A Given Life – Part 1

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. Heb. 11:17-19

Let us read that again.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried…”

I don’t know whether Abraham knew that he was being tried. I don’t know whether he knew God would ask him to stay his hand at the critical moment. But, whether he knew these things or not, what is important is that Abraham realized he had to lose. And so when he knew this, when God told him to, in his heart he therefore offered up Isaac. It says that when he was tried, Abraham

“… offered up Isaac.”

In his heart he released Isaac from being his only-begotten son. He willingly let him go. He lost him. By the time the angel appeared and told him,

“Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him…” (Gen. 22:12)

in his heart Abraham had already slaughtered Isaac. That is why the Bible says in verse 19,

“Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”

Abraham therefore experienced the pain of losing his son. Just as God experienced the pain of losing His Son Jesus, Abraham, in a figure, lost Isaac.

But let me go back to the words that drew me to this scripture in the first place.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried…”

Do we realize that when God asks us to lose something, that we are being tried? Indeed, the entirety of our call is a trial; for we have been called, without reservation, to lose. We are to go way beyond losing even. Consider the incredulity of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:38-45.

“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 cloak 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. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Wow! What a heart! And, pray, who is capable of these things? But this is exactly the heart that God has. It is God’s character. And it is the heart we ought to have as children of God. But it can only be had through the revelation of the cross. It is the laying of our lives on the altar, in order that we might do the will of God, as opposed to doing the will of the flesh.

When we have laid our lives at the altar, and they are no longer ours, the Bible calls that faith. Just as we see with Abraham here.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac”.

[Oh, those songs!!]

Grow!!

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ… 2 Pet. 3:18

Oh, to grow! We are to grow in the Spirit. We are not to remain the same. Notice that to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is to grow in grace. The two are inseparable. You cannot say you have grown in the Lord Jesus Christ because you are now a bishop. Our claim to knowing Jesus solely rests on the fact that we have also grown in His grace.

This scripture challenged me greatly especially in my relationship with my wife. Now, there is no doubt at all in my heart that my wife is a rare gem. I consider her one of the most beautiful of God’s creations. She is amongst the regal women of this world (“Regal” means royal, majestic, stately, noble, according to my Thesaurus. My wife is all these. She has an incredible love for people.) I am very sure of the fact that, if it were men giving out wives, I would not have been in the race to ask for Flo’s hand in marriage. Had I come forward, the whole world would have had a long, hearty laugh. That’s a fact. In the natural, I am not the kind of guy who should have married Flo.

But the Bible says,

“Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.” (Prov. 18:22)

In other words, it is God who gives men wives. So, God gave me the woman I should never have had. End of story.

That’s the warm part. But now to the cold facts.

Regal she may be, but my wife is also my ‘iron’. What is it about her being an ‘iron’?

The Bible says,

“Iron sharpeneth iron…” (Prov. 27:17)

She is my sharpener. She keeps seeing all those weak points in me, and God has singularly created her to iron them out. In the early days of our marriage, she was especially enthusiastic about that job. She never wasted a moment in showing me the many creases in my character, after which she went about trying to straighten me out in the best way possible.

That was hard enough in itself. To say that I did not accept her chastisement would be a stupendous understatement. I kicked  and fought. But it did not end there. Regal she may be, but my wife is as human as the next. And to err, they say, is human. So, sometimes she erred and saw things that were not there. And she wanted to iron them out as well. She wanted to iron out things that were not there in me!

That was when my patience absolutely ran out. I was never one to take such injustice lying down. And so the mother of all battles would ensue. Mostly it was fought in the dead of night. Its details are yet to be de-classified.

As I got older, I decided to ‘grow’ and so I changed tactics. The trick, I realized, was to keep my mouth shut, and so I kept my mouth closed much of the time. But I closed my heart also. She would talk and talk… and I would keep my cool. I thought, Oh, what peace! What was I thinking all this time, making a scene? How so peaceful to just sit in my corner and watch her yap and yap!

