Northwest Flight 85

We are all human, and it is impossible to not celebrate human courage – and the endless mercies of God. In this post and others that I will occasionally be putting here, it is primarily to hail the great courage and selfless sacrifice of the men and women who work the great machines that ply the sky. As well as to take a peek at the humanity in us all. Lastly, and most importantly, it is to thank God for His manifold grace.

Here, Northwest Flight 85.

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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.

God’s Unsearchable Love

I once overheard an old man say, “Heaven is our home”.

The following clip is of a plane in distress as it approaches LAX, in the U.S. No doubt, God wanted these people safely home. And “home” here was not Los Angeles;  home was heaven. And so He, who holds sway over every affair both in heaven and on the earth, intervened on these passengers’ behalf – and on behalf, possibly, of many other people on the ground.

I wonder whether we value God’s perspective  concerning our lives as He does?

Jacob’s ‘Mistake’

13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.

14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,

16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.

18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. Gen. 48:13-20

What a contrast! A man who can see God’s plan in the Spirit, and one who does not. And, we see here what happens when someone does not see in the Spirit and is confronted. Notice Joseph was “displeased” by his father Jacob’s actions.

In our country, my tribe is renowned. It is famous for all the wrong reasons, notably anger. I heard there is an anger management centre in New York. What is needed is for my entire tribe (which is very small, actually; this is affordable) to be airlifted to that centre in New York, NY and be given a crash program in anger management. I personally wouldn’t mind such a trip since I would get the chance to set my foot in the land of opportunity (although, truth be told, I was watching a clip of a street in Philadelphia recently and my conclusion was that some part of this great country has gone to the dogs).

Anyways, I was telling you about my tribe. In my country, when you introduce yourself as coming from my tribe, people generally step back a pace or two just to feel safe. We are feared that much.

With such a record-setting reputation, it makes it that much harder for someone from my tribe to have their right taken from them. They will fight to the death to hold on to their right. Nor do they take censure lying down.

That is how it has been for a big part of my life. I have been a fighter, and it was not the good fight of our faith. It took me a long time to finally come to the realization that I had a problem with people generally, but with my wife especially. It started out slowly, but I would criticize whatever she said or did. Nearly nothing she said seemed right or praiseworthy. I reached a point where even the slightest mistake on her part became a Mt. Everest for me. I was blowing up 24/7.

One time we had visitors at home and in the course of their stay, we took them to do some shopping in town. They wanted to buy a certain item, and my wife had already told them the price of the item, without my knowledge. When we arrived in town, they found to their dismay that the actual price of this item far exceeded the money they carried with them.

I asked them, “Who gave you the price?”

They said, “Mama” (my wife).

I was livid. I knew the right price and my wife had given them the wrong price without consulting with me! I took it personally that she would do something without consulting me.

Neither the visitors nor my wife had the additional money needed to purchase the item. I had the extra money; but in my heart I vowed I wouldn’t give out a dime. I vowed to let her suffer for her ‘stupidity’. I therefore whistled my way around the stalls as, from the corner of my eye, I watched my wife, visibly distressed,  haggling with the dealer for a price reduction. I felt extremely satisfied when the shopkeeper firmly kept repeating that a price reduction on that particular item was not possible.

If there is one person who can say that God is merciful and mean it, that person is me. At that particular moment that I was looking at my wife, God opened my eyes to see a vista of sorts. Deep inside me something stirred and I saw that God had all along been trying to do something to or for me through my wife’s many seeming mistakes, missteps, miscalculations, and oversights. Yes, the Lord showed me that it was He who was at work in all those things in my wife’s actions that were displeasing to me.

As children of God, we must acknowledge that nothing happens in our lives is by chance. More importantly still, we must realize that what appears displeasing to us in other people’s actions towards us is actually God at work. Joseph was “displeased”; but it was God at work in his father’s actions! And God works all for our good. It was all for Joseph and his sons’ good – and for the good of God’s Kingdom.

What displeases us in our natural ‘habitat’ is what we see in the natural. In the Spirit, though, what appears harmful to us in the natural is, in nearly every case, good and profitable to us in the Spirit. In the natural, Manasseh was the firstborn and there was absolutely no reason for Jacob to overstep him. But Jacob did overlook Manasseh – because he was answering God’s call in the Spirit.

When God sets out to do things His way, He does not need our permission. Our wills, our plans and our purposes are all twisted, and God is out to put things straight in our lives. God knows what is best for His Kingdom – and for us.

To end my saga now… As I stood watching my wife desperately trying to save an unsavable situation, and as the Lord put his finger on my pride and spiritual blindness, I broke down. Deeply humbled, I walked up to my wife and asked her, straight up, “How much do we need to add?”

