Our Father’s Love

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Mat. 7:11

Recently, the Lord taught me a powerful lesson about His love for us. On that day, early in the morning as I was working outside, my daughter came up to me and said, “Dad, I have a request to make of you.”

“Say on”, I responded cheerfully.

Now, my daughter is always asking things from me since she is a college student. But on this day, she had something entirely different on her mind.

“Can you give me one of your chickens to prepare for a friend of mine who will be passing by”, she said.

She explained that her friend and a family of four had attended a relative’s funeral in a distant town and they would be passing by our town on their way home in another distant town.

Immediately she said this, I remembered the story of the prodigal son in the Book of Luke chapter 15. I remembered the answer that the father gave to his eldest son when this son complained of how his father had never given him so much as a kid, that he might make merry with his friends. The father had answered his son:

“Son… all that I have is thine.” (v. 31)

I cannot express my feelings when I realized I was reliving a Biblical experience. On TV they call it ‘live’. I was undergoing a Biblical event, live! This one, though, had a vastly different outlook: unlike the son, my daughter was not complaining.

I looked straight into my daughter’s eyes and, my heart bursting with joy, I gave her the biggest “Of course!!” she will ever receive from me.

Taking her by the hand, I led her to the chicken house and asked her to choose the chicken she wanted to prepare for her friend. She chose a good, fat one.

I watched as she joyfully prepared the chicken. She put all her love into the operation, just as I had put all my love in giving her the chicken.

Her friend would not be stopping at our house, so I would not have the chance to meet or know her nor her family. But I knew how overjoyed my daughter would be handing them her gift, and this thought alone filled my heart with inexpressible joy.

Jesus said,

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mat. 7:11)

There are many times that I doubt the love of my heavenly Father. There are many times that I think He only looks at my mistakes. But my love for my children has taught me something awesome about the love that God has for me.

God loves me with unbounded love and He loves to do good things to me. All I need do is ask.

It is remarkable and awe-inspiring, don’t you think? Just think of how evil we are. And then just think of the love we are willing to bestow upon our children. How much more, the Bible asks, do we think God will bestow His love upon us?!

The fact that God loves us this much is not a licence to sin. But God’s revelation of His love for us is designed to make us cherish that love and to desire to love Him in return and to love our fellow men in like manner.

[Our Father’s love for us is as tight as it gets!]

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The Power Of A Good Name

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. Ecc. 7:1

The things that bring glory to God are not the things that we see in the natural. On the contrary, they are the things that are unseen, the things that are of the Spirit. But, unfortunately, the former is exactly the way many believers think. I remember one time we were at a conference and there walked up this pastor who had a big tummy and a body that appeared to be well fed and well taken care of. He was also wearing a sharp, shiny suit, shoes to match and a (fake) gold wristwatch. By all accounts he was a figure to envy.

A fellow pastor grabbed his hand and, pumping it up and down, exclaimed, “This is the kind of figure that brings glory to God!”

But that kind of thinking is carnal, and of the devil. God is not glorified in the flesh. Otherwise, Jesus would have been a Leonardo di Caprio.

I can tell you exactly what bring glory to God. It is a life that is lived in all Godliness and holiness. It is a life like the one I am about to describe below.

About three months ago, we lost a brother in one of our churches in a town called Mwanza. The brother, a young married man, worked as a construction labourer and on that day he was working on the second floor of a house he and his fellow workers were building. Suddenly, the girding he was standing on gave way and he plunged two floors down and his head ended up hitting the concrete below. His death was sudden and instantaneous.

The brother was a simple man. He was not a great person in any sense of the word. He was a simple construction hand and he had only recently moved into his humble half-finished house. He was the kind of guy who at his death would have had only a few neighbors show up at his funeral and, if anyone cried tears, it could only have been his wife or kids.

But with this brother, things were astonishingly different. The crowds that turned up at his burial attested to something superiorly unique. They were the kinds of crowds that you could only have expected to see at the burial of a very rich or famous person. The brother had died in the city, but he was to be buried in his village. Two funeral services were therefore held: one in the city; and another in the village where he was to be buried. In both services, I saw there multitudes which could not have been expected for a man of this brother’s calibre. In his home village, the entire community attended the burial; all businesses, including bars, closed and every last man, woman and child came to bury Musa.

But it was not just the crowds. The outpouring of emotion was overwhelming. Women cried uncontrollably, and the men could hardly contain themselves.

Musa was a deacon in the Mwanza church, and I had known him for a long time; but I did not know the extent to which he had touched people’s lives. On the day of his burial, even I was overcome with emotion as I witnessed the feedback from the crowds, and I too broke down in tears.

What could possibly have made this poor young man such a hero in the eyes of so many people, including unbelievers?

It was the kind of life that he lived. Musa gave his life to the people around him. He was a brilliant light in the true sense of the word for through his faith he brightened the lives of all he came across. He had brightened mine, too, for during the times when I visited the church in Mwanza, it was Musa who impressed himself on my mind the most. He had a simplicity and a humility that I envied.

It was not the first time that Musa had worked at the site where he died. After his funeral, the owner of that particular property called Musa’s pastor to his office. He said to him, “I cannot say this about everyone who has worked here, but Musa never stole from me. In fact, I could trust him with anything. For that reason, I will support Musa’s wife with exactly the same amount of money that Musa earned monthly.”

In addition, the owner of the school where Musa’s children were studying waived 90% of their school fees.

That was the power of a good name. Musa had lived an exemplary Christian life during his brief lifetime. A life humbly and godly lived; and a reputation that was more solid than a rock star’s. It was as the Bible says about the Prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:3-5:

“3 Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you. 4 And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man’s hand. 5 And he said unto them, The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that ye have not found ought in my hand. And they answered, He is witness.”