One day, I attended a regional conference where our elder, Brother Miki Hardy, was preaching, and I heard him say, “I have purposed in my heart to never hold a grudge against my wife.”

I remember thinking, ‘I will never arrive there.’

Remember I am talking about the condition of my heart towards my wife whenever she tried to tell me something that grated against my pride or my rights. I am not implying that we lived a ‘war-torn’ life, no. Being the kind of woman she is, I believe I have enjoyed an incredibly happy marriage, in spite of myself. I am talking about those trying moments… the moments that tried my heart.

Anyways, one day I chanced upon this scripture.

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

I was sure I had never seen that word, “grow”, in the Bible. It seemed new to me. I mean, I had given up even trying to get out of the rut, and I had accepted the fact that when Jesus came back to earth, He would find me in exactly that state. But I consoled myself that Jesus would understand…

But, reading that scripture, it dawned upon me that we are commanded to grow. God commands us to grow. That means to stop moaning and to get up and move!! In the army, when you moan about how difficult an exercise is, they drill a bullet right next to your calf, and they promise that the next one will be on target. And they mean it.

But this scripture also means that God recognizes our weaknesses and our helplessness, and that He is there to help us grow in grace.

It was then that I stopped moaning. I stopped moaning, and I began working at growing. And, ever since then, never have I found a more delightful occupation. To grow. To grow in grace.

I know in my heart that I have now reached the place in my life where I could say, as Brother Miki once said, that I will never close my heart to my wife. I have purposed that in my heart. Not that she is perfect. But I have found the impossible is possible, for with God nothing is impossible (Lk. 1:37).

Does that mean I no longer react? Hardly. Does that my wife has stopped sharpening me? By no means. She is still my ‘iron’. As a matter of fact, she does not seem to be aware that I have changed and she digs into me even more. And – and I now know this is God’s doing – she keeps making those fallible ‘errors’. God allows her to see things in me that are not there. God allows it because He wants to see how I will react.

In recent times I have heard the phrase “open borders”. With me, it is “open heart”. I have brought up all my arsenal and placed it near the only place that matters – my heart. My heart ought to never shutter again – be it against my wife, nor against anyone else.

Granted, there is more to the Christian life than just relationships. But I believe the area of relationships is especially trying. That said, however, as believers, we are to grow in every area of our lives. We are not to keep glorifying our weaknesses. But we are to move on to maturity.

Fact: on the day of reckoning, Jesus will not ‘understand’ our lack of spiritual maturity.

“The Sons Of God” – Part 2

18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. Rom. 8:18-19

Although Adam might have been able to fly, yet, under the New Covenant, we could hardly find time to talk about Adam and his flying skills. On the contrary, we are to look at the heart. Something bad happened with Adam’s heart. And thereafter, grief, sorrow, fear and death reigned over the earth. Whether Adam was able to fly thereafter or not is no more of importance to us.

I truly thank God for the revelation that He has given to the church concerning the heart. Where would we be without this revelation? No doubt we would be preaching the charismatic gospel of material prosperity, et al.

But the Bible says:

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).

I have heard many preachers try to make this scripture to be about the human intellect. But they could hardly be more off-track. This scripture is not talking about the brain. Indeed, no scripture addresses the human intellect. All scripture addresses the heart. All it is saying here is that as a man is in his heart, so is he. As a man is in his heart, so is everything about him.

Elsewhere, the Psalmist wrote:

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Ps. 139:14)

The Psalmist was in the Spirit when he wrote those words. He was not in the flesh. The Psalmist here therefore is talking about the heart. God could hardly be bothered with our bodies the way we are.

In the Bible, we find men and women who had the heart of God. Men like David. And Abigail, among countless others. I have it in my heart to write about these two especially and, God willing, I shall do so within the next few days.

God has given us a heart that is fearfully and wonderfully made. A heart where God can dwell. Through Jesus Christ, our hearts have become the dwelling place of God.

Is that not so wonderful! But for us to arrive at the place where God dwells in our hearts, we have to pay the price. And, pray, what is the price?