“Five thousand”, she said.

I dipped into my pocket and came up with the money and humbly handed it to the shopkeeper.

Ever since that time, I have been very much aware of God’s dealings with me through my wife. I realized I had gone ‘overboard’ in the way I viewed and dealt with her and there is a lot of backtracking I have had to do in that regard since that day.

[Below: My wife is bound to make many mistakes; but God uses her actions to chastise me]

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None Is Good

1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

5 But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)

6 God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.

28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.

31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. Rom. 3:1-31

I once asked my pastor, the man I respect with everything I have within me, whether it is not possible that anyone will go to heaven without faith in Jesus. His answer was simple and pointed.

“No”, he said matter-of-factly. “The Name of Jesus is simply too eminent for anyone to supersede, whatever their qualifications.”

As he spoke, my heart throbbed with the truth of it all.

In my lifetime, I have seen many good people. I have met men and women of whom I could say with all of my heart that they were good. I have met, heard and read of people who did such extraordinarily good deeds that you could not but be moved by the goodness of what they had done. It had therefore become difficult for me, in my human state, to wrap my mind around the fact that, save for him who puts their faith in Jesus Christ, there is absolutely no good person in this world. But a time came when I had to decide whether to believe what I saw and discerned with my flesh-and-blood eyes or what the Bible says about man. And so it was that I decided to ask my pastor that question, just to make sure.

But the Bible even goes further and states:

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Is. 64:6

There are people who believe in the innate goodness of man. The Bible destroys all that and everything else related to such beliefs.

God is perfect and righteous. All of Him is light. In our human state, all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags before the Lord. The best of the best in us is, in fact, gross sin in God’s sight. Moreover, He is so high and lifted up that it would be the height of presumption to even think of ourselves as anywhere near possessing any quality that God possesses.

So, do we throw up our hands and lose hope in our ability to please God?

Not at all. There is hope, infinite hope. But that hope is in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, alone. When we humble ourselves and align our minds and hearts with the truth of God’s Word – that we are evil through and through – and confess Christ as Lord and Saviour, we become acceptable to God.

That breaks us, doesn’t it? It breaks our pride. If it does not, than we have not grasped the gist of the sacrifice that Christ offered on the cross. Unfortunately, there are too many of God’s children, particularly in this age and generation, who are simply too prideful to give up their self-importance even as they declare Jesus as Lord of their lives.

But this scripture should make us to realize just how insignificant we truly are in God’s sight if we do not give way to His Son, Jesus Christ. He, and He alone is our everything. May we gladly acknowledge that it is He alone who has brought us to be in right standing with God and it is He who shall lead us to God’s eternal Kingdom.

Let us never ever forget: there is none good; no, not one. All our goodness is attributable to Christ, and Him alone.

[Below: A bedroom with central heating in central Tanzania]

To Dwell With God

1 Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?

2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

3 He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. Is. 66:1-3

I once heard the preacher of a large mega-church, as he was preparing to deliver a sermon, say to his congregation, “The Lord sent me here to feed someone this morning. I have been hand-selected; I have been divinely picked; I have been Holy Ghost- anointed; I have been designated for this time… I will not fail you!”

I said, “Wow!!” That sounded heretical to me and it did not appear as if this man had ever read God’s words here:

“… to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

But… The man was strutting all over the podium and the people were so overcome with emotion that, if God Himself had dropped in and said to that preacher, “Could you please stop talking and go sit down for a minute”, there would have been a riot in that church.

Anyways…

You would be forgiven to think that at my age it would be extremely difficult for one to decide who their best friend, or the person they love most, is. Indeed, it is. I have so many people who are incredibly close to me, so many whom my heart yearns for in the Lord; so many who have sacrificed so much for me. There are literally thousands of people who vie for the No. 1 slot in my heart.

But, still, I know with God the answer comes easily enough if you were to ask Him who He loves most. God loves a man who has a humble heart. I personally know of many such people. But today I will talk of only one such person. Actually, this man lives with me right here in Singida. I have come to love this man with all my heart. And my love for him is not because of his proximity to me. No. I love him for the same reason that God loves him.

This man is one of the pastors with whom I work here. Not too long after this pastor heard the gospel of the cross, his small church and our small church decided to merge together in order to save on the rent we were paying and in time have enough money to buy a church plot. One of the brothers in his church had given out a part of his plot where they have put up a half finished structure. This semi-finished building has no roof and they have to put up tarpaulins at every service to provide the shade from the sun.

When some of the pastors in town heard that we were merging churches, they ‘prophesied’ our doom. They said, “You will not last even a month together.”

