Marangu!

Two weeks ago, our umbrella church organisation, CTMI (www.ctmi.org) held its 15th regional East African ladies’ conference in the small Tanzanian town of Marangu, situated on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The heartwarming moments, and the inexpressibly beautiful scenery, were priceless.

For most of the wonderful ladies who travelled from Singida to attend the conference, it was their very first time to travel so far from home and to such a beautiful gathering as this, not to mention the paradise-like greenery of the Mt. Kilimanjaro ecosystem.

For unavoidable reasons, I was not able to post this report earlier. But now, here, in pictures, is the story of their experience.

Stepping out.

Ogling at the age-old eucalyptus trees at Marangu-Mtoni.

One of the beautiful services at the conference.

Two of our sisters from Kenya.

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The Singida ladies welcoming their “mother”, Flo (yours truly), who arrived late.

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Some of the Singida ladies braved the early morning cold to catch a glimpse the elusive mountain.

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Mt. Kilimanjaro can just be seen in the background.

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Finally, a moment of rest for Pastor Stephen, sister Frida and the elders from the Lake Region.

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Prior to starting on their journey back home (and fully refreshed in their spirits), a group photograph for the Singida ladies.

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And… here comes the bus. Bye bye little town of Marangu.

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Grasping The Eternal – Part 1

5 And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.

8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?

9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?

12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Mat. 16:5-12

The disciples of Jesus (if they had any wits about them) must have thought that Jesus was about to start a cult – THE CULT OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, it would have been called. Yes, it appeared that was the direction Jesus was headed. Now, if it had turned out to be so – which, bless the Lord, it turned out not to be the case – that would have been an Old Testament cult. Unfortunately, today, in Christianity, there are so many such cults, cults that are embedded in the Old Testament. There are people today who will defend the old covenant to their death at the expense of the new covenant. Well-meaning men, but who have no idea of the work of grace that the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished at the cross. Such men, such churches, are steeped in law.

I heard one ‘apostle’ from Philadelphia, in the U.S., claim he bars men in his church from sitting together with women in the pews for the sake of discipline. Yep, those were his very words. He doesn’t want the men in his church, he said, looking down strange women’s exposed cleavages, or have them dropping their pens every now and then in a desperate attempt to look at their female counterparts’ beautifully-formed ankles and leg calves!

The Old Testament law, under which many churches today are entrenched, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. With the gospel of Jesus Christ, law works; but it works the exact opposite of Godliness. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:3:

“But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.”

All law does is to remind one of sin. Or, to put it more clearly, it makes you aware of sin. That is what it says also, very clearly, in Romans 7:7-11:

“7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.”

It couldn’t be stated clearer than that.

I love this preacher from Philly, he is a well-meaning man, but he has got it all wrong. He does not have the revelation of the gospel of grace. By doing what he is doing, he is putting law on God’s people. And you cannot lead people into God’s righteousness by harnessing them under Old Testament law. By his own admission, all the men seated in his church are unrepentant sinners who need the law to keep them from committing sin! His ‘church’ therefore ceases to be the church, but a cult.

On the other hand, the gospel of “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23) – which the Apostle Paul preached, glory to God! – is solid gold. It is the power of God. God’s grace, that comes through the working of the cross, breaks the power of sin in our lives. If, say, a short-skirted woman were to sit next to me, a man, who is being ministered to under the new covenant (the true gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby I am crucifying my flesh daily) that short-skirted lady would not make the slightest difference to me in the natural. If she had the most visible cleavage, still it wouldn’t make any difference. The likely scenario is that I would yearn for her in a Godly manner. On the other hand, when you are under the ministry of law, in such a situation you would not be free. You would be under pressure. Your un-crucified flesh would give you problems. The very thought of looking at that woman would have you beginning to fret. That is the difference between law and grace. Grace sets people free; law binds them. Preachers are stunting and ultimately killing God’s people spiritually by preaching law instead of grace to them. The law cannot set anyone free from sin.

Anyways, back to Jesus and His disciples…

[To know Christ is to understand grace]

Businessman Or Preacher?

34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mk. 8:34-36

It is incredibly strange how Jesus’s teaching that one should deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him is juxtaposed alongside the prosperity gospel that is rife in the church today.