The price is to circumcise our hearts. Those are the “sufferings” the Apostle Paul talks of in our key scripture above. Notice,

“we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23)!

The true gospel of Jesus Christ preaches the singularity of the sufferings and death of Christ through crucifixion. It may not be a “pop” gospel, but it is the true gospel. Any other gospel, any other Jesus, is not genuine and the preaching of such simply draws men and women further from eternal life (2 Cor. 11:4).

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus Himself said,

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

The denial of self and the taking up of our cross is not easy. But there is no different path. The cross makes for a beautiful heart. A beautiful heart, on the other hand, makes the difference in this world – and in the next.

I find myself singularly wanting in any endeavor to do justice to this important subject. What I have written here is my small contribution for now. I pray it might make a difference in the lives of any who read it.

[Man is an incredibly wonderful creation. God intended it to be so. Judge Frank Caprio]

The Distinctiveness Of The Church – Part 2

In Romans 3:27 the Bible says:

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

I was in a burial recently. The man who had died was the regional bishop of one of the biggest Pentecostal churches in our country. He had under him all the churches in roughly one third of the country.

The burial ceremony was attended by a big government delegation, so illustrious was the man. But it was the bishops who came in their hordes. They literally covered the meeting. They were so many that I lost count as each was called up to the podium to be introduced to the massive crowd. And, in recognition of the position they held in church, each bishop was given the opportunity to address the meeting. The head bishop of that church organization was also there.

I had never been in such a meeting before. The introductions took more than three hours! But it was what was done by these bishops that truly amazed me. As each one stood and made their speech, they would turn around and address the head bishop who, together with the bishops, was seated on the podium facing the crowds. In fact, the bishops called him “Father Bishop”! And everything they said was directed at him. In other words, they were talking to the head bishop, not to the people.

When it came the turn of the head man himself to speak, he took the opportunity to remind the faithful (flock) of his position by telling them that it was he who represented them before the country’s president.

That is how the church is run today. But the early church, as we saw in the first part, was run differently. Then, nothing superseded the church body. Not even the leaders, be they bishops, pastors or deacons.

Had Paul been in this burial meeting, and had he had the opportunity to address the meeting, guess what? Paul would have addressed the people facing him. He would not have addressed the head bishop seated behind him. He would have addressed the saints. He would have said, “Saints”, or “Beloved” instead of “Bishop”.

Anyways, back to the scripture we started with.

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

Probably the thing that man loves above anything else is boasting. Man loves praise! If you say something good about them, men will give you “even to the half of my kingdom” (Mk. 6:23)!

But that is the spirit of this world. It has absolutely no place in the church. Unfortunately, today, men (and women) in the church love praise. They love to be called all the big names. They love being noticed, credited, accredited, applauded, respected, saluted, and everything in between. You cannot write a letter to a church and just address the “saints” or “faithful” like the Apostle Paul did. If you do not address the letter to the pastor, it will be thrown into the fire. Why? Simply because the pastor wants to be recognized! He wants to be noticed for who he is.

But – glory be to God! – the church is not about men; and the Apostle Paul by the wisdom and courage that was given to him made that emphatically clear in the epistles. On the contrary, the church is all about Christ and His bride, the church. And Paul stamped the mark of distinctiveness upon the church. In a wedding, men do not waste their attention on the best man. All the attention is on the bride and bridegroom.

John the Baptist told the Jews, when they enquired about him. They asked him, “Who are you? Are you the Christ?” To which he replied,

“28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John made it clear what the big prize was: it was the bride! John, the fore-runner to Jesus Christ called himself only “the friend of the bridegroom”. Then he said,

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

There is no place in the church for all the titles and self-serving positions that men have given to themselves in the church. Today, men in church are greater than Jesus Himself! But John said,

“There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” (Mk. 1:7)

The Ministry Gifts

The church (as a body) is the singular most important thing with Christ. The church is the singular entity that Christ loves with all His heart. That is why He has given her the five-fold and other ministries. The ministries that Christ has put in the church are for serving the church, Christ’s Bride. Notice they are gifts. They are ministry gifts to the church. In fact, the Bible declares that Christ has put upon us His engagement ring.

