It Is All Of God’s Grace

One time at a summer youth camp I was assigned to lead a group Bible quiz session. The minute I settled down in my seat I asked them to give me one of the names of the twenty four elders mentioned in Revelation chapter 4. The reaction I got from the young people was heavenly. It was as if I had asked them to tell me how many stars there are in the sky.

Many times, though, just like these young people, we fail to realize that heaven is about us. We think that heaven is a far-flung place that has nothing to do with us as humans!

So, who are the twenty four elders mentioned in Revelation 4? What are their names?

They are the men that we know of so well in the Bible. They are the twelve sons of Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin; and the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, namely, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the sons of Zebedee; Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James Alphaeus, Simon Zelotes, Judas the brother of James, and Matthias (Genesis 29:32-30:24; 35:18; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:26).

These are the men of whom Jesus said,

“Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mat. 19:28)

In all humility, I submit that in heaven these men might be having new names, different from the ones they had when they were down here on earth; but about who they are there is no question: the twenty four elders who constantly fall down and worship God in heaven with golden vials are the men whose lives the Bible is full of. The golden vials that they hold in heaven talk of perfection; and yet, when you look at the ‘honor roll’ of these men while they were here on earth, in some areas they were not the greatest examples of godliness.

Reuben slept with Bilhah, his father’s wife.

And then there is Simeon and Levi, whose anger is legendary. They went and killed the entire male population of the Shechemite tribe on account of their sister Dinah, who had been defiled.

Judah went in to his daughter-in-law mistaking her for a harlot.

Those are the ones we know of of the sons of Jacob. Except for Joseph and Benjamin, the rest were no better.

Of the apostles of Jesus, none could be more famous than Simon Peter, the man of whom Jesus said,

“17 Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail upon it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth hall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat. 16:24)

Peter was truly a great man according to the picture that Jesus painted of him here. He was a great symbol of the heavens. But this was the same man who would go on and cut off another man’s ear with a sword.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Jesus called “The sons of thunder” (Mk. 3:17). They had a temper like Hitler’s, and equally great and dark designs. They are famously known to have asked Jesus to allow them to call fire from heaven to consume an entire village (Luke 9:54). They harbored grand thoughts of power and control.

About the rest, whom not much is written, we can only imagine the worst.

Even after Jesus had ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit had come and the power of God was being revealed through them, the apostles still exhibited streaks of imperfection especially with regard to their seeming unwillingness to part ways with the Law of Moses (Gal. 2:11-12; Acts 21:18-21).

But all these men, whose weaknesses we are so well acquainted with, these are the men whom God has chosen to first sit with Christ in heaven.

How about us? Who is the strong man among us? Who does not sin? Who can stand before God on his own merit?

The great Apostle Paul wrote:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am… I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)

Let’s all relax. Take a big breathe. Realize you are as mortal as these twenty four men whom God has elevated to behold His face. None are where they are by their own merit. They are all there by the grace of God. Thank God for His grace. And desire to know God’s grace rather than any strength or virtue you think you might possess.

Yes, we are to strive for perfection; but don’t think perfection is just around the bend. It is more about God’s grace than your striving. In fact, take more time to thank God for His grace above anything else that you do. God’s grace ALONE makes us who we are, and gives us any righteousness that we might have. There is NOTHING about us in all this. It is all of God’s grace, mercy and love to us.

No wonder Jesus said that when we kneel down to pray, the very first words that ought to come from our lips are words of praise and thanksgiving to God!!

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” (Mat. 6:9)

Take all the time in the world to thank and glorify God for His grace and mercy.

God’s Grace Revealed

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:19

The account of Elijah and the widow of Zarepath in 1 Kings 17:13-14:

13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.”

After Elijah had eaten, the widow and her son would eat. Isn’t it wonderful that God puts us so close to Him? Immediately after God, man follows in importance. God does not place cows, or horses and, most certainly, not dogs or cats, in second place! No, He places man.