There is an infinite difference between motivational teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. The principles embodied in motivational teachings are not for the church; they are for the world. Jesus should not even be mentioned in such teachings, because He did not come to seek after the success of this world.

Millions in the church will try these principles and still remain poor because God is not involved in such principles – or their end result, which is worldly riches and success.

These teachings by Dr. Myles Munroe only encourage greed for worldly success and glory, and worldly riches. (The Bible calls greed “covetousness, which is idolatry” – Col. 3:5)

In the end, so much good $25,000 did Dr. Munroe.

 

Sell All/Take Up The Cross/Invest

17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. Mk. 10:17-22

This post boasts all the subjects that I have listed in the title above.

One would need to write whole books and more to dissect this small portion of scripture, so I will not attempt to do that here. Instead, I will just home in on verses 21 and 22. The Bible says that Jesus beheld this young man and He loved him. That singular fact is of great importance to us in understanding God’s heart for us.

When Jesus loved this young man, it is clear from scripture what Jesus did. The account says He told this young man:

“… go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

We cannot assume that, if Jesus truly loved us, that He would tell us anything less than what He told this young man. But the first thing is to be sure that Jesus does love us. Does Jesus truly love us? You bet He does. He gave His life on the cross for us. But the flesh has a problem with the love of Jesus for, when Jesus says He loves us, the flesh would want Him to shower us with American dollars and houses and lands; and the occasional private jet. Unfortunately, this is the prevailing gospel in the church today. But it is a worldly gospel, of the flesh, and demonic.

But, on the contrary, when Jesus turns His loving gaze upon us, He only has one thing to say to us:

“… go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

Jesus asks us to sell all that we have, to take up our cross and follow Him!

Now, we might not be rich like this man was, and we might have a problem with the “sell whatsoever thou hast” when we probably have nothing to sell. Not all of us have things to sell. But “selling all” here does not necessarily mean giving away or parting with our material riches. More importantly, it means denying ourselves for the sake of the gospel. When you deny yourself, you have “sold all”!

And the poor here might not be referring to the materially poor. But what if the poor here refers to anyone who might need something from you; say, for example, someone feels they need to rob you, or to insult you, or to hit you on the cheek. That’s a poor person right there, and you need to “sell all” and let them have their way with you. Actually, the gospel of Jesus Christ is that demanding.

The gift, or joy, of denying ourselves! The pleasure is all mine, said the Apostle Paul:

“9… Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 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.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

The flesh is against the cross. There is nothing in all what Paul writes here that the flesh can rejoice in. But Paul, who in the Spirit saw the beauty of the cross, rejoiced in these contrary states of affairs, things contrary to everything that the flesh stands for. They were the things that would make him spiritually rich.

Denying oneself means exactly that: denying your rights! That is why Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-42:

“38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”

In all what Jesus said to do here, there is a denying of self. In the Spirit, you gain your life by losing it.

Finally, let us see something slightly different but equally important. Scripture says that Jesus beheld this young man and loved him. Now, even in ordinary life, when you love someone, you want the best for them, don’t you? Jesus saw this man, He saw in the Spirit the worldly wealth that this man had and Jesus immediately knew that He could turn this young man, whom He had taken an instant liking to, into one of the top “billionaires” in God’s heavenly Kingdom. All the young man needed to do was… invest. In the Spirit, Jesus saw what this man’s worldly riches were worth in heaven if he could invest them wisely. Jesus decided to inform the young man of the Good News.

“Friend”, He said. “I have for you the best investment proposition that both heaven and earth can offer.

“… go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor”.

Jesus said,

“… and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”

But, sadly, the rich young man could not see in the Spirit. Unfortunately, he did not see things as Jesus saw them. He did not see the great reward that would be his in heaven if he followed Jesus’ advice to sow in the flesh and reap in the Spirit. He could see only in the flesh; and all he saw was his valuable wealth – and someone (Jesus) trying to take it away from him.

[A woman and a young man meditating]

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The Testimony Of Philemon – Part 1

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Mat. 5:6)

The week following our visit to the churches in Lighwa (see my recent post, “An Unforgettable ‘Safari’”), the Lord granted me the immense pleasure of visiting yet another village. This time, it was the church in Minyughe, where our very first village church is located. I was delivering on a promise I had made to the local pastor, Paul Dude, some months back. This church is growing at a very satisfactory rate, both in numbers and in spiritual stature and we regularly send pastors from our pastorate in Singida Town to minister there. But I personally had not visited for a considerable while, and it was with much pleasure that I finally found myself on a bus headed to Minyughe.

When I arrived, Pastor Dude took me to see Brother Philemon and his wife, two of the people that we have ‘fished’ from the big charismatic denominations. We fish out –without apologies – people who are tired of going to these and other dead or dying churches. These are people who are tired of all the lifeless hype and the twisting of scripture to serve men’s selfish purposes that goes on in these churches. For this reason, we have become enemies of very big church people here – pastors, bishops, self-appointed apostles and every kind of self-serving preacher. But we march on unfaltering and unfazed.

That does not mean we do not evangelize and bring in brand new converts, people who are receiving Jesus into their lives for the first time. But it is the former group that I wish to talk on for a while. Jesus said,

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Mat. 5:6)

There are two groups of believers: those who hunger for the truth; and those who don’t. According to scripture, there people in church who will hunger after other things other than the righteousness of God. That is what it says in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

That scripture right there is talking about people who are in church! But the gospel of Jesus Christ is for those who thirst and hunger for the truth. There are people who hunger for the truth of God’s Word, praise God! These people are not satisfied by the lies and theatrics that go on in much of so-called churchdom. Nor by the signs and wonders. Of signs and wonders, Jesus said tiredly,

“Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.” (Mk. 8:12)

In fact, let us read the entire account.

“11 And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. 13 And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.” (Mk. 8:11-13)

Notice verse 12. So tiring, this business of seeking after miracles.

Notice also verse 13. It says He left the sign seekers. It does not say that He left them and came back some time later.

When someone who thirsts and hungers for the truth hears God’s Word – the gospel of the cross (as so clearly stated forth by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:23) – they throw off everything and go for it with all their hearts. Such a man is Philemon and his wife.

I arrived late in Minyughe and Pastor Dude took me to see Philemon that same evening. Even before we arrived at his house, the stars had already began peeking out of the clear sky. In the fading light of the evening we found Philemon seated outside, shaving his daughter’s head ready for school the next day. How happy he was to see us, and how glad we were to see him! It was like an old family reunion.

We thought we would be staying at his house for ten minutes or so, but we ended up staying for more than an hour. Philemon had a story he wanted to narrate to me. He wanted to tell me the story of his conversion, and I gladly obliged. I blocked out everything else, including the time of night, and gave myself wholly to his audience. The following is Philemon’s testimony of his salvation, told in his own words.

[Night had already began setting in when we went to see Philemon]

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[We found Philemon shaving his daughter’s head]

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An Unforgettable ‘Safari’

… And he went round about the villages, teaching. Mk. 6:6

I know I have stated this elsewhere in this blog; but I cannot say it often enough. One of the greatest blessings that I count in my life is God placing me in the Tanzanian hinterland. I live in the big of the Tanzanian interior where the towns are small – and the bush land expansive. Here, just a few miles outside of town, one dives immediately into the villages, and into the bush. And for me, the bush is second only to heaven – an infinitely far second, I hurry to admit; but a second, nonetheless. If you took me from the African bush to a place, say, like central New York, NY, it would be a waste of air fare. I would just have to find a way of coming back to the place I love with all my heart. For me, living in the Tanzanian hinterland is an inexpressibly big and enduring adventure.

So it was with much excitement that on Saturday afternoon, me and my fellow pastor friend, Mwendo, took a bus – the old rugged type – to journey to a village some 30 or 40 kilometers outside of town, to preach the gospel of the cross. My heart beat with excitement as we plunged into the countryside, I hungrily taking in all the sights outside; and savoring the smells and voices of the village people inside the bus. Being inside the bus was like being in a large outdoor market; everyone knew everyone else and people gathered together in groups, some opting to stand rather than sit, in order to join and share in the camaraderie. My friend Mwendo, a local Turu man, was seated next to an engaging lady and they talked throughout the two hours it took us to arrive at our destination. (The bus stopped nearly every hundred metres or so!)

I, being the kind of guy who can never make conversation and unable to communicate in the local dialect, sat quietly alone but, unknown to anyone else inside the bus, tremendously enjoying myself.

And then, finally, we arrived at our destination, the village of Lighwa. Here we found our host, Peter, with some of his elders, awaiting us. He warmly welcomed us to his home and it was a joy to meet his lovely wife and younger children. Some of the older ones are married and live elsewhere.