“13 … in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Col. 1:13-14)

These ministry gifts have been given by Christ to prepare His Bride, the church, for Christ, who is the Bridegroom. They have been given to perfect her (Ephesians chapter 4). They are not garlands for men to wear around their necks. The gifts and callings of God are not for men to serve their egos with!

It is all about the church. It is all about every saint, every believer in Jesus, every “faithful”. Each one is equal in the eyes of God. No man or woman is bigger than the other.

The Leaders

So what about the carriers of the ministry gifts and church leaders in general? Who are they?

If John the Baptist considered himself not worthy to stoop and unlatch the shoes of Jesus, how much less so the new covenant servants of Jesus? These are simply men who have been entrusted with the responsibility to raise the church. They are servants. When Jesus was describing the role of the church leader, He told His disciples,

“… whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant”. (Mat. 20:26-27)

That is the spirit that ought to be in the church. Church is the place where every child of God ought to feel valued equally, their social, financial or any status notwithstanding. At any rate, the church is a Body. We all have bodies. At no one time have we ever felt that any part of our bodies was more important than the other.

[A tranquil beach in Mwanza City]

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A Reward Awaits!

Do you know that, right now, as you sit there reading this, something awesome is going on in heaven. In fact, many unimaginably marvelous things are happening in heaven just about right now. Let us read about a few of them.

“1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)

Wow! Notice the second part of this scripture. It is informing us of an incredible fact. That right now, as we speak, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Right now. Wow! How truly awesome! But the reason for this, as we shall be seeing shortly, is due to something that Jesus did while He was here on earth.

But let us read on further about what is going on in heaven with Jesus. Bear in mind this is happening real time.

The Apostle Peter, talking about Jesus, says:

“Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers made subject unto him.” (1 Pet. 3:22)

Wow! Jesus is not only seated at the right hand of God; but angels and authorities and powers have been made subject to Him. As we speak, Jesus wields power and authority over every angel, power and authority, whether in heaven or on the earth.

Wow!

Let us read a little bit further.

In Acts 7:55-56, as the Jews were stoning Stephen, he lifted up his eyes in the Spirit, and the Bible declares:

“55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”

Again, Wow!

Jesus was not only now seated; He had stood up. He stood for this man Stephen.

Who do we stand for, anyway? We stand for those who are worthy of our respect: the elderly; and those who have accomplished something worthy of our honor. In athletics, as the winner comes round the last bend of the final lap, we all stand to cheer. It is what took us there in the first: to experience the thrill of victory. We cheer wildly for the victor. We cheer wildly for someone who has done well.

I remember one time, during a great football match, that the great master of football, Ronaldinho, playing for the great team of Barcelona, played such a fine game against another great team, Real Madrid, that, at the final whistle, not just the Barcelona fans, but all the Real Madrid fans stood up to honor him. They stood up to honor an opposing player. That was the great maestro, Ronaldinho. He and Pele are the greatest pair who ever touched a ball.

But the Christian believer runs a different race altogether. All these great worldly accomplishments by earthly people are nothing when it comes to what we are called to do in the Spirit. Nevertheless, they are there for us to imitate in the Spirit.

As the man great man of faith, Stephen, made his final victory sprint across the finishing line of eternity, Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, could not bear it; and He stood up. He stood up to cheer Stephen, and to honor him. When the Bible says that Jesus stood up, that means all heaven stood up. All heaven stood up to applaud and honor a great athlete in the Spirit.

Back to Jesus. The Bible firmly affirms that Jesus is set at the right hand of God in heaven. But, as I said earlier, the reason Jesus is seated at the right of God in heaven was because of something He did while He was here on earth. Yes, Jesus did something right here on this earth that earned Him such a great reward from God. What, pray, could one do on this earth that could give one such a mark of distinction in the presence of God? The Bible has the answer. It tells us that Jesus:

“… endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

While He was here on earth, Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame. For this reason, He is seated at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities and powers subject to Him.