Writing to the Philippians in Philippians chapter 4, the Apostle Paul follows the same pattern that we see with Elijah and the widow of Zarepath. After telling them about the importance of their offering to God, he then tells them,

“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)

When it comes to importance, there is nothing that can supersede God; certainly not us with our well-documented failings and shortcomings! The Bible says of God:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (Jam. 1:17)

He alone is perfect in holiness. That is an attribute that no creature can lay even the shadow of a claim to. Why should God not be first in everything? In the world, men are put first because of the qualities they possess. In the Spirit, God has that peculiar attribute that puts Him first above everything else.

And yet… God has gone even further than we could ask or think. In giving His Son Jesus Christ for our sins, He has of His own will put us ahead of Himself! That is unimaginable, but it is true. It is in this difficult-to-comprehend line of love that Paul writes the Romans:

1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…” (Rom. 9:1-3)

That is unimaginable love. God has put us first!

It is in this regard that we should count it an immeasurable grace to have God think of us the way He does. We are not worthy of it, yet God regards us. Job had this revelation, for in Job 7:17-18 he says:

17 What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? 18 And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?”

Oh, the power and grace in these words! Notice Job understood that God not only magnifies man and has set His heart upon him but, in order for this state of affairs to be manifested, God visits man every morning and tries him! Should we therefore not rejoice when various trials come our way? As the Apostle James says:

“2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Jam. 1:2-4

That is how God has set His heart on man. He has not set His heart on man so that man can have his fill of money and worldly material things. On the contrary, it is so his soul may prosper.

And that is how we can truly appreciate the grace of God upon our lives.

[Amidst a tangle of assorted greens, a lone sunflower plant provides a graceful contrast]


Called to Things Above

The Bible says in Colossians 3:1-4 “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory”.

The Bible is a spiritual book. But there are many people who read it as though it were an earthly storybook and they go astray. During our recent visit to Nairobi my wife and I were travelling on a bus and on one of its stops it stopped directly opposite a church which had these words written on its doorpost: “Read: Zech. 3 and Isa. 61”.

We both got intrigued and wanted to know what this was all about, so my wife got out her Bible and read. In both scriptures we found the word “turban”. Now, this is a denomination where both men and women wear turbans; but they got the idea from Bible. And yet, the spirit of these scriptures is far from the understanding that this church has.

In the same manner when the Bible says to raise our eyes to the heavens it does not mean we look up to the blue skies above. Nor does the Bible imply that we should go climbing mountains in the belief that we will find God there. All these things have their merits, of course, but they are not what make us spiritual.

Now, in the scripture from Colossians we just quoted above Paul is talking about seeking “those things which are above”. In the first place, what “above” is he talking about? It is heaven, God’s abode. If there is an earthly abode, then there is also a heavenly abode.

And what are the “things” he is referring to? It is spiritual things. The Bible says God is Spirit. If there are physical things, then there must be spiritual things. The Apostle Paul makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 15:44. Some people lump the two together and want to make it appear as if these two are one and the same thing. But they are two separate entities, just as heaven and earth are two different realms.

There are things that pertain to our bodies and this material world and there are, unfortunately, many Christians who seek after these things. But there are also things that concern the spirit and this is what Paul is telling us to seek after. This is why the gospel of prosperity (which many preachers are careful to say they believe in) has no place absolutely in the Kingdom of God. We are called to seek after only things that pertain to our spirits. Of course, that is bad news for the flesh (including mine) for the flesh does not want to let go the things of this world; but, on the other hand, we must strive to understand God and God is Spirit.

In the remaining verses of this chapter Paul talks of putting off the things that pertain to our former, carnal ‘old man’ and putting on the things that make up the character of the spiritual man – mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forgiveness, love, peace and other, similar virtues.

In a nutshell, we could call these things the grace of God. In other words, we are called to walk in the grace of God. Ever since Jesus came to earth, the Bible says grace has been poured out on earth “without measure” (Jn. 3:34).

I was once discussing with my pastor, Amas, about why so many people die in their sins and he told me: “God has shown His love for mankind by giving His Son Jesus to die for their sins; there is nothing more He could possibly do.”

In the same way, we could say God has given His grace to the Church through giving us His Holy Spirit – and there is nothing more He can do. There is so much grace that has been released to the church, just so God’s children might know what their true inheritance is and that they might not run after the fading things of this world, at the expense of the well-being of their souls! God calls us to seek after His grace which He has lovingly poured so abundantly upon us.

Following Jesus.

