Receiving the Right Thing

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. Mat. 20:20-23

Notice that these sons of Zebedee and their mother came “worshipping” Jesus; but also desiring a certain thing of him.” So, these folks first worshipped Jesus, then presented their request to Him.

In other words, these folks worshipped Jesus because they wanted something from Him!

That is a dangerous combination, if ever there was one. If there is anything dangerous in church but which, alas! is going full steam ahead in many churches today, it is people going to church to “worship” the Lord because they want something of this world from Him. Many people are not aware of it, but this state of affairs is going on in their lives all the time!

Today, the 21st of December, 2014 is Sunday and this morning many folks are going to church ostensibly to worship the Lord. But God knows our hearts and He knows how many of us are truly going there to worship Him in truth and in the Spirit. He knows how many are going to church because all we want is the establishment of God’s Kingdom in our hearts. He knows how many of us are going there because we truly need an overhaul of the state of our spiritual lives.

He knows how many are going to church because we want to lose our lives more and to serve others more.

He also knows those who are going to worship Him simply for who He is.

But many, alas! are going to worship, but “desiring a certain thing” of Jesus – something of this world. They want the good things of this life. That is why they are going to church.

And today in many charismatic churches many preachers will end their sermons with an altar call where God’s children will be told to “Receive!” Many of God’s people will “receive” many things in church today.

Receiving is not a bad thing. We see Jesus also telling James and John to “Receive!” But what He told them to receive is vastly different from what many today will be “receiving” from their preachers.

Jesus told these gentlemen to prepare to receive only one thing: the cup and the baptism (Mk. 10). He did not promise to give them anything of this world. But we know they wanted something of this world. They wanted a place of honor in what they thought was Jesus’ impending worldly kingdom.

Today many people are going to church to receive the good things of this life. Personally I have no problem with a child of God receiving the good things of this life. I believe God also has no problem with that. But in reality, the things of this life are small change with God. That is why whether we receive the good things of this life or not is not a big deal with God; and it should not be with us. The Apostle Paul says in Philippians that he knew “both how to be abased, and… how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Phil. 4:12)

When it comes to receiving, there is something of far greater importance which we as the church ought to pay attention to. We should not miss this one. We may miss the good life, but we should not miss the one thing that Jesus wants us to receive.

What is this thing? It is what Jesus gave to James and John. It is what He told them to “Receive!” It is the cup and the baptism.

This is what we should all be going to church to receive this Sunday morning.

Unfortunately, many will be going to be entertained by the good music, or by the charismatic preacher. Many more will be going to seek and answer to their prayers – prayers for the things of this life.

But ours is a heavenly agenda. May God open our eyes to see the heavenly agenda. We will then worship Christ for who He is, not for what we want from Him.

Have a blessed Sunday service!

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The Price for Spiritual Relationships – Part 2

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Jn. 19:26-27

Notice, “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”

Jesus’ mother physically moved from wherever she was staying and went to live in that disciple’s home!

Do you seriously think that Jesus’ mother did not have a home of her own? She certainly did. But the Bible says that from that day she moved to that disciple’s home.

In some societies (and probably even in Jesus’ Jewish community) that is unacceptable. You cannot take a grown woman who has grown children of her own and move her into someone else’s home – especially on grounds of ‘religion’. There are a whole lot of problems associated with such a ‘move’, chief of which is a show of disrespect for the family from which you are taking that person.

But apparently Jesus was not thinking about such things. Or probably He was, but He knew his mother and the disciple would be ready to pay the price for such a ‘move’.

When we build spiritual relationships, we will be willing to pay the price to attach our lives to the men and women that God has brought us together with in the Spirit. We may not physically move to someone’s home as Jesus’ mother did; but in the Spirit, we will move. That is the important thing.

In the Spirit we will move.

When we first heard the gospel of the cross in Musoma, my wife and I would take our two small children and our food, and we would move to a brother or sister’s house and stay there for two or three days. We valued the brother or sister for who they were in the Spirit and we were willing to pay a price to identify with them.

In the same manner, brothers and sisters would come and stay in our home. We were building spiritual relationships.

Now, we were not taught this ‘doctrine’. No one told us or taught us to do that. We had not even read John 19:26-27. What we did was simply a result of the working of the gospel in our lives.

Today, the churches that we work with under the banner of the gospel of the cross are one strong church. Storms have come and gone, but this church has only grown stronger. There are men and women in these churches for whom I would not hesitate to lay down my life, and likewise there are brethren who would be more than willing to lay down their lives for me. And I can walk into any one of these churches and feel as much at home just as if I were in my own house.

But all this has come at a price. I believe that in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a disciple whom Jesus loves is one who is walking the narrow road. Not that Jesus does not love everyone else. We know God so loves the whole world (Jn. 3:16); but we are talking in the Spirit here. Jesus has a special love for those who are walking the narrow road (Philippians 3).

Just as Jesus’ mother moved into that disciple’s home we, too, ought to pay the price to actively identify our lives with those whom “Jesus loves” – those who are walking the narrow road. When we are built on the right foundation, which can only be the foundation of the cross (1 Cor. 3:10,11), we will desire and we will pay the price to build only spiritual relationships. We will identify and build relationships with those who are walking the narrow road, the road of the cross.

This is particularly important with regard to leadership. We should not submit our lives to just any ‘pastor’. Today, God’s people all over are submitting their lives to “wolves in sheep’s skins”, and their lives are being laid to waste. But we should pray for a spirit of revelation, that we may know a true shepherd, a man who is walking in the revelation of the cross of Christ.

On the other hand, there are many Christians who are in churches for any number of reasons except the single, important reason – that they be taught to deny their lives, to take up their cross and follow Christ.

Notice I am not saying that we should not build relationships with a weak brother or sister. A brother or sister could be weak, but they have the desire to identify their lives with Christ. You can feel the desire in their hearts; you can see the great struggle they are in to lay down their lives at the altar.

You can identify your life with such a brother or sister.

The disciple whom Jesus loved I presume was John (Jn. 21:20-25), and in the Bible we know that John and his brother James were the most devious and cunning fellows amongst Jesus’ disciples. Added to this was the fact that they had quite a temper (Mk. 3:17, Lk. 9:54)!

John was clearly a weak man. But Jesus loved him. No doubt, it was for a spiritual reason.

[Below: Downtown Mwanza City]

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The Price for Spiritual Relationships – Part 1

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Jn. 19:26-27

I will divide this post into two parts, and in each part I will discuss a particular aspect of the above scripture.

I would not think that Jesus was an emotional person. Jesus would not do things just because it gave Him goose bumps. I am sure He did everything perfectly, maturely in the Spirit.

And so, as Jesus was about to depart from this world, He committed His mother to the disciple He loved. From that time forth, that disciple was to be Jesus’ mother’s son. And she was to be his mother.

In other words, Jesus set the who is who in this relationship, in the Spirit. He defined, clearly, His mother and that disciple’s relationship in the Spirit. It was to be a son/mother relationship, in the Spirit.

In 1 Timothy 5:1-2 Paul writes, “1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; 2 The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.”

This is the relationship that Jesus was setting between his mother and this disciple. Jesus’ mother now had a spiritual pastor! Oh, for the church to arrive there!

Do you think that Jesus loved His mother? I believe He did – incredibly so. And He gave her the only gift He knew was worthy of such love: He sought for her a spiritual relationship.

Jesus did not call over the richest man in church and tell him, “Make sure my mom moves around in the best-chauffeured Rolls-Royce!”

Jesus also had other brothers and sisters in the flesh and He could have committed His mother to any one of them. But He did not. On the contrary, He committed His mother to the disciple whom He loved. And you can be sure that when the Bible says “whom he loved” it is talking in the Spirit, not in a carnal, emotional sense.

I am sure that Jesus did not have an emotional relationship with the disciple He loved. If the Bible says Jesus loved this man, it is because He knew him in the Spirit and He knew what he carried in his heart.

The disciple “whom (Jesus) loved” was a man that Jesus could identify with and acknowledge in the Spirit.

I love the fact that Jesus committed His mother to the disciple “whom he loved”. There is no place for emotional, carnal relationships in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There can only be spiritual relationships. The church needs to grow and become mature in the Spirit. That way, we will build spiritual instead of emotional relationships. We will know who is who in the Spirit.

Spiritual relationships are not ‘feel-good’ relationships. They are relationships whereby we consciously know the road we and those we are united with are walking on.

Building Spiritual Character – Part 2

Now today, in church, because people are not taught the proper gospel, because they are not taught to deny themselves and to take up their cross and follow Jesus, they are not being built up in character and they are unable to take up the responsibilities and challenges that come with marriage. Grown-ups act like spoilt kids. People easily tire of each other. But, even worse, they go a step further and “take the law into their own hands”, as it were, and divorce. They feel free to just walk away from marriage because they cannot stomach the bad things their partner is doing to them.

This clearly reveals the fact that God’s people are lacking seriously in the grace of God. To a large extent, Christ’s sacrifice is being proven powerless in Christians’ lives. They forget that there are many factors that are involved in marriage: that probably God is teaching them patience, He is “raising them up”. And because God needs you to grow up spiritually, He will use any ‘instrument’ He wishes to ‘straighten’ you. In most cases God’s chief instrument of correction is someone’s own spouse.

It may be also that God is giving you the rare opportunity to give your life like Jesus did in order that a very rude, un-Godly person (your spouse) may receive salvation in their lives.