But the men who have opened their hearts to the gospel of the cross here in Singida have seen something in the Spirit, and I already had a lot of respect for this particular brother. But one day, not too long ago, he did something that broke all bounds in my esteem for him. He stood up in church – his church – and said, “Ever since I heard the gospel of the cross I have felt myself only getting smaller and smaller; and I have desired to become smaller still. And I have arrived at a place where all I feel I am worthy to do in this church is to put up the tarpaulins and to bring them down after the service. I have therefore asked my fellow pastors to put me off preaching for now.”

It was not just the words he spoke; but the power of a broken spirit that attended them. Now, if there is anything that has power in the Spirit, it is a man or woman who is broken in the Spirit. You could be “handpicked” for all we know, but if you do not have a humble and contrite spirit, you have no power in the Spirit.

Not a soul moved when this pastor made this announcement. There was deathly quiet as we weighed in on the pride in our hearts after hearing these words from this simple man.

A humble heart has respect with God above anything else; therefore God dwells with a humble heart (Is. 57:15). This translates into the fact that God’s power is manifested in the humble spirit.

Notice in our key scripture above that there is nothing you can really do to ‘surprise’ God. God says:

“The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”.

Just imagine: Heaven is God’s throne and the earth is His footstool. Now, if heaven is God’s throne, and earth merely His footstool, where are His upper body and head; in what ‘sphere’ do they reside?? And, pray, what can a mere earthling really do to surprise or please such a God?

Apparently, this pastor in Singida had stumbled upon the answer. It is humility of heart. We serve God with our humble hearts. That only, and nothing else. Thank God He does not look to the apostle, the prophet and to the many ‘mighty men of God’. On the contrary, He says:

“… but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

That’s simple and clear.

This pastor’s words: “All I feel I am worthy to do in this church is to put up the tarpaulins and to bring them down after the service” are branded on my heart as if with a hot iron. And I am sure they are equally branded in the hearts of those who heard him speak that day.

[A distant view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from the east]

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A Father’s Joy

Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be. – Sheldon Silverstein

I have a teenage son whom I am tempted to think does not please me as much as I would want him to. No, he is not rebellious in any sense of the word and he is actually pleasant to be around with. But, for me, there are the practical issues of daily life that I would love to see him get involved in more consistently and – for heaven’s sake – add some speed on!

So it was with some surprise, the other day as I was watering my sunflower garden that, out of the corner of my eye, I espied the window curtains to my son’s room moving. I looked up to see someone inside folding the said curtains and, soon after, opening the window. Upon looking closely, I realized it was my son who was doing that job.

Now, with some of these feelings, you never know where they come from. As I watched my son opening that window, I felt an incredible sense of relief and pride. This feeling was something not too far removed from what one would feel if their son won a scholarship to Harvard.

You must be thinking I am nuts. You must be wondering what could be so great about someone opening the window to their own room. But a little background is in order here, and I would want you to know that that curtain has been one of the sticking points between me and my son for a long time. Every time I entered his room during the daytime it was dark and it had a musty smell on account of the curtain and window not being opened. I had settled to lecturing him constantly about the value of having light and fresh air in his room. After which I would fold the curtains and open the window myself.

There was also a cobweb that I had been telling him to remove from the window panes for a week, and every time I entered the room it was still there. But, just yesterday I entered my son’s room and the cobweb was gone.

So there I was watering the sunflowers and my mind began moving at lightning speed. I thought: if I can feel so happy and relieved at my son doing something that pleases me, how are things up there with God when I do the littlest of His pleasure? I had never thought about it in exactly those terms, but on this day I found it fit the script quite well. The Bible says,

“If ye then, being evil…” (Mat. 7:11)

God is extremely happy and pleased, real time, whenever we do a little bit of His will. The prospects of such a thought are astronomical.

Because, whether we like the thought or not, we as God’s children are not much different than our teenage children. Problematic, to say the least and, at worst, outrightly rebellious. And it is on account of the fact that we are living under the new covenant of grace that we can get away with the things we do. But it is a far cry for most of us to say that much of the time we do that which is pleasing to God.

Quoting the Apostle Paul, which we love doing, is all right; but we better admit that, even though we strive to follow him, the man was simply out of our territory, at least most of us.

Anyways, to cut  long story short, ever since that day I have been walking on cloud nine, so to speak. I have felt propelled to consciously do that which is pleasing to God, well aware that this is real. The reality of God being pleased at me is astonishing to me. Moreover, my heart is filled with thanksgiving to God for the grace to realize that I can actually please Him through the abundant grace that He gives to me. That I can make God’s heart glad – what a grace! And… what an accomplishment!