In John 13:36-38 we read: “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for my sake? Most assuredly I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied me three times.’” NKJV

 When I first got saved, I was on fire for the Lord. I immediately said goodbye to my old, sinful lifestyle and former friends, and within a few weeks I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I clearly remember wondering what was taking the Lord so long in coming back to pick us up: I was in such a hurry to get to Heaven.

As far as I was concerned there were three simple steps to getting to Heaven: get saved, be filled with the Holy Spirit; and await the Last Trumpet. I had completed the first two requirements, and was just waiting on the Lord to fulfill the last one. I did not feel that anything else needed to happen in my life.

It is clear, however, from the above scripture in John 13 that Jesus was telling Peter and His other disciples that they were not yet ready to go to Heaven. In other words, even though they had been with Him for three years, there was still a work that needed to be done in their lives before they could be considered worthy to inhabit that holy abode.

For me, this reality hit me hard when I married my wife four years into my salvation. Prior to that, as a young, unmarried man, I was considered the humblest person in the church and even in our neighborhood. But when I got married, my innocent demeanor suddenly collapsed. Hailing from one of the fiercest tribes in Tanzania my desire to control my wife was absolute. I wanted her to “lie low like an envelope”. Unfortunately, she comes from the most stubborn tribe and she proved to be too independent-minded. She wouldn’t budge an inch under any of my threats. This enraged me and I became bitter and envious, even violent. Within weeks after our honeymoon, we were knocking at our pastor’s door, and for all the wrong reasons.

My wife and I both loved the Lord with all our hearts. But there were areas in our lives where we just could not seem to attain victory. So, although the pastor tried to mend things here and there, ultimately we simply accepted the fact of our defeat and went on with our silent inner conflicts. It was not until a few years later, when the Lord allowed the revelation of His Son into our lives through the preaching of the Gospel of the Cross by Brother Miki, that we began to realize what a tremendous work God needed to do in our hearts. We both saw that even though we had been saved for many years, and had left off the old life, somehow the old man was still very much alive in us. The fruits of that were all too clear.

We may appear polite, meek and humble and even holy before men, but it is God who really knows our hearts, and that is what counts. We may not do these things on the outside, but in our hearts we could be proud men and women, adulterers, judgmental, slanderers, spiteful, unforgiving, envious, haters. God knows all about these things. There is a world inside our hearts that far outspans the universe we live in, a world which God knows all too well, and which He desires to put in order. That is why Jesus could tell Peter: ‘No, you cannot join me now. Even though you have been with me these three years you are not Heavenly material yet. You will need to wait until a more perfect work is accomplished in you by the Holy Spirit whom I shall send to you.’

With God, the only humble man or woman  is the person who allows the work of the Cross in their hearts. The Apostle Paul was one such person. He says: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). A clear, positive acceptance. No excuses, justifications, explanations, defenses or arguments.

It took me many years to realize and accept that although I was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, there was a deep work that I needed to yield myself to if I were to become a truly spiritual person. There was a time I was not willing to confront that reality. But today, even I myself realize that were it not for the grace of God working in me, I am just an ordinary sinner. Without the Cross, and the grace that goes with it, I am nothing in the sight of God.

The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that even though they had all the gifts of the Spirit operating amongst them, yet they were still spiritual babes, because they still carried the carnal nature with them. But thank God Paul had the solution to their problem. He tells them he purposed in his heart that he would not preach to them any other gospel “except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” -1 Cor. 2:2. The Cross was the solution.

This was a man who truly loved God’s people. He wanted to bring them to true spiritual maturity. Unfortunately for us today, many preachers are not like Paul. They do not preach to us that challenging gospel that Paul preached his churches. Instead, they preach this mushy, cuddly gospel which only results in entrenching us deeper into spiritual babyhood.

Dare we think that we can just breeze into Heaven with our carnal natures simply because we are saved? Dare we believe that just because we are saved we are perfect yet? The carnal nature is a force we cannot dismiss lightly in our lives. But God has given us a way to deal with this enemy of God. The Cross brings death to the flesh and its desires.

Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life. Those are three stages in a Christian’s life. If we are not walking in the revelation of the Cross and dying to self, our journey ends right at the door. But God wants us to press on, until we reach the place of perfection, the place of true holiness.