At night we sat outside and watched the stars. For the first time, I had a real audience for my favorite subject, space. I showed them the ‘clouds’ of stars. I told them, “Those are not the clouds from which we receive rain. They are layers upon layers of stars. And each one of those stars are millions, probably billions, of miles apart.”

My listeners were unaware of such information and they sat there deeply entranced by what I had to say about space. They were seeing the starry night all anew.

I noticed that in Pastor Peter’s large compound there was no sign of a dog. This appeared unusual to me, so I asked him where the dogs were. He told me, “I had very fierce dogs, but the hyenas carried them all off.”

Hyenas have an insatiable taste for dog meat and, when they come to a homestead, they will hunt the dogs rather than the goats or sheep. I asked Peter how he guarded his large herd of cattle and goats. He showed me his incredibly tall ‘Trump wall’ built out of trees and huge branches and said, “Hyenas can’t climb over that.”

I asked him, “Are there no lions about?”

“No”, he said. That was a great relief for me. I have absolutely no fear of hyenas; but with lions it’s a completely different story, because I happen to know what they are capable of. Lions are not to be tangled with.

Anyways… The next morning, Sunday, we attended church. This was the climax of our visit to Lighwa. The church is a small mud building which seats about 40 people. A fellow pastor, Antony, had joined with his small congregation also.

Once the service started, we were treated to the usual run of entertainment – a gutsy choir and very loud pre-recorded music. Mwendo and I weathered it all patiently.

Finally, it was time for the preaching of God’s Word. Pastor Peter took the podium and read from Acts 16:9:

“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”

He turned to Mwendo and I and said, “Brethren, you have crossed many villages to come here. It is because we need your help. Please, welcome, and do help us.”

Mwendo was the first to go. Extremely fiery, as usual. One hour later, I stood up to preach. We preached to them

“Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

We’ve been to many churches but I have to say that the church in Lighwa excelled them all in their acceptance of the gospel. The response was spontaneous, and extremely fulfilling. After we had done preaching and praying, the pastor stood up and let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. He told us of how they had been robbed blind by preachers and how when they first invited us, they did so with much trepidation and many misgivings. But now, he could see no way forward for the church except for the gospel they had just heard, the gospel of the cross. The church’s response – and ours – was worth a million dollars!

Very late in the evening, we commandeered a lone motorbike to take us back home since there are no buses on Sunday… and we had to be back in town that very evening because I had an important appointment. Mwendo sat behind the driver and I sat behind Mwendo. The driver then took off at a very high speed and I quickly had to decide whether to ask him to slow down or I start praying. Considering the distance we had to travel, I opted for the latter. I prayed silently, but with my eyes open; somehow I could not bring myself to close them. In the fading light of the evening, trees and bushes flashed by, and the adrenaline pumped in my blood as I realized that at the speed at which we were going, if anything happened, the next day they would be singing funeral songs at my house. But this was a risk we had decided to take.

But the man was a pro. He had years of experience on these roads. Finally, at 8 p.m. I arrived home, exhausted but unharmed. And there, in warmth of the kitchen lights and fire, I found my ‘appointment’ waiting for me. It was my wife, who had dashed from her station in a distant village where she had been for the last one week, to come and visit. She would be leaving early Monday morning.

[Our bus arrives at Lighwa]

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[Pastors Peter and Antony welcome us]

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[An indefatigable man of God, Pastor Peter]

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[The church and congregation]

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[Pastor Antony expressing himself with unbounded joy]

 

[Pastor Peter’s ‘Trump Wall’]

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[My Sunday evening ‘appointment’]

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Prosperity Not Gospel

When John the Baptist came preaching in Judea, he did not have even a shirt on his back. The Bible says:

“And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”  (Mat. 3:4)

The man was that poor materially. Moreover, John went on and preached, saying:

“He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” (Lk. 3:11)

When Jesus lived here on earth, the Bible says of Him:

“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Mat. 8:20)

And, pray, what have we here today? We have preachers who own private jets and million-dollar homes and cars and who claim to preach the same gospel that John and Jesus preached.

Aw, c’mon! C’mon!!

[Prosperity preachers are not much different from this fellow. Scheming and conniving to get their paws on their material “dues”]