You cannot have your cake and eat it. That is a worldly saying; but then God has given men the wisdom to coin such sayings, for their own good.

When He was here on earth, although He was God, and although He was Lord of all and had all power and authority both in heaven and on earth (Mat. 26:53); yet Jesus

“7 … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8)

Did we read the word “humbled himself” there? Yes, Jesus humbled Himself. He made Himself of no repute. He willingly surrendered all He had. He gave His body to sinful men, to do with it as they wished. And they rent all their anger and rage upon that body. He stood silently as they did so. He did not lift a finger to defend Himself.

This is what the cross is all about. That was Jesus, who was God and who was Lord of all. He endured the cross.

How much more we? How much more ought we to humble ourselves under the cross? How much more ought we to count ourselves as dung in this world, that God might lift us up in the Spirit? How much more ought we to confront situations (and wilful men) with grace in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit in us? For this was exactly what Jesus did.

For this reason God has greatly exalted Jesus.

“9 Wherefore God also hath exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Again, Wow!

What a great calling we have! Yes, right now. What an incredible opportunity we have! What an incredible grace, to be able to follow Jesus in His sufferings and death, that we might enter victorious in heaven, and to be equally exalted?

What is our reward, anyway?

It is to live with Him forevermore. To behold the face of God forever! The Bible in Psalms 16:11 says:

“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy: at the right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

We normally associate the word “pleasures” with the worldly pleasures that we know of. But I sure am glad to read that with God there are “pleasures”; which are no mere worldly pleasures! We have no business pursuing worldly pleasures, which are so temporal. God has in store for us eternal pleasures.

The problem is that when our spiritual eyes have not been opened we do not see these things and we therefore live largely for the flesh and its desires.

But if we see these things in the Spirit, we will deny ourselves as Jesus did. That in effect means we will have no rights to fight for. We will endure the cross, and despise its shame.

[The athlete goes to great lengths to achieve his/her goal]

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Women In Ministry – Part 1

1 And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him.

2 And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,

3 And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.

4 And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:

5 A sower went out to sow his seed… Lk. 8:5

There is so, so much to wonder at and think about in these scriptures. But first…

I read in the news this morning that New York’s richest couple – David and Julia Koch – just bought a $40m mansion on a whim, right in the heart of New York, NY. Reading much further down the news article, I read that the couple have an estimated net worth of $47.5 billion.

Sometime last year, I read about the death of Liliane Bettencourt,  the heiress of the L’Oreal fashion empire. At a net worth of $46 billion dollars she was the richest woman in the world.

For all it is worth, I love reading about these rich people. I love the way my brain gets ‘stuck’ trying to gauge the implications of the wealth they have. I admire them, but at the same time my heart goes out to them. But the thing that blows me away is when I wonder what a small percentage of these people’s wealth could do in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ (as long as it does not go to Creflo Dollar & co, of course; God forbid!)

Anyways, that’s me. Thank you for bearing with my musings. Now, back to our main thought.

The scripture portion we just read above pretty much sums up Jesus’s ministry modus operandi. It provides the broadest view possible of how Jesus operated His ministry. As we go through this lesson, it is very important for us to grasp that fact.

Rumor has it that the garment that Jesus wore (the one that the soldiers cast lots upon) was unspeakably expensive. The spinners of this tale claim that it was one of the many expensive gifts that Jesus received from the women who ministered to Him. They point to the fact that, amongst these women were such women of status like Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward.

There can be no doubt that Joanna was a woman of great material means. And there is no question that there were other women who were equally materially endowed. That said, therefore, it is clear that had Jesus wanted to, He could have lived like a rock star. But subscribing to the idea that Jesus lived such a life is alien to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Believing the tale that the garment that Jesus wore was unbearably expensive is the equivalent of believing that Jesus would have worn a golden Rolex watch.

But Jesus would never have worn a Rolex watch, let alone one made of gold. The Bible in Philippians 2:7 states that, although He was Lord of all, yet He

“made himself of no reputation”.

He “made himself”. That means of His own will, of His own volition (volition means wish, decision, choice, desire, preference) Jesus chose the kind of lifestyle that He wanted to live. We cannot plaster any kind of ideas upon Jesus. He chose, and the Bible tells us the kind of lifestyle that He chose to live. He chose to become

“of no reputation”.

He cast aside anything that pertained to glory, worldly or heavenly. We do not need to go very far to establish that Jesus did not need to wear an expensive garment. Jesus cannot contradict Himself.

Of His abode, Jesus stated plainly:

“the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Mat. 8:20)

A preacher who has nowhere to lay his head and one who wears a golden Rolex watch are two figures that are poles apart. And for the two aspects to be in one man is a contradiction in terms.

[Thanks, Alvin!]

The Antiochians – Again! (Part 1)

25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

Let us read that last line once again.

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”

Now, please don’t tell me, “Oh, Mwita, you just wrote on this a few days ago.”

Actually, I am surprised we do not talk much on this particular scripture. No. On the contrary, this scripture needs to be turned into a mantra that every believer should be chanting every minute of their lives.

The disciples were called Christians. Oh. I cannot imagine the price that these believers in Antioch paid to be called so. When I see the defeat in the church today, I just cannot imagine what kind of people these believers were. Once again, I salute them.

Today, Christianity is, to a large degree, just a label, for there is everything in church except victory over sin and over the flesh. There is very little victory in church over these things. But there is so much of everything else: knowledge, signs and wonders, high class sermons, music. The church today is very much like the Corinthian church was in Paul’s day, for Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 writes them:

“4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Corinthians had all the wonderful things listed here but they lacked the singular thing that would make then Christians. They lacked the cross in their lives. They had lost the revelation to deny themselves and living a life of daily crucifying their flesh. And therefore the Apostle Paul told them pointblank,

“1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ… 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3)

You could not possibly call such people Christians, for a Christian is one who reflects the character of Christ in their lives.

But, in Peter 2:21-23 we read of the example that Christ left us.

“21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously”

What exactly is verse 23 trying to tell us?

It is telling us that Jesus did not do anything to defend Himself. On the contrary, He allowed His flesh to be crucified.

The word “reviled” means “insulted”. When people insult us, it hurts. Our gut reaction therefore is to insult back; or, at the very least, answer back. We want to hit back!

But Jesus stood still and let the wave of insults ride out its full strength on Him. He did the same with all the other sufferings that were meted out on Him.

And the Bible says that this was the example that He left us. This is one of the most difficult things for us to do, our religious exterior notwithstanding.

The believers at Antioch portrayed this same resilience in the face of the opposition against their faith.

But they did more than that. They lived the life of Christ to the full. Verse 22 says of Jesus:

“Who did no sin”.

This means that Jesus lived a perfectly holy life. He did not give in to the unclean lusts of the flesh but, on the contrary, He crucified them.

The believers at Antioch depicted this same sacrificial character of Christ in their lives. They saw the believers sacrificing their bodies. And all who saw them saw Christ revealed in them. And they said of them, “There are of Christ. These be Christians.”

In our second part we shall see what it was that the Antiochian believers proved to be such a testimony of the life of Christ in them.

[“And be ye kind one to another…” Eph. 4:32]

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The Battle Against The Flesh – Part 1

25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.

30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:

31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 1 Cor. 1:25-31

I grew up hearing the term “The Bishop of Canterbury”, and I recall being awed by the power that was attached to this title. The church has turned the word “bishop” – a Biblical term meaning “servant” – into a title that brings the greatest glory possible to men in church. And this has now crossed over into the Pentecostal church. Today, if you own a church (which nearly every preacher does), then you also own the top position, which is that of a bishop; a worldly bishop, I hasten to say, for in the Bible, the bishop is a person appointed by men to run the day-to-day affairs of the flock in a local church. He is a helper to the pastor. He is nowhere near the top rung of the Godly order of church leadership.

But, in today’s usage, the term “bishop” is a title carefully calculated to bring honor and respect to men. Fact is, generally speaking, the Biblical terms which otherwise denote the wonderful ministries of Jesus Christ in the church are today being used to bring glory and respect to men in the flesh. The five-fold ministry designations of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher, having been stripped of their spiritual power and authority, have been turned into an outfit for men seeking after worldly glory. It is generally accepted that when you wear one of these titles you should be accorded respect and honor.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ was never meant to bring worldly glory or respect to any man or woman. The church of Jesus Christ is the last place any man should seek glory. Neither the gospel nor the church were crafted for that. Where the true gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, it does only one thing. It does exactly the one thing no man would desire for… it crushes man and his pride. It comes to shame and crucify the flesh. The authority that the gospel has was crafted crafted to do exactly that.

The Bible says that God has chosen the foolish things and the weak things of this world. Think carefully about that. For what reason?

“to confound… to bring to nought the things that are”.

Just think about that for a minute. Don’t think about the proud people of this world; think about yourself. You might be surprised to realize that this scripture is talking about you!

We all think ourselves as being something. But, as much as this goes against our thinking, I have to say that thinking of ourselves as something is the one thing that God is against. The Bible says so right there.

Who or what are we? That is a question we would all love to answer in the affirmative. But God thinks otherwise. Thinking of ourselves as something comes from the flesh, and the power of the flesh is revealed in the fact that it is the most difficult thing to think of ourselves as nothing. In fact, we cannot. That is why we need the cross of Jesus Christ.

Notice verse 28:

“… yea, and things which are not (hath God chosen), to bring to nought things that are”.

God desires to bring to “nought” things that are.

This is something we should meditate upon. Unfortunately, man thinks too highly of himself, and he has always been fighting against the authority or rulership of God.

All the things we run after in this world are calculated to bring glory to the flesh.

Victory In The Cross

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 

23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 

25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. Rom. 7:22-25

Even I am surprised at myself. I am very, very surprised at what I see in me. It is as if I am trapped on every side by the flesh. So much so that, in other words, I could only describe myself as a carnal man. The lusts of the flesh are all too clear in my life and they batter at me on every side!

And yet, at the same time, I find myself cheering at the things of the Spirit. When my spirit hears something Godly, it comes alive. It cheers wildly!

I find this juxtaposition hard to comprehend. Is it me who is cheering at the things of the Spirit and at the same time desiring so much the things of the flesh? How can the two things be alive in me? And so, so much like the Apostle Paul here, I find myself thoroughly flabbergasted and distressed by this state of affairs.

But I find also that Paul had an answer to this problem. In verse 25 he says,

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

Therein – in Christ Jesus our Lord – lies the answer to this most complex of problems for the believer. In the following verses, Paul shows us that it is through crucifying the flesh. In Romans 12:1-2 he writes:

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

That means to crucify the flesh.

There is only one way to defeat the problem of the flesh in our lives: it is to crucify the flesh.

I never truly understood what Paul meant when he described Jesus as God’s “unspeakable gift” to us (2 Cor. 9:15).

But I have come to know its meaning. It is, simply, that the cross (“Jesus Christ crucified”) helps us to live the will of God!

When “Christ crucified” is firmly enthroned in our lives and we are living the crucified life, we will not obey the lusts of our flesh. In fact, we will live in a completely different dimension; a dimension where the lusts of the flesh are alien to us.

I recall there was a time when believers lived this kind of lifestyle. My elderly pastor often regales us with the story of the day when he proposed to his then wife-to-be. She burst out crying, “Oh my God! What have you likened me to? A harlot?”

In her mind, the thought of being with a man was alien. It had never crossed her mind!

Yes, in those early days when salvation was untainted, the flesh never had a chance. The cross was alive in God’s people’s lives. People’s consciences were alive! If someone needed to forgive, the hurriedly did so. They would not accept to live even one minute with unforgiveness because every minute they were beholding the face of God, and how could you possibly behold God’s face with unforgiveness in your heart?