This is a serious matter, and we ought to pay great heed to the Cross in our lives, otherwise we might not arrive at the “life”. And what are the implications of that? An analogy of this is found in 1 Samuel 14:32, where we read about Agag, king of the Amalekites, who, when he was called upon by the Prophet Samuel, came forward “cheerfully” (NASB), clearly ignorant of the seriousness of the issue at hand. (Some versions say he came “fat and trembling”; another version (NLT), “full of hope”). There was just too much flippancy about him! Unbeknown to him, the matter was very serious in God’s eyes, and it bore very serious consequences. God’s wrath had been kindled by Agag’s ungodly manner of life and He was about to exact vengeance on him. The prophet Samuel cut him in pieces before the Lord.

We too could die in many ways if we are not careful to allow the Cross to deal with our carnal natures. God is not in the joking business.

When you allow yourself to be humble enough, God will bring you to that place of realization and will show you how to defeat that carnal nature in you. In other words He will reveal the Cross to you. This is what happened to the Apostle Paul. When God met him on the road to Damascus, Saul, as he was known then, did not engage God in a discussion. Rather, he asked the Lord, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

To which Jesus replied, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” We all know the instructions that God gave Ananias concerning Saul: “…For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).

In Galatians 1:13-14, Paul has this to say of himself, “But when it pleased God… to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood.”

Little wonder, then, that this man, Paul, became the spiritual father of the modern Church. We are called upon to follow his example. We, too, need to desire the work of the Cross in our lives, so that our lives may count for something in the Church and in God’s sight.

If we hold onto our lives we will lose everything.

Obedience to the Gospel.

“…while, through the proof of this of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men” 2 Cor. 9:13

Throughout 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 the Apostle Paul is talking to the Corinthians about giving. It would appear that this church had stalled in the area of giving, and Paul was trying to revive their zeal in this very important ministry. (Important in that firstly, it met the needs of saints; secondly, the saints gave abounding thanksgiving to God for the execution of this ministry; and, lastly, it brought holy challenge to other saints to give as they beheld the grace that was evident in those who participated in this ministry – 2 Cor. 12-14.)

The more important thing here, however, is that Paul was reminding the Corinthian church that the proof of their obedience to the gospel was through their participating in ministry – in this case, that of giving.

Many times we love talking the talk; but walking it is a far different matter. But with the gospel we have nowhere to hide; nor can we just boast in all the many things we know concerning the gospel. The reality of the working of the gospel in our lives is not our proclamation of it, but rather the fruit of our obedience to it (which, we must be quick to point out, is a work of grace lest we be tempted to work this out in our own strength, which leads to our seeking our own glorification!)

It would appear these Corinthians had been mouthing the gospel for over a year, but had been unable even to fulfill their own financial vows and commitments! In a most gentle but firm manner, the Apostle Paul says no. This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ! In other words, Paul is saying that the gospel will be seen to work in our lives when we literally “work out” our salvation. The reality of the Corinthians’ lives was different from the gospel they were proclaiming.

Many people “fear and tremble” in church only, or in the presence of other people. During worship time you can hear people saying things like, “Oh, Lord, I am trembling right now before your holy presence”; or, “Speak, Lord, I am just waiting to hear your voice and I will obey right away”; and, “Oh, Lord, I am like a baby…”, etc. There is nothing wrong with all these proclamations, as long as we are walking that talk.

But many of these same people have a hard time allowing God to mould their lives to fit their words. But that is where God is interested in in our lives. We need to really humble ourselves and realize where God wants us to be in order to have the right to proclaim His gospel. It is in that place of humility, where we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I am nothing” (2 Cor. 12:11); so that God can have His way in us.

God will not be glorified just because we say “Praise the Lord!” But when by God’s grace we obey the gospel by living in practical terms a life worthy of the gospel, God is glorified, and we are enriched by His power in our lives.

Hollow words mean nothing with the gospel; and we cannot hide from that reality. The Bible says: “Be men of courage; be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13, NIV). Let us be men enough to come forth and cry to God, telling Him that we need to see the fruit, the reality of His life in us. When that happens in our lives, then and only then can we have reason to boast.