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.

[Imperfect as life is, friends never say goodbye!]

Advertisements

Paul – A True Servant

1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cencrea: 2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. 7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. 9 Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. 11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. 12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. 13 Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. 15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, and Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you…. 21 Timotheus, my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you. 22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in  the Lord. 23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother. Rom. 16:1-23

Ah, the Apostle Paul! Paul’s life is a study in the working of the grace of God in every way.

Notice how close and personal Paul was to the people he ministered to. This was another grace that he had, apart from the grace to preach the gospel. Paul had the grace to live, interact with and know God’s people. He knew each one of them intimately. Of course, Paul did not Google their profiles. On the contrary, he paid the price to get to know them in as fine details as he did.

Notice also Paul’s salutation in his epistle to Philemon.

“1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearlly beloved, and fellowlabourer, 2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house…” (Phlm. 1:1-2)

How did Paul come to relate to God’s people in such an intimate way?

Paul lived with the people of God. One of the things that I love about the Apostle Paul was that he did not end up in 5-star hotels when he visited the churches. Rather, he lodged in brethren’s houses. Here he tells us who his host was. It was Gaius, a brother in the local church.

In that way, Paul got to know each one of God’s people individually.

You cannot get to know people intimately if you are a hotel-based preacher. Preachers always tell people how much they need to have that all-important privacy in order to be with the Lord, etc. My reckoning is that you should spend all the time you need to be with the Lord before you go to the conference or meeting. Once you join up with God’s people, you are their property and you should avail yourself to them fully. You are not, for example, to come to the service just in time to be welcomed to the pulpit with the reasoning that you could not have come earlier because you did not want your anointing to be tainted, etc. You couldn’t possibly be more anointed than the Apostle Paul was!

Some preachers, especially here in Africa, stay in their hotel rooms long after the services have began. Meanwhile, God’s people are forced to sing for hours just waiting for the man (or woman) of God to show up!

Again, if you, a preacher has any intention of relating to God’s people, you are not to be whisked away in air-conditioned cars – sometimes a whole procession of them – and treated with gloved hands as if you are the most important person in that meeting. The most important person in that meeting are the people God has sent you to minister to. As a matter of fact, you should make every effort to sacrifice as much of your time, energy, money, comfort and freedom as possible for the sake of God’s people.

If possible, walk with the people of God to their homes.

A true servant of God is he who will serve God’s people. He will spend time with God’s people, serving them in whatever way they need to be served. Above all, he will not desire, nor encourage red-carpet treatment for himself. He will desire to walk the narrow road in every sense of the word to the end that he may be an example of what the given Christian life ought to be. To this end he will be like our Lord Jesus Christ who had

“not where to lay his head.” (Lk. 9:58)

If anyone deserved to be lodged in a 5-star hotel, it was the Lord Jesus Christ. But He even did not have a place to lay his head.

And pray, what will your reward be for living such a sacrificial life? There is the heavenly reward, of course. But apart from that God will reward you with the joy of knowing your brothers and sisters in greater intimacy, as we see Paul here. Here we see Paul’s joy as he connects with each brother and sister whom he has known in Rome. In verse 15 he even says,

“Salute… Nereus, and his sister…”

I am sure that if Paul knew of Nereus’ sister’s name, he would have addressed her by name. It could well be (conjecture on my part) that Nereus’ sister was not even a member of the church; but Paul got to know this family real close and he therefore includes her in his greetings.

The point is, Paul was a man who knew his people well. God’s people were not just numbers to him. He does not say, “I am glad to hear you have 200 members in the church in Rome”; as desirable as having a large number of church members is.

In sacrificing his life for the sake of God’s people in this way, Paul perfected his service to Christ.

[Paul lived with the people of God and he took the trouble to know every one of them individually]

IMG_20190426_131604

God’s Hidden Purpose – Part 1

8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Christ Jesus: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Eph. 3:8-11

So much to contemplate here, so I will make this post a series.

Notice, first, how Paul perceived himself.

“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given…”

This was no false humility. This was Paul! Paul dared not consider himself anything above what he states here. “The least of all the saints…” he said of himself. Such humility simply takes your breathe away.

And yet, unbeknown to us, God through Paul was stating exactly who He gives His grace to. The Apostle James put it out in black and white.