Today, Christianity is largely lived on another dimension altogether. In the city of Dar es Salaam, I know of a preacher who has left his wife and married a younger girl. He is an “apostle and prophet” and he told his congregation that God had led him to do that. He sent his wife and children back home to her parents. And his church is still packed to capacity. I challenge you to believe it or not; but it is true.

In the early days of Christianity, when the revelation of the cross was in the church, such a thing would not only have been untolerable. It would have been unthinkable.

“Christ crucified” is the SINGULAR cure for the contradiction of the flesh and the Spirit in our lives. Because we have been born again, our spirits are alive to God and they desire the things of God. But the flesh, un-crucified, is right there beside us, doing exactly what Ishmael did to Isaac.

28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. (Gal. 4:28-29)

Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. (Gal. 4:30)

We are Abraham’s seed. If Abraham had to throw out Hagar and her son, then we also have to throw out the law and sin in our lives.

And so, I have discovered the solution to my dilemma. I must crucify the flesh. There is no short-cut. And there is no middle way.

Have a victorious Monday, everyone!

Of Apostles And Prophets – Part 3

1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit Eph. 3:1-5

Finally, let us look at the New Testament. In John 21:18-19, Jesus told Peter,

“18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.”

First, let us consider verse 19.

I used to think Jesus was talking about Peter’s physical death. But scripture here is talking about how Peter would glorify God. It is so banal to think of Jesus telling Peter, “When you grow old, someone will come, bind you and go kill you” even if Jesus wanted to communicate such information to Peter.

But scripture is no ordinary writing. So there must be something more to what Jesus was saying to Peter. I believe He was telling him, “You will glorify God by dying to self. By surrendering your life (and rights) and allowing the crucified Christ to fully live in you. You will glorify God by dying to your own selfish ways and desires.”

Which brings us to Jesus’s words in verse 18:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

Who is this “another” that Jesus was talking about?

It is Jesus Himself. We are to be prisoners of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to the Apostle Paul and the great work that he accomplished in the Spirit.

Remember that Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Paul says that he labored more than the other apostles. That word, “laboured” as we shall see below, could better be translated “loved”. But Paul does not give himself credit for his accomplishments; on the contrary, he credits the grace of God. In clearer terms, Paul had more grace than the other apostles.

So how did Paul come to have more grace than his counterparts?

It was because he allowed himself to become a bond-slave of Jesus. He allowed Jesus to bind him hand and foot and to lead him where he would not want to go. In Ephesians 6:20 Paul says:

“I am an ambassador in bonds…”

Bonds are not the most comfortable thing for one to be in. Which means that Paul was forced into that situation. Willingly? Yes. And this brings us to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

“7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 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.”

The truly ‘abnormal’ thing about the Apostle Paul was that he realized that there was only one way to “labour” for God effectively. And by laboring for God it meant loving the church. Why do you think Paul wanted to be “strong”? It was for the sake of the church. Paul loved and cared for the church with everything that he had in him! And Paul realized He had to surrender self. He had to die to self in order to truly love and serve Christ’s Body, the church.

When Paul realized this, he happily stretched out his hands and allowed the Lord to bind him. He gladly gave his flesh over to the cruel messenger to be buffeted. And thus it came to be that Paul got filled to the brim with the grace of God. Grace to enable him to fulfill his desire to love the church as Christ loved it.

You can see the grace of God in Paul’s life written all over his epistles and in the Book of Acts. He was full of humility, compassion, and love towards God’s people.

And then, again, he was full of Godly wisdom. He could bring the revelation of the cross right up to any level you asked him to (1 Corinthians chapters 1 -4).

But Paul could also compassionately tackle issues which did not have a direct answer from scripture. He would therefore write the Corinthians,

“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me… I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” (1 Cor. chapter 12)

What humility! And what Godly advice without a “Thus saith the Lord!”

That was the Apostle Paul. Fully surrendered to God, and fully fulfilling the purpose and calling of God upon the church, which was to love it.

That’s who a true apostle is. He is one to whom the cross is revealed, to the end that he may love the church as Christ loves it.

[I do not know many things. But I do know I love the old Hillsong songs]