians first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ they cast off the flesh and all its works. But lately they had begun to cuddle the flesh once again!

That is why God calls on us to not only receive Jesus into our lives, but to also have a revelation of Christ’s sufferings, death and resurrection in our hearts. Only then can we gladly identify our lives fully with Christ’s death on the cross – and with His resurrection life.

Then and only then can we celebrate any aspect of our salvation in truth and in the spirit. And we are called upon to celebrate every second of our lives!!

[Below: Late evening, cross-country buses begin arriving in Dar es Salaam. Some will arrive as late as 10 p.m. depending on the distance they have had to travel]

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Of Stars and the Resurrection Glory

41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 1 Cor. 15:41-44

The subject of stars intrigues me exceedingly, and I keep coming back to this topic.

When you look up into the sky at night you will notice that all stars are not the same. Some shine brighter than others. There are some, even, which incessantly reflect off different colors, like a diamond turning in the light.

In the Bible, the stars speak of the sons of God. And the Bible says that at the resurrection of the dead, we will differ in our glory.

What determines how believers will shine in heaven is the subject of this portion of scripture. The keyword here is “sown”. It matters very much how we “sow” our lives in this world. This is what will determine how brightly we shine in God’s heavenly Kingdom.

It is natural for us in our human state to desire glory, honor, respect and admiration and everything this world can offer. These are things that we desire if we are not transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. But here the Bible tells us exactly what to seek for if we are to share in the resurrection of the dead in a powerful way – no glory, no honor, no admiration, no profit, no nothing, in this world.

On the contrary, we are to seek to lose.

Apart from the pain that He endured at His crucifixion, and the humiliation that He physically and verbally endured from men when He was here on earth, yet I daresay that the very thought of Him becoming man was probably the biggest affront to Jesus’s nature as a holy God. For this would require Him to put on the body of sinful flesh!

But Jesus humbled Himself and put on that body. And He came and He lived with and in that body of sin in this world of sin for 33 years, and He did not commit a single sin. The Bible says He was tried in every area of His life. Every area! Each part of His flesh was touched by temptation.

Y’know, I write this blog and a dear friend once commented to me that my face looks like the face of Jesus! True to my stupid nature, instead of crying I laughed! Probably the only saving grace is that I laughed out of bitterness.

I probably am more handsome than Jesus was in the flesh. But I am also assured that in the list of things that matter with God, a sweet face is not there. And my friend certainly had no way of knowing some things about me.

My friend had no way of knowing that one of the things that astounds me beyond belief is the depth of the pride in my heart. Not someone else’s, no, but mine. Scientists have declared that the universe is infinite, which means that only God can know the ends of it. In the same way, I also have come to the conclusion that the heart of man is unfathomable. Only God can plumb its depths.

That is why our Lord Jesus deserves so much glory, admiration and honor. Would you believe that the Lord Jesus did not have an iota of pride in Him? Nothing of it in what He thought, did or spoke. In His fathomless heart, Jesus had not an iota of pride or any kind of sin. Think about that.

There is no word sufficient to describe that state of affairs, or that kind of heart. The word “incredible” is a miserable understatement here. Jesus did what no man can even think of attaining to – and all while having on the very same body of sin that we have. And because He wrought this great victory on our behalf we, too, ought to walk in that same victory over sin as He did.

That is why we need to pray for a clearer and clearer revelation of the cross, so that we may learn to lose our lives more and more through the trying of our faith, for the express purpose of attaining to the hope of shining like one of the brightest stars in the heavens at the resurrection.

[Below: Some neighborly friends]

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Resurrection, stars, pride, Jesus, glory, humility

“Be Ye Transformed!” – Part 1

“Be ye Transformed!”

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Rom. 12:1-2

Several months ago I was in my hometown of Musoma to visit my dad and the church there. During the Sunday service, Pastor Amas stood up to lead the service and he said, “I will tell you what pleases me in church. Let me tell you what pleases me in church!”

His eyes were gleaming with excitement.

“What I love in church”, he said, “is someone who is changing. A person who is being transformed in their lives gives me the greatest joy in church.”

And y’know, I was sitting there waiting to stand up and preach, but after I heard those words I began wondering if there was anything left for me to say.

Today I cannot recall what I preached on that day, but I do remember each word Pastor Amas said in those three or four sentences.

I am forever grateful for the Lord for allowing me to know what I know today. More and more I realize the gospel is all about a transformed life. This was the singular thing that the Apostle Paul struggled so strenuously to achieve, not only in his personal life, but in the life of every believer who came to Christ.

In Colossians 1 :24-29 he says, 24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

In his ministry, Paul worked to achieve only one thing – only one: to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. That means, simply, that we are imperfect, and we need a transforming work to perfect us in the image of Christ.

Here in Colossians, the apostle tells us what this work is: it is a mystery, the mystery of Christ in us. In other words, the riches of Christ in us is His ability to transform us! The “Christ in you” in this scripture talks of the work of the cross in us.

Many Christians’ eyes are on that word, “glory”; but they do not see the transforming work that Christ needs to do in them. They are not aware that the glory is in the transformation. Christ could give you all the Rolls Royces in the world, but if He is not transforming you, then that is not the Christ who died on Calvary! Remember Paul warns of “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4). There are many other Jesus-es out there!

Similarly, I could be physically raised from the dead like Lazarus was, but if there is no transformation in my spiritual life, if the cross is not at work in my life, that resurrection won’t amount to much. I will live for a few more years in this tiresome world, and that will be that. But to be like Christ is what God desires in my life above all.

And in Romans 12, the apostle tells us exactly how we are to achieve this transformation – it is by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice. That talks of the cross again. The cross is our new altar, and our bodies are the new sacrifices. Jesus brought about a whole new way of pleasing God. Many people think God is pleased when they do things, things like giving a lot of money in church, helping the poor, etc. But that’s a big “NO!” there. God is not pleased with these things. God is pleased with a life laid on the altar. That means God is pleased with someone who is walking in the revelation of the cross in their hearts.

You can help the poor but you are proud on the inside. God wants the sacrifice of your pride, not your money. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth. And surely, it is preposterous to think that we could please God with the things we own or with our money, while the Bible declares in Psalms 50:12, “…the world is mine, and the fulness thereof”; and in Haggai, The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2:8).

The only thing we have that God desires are our hearts.

There are many things we do thinking we are pleasing God, but in which God is not pleased at all. And right here we can understand now why the Apostle Paul would preach no other gospel other than the mystery of Christ, Christ crucified. This is the gospel that brings death to the man on the inside.

I will tell you what pleases God. What pleases God, what God loves, is someone who is changing, changing through a revelation of and a working of the cross in their lives.

That person, whether they do or don’t do things, their work with God is done because they have given of their innermost things – their life. And the proof of their given life is the change in their lives, becoming more and more women and men of grace..

Today the church is seeking after many things, but God is seeking after only one thing: a transformed life.

[Below: This was the day Pastor Amas spoke about what pleases him in church]

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