“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (Jam. 4:6)

Let a man not just mouth the words, but let him live that life, and God has material to work with. And, y’know, people think that where the big crowds are, that’s where God is at. Oh, please! No one could possibly pull in bigger crowds than the devil. The Bible tells us that “many” there be that follow the way that leadeth to destruction (Mat. 7:13). If we are talking about a mega-church, the devil has the largest.

On the other hand, “few” find the way to eternal life.

The Church, Christ’s Bride, His Body, is like a diamond. Rare. And the men whom God puts in charge of His Church are even rarer. God cannot give anything but His best for His Church. The men whom God has put on earth to birth and nurture the Church are therefore the best of the best. They are called apostles.

The Bible firmly declares,

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles…” (1 Cor. 12:28)

The apostles are the best of the best.

That is why the Apostle Paul could make such a claim:

“Unto me… is this grace given”.

Why?

Ha! Simply because he was the best. And Christ gives His Body, the Church, the best.

[“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” – Eph. 5:25]

Image12545

Eternal Life – God’s Mystery

12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. Lk 17:12-19

Indeed,

“strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Mat. 7:14)

Only one man saw something different. One man out of ten. That is how difficult it is to see the things of the Spirit.

But first…

It is not written, but the sight of the lepers  standing “afar off” must have shattered Jesus’ heart into a thousand pieces. The compassion that this Man had knew no bounds. And when they begged Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”, knowing He had the power to do what they asked Him to, He couldn’t have been more glad to oblige.

“Go shew yourselves unto the priests.” He spoke casually; but He was excited, for He knew the profound miracle that would befall them along the way.

“And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” (v.14)

Jesus was happy at their cleansing; yet nothing could send Jesus’s heart pounding harder than what happened next. Scripture tells us:

“15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”

The fact that scripture states that this man “turned back” indicates that he did not wait to arrive at the priests’ office. He had no more need of that. He had met God! And having met God, he became alive in his spirit.

The other men went rejoicing, of course. Not that they were thankless, no. They were very happy and thankful. But where, pray, do you think they went? To the priests, of course. They were going to show the physical miracle that had been done for them. These men saw nothing besides the miracle that was done for their bodies.

But their compatriot turned back and came and worshiped the living God. Bye, bye priests!

This man saw something the others did not. As they say, what you see is what you get. For that reason, therefore, Jesus told the man,

“… thy faith hath made thee whole.” (v.19)

We can finally perceive what true faith is. It is seeing into the Spirit. Jesus was now not talking about physical wholeness. That had already been accomplished. Here Jesus was talking about spiritual wholeness. This is the greatest gift a man can receive from God.

When we see God, we get done with the law! Our spirits become alive!! We are free men and women. That means we can worship God in truth and in the Spirit, for the life of God resides in us.

We ought to endeavour to go for the life of God. Christ’s life in us. The Apostle Paul wrote,

“22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified… 24 Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24)

Paul and those who worked with him did miracles, but they distanced themselves from the miracle ‘ministry’ and the wisdom seekers. They sought after the life of God in them instead.

Lastly,

“… and he was a Samaritan.”

Wow. This man was not a Jew. Jesus called him a “stranger”.

The people in greatest danger of not receiving the life of Christ are, sadly, those of us who claim to be saved.  The problem is, we tend to think in terms of entitlement. For this reason we take the grace of God in vain. But forget about all the rights you think you have in Christ. God’s Kingdom is for those who do not think anything of themselves. That is why Jesus told the Jews:

“If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.” (Jn. 9:41)

Imagine that. Jesus told them it were far better if they had been blind!

The Apostle Paul said,

“I be nothing” (2 Cor. 12:11)

That was Paul’s perspective of himself.

Recently, I was drawn to read about an American preacher who wears $4,000 shoes. Y’know, just shoes. In America they call them celebrity preachers. I wondered what a man who wears $4,000 shoes thinks of himself.

But what does the healing of our spirits do for us?

We become men and women of grace, for the life of Christ works in us. In 1 Cor. 15:45, the Bible says:

“… the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”

The last Adam, Jesus, was a life-giving Spirit. That is what we become when our hearts are touched and changed by the Master.

[A mother and her child arriving home in the evening]

Image21672

God Makes His Way

No great victory can ever be won without a great battle. The bigger the battle, the bigger the victory. For this very reason, God takes our weaknesses and defeats, and He turns them into victories. The weaker one is in the flesh, the stronger they are with God. The bigger the loss in the natural, the greater the victory in the Spirit.

One of the stories that captivated the world in recent years is famously known as “The Bali 9”. The Bali 9 were nine young men from Australia who in 2005 were arrested in Indonesia on drugs charges. Two of those young men who were identified as the ringleaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to die by firing squad. The sentence was duly carried out in 2015 in the face of great international emotion. Many high-profile appeals had been made in and out of court. The Australian government went even so far as to threaten the Indonesian government with sanctions.

It was clear from the testimonies that were given by the other members of the Bali 9 that Andrew and Myuran were brutal, cold-blooded gangsters who would go to any lengths to enforce their will upon others. This made the judges to impose on them the toughest sentence possible: the death sentence. But in the ten years that they were incarcerated, the two young men on death row turned their lives around and became such role models that, during their final appeals, even the prison governor came to their defense. He told the judges that it would be “a shame” to execute the two young convicts. But the Indonesian government would not be swayed, and two fine young men lost their lives in the most appalling manner possible. Due to the political situation in the country at the time, the world viewed the senseless execution as a case of a weak government trying to appear tough in the eyes of its people.

As I pointed out, the case of ‘The Bali 9’ garnered great international attention. But in the midst of all the uproar and clamor that attended this incredibly emotional case there was one detail that the world did not have reason to dwell on too much. It was the fact that while in prison, both Andrew Chan and Myuran had converted and given their lives to Jesus. When the duo were transferred to the island fortress where they were to be executed, Andrew carried only his Bible, a symbol of his conviction and faith.

The Bible says,

“Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Lk. 15:10)

God’s ways are so different from ours. The world wailed and mourned at the execution of these two young men; but heaven rejoiced. Through a long, torturous road – drugs, violence, death – these sinners received the ultimate gift: eternal life.

It goes without saying that these once callous men would never have had a chance of even thinking about heaven. So God made a way, His way. On that early morning of April 2015, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and six other men stood looking into the cold barrels of a dozen guns. As they stood there, they sang “Amazing Grace”. And, in heaven, Jesus stood up to welcome them to His eternal Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul also was fashioned from similar circumstances. Once a brutal enforcer of Judaism, through much suffering God turned him around and he not only obtained eternal life himself, but became an invaluable asset to the Kingdom of God.

We should not fear to suffer for the sake of Christ. It is out of suffering alone that true spiritual victory can be achieved. For this reason, the Apostle Paul did not seek to unchain himself from suffering for the sake of the gospel. He himself wrote:

“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. 12:10)

[God Makes A Way]

God Can Use Anything

One time I went to visit a relative in the city and as I was sitting alone in the living room, his young son came in and found me reading a book. He told me, “That is my dad’s book.”

“Oh, great!”, I said jovially.

He didn’t seem to think it was so jovial. He looked blankly at me and said, “Put it down, you thief!”

I am no thief and in my tribe, the least form of punishment that I would have given that boy for insulting me was instant death.

But God gave me grace and I realized exactly what was happening. I realized God was checking to see what was in my heart.

God can use anything – even a small child – to show us what is in our hearts. Whenever something negative comes into our lives, we should beware that God has allowed it in order to uproot something that He does not like in our lives.

In my case, the Lord allowed me to see the mountain of pride that was in my heart. In fact, I was so humbled by what the Lord revealed to me that I became as small as a pin in that house and especially towards that boy. And by the time I left, he and I had become best of friends.

[God can use even a small child to check your pride level. And no, this is not the boy in the story]

image21370

Welcome, 2019

… for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Mat. 5:45

On this particular day, 1st January 2019, I feel a great sense of thanksgiving to God. The reason for this is because I feel He has been overly gracious to me. I can plainly say that during the last year, I cannot put myself anywhere near those who have been “good” and “just”. I have not only not done many things that I ought to have done; but I have also done things that I ought not to have done. And yet, come the year 2019, and I can clearly hear God whispering in my ear, “I love you.”

In Psalms 51:10-13, David wrote:

“10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. 13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

After David had confessed his sin, he was given the chance to start doing anew what he loved doing best: teaching transgressors the ways of the Lord, and converting people to the Lord.

I feel forgiven, re-born, and ready to start anew. It is a difficult mountain to climb, this way of the cross. But through His Holy Spirit the Lord gives us a love for such a challenge. I cannot comprehend the joy that awaits me as I return again to the place of restoration, and to serving the Lord wholeheartedly.

It is therefore with a deep sense of thanksgiving  that I welcome the year 2019.

[I kick off this year with my favorite song]