The Cross, The Final Solution – Part 2

7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Phil. 3:7-11

In the Swahili Bible, the word used for “righteousness” is the same word used for “justice”. Therefore, we could re-write verse 9 thus:

“And be found in him, not having mine own justice, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

The Apostle Paul wanted, not his own justice, but Christ’s.

Now, that word, “own”, is crucial here. We all know that nothing good comes from the word “own” as far as it refers to man. So what is our “own justice”?

Our own justice is our rights. It is our worldly, human rights. According to the Bible, we should give them up. All of them. Including the right to life.

With the Bible, there are only two things: law and grace. If we are to be men and women of grace, we are to surrender our rights. If seek after justice for ourselves, we have become men and women of law, and Christ is become of no value to us. Christ is of value to whoever will lose their lives.

Notice verse 7:

“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”

What were the things that were gain to Paul? Paul is talking about his worldly rights. He counted his rights loss for Christ. That means he gave them up, that he might gain true life, which can only be found in Christ.

Paul surrendered all. Not some, or half, but all of his worldly rights. He surrendered even his life (Acts 21:13).

But Paul was simply obeying what our Lord Jesus taught. Jesus taught:

“38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” (Mat. 5:38-41)

And,

“10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Mat. 5:10-12

Moreover, in Romans 8:35-36, the Apostle Paul himself writes:

“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

And, finally, in 1 Peter 4:1 we read:

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin”.

All these scriptures go against what the world teaches; but, again, the Bible is not the world. The Bible is the Word of God. The world teaches an eye for an eye; the Bible teaches to surrender your life. If we would have true life in us, we must account ourselves as given to suffer and to die with Christ – literally.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is no soap opera. On the contrary, it is all about being man enough to face the cross of Jesus Christ.

Emboldened by the realization that nothing else could save this woman, my pastor friend asked the lady, “Would you be willing to take your own life because you cannot bear to lose? Ultimately, the real problem here is not your husband, but you, if you cannot bear to lose. In Jesus Christ there is abundance of everything you are lacking: peace, joy, and love. You need to love your husband just as he is, with all his weaknesses. But these things can come into our own lives only when we allow Jesus into our hearts, and we do that by losing.”

And with many other words he preached Christ to the lady.

The lady bowed her head and let the words sink into her heart. When she raised her head, she told the pastor, “I will come to church on Sunday.”

And, true to her word, the lady went to church on Sunday, and worshiped. She was filled with joy and a new hope in her life. The pastor had given her the secret to beating one of the most difficult situations she could ever face in life. It was to surrender her rights.

The cross is the final solution to absolutely any problem on earth.

[Women are the most oppressed members of society. In Christ Jesus, though, this state of affairs translates into a blessing, for these same women have the best head start in the Spirit if only they can take up their cross and follow Christ]

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Do Not Murmur

Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. 1 Cor. 10:10

Recently, someone failed to deliver on a promise he had made to me. The worst part of it was that he began giving excuses and, listening to him speak, it appeared to me as if he did not care that it was going to affect me adversely.

As I sat there listening to him, I could feel my heart beginning to turn black. But, just as quickly, something spoke to my heart. It went, “What is important to you? Is it for the man to deliver, or is it for you to maintain a clean heart?”

The answer was as clear as day. Nothing could come close in importance to me keeping a pure heart.

At that very moment, I felt the biggest burden ever lifting from off my shoulders. I thought, I can forgive and let go; and I did so immediately. In fact, I spoke so peaceably to the man I could see the surprise written all over his face.

At about the same time, someone showed me a clip of some Arabs, purportedly Libyans, beating to death a young black man, supposedly an immigrant. They had stripped him down to his pants, bound his hands and feet with tape, and sealed up his mouth completely with the same. They had locked him in a room and were beating him with what appeared to be a baseball bat. They beat him until every bone in his body was broken. Someone grabbed him by the back of his head and stabbed him repeatedly in the back with a large knife, and soon the boy was swimming in his own blood as he struggled for his life. Finally, as they went on bashing, he gave up the struggle. I had to steel myself to watch the video to the horrible end.

Again, I felt the old anger and hatred rising up in me. But, again, just as quickly, something spoke to my heart: “Watch out!” It was telling me to watch out for the purity of my heart. In my heart I immediately cried out to God; and just as quickly I felt the anger and hatred seeping away.

I am not blowing my trumpet and, indeed, the victories in my life are not always so forthcoming. But I rejoiced greatly when I saw clearly my responsibity in these two cases, and the grace of God that was so easily accessible to me.

Most of us don’t realize how important it is to watch over our hearts. But the Bible in Proverbs 4:23 tells us that watching over the purity of our hearts is the most important exercise that we can engage in here on earth.

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”

Notice, “with all diligence”. The Swahili Bible reads, “Guard your heart above all the things that you guard…”

Murmuring means grumbling, complaining; and it prevents us from keeping a pure heart. Ultimately, it destroys us. In fact, murmuring can be considered the silent killer of the spirit. It is so subtle and muted we often are not aware of its existence in our lives.

Much of the time, of course, we murmur because we feel we have been robbed of our rights. But that is what the gospel is all about. In fact, the gospel is more about us gladly giving up our rights rather than just waiting to have them grabbed from us. It is about rejoicing in persecution (Mat. 5:11-12). As children of God, we must pay the price to maintain a pure heart at every occasion and at all costs. And this state of affairs can only be achieved by the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ in our lives.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:14:

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”

And, in Galatians 2:20 he writes:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Paul’s faith was revealed in his dying to self.

Let us not murmur. However great the injustice, let us not murmur. Let us learn to rejoice and give thanks to God in every situation. Notice the Bible says that, when they murmured, the Israelites were given over to the Destroyer. Murmuring will destroy us; it will destroy our souls. Instead, let us learn to take every injustice with patience, for injustice is God’s way of testing our faith. We are to be men and women whose lives are ever full of love, forgiveness, joy and peace.

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 14:17)

[And now, for your listening pleasure…]

 

Hurray for Joe!!

Joe is my son. Yesterday, the 29th, we celebrated his 18th birthday. Everyone was so happy for Joe to be finally initiated into adulthood.

But we celebrated something else also, which was of far greater value and significance to us as a family. Joe had just brought in a trophy! Joe had just finished his secondary education and, during the graduation ceremony at the school where he had been studying, he was presented with an award for the best-disciplined student for the year 2016.

I was not even aware that such an award existed. In the days when we went to school, such awards were unnecessary simply because indiscipline was the exception rather than the rule. But today, it is all a different story. This is a fact which everyone is aware of today – which made the award all the more remarkable.

In his closing remarks, the school headmaster nailed the proverbial final nail in the coffin by stating, “In this school, we do not regard academic performance over discipline.” By inference, this meant that Joe was the top performer in the class of 2016!

(The presentation)

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I am so proud of Joe! And I thought… since I have so many friends in the blogging world, I might as well share my joy with them!

(Joe with a friend…)

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(… and with a very proud dad)

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By the way, we wanted Joe to select a song among the many that we listen to, to celebrate his accomplishment. Joe is a deeply God-fearing young man and we all thought he would choose a gospel song. Instead, he chose this song. We asked him the reason for choosing this song. He told us, “You will find it in the song.”

“A Joyful Heart Is Good Medicine”

1 And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.

2 And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

3 And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.

4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?

5 For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?

6 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.

7 And he arose, and departed to his house. Mat. 9:1-7

Jesus’ first order of business is always the condition of our hearts. Always. The Lord is unchangeable about this. Even if you were to be brought to Jesus just about dead and desperately clawing for your last breathe in a gesture that commanded the highest levels of pity, still the Lord wouldn’t be half interested in your precious body as He would be with your heart.

I know of a man, a friend of mine, who was very rich in the early 1990s. He had the biggest hardware business in town, and when he visited the big cities he would travel by plane. And when he went to those cities he stayed in hotels with such names as the Hilton, Intercontinental and Serena. By any standards, the man was a very ‘big’ man.

One day, this man met the Lord Jesus Christ and he became born again. There are people who think that a rich person cannot get saved. But Jesus died for all men and, in any case, it is God who knows men’s hearts. You would never have known it then by the kind of lifestyle that he lived, but after he got saved, this man demonstrated the most humble heart you will ever find anywhere.

Soon after this man got born again, two revenue officers came to his office and they told him that he had a big backlog of taxes which he had to pay. They told him, however, that he could settle the accounts by giving them a fraction of the money.

The man told them he was now saved and that he was not willing to bribe them. At which they stiffened and intimated that they could slap him with even bigger taxes, legitimate or not, if he did not play along. The man did not flinch. He told them to list all the taxes that they wanted him to pay.

The next day, they came. When I say they came, I mean that they came to finish off our man. They felled on his table a demand note that amounted to all the money that he had. The man took the paper, looked at it, and he told them to wait for him at their office. He graciously walked them out his office door then he went straight to the bank where he withdrew all the money that was there. With this money he went and paid off his taxes to the last cent.

Afterwards, he went home and informed his wife what he had done. The next day, he opened his business as usual. The fact, though, was that he was preparing to close shop. His business could never again rise from the ashes. Not long afterwards, he actually closed down his business and went home.

When his wife, who was also saved, learned of what the man had done, she stumbled in her spirit. Her heart became resentful towards her husband. She became so bitter, in fact, that she suffered a physical disability. A nerve in her backbone ruptured, or something, and she began suffering excruciating pain in her back.

She went from one doctor to another, receiving treatment after treatment at great financial cost. But her back did not improve and the pain only worsened.

In the meantime, her husband bought a piece of land with the money he had left and he began cultivating vegetables. The woman’s condition only worsened with the descent of her husband’s fortunes and status.

One day, a prophet of God came to our church. During one of the services, he called the woman over and told her the exact condition of her heart. He told her even how it had affected her physical health and how God would only heal her if she let go of the bitterness in her heart.

Obviously, this was a big demand upon the dear sister, for she had completely closed her heart. But the man of God encouraged her by telling her that all she needed to do was to be willing to let go.

Finally, the woman acquiesced. She nodded her head to indicate a ‘Yes’. At which the man of God placed his hands upon her and prayed over her and God healed her instantaneously. It is now many years hence, and this woman has never again spoken of the pain in her back, just as the man of God said.

But the point here is that her physical disability had been caused by the bitterness in her heart. When she agreed to let the bitterness go, God intervened and healed her.

It is no secret, and even many doctors own up to the fact, that many serious ailments are a result of people’s difficult heart conditions. Bitterness and unforgiveness especially are big culprits in this regard. There is nothing any earthly doctor can do to heal such conditions. There is only one doctor who can heal a heart condition: Jesus Christ, who defeated death. A heart disease is a deathly disease, and Christ is the only one with the authority to heal this most deadly of diseases.

Epilogue: After a fit of starts and stops, the brother finally settled comfortably into his new farming career. Small-scale nonetheless, but the man was content with it. That was many years ago. I have been to his farm many times and his is the best-managed farm I have ever seen. Financial-wise, it is a dim shadow of his former glory in the hardware business. But the Lord blesses in many ways. After many years of hard work, this brother’s efforts came to the attention of the regional government. Today, he showcases the region’s agricultural prowess in nearly all their agricultural exhibitions.

The best news, however, is that his wife is happy and contented by his side and they are a precious couple to behold. They are a big blessing to the church and to the community as well.

Proverbs 17:22 says:

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”

Grateful Beyond Measure

Without a doubt, the greatest scourge that ravaged the African continent during the 19th century – although it is reputed to date back to as far back as the 6th century – was the infamous trade in slaves. The slave trade was an evil that was as indescribable as it was unprecedented and it brought untold misery to the African peoples.

There are many stories, all true, of how the great Scottish missionary, David Livingstone fought the war against the slave trade both in small and in big ways. The story is told of how David Livingstone once met a slave caravan and, although he could do nothing to halt it – the slave traders were armed and dangerous – David stopped the caravan and managed to bargain for the release of one of the slaves upon whom he felt extreme pity.

The negotiations ended successfully after money had exchanged hands, and the slave was untied from the caravan. And there he stood in front of David, thinking he had merely exchanged hands from one slaver to another.

At which Livingstone told him, “Friend, you are free. You are free to go home.”

Upon hearing these words, the slave fell down at Livingstone’s feet and declared, “I will freely serve you all my life!”

He was overcome with the love and compassion that Livingstone had shown him.

Apart from writing this blog, one of the tasks that I do on my laptop is to translate gospel material from English to Swahili. The material that I translate comes mostly from brethren in the West.

When local people find me working on my laptop, they often ask me about the nature of my work, and I tell them. I tell them, “I am translating gospel material written by brethren from European countries.”

When they hear that, more often than not they say, “You must be receiving a lot of money from the white people for all this work!”

To which I reply, “No. I do not get paid to do these translations. Actually, I do not need any money to do this work. It gives me the greatest joy to do it for free. If they paid me to do this work, I would not have as much joy as I have doing it for free.”

Serving my Lord Jesus Christ is my joy. The opportunity to serve God the way I do is an indescribable reward from Christ to me. Many times I wonder at the incredible favor that I have to serve my Master in this way.

This joy is something that only my spirit comprehends, for my spirit knows well the redemption that Christ wrought for me.

But translating gospel teachings is not the only way that I am called to serve Christ. There are many other ways that the Bible calls us to serve Him. In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, chapters 11 and 12, the Apostle Paul lists three levels, or areas, of service to Christ, culminating with the famous thorn in the flesh. Paul’s bottom line in all his service to Christ is:

“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)

Paul took pleasure, not only in serving God in peaceful terms, but even in conditions where the service involved suffering. This was a man who truly understood how much the Lord had paid to redeem him.

This is the place that the Lord calls us to arrive at.

[Below: In one area, at least, I serve my Lord with great joy!]

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Immense Grace For Our Perfection

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. Rom. 12:1-2

Perfection is on my mind tonight, but I will probably present the subject in a different manner than you would expect. Still, I welcome you to join me as we make the long journey towards perfection, for we must.

Perfection has been on my mind for sometime now, and I came to understand that God wants me to go on towards perfection. To be perfect, the Lord showed me, is to be like Christ, and especially in the grace that He had. In connection with this, recently the Lord reminded me about our Lord Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot. God showed me in a clearer way Jesus’ attitude to Judas whom He knew was stealing from the ministry coffers (Jn. 12:6). Even though the Lord knew about Judas’ sin, yet:

  1. Jesus allowed Judas to continue keeping watch over the church funds!
  2. At no one time do we read of the Lord rebuking or even mentioning to Judas that He knew what the man was doing.

This talks of grace, immense grace. The Lord Jesus Christ had so much grace! He had the grace to be patient with Judas even under such extreme circumstances.

I haven’t yet heard of a church where the accountant or cashier stole money from the church account and it didn’t bother anybody. What I know of most churches is that if such an occurrence were brought to light there would be a small tremor in that church. Human nature (of which most of us have tons of) is such that we react with extreme hostility to the likelihood of such a situation. If a brother or sister is caught stealing, he will be made to feel the heat.

But, on the other hand, God has tons and tons of grace. I love the unflappability that Jesus had with regard to Judas. We all know that there were men amongst the disciples of Jesus – the likes of James, John and Peter – who did not have the patience that Jesus had. Had they caught onto what Judas was doing, the fellow would have been chased right into the Sea of Galilee!

The grace of our Lord Jesus is revealed even further in His ability to live with someone (this same Judas) whom He knew would one day betray Him. If I knew that somebody was intent on doing me harm, all my defences would come up. But not our Lord Jesus! Jesus calmly lived with Judas for three years while He waited for the day when Judas would betray Him.

What grace!

And how about Paul and the man whom he found sleeping with his father’s wife? In most cases when someone commits sin in the church, and especially sin of a sexual nature, he is dealt with harshly (fair enough); but it is what happens afterwards that saddens God’s heart. Much of the time, such a brother or sister is turned into a pariah and no one wants to associate with them again – ever. He or she is left to slowly die alone.

That is incredibly tragic, but it is not the heart of God towards His people. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we see the immense grace that he had. Apparently, all along he had been thinking about the same brother whom he had ordered the church to punish! In this second letter, all of Paul’s attention is once again on this brother; but now it is to plead with the Corinthian church to reinstate him into their midst. The fact that it necessitated Paul to do this indicates that no one in that church ever considered that brother worthy of salvation again. But Paul was a man who had much grace and the revelation of God’s heart, and he could allow for a repentant man to come back into the fold and even to make him feel welcome.

Lastly, let us consider the freedom that God, out of His richness, has given to us, His children. Most believers are not aware of the immense freedom that God has given the church.

I have two children, and one of the benefits that I have received as a result of living with them is that I have learned to appreciate the heart of God for His children. Sometimes my children will do something that hurts or pains me. Still, I always find that my desire is for them to do the right thing in freedom rather than through law. When my kids were young, I did not have that expectation. If they crossed me I would simply cane or spank them. Now they are much older, and I no longer even have the desire to punish them. On the contrary, I expect them to be able to understand the responsibility they have.

That realization really hit me when it first came upon me. I came to realize that that is exactly God’s heart for us. God desires us to obey and serve Him in freedom. Unlike we human parents, God will never put law on us. He is extremely rich in grace. The fullness of God’s grace is so we may arrive at the perfection, or full realization of God’s will in our lives.

In ending, I would like us to make the connection between the cross and grace. The Lord Jesus Christ had all that much grace because He carried His cross. The Bible says that He “… became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).

The Apostle Paul also had immense grace because he followed in the footsteps of Jesus. He took up his cross daily and followed Christ. He says,

“30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? 31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:30-31).

Grace is not a feel-good sensation. Grace is a work of the cross in our hearts. Grace is a surrender and denial of self.

We need grace.

Grace for peace.

Grace for joy.

Grace for righteousness.

We can only arrive at the fullness, or perfection of these things through the cross.

[Below: My desire is to have my children obey me in freedom, not through law. This also is God’s desire for us.]

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A Church In Exile (Part 2)

10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.

11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. Ezr. 3:10-11

Notice that Israel sang and praised God, and that the people shouted with a great shout only after the the foundation of the house of the Lord had been laid. In other words, the reason for their rejoicing was because the temple foundation had been laid.

Before that, the children of Israel had been in captivity, and the enemy had destroyed the temple down to the foundation. But now God had visited them again, and they had began to build the temple.

The Bible says that we are the temple of the living God and that the Spirit of God dwells in us (1 Cor. 3:16). There is no way you can build a temple before you have laid the foundation.

The foundation of the temple that God is building in us as believers in Christ is “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Before we even begin talking about the temple, we must first consider its foundation. If we do not catch the revelation of the cross in our hearts, we cannot build the church of Jesus Christ. The foundation of this new temple is humility and brokenness.

But, alas! today we see that the church submitting itself to other gospels. The church is in captivity to many other gospels. The church is looking for other things other than the inner work of the cross.

That is why the church today is a church in exile. The church may be shouting on the outside, but in the Spirit the church has nothing to shout about. The children of Israel were wiser than we; when they were in captivity they asked, “How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?” (Ps. 137:4)

They just couldn’t do it.

Today we ought to be mourning for how far the church has been taken from her borders. We can only truly rejoice when we have returned our lives onto God’s chipping block, the cross.

[Below: Moshi Town, with the beautiful Mt. Kilimanjaro towering in the background]

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