Many factors are involved; but the bottom line is that there is a big price to pay with marriage. That is why when one is carrying their cross and following Jesus, the thought of divorce is, to use an understatement, unthinkable.

It is appalling to behold the unbridled freedom that God’s people today give to their flesh in many other areas of their lives. Many Christians live as if now, since we are under grace and not under law, there are no rules to follow.

The problem, of course, is the kind of teaching that people are being taught in our generation: a cheap gospel that lumps together the spirit and the flesh and leaves people to literally  find their own footing on a very shaky spiritual foundation!

The Bible says in Galatians 5:13 that we “have been called unto liberty”; but right there it also says, “only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh…”

Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says that he became “… to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ)” 1 Cor. 9:21. Notice that Paul says he was under the law of Christ. It follows naturally that if there is a law of Christ, there is also a law of the flesh. When we allow ourselves and feel free to live certain lifestyles where it is clear we are pleasing the flesh and not God, we should ask ourselves under which law we are.

The Apostle Paul had a law, a law that had no place for a worldly lifestyle. He loved the Lord with all his heart, his soul and his strength.

The Apostle John put it this way: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” 1 Jn. 2:15

Loving the world consists of many things, but it is dependent on the condition of our hearts. And what John is talking here is not law. That is simply loving the Lord. That is true grace.

Many Christians today feel free to do nearly everything they want to do especially when it comes to answering to the desires of the flesh. And, because of a lack of revelation of the Word of God in their hearts, they use those same scriptures to justify whatever they are doing! It is like some Roman Catholic friends of mine who challenge me to show them where it is specifically written: “Thou shall not drink beer”. They have many scriptures, both from the Old Testament and the New, which ‘prove’ that God allows Christians to drink beer!

Once you begin listening to the flesh, you cannot draw the line between right and wrong.

Tribulation – trials and testing – brings character and maturity into our lives. Nothing else will bring these valuable standards into a Christian’s life apart from that hard and difficult narrow road which Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. This is a road where you will be tested and tried in every way. You will be despised, rejected, reviled, hated, beaten; a road where you will know hunger, and where you will lack many things in this life. Not that going through these hardships in itself is Christianity; but as you go through all this and you know your position with God, you will know these things are preparing you for the glory ahead.

The Bible says no weak thing shall enter into that Kingdom, only the strong. Here God is not talking about the toughies of this world (because people are always mis-interpreting scripture). He is talking about a different kind of toughie – one who has allowed their flesh to be dealt with by the cross of Jesus and who are living a life not their own, but another’s, Christ’s.

The Nature of Our Calling – Part 2

Now, as I said, Genesis 24:58 is a great eye-opener. When we accept to go with Jesus, it is better we understand what we are walking into. Trouble!

(At weddings people are asked to make vows which involve words like, “I will be with you in joy and in sadness”. Unfortunately, many people do not honor that vow and they opt out at the first sign of ‘sadness’, and consequently divorce is considered an option even in church today!)

But when Christ calls us, He calls us to partake of His sufferings and death. When Jesus walked in this world, His disciples were always thinking in terms of worldly glory and worldly gain. We recall James and John sneaking in behind the other apostles to ask that very special favor from Jesus. We also recall Peter’s question to Jesus in Matthew 19:27: Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?”

Mark 10:29-30: “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”

Jesus’ answers to questions regarding God’s Kingdom, and His teachings in general, indicated that forsaking the world (in our spirits) and partaking of His sufferings and death (again, in the spirit) was the sole calling that He calls us to. We have been called to identify our lives with Jesus’, not only in His glory, but also in His sufferings for the Kingdom of God.

In Hebrews 11:9-10 the Bible talks about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the following manner: “By faith (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

These were people who suffered with Christ – and theirs was a far more literal suffering than ours. We are far more privileged. We can roam the world in personal jets and still go to heaven. These guys, the Bible says, lived in tents with smelly goats, cows and camels and they did not even think of building a permanent house to live in!

For anyone listening, that truly changes our perspective of our calling. We hardly have enough breathe left to cheer about money, cars, houses – or private jets.

We have been called to live an entirely different lifestyle. We have been called to a life of forgiving those who wrong us, to love people; to feel the very heartbeat of our brother or sister. It is impossible to live that kind of lifestyle while we are selfishly holding onto our lives or onto the world.

If you want someone to let go of something you hit him again and again (or you shake them) until they give in. That is what God in love does to us. He wants us to let go of the world; we therefore will need to suffer much in order for that to happen.

And that work in our lives – taking up our cross and following Jesus – is what we should be cheering about.

Of Baptisms…

Mat_20:23:  And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.

I hate being bogged down in theology, and the subject of baptism is one sure quicksand in that respect. But, despite the clear risks, I want to attempt to address something about this subject here.

Did you ever notice that during His earthly ministry Jesus never baptized anyone in water? The Bible does say in John 3:22 that “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized”; but in the very following chapter we read: “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)” John 4:1-2.

The reason Jesus personally did not baptize with water was because He had not come to baptize people with that baptism. He had another baptism with which He would baptize His followers. In Mat_3:11  we see John the Baptist contrasting his (water) baptism with the baptism that Jesus would administer: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:”

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”

Both Paul and John the Baptist caught the revelation of what Jesus would be coming to accomplish in men and women’s hearts. The difference, though, was that John, being of the older order, saw this revelation from afar, as it were – like the prophets of old. When he was in prison, he would begin doubting what he has seen of Jesus, for he had seen Him more in the natural than in the spirit. Paul, on the other hand, not only received a clearer and fuller spiritual revelation of who Jesus was and the work He was to accomplish, but he fully lived and experienced that revelation in the spirit. It consumed his entire being. The outcome of it is that today we are partakers of the fruits of Paul’s experiences through the gospel he received and lived. His gospel and life have enriched all believers’ lives. This was the same gospel that the Early Apostles and the Early Church lived.

Long before John the Baptist would talk of the Holy Spirit and fire, God had spoken these same words through Isaiah. Isaiah 43:2 says “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”

We see that even under the Old Testament God had never promised His people that they would live a life free of trouble. He promised to baptize them.

John and James were two of Jesus’ closest disciples, yet He could tell them these same words. I doubt that we can expect anything less.

What is the fire the Bible is talking about? The reality of the gospel that Paul preached to the Corinthians is brought to our lives through the many trials and tests that we are made to go through daily. Through these we experience first-hand the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as He moulds us into the image of Christ and enables us to live a holy and righteous life in “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4). When we live the revelation that Jesus brought and that Paul elucidates in his epistles, that is our true baptism.

We will be tempted and tried in many ways. Many of us, unaware of the need for this baptism, constantly cry out to God to set us free from these trials and temptations. But that is exactly the baptism that God desires to have us pass through: the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. We cannot expect, for example, to learn how to forgive if we are not hurt or wounded on the inside. We fear having our feelings hurt and yet that is the very area where God wants to touch our lives so that He may set us free from our selfish nature.

If there is an area in our lives where we are struggling in the flesh, we should stop everything and cry out to God to set us free. He will give us His Holy Spirit who will enable us to stand our ground as we are being put through the fire. That fire will purify us as we by faith anticipate the outcome, which is becoming worthy (golden) vessels to carry the Life of God, like the Apostles did.

Our Relationship is Spiritual

Tomorrow I will be boarding a plane to go to the exotic Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to attend the annual CTMI conference (www.ctmi.mu). This trip will be a first for me in many aspects. I will be visiting a new country, meeting new brethren and building new relationships.

And yet, even as I board that aeroplane tomorrow. deep in my heart I know God has allowed me to go to that conference for a spiritual purpose. And I know He has called me to relate to whoever I come across in the spirit, not in the flesh. In hindsight, this is for my own good because if I were to view the people of God in the flesh, no doubt I would be tempted to play favorites.

That would be a spiritual disaster.

As Jesus was hanging on the Cross he looked down at his mother Mary and told her, “Woman, behold thy son”, as He indicated to John, the son of Zebedee. Then He turned to John and told him, “Behold thy mother!”

The Bible says, “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home”. Jn. 19

This might indicate that Joseph was already dead because it is highly unlikely that Jesus would command John to take care of His mother while her husband was still alive! The Bible, however, does clearly state that Jesus had other brothers and sisters, any of whom He could have directed to watch over their mother, if He felt the need to give that directive.

Jesus did indeed feel the need to instruct over His mother’s welfare. But it was her spiritual welfare He was thinking about. And who better to commit that responsibility to than the disciple “whom He loved” (Jn. 19:26), the one who leaned on Jesus’ bosom, the one who knew and felt Jesus’ heart more than any of the other disciples. It was John that Peter had asked to inquire from the Lord who it was that would betray Him, for, apparently, only John could elicit that secret from Him.

It is little wonder that the Apostle John is today known as “the Apostle of Love”, for he wrote much on love; and love, as we know, is the very essence of God.

Jesus could trust his mother with such a man, a man who knew His heart, and His purposes.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul would tell Timothy, the son whom he begot in the faith, “But thou hast known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith…” 2 Tim. 3:10.

We are not called into salvation to answer to or to gratify fleshly and emotional ties. We are called to seek after spiritual relationships alone.

We spend a lot of energy and time building on relationships that are not spiritual. Jesus did not do that. He redeemed the time. He knew whom to trust with His mother, and He did not waste the opportunity.

As I travel to the conference tomorrow, let nothing take precedence over the known will and purpose of God in my life: to link up with the men and women of God in the spirit.

So help me God.