At Musa’s burial service, the pastor was bold and confident as he proclaimed the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. He had a good reference point. When he made the altar call, nearly every hand was raised in acknowledgement and many people received the Lord Jesus into their lives. In life and in death, Musa reaped a great harvest of souls. Without a doubt, Musa proved the proverb true that says:

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”

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“Troubled On Every Side!”

8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 2 Cor. 4:8-10

One time, not too long ago, I was in a jam – financially, spiritually and virtually in every area of my life. Spiritually, I was hanging by a thread, literally. I couldn’t pray and I couldn’t read my Bible. I would spend all of my devotion time looking into space. The worst time was when it came to ministering in church. I preached while looking at the clock, willing the time to pass quickly. I reckoned that if I made a lot of ‘spiritual’ noise within the allotted time, no one would notice that there was not a shred of the Spirit in my sermon. (Surprisingly, the services were always extremely lively!)

As my condition worsened, I soon found myself blaming myself for each one of the problems I was facing. As far as I knew I hadn’t done any express sin that warranted this downward spiral in my life. But I couldn’t put my finger on the reason nothing seemed to be working in my life and I could not find anyone else to blame. I was also ‘smart’ enough not to blame the devil.

It was then that the Lord, out of mercy for me, came to my rescue; and He did so in the most unexpected manner.

Early one morning, at exactly 6 o’clock, a brother 600 miles away called me as I lay in bed. For the last three hours, I had been lying on my back worrying about all the problems I was going through. At the exact moment that the brother called me, I was just beginning to doze off in fatigue. I was therefore none too happy as I made a belabored effort to answer his call.

The brother had never called me that early in the morning, so I thought he had something important to tell me. But, as it turned out, he had absolutely nothing of any importance to tell me. After the initial greetings, he told me that he was rushing off to his job. He works as a casual construction laborer. Work was hard to find lately, he intimated to me, and life had become extremely hard.

“But”, he concluded brightly, “we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed!” Then he hung up.

It took me a split second to realize that the brother’s last words were direct scripture. I shot out of bed like a bullet. The good news was that my wife was not at home at that time, she had gone visiting. Otherwise, I would have had some explaining to do.

I hit all the lights in the house as I began making a frantic search for my Bible, which since the last Sunday service I had thrown into no-man’s land. When I finally located it, I almost tore out the pages as I feverishly scrambled to find the scripture. I knew it was exactly as I had heard it on the phone, but I just had to make double sure!

When I finally found it, I sighed with relief – and unbounded joy! The scripture lay there before me, exactly as the brother had spoken it. I trembled as I read the words.

“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed” (2 Cor. 4:8).

Even as I read the words, I knew the Lord was speaking to me. I read the phrase over and over again:

“… troubled on every side”.

“… on every side”.

The joy that Lazarus felt after resurrecting from the dead wouldn’t have lighted a candle to the exhilaration I felt as those words rolled about in my heart. I can assure you, beloved reader, that on that particular morning, the biggest cloud ever lifted from my shoulders. I felt indescribably free and relieved! I realized that the devil – whom I had been desperately trying to shield from blame – was he who had actually been telling me that it was my fault that I was undergoing all these negative situations in my life. But the Lord came to my rescue by showing me through His Word that what I was going through was the perfectly normal Christian life! Trouble on every side! I couldn’t’ believe it!

Much of the time, it is like we want to have a ‘hedge fund’ in our spiritual lives. It is like we want to have the rights to lots and lots of breathing space. Somehow, it has been psyched into our minds that the Christian life is a trouble-free life and that, at the very worst, God allows us to encounter a few teeny weeny problems which we can easily brush aside while sucking on our chocolate bars.

But the Bible doesn’t say that. On the contrary, it says that we shall be “troubled on every side”!

I can assure you that if the Bible says trouble, it is talking of more real trouble than all the terror groups in the world can think of. It is talking of everything that the flesh, the world and the devil and all his hordes can throw at you. And, the Bible adds, we shall encounter this trouble on “every side” of our lives.

That is so Biblical. Jesus Himself said,

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)

As children of God, tribulation is our portion in the world. The Bible concludes,

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind…” (1 Pet. 4:1)

Looking to Others’ Gain

Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. Phil. 4:17
If you gave me a gift or came to my help in any way, I would feel extremely thankful to you. The reason for me being grateful is because you would have gotten me out of a jam. In other words, I would be thankful for me.
But, clearly, it was not so with the Apostle Paul. When the Philippians came to Paul’s financial and material need, he thanked them. But he thanked them, not for his sake, but for their sake. He had already stated:
“11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know 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. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (vs. 11-13)
The Apostle Paul was a true servant of God. He looked not to his own profit, but to the profit of others. He looked to the profit of those whom God had placed him over. And, even more importantly, he looked to their spiritual profit, rather than their material profit.
“Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.”
The “account” Paul is talking of here is the heavenly account, not an earthly one.
Most high-profile preachers today are looking to their own profit – material and financial. I have heard of preachers whose congregations have “rewarded” them with Rolls Royces, multi-million dollar mansions and even private jets. The reason these preachers grab at these “gifts” is because possessing them justifies the gospel that they preach – the prosperity gospel. They have, of necessity, to provide the prime example of the gospel that they preach through their lavish lifestyles.
How so noble of them!
In like manner, Paul also became the paramount model for the gospel he preached. But, praise God, Paul’s gospel was not the prosperity gospel. On the contrary, it was the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ. His was a gospel that required total denial of self.
Total denial of self… This reality tops the list, of all time, of things that are easier said than done, by any man anywhere on earth. The fact that Paul could deny himself to the extent of not wanting to receive things from his flock for his own gain speaks volumes about his spiritual character. That is not what a natural man would do.
But, even more astounding is the fact that he saw and desired for the Philippians far into the Spