“Christians”!

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

This blog has taken a toll from my many travels on account of the gospel. Much of the time, for various reasons, I am forced to leave my laptop behind.

In the last few weeks, however, Acts 11:26 has been powering its way in my spirit; and I felt I should share it with my readers.

The above scriptures go to show, not just the great work that Paul (then called Saul) and Barnabas accomplished as apostles (which I will address in a later post); but also the fruit that is born in men’s lives when the true gospel of Jesus Christ is preached. The Apostle Paul had received the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus, so it goes without saying that he preached no other gospel than this to the believers at Antioch (Gal. 1:11-12; 1 Cor. 2:2). And when the disciples in Antioch became followers of this gospel, the fruit of the Spirit was born in their lives and their lives were transformed. So much so that it became clear to everyone who saw them. And the people of Antioch called them “Christians”, for they followed after Christ.

People love saying “Praise the Lord”, and making long testimonies. None of that is wrong, of course, but what really counts are not the words we speak, but transformed lives. Our Lord Jesus Christ said,

“14 Ye are the light of the world… 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Mat. 5:14-16)

Much of the time, God is not looking for the praise and worship session in church, however much we make of it. Nor is He waiting for our testimonies or sermons, be they long or short.

God, however, is very much concerned with the price we are willing to pay in order that we may live the kind of life that pleases Him. Incidentally, the kind of life that pleases God is also the kind of life that pleases the ordinary man. The Bible says of Jesus:

“51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. 52  And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Lk. 2:51-52)

Christianity is not a label. It is Godliness – Godliness in action. Jesus pleased both God and His parents by “subject unto them”. That means He obeyed His parents. He did not please God or His parents by singing “praise and worship”. You can sing praise and worship without it costing you a dime. It is when we accept to give up our inner “things” to be crucified that we please God, for this brings out the character of Christ in us. And that is all that really matters in our confession of Christianity.

That was what the disciples at Antioch did; and it became evident to all men.

[I found this little boy all alone deep in the bush grazing his father’s calves]

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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!

The Call Of God – Part 2

God, He is God. He is I AM. You do not need to add “great” there because there is no adjective that can even begin to describe God. He is indescribable.

When Moses asked Him what name he would give the Israelites concerning the One who had sent him, God told Moses, “Tell them I AM has sent you” (Ex. 3:14).

He is THE EXISTENCE. We are not. Nothing is. He alone IS.

The Jews so reverenced God that they gave Him a name written only in consonants, so it would be un-pronouncable. They called Him YHWH.

God is also unsearchable. You cannot even attempt to search out God. The Bible in Romans 11:33-36 declares:

“33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! 34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? 35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”

Jehovah God is the I AM. He alone is THE EXISTENCE. In other words, He is LIFE.

Jesus told the Jews,

“I am the resurrection, and the life” (Jn. 11:25)

He also told them,

“Before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn. 8:58)

He was telling them His real Name. And the Jews picked up stones to stone Him.

There is nothing that man can do for or against I AM. When He therefore calls, no man can prevent that call from reaching the intended subject. The Bible in Romans 11:29 says,

“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”

Notice the finality, or authority, with which these words are stated. When it comes to AUTHORITY, we have not even started to understand the authority that God has.

In one of the pastors’ mini-conferences that we held in our town last year, I was surprised to see a heavily garbed woman weaving her way towards me inside the meeting hall. Upon reaching me, I realized it was Mama Zulfa.

My first words revealed the shock I felt at seeing her at the meeting.

“Mama Zulfa!” I exclaimed. “You’ll get us all killed!” I meant it.

“Oh no”, she countered. “But I just had to come and see the men of God.” She was all giggles. She was thoroughly enjoying herself. But she was in a hurry. She would not even be sitting through the session.

We introduced her to the men of God who had come to minister and it was an incredibly wonderful experience for all of us. They now have her in their sights and in their prayers.

But it was another introduction that took place on the sidelines that blew everyone involved away. Just as Mama Zulfa had made another historic mad dash across town, on this day also another piece of history was to repeat itself.

One of the pastors we had invited to the meeting was the pastor who many years ago led Mama Zulfa to Jesus. He had traveled from afar to attend the meeting. Now an elderly man, still he could not but remember the young girl who had cried out, “I am one of you!”

The man was wonderfully surprised. They stood facing each other, his face a block of shock; hers full of wiggles, wriggles and giggles. It was the sweetest homecoming for both of them. And for us too.

I would have loved to end Mama Zulfa’s story here, and I will. But hers is a story that simply refuses to end. There are just too many incredible events connected with her to narrate in one sitting. But the even more incredible fact is that hers is a story that will endure unto eternity, for

“the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”

[I worship You, Lord]

Of Joseph, and Jacob

17 He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:
18 Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
19 Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. Ps. 105:17-19

It is rare that I can read the story of Joseph without tears streaming down my cheeks. It is incredible the suffering the saints of old endured in order to carry through and keep alive God’s plan and purpose through the ages until Christ’s time should come.

All the more reason that we should consider it a privilege when we suffer for Christ’s sake. And it is for this very reason that the Apostle Paul would write:

“8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8-9)

If any man preach any other gospel than the singular gospel that Paul preached – (“But we preach Christ crucified…” 1 Cor. 1:23) – let that man be accursed.

For Christ has called us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him. Jesus also said,

“13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Mat. 7:13-15)

Many false prophets will rise up in the last days who will show a different way, the easy way; but it leads to destruction. But the only way to eternal life is the way that Joseph, Jacob and the early saints, walked – the way of suffering.

 

Making It

The wife of a pastor friend of mine died yesterday afternoon, right after church. She was a woman whom I knew intimately. Just last Friday I was with her and her husband at their house. As we sat she complained of a headache, and her husband brought her some painkillers. No one thought anything else about it until she fell down in her sitting room and died. She died instantly.

It was a poor family and she lived a poor life. She never knew the good life.

Today, at her vigil, all the men were sitted outside and the women inside, as is customary when there is not enough space inside the house. Everyone’s thoughts were on what caused her sudden death. But, as her husband was narrating the ordeal, he said something that made me realize that the really important question was not what had caused her death, but where she’d gone.

A week ago, her 14-year old son had been involved in an accident. He had been riding a borrowed bicycle when he was broadsided by a motorcycle as he was making a turn. It was a ghastly accident, but luckily he came out largely unscathed. Within four days he was out running again. But the near-miss had shaken his mother badly.

Her husband told us, “My wife’s last words were to my son. She called him over and said to him, ‘Do you realize what could have happened to you in that accident? You could have died instantly. You should not play with going to church. Tell me you will not be missing church again.’

“At which”, proceeded the pastor, “the boy said, ‘I promise, mother.’”

It was then that his mother let him go. Not long afterwards, she collapsed inexplicably and died instantly.

As the pastor was speaking, we were sitted outside, under a clear, blue sky. Just about then, I glanced up and espied an airliner making its way across the sky. It was travelling from the north to the south. It was very high up, probably 30 – 40,000 feet. It was so high that were it not for the jetstream, I might not have noticed it.

Something told me, “No, she is not on that plane. She has left the splendors of this world that she never knew. But she is somewhere”.

And I knew, even as I looked up, beyond the airliner, that she had made it. Yes, she was finally with the Lord Jesus Christ. The thought was too tremendous for me to comprehend. It still is, even as I write.

Dying To Live

31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Mat. 8:31-38
In the world, when men die, we say they’ve lost their lives. That is as it should be, for here we are speaking from a worldly point of view. It is fair and correct to say that someone has lost their life because they have no other life.
But when we believe in Jesus Christ, we gain another life. Not that we get to have more than one life like the proverbial cat. On the contrary, through losing this temporal earthly life we gain the eternal heavenly one. This is our singular calling as believers. Many believers know and are affirmed of the hope of eternal life. But there is the experiential grasping of this hope, which can only be achieved through losing our worldly life.
Unfortunately, many people do not have this revelation. Even after they have been born again, many believers are not aware that they need to lose this earthly life in order to gain the heavenly one. That is why they will fight and scrape for self-preservation in every sense of the word. They do not learn to lose their love for this life.
But losing or denying one’s self is not easy, as we see in Jesus’s example. It goes absolutely contrary to what we in our flesh would want to experience. Notice what Jesus stated would happen to Him:
“And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed”.
Nothing in these words is easy by any standards. But with Jesus it went far beyond comprehension. He did not deserve to undergo any of this. Normally, after a terrorist attack you often here people say, “The terrorist killed innocent people”. But there is no such thing as an innocent person. All human beings are guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23).
The only Person to whom that word “innocent” ever applied in this world was our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible declares that “He did no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22).
Jesus therefore did not derserve to suffer in any way. On the contrary, He needed to be praised and exalted and lauded. But He suffered, and terribly. And for this reason – His sinlessness – our own suffering cannot be held in comparison to His.
But still the Bible exhorts us to have the mind of Christ,
“6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But 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. 2:6-8)
It is not easy to have the mind of Christ. Such a mind will take you to places you wouldn’t want to be. It will lower you to levels you would not wish to be at. And sometimes it will cause you to suffer physical pain. That is why worldly-minded men will try to stop you from suffering for the gospel of Jesus Christ, just as Peter attempted to do to the Lord. I have heard believers say, “Being saved does not mean becoming a fool” as they attempt to justify fighting for their rights. That is why you will find them in the civil rights movements, etc.
But Jesus said clearly,
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it…”
May we learn to deny our selves. Denying ourselves means denying our own rights and whatever else the flesh craves. The flesh craves the world, literally. It has thousands and thousands of desires. But the cross comes to crucify these desires. It comes to reveal another glory, the heavenly glory. In the process, we count the glories of this world, including our rights and material comforts, as dung.
[In the world, dying is counted as losing. In the Spirit, it is gain]

A Ministry Of The Spirit! – Part 1

2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:

3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. 2 Cor. 3:2-3

Many years ago, when I was under the charismatic gospel, I used to go to church meetings, conferences, etc., armed with pen and paper. These were my most important tools after my Bible. I had to write down everything that was taught.

Another thing had to do with my Bible. In those years, my Bible looked like a tattooed body. Underlining, highlighting, notes and comments were written all over my Bible. If I gave someone my Bible, they could not have been able to know what was originally written in the Bible; they would need a microscope to decipher what was of God and what was mine.

Another thing: I owned many different versions of the Bible, and my favorite pastime was to go through and compare all these versions against each other daily. I also had Bible concordances, dictionaries, commentaries, study guides and every kind of reference book that had to do with the Bible. And books… I loved to read books written by men of God. I loved the Lord with all my heart, and I did everything possible to get to know Him more.

Today I still love the Lord as I did those years back. But everything else has changed. Today, I have only two Bibles. One is the King James version; and the second one is the standard Swahili translation, Swahili being the language that we use in our part of the world. I have heard people say that the King James is difficult to read and hard to understand. I also used to think that in those days. Not any more. In fact, I find the King James Bible not only the easiest book to understand, but the most joyous to read.

I no longer carry pen and notebook into any service. That is, unless I want to take some information from someone, like their address. Or if I have an announcement to make in church. When I go into a church service I go only with my Bible.

I no longer use concordances, commentaries or any reference books. And I no longer study the old Biblical lands.

About my new Bible… I have had it since 2013 and I have written nothing inside save my name and address. There are no notes, no highlights, no underlining, no nothing. My Bible is just as it was when it came from the printers. If you open it, you would think I have never used it.

That’s the Swahili Bible. For the English Bible I have only my old King James version, which I once had considered getting rid of. And this Bible has no references in it. It is not a Study Bible.

(I have to say it here: there are some Bible versions which read like James Hadley Chase.)

I no longer read books, especially Christian ones. They no longer excite me. What excites me is the daily revelation that I get from God’s Word in the Bible.

So what is all this about? What has happened to me? Have I ran mad?

No. What has happened is that I have received the revelation of the gospel of the cross, which is the ONLY gospel ministered to by the Spirit. The revelation of Christ crucified ministers to the heart, not the mind. If you want to know that you are not under the ministry of the Spirit, all the proof you need to have is how much you feel you have to take and compare notes, read books, rely on study guides, references and commentaries, etc. The litmus test – as a friend of mine would say – of the fact whether you are or you are not under the ministry of the Spirit is when your life is cluttered with these things. It is the mind that relies on ink and paper; and the Spirit does not minister to the mind. The Spirit ministers to our spirits. The Bible says,

“Deep calleth unto deep…” (Ps. 42:7)

Notice verse 3 of 2 Corinthians 3.

“…ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”

The Holy Spirit does not write His message with ink. Nor does He write it on paper. He writes it with life – God’s life. And He writes it on our hearts. Not on paper. All you need when you go to church is to have a right and receptive heart. And to make sure you are receving the right message.

We cannot become epistles of Christ if we are to rely on ink and paper. To become an epistle of Christ means to carry the life, and the grace, of Christ. Ink and paper go to the mind, and no work of the mind can produce this life in any man. Ernest Hemingway committed suicide despite having one of the greatest minds in the world.

Pen and paper. Throw those into the dustbin. Same with the ipad. Get a right and humble heart, and Christ will minister to you.

All the variant gospels, ministries and churches that have sprouted all over churchdom are a result of a lack of the ministry of the Spirit in the church. That is why you hear warped things like the gospel of prosperity, and worse.

But praise be to God for the gospel of the revelation of the cross. When the Holy Spirit ministers, He ministers through a revelation in our hearts. And the Holy Spirit does not reveal many things. He reveals only one thing: Christ and Him crucified. This is the ONLY gospel that the Holy Spirit ministers. He does not minister any other gospel for the simple reason that it is in this gospel alone that He dwells, the gospel where the precious blood of Jesus Christ was shed. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell in any other gospel. Therefore, no other gospel can bring life to a man. No other gopel can transform a man to become an “epistle of Christ.”

How do I know this? It is because the Apostle Paul himself said,

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

If the Apostle Paul determined to know only one thing, then that’s the only thing worth knowing. It is the only thing any sincere believer should want to know.

Oh, to get a grip on the Pauline revelation! The gospel of the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ is emphatically a ministry of the Holy Spirit, not of men’s minds.

Ultimately, this revelation is the only thing that a true believer can boast in, for it is what transforms him into the true image of God’s Son Jesus Christ, which is all that God is waiting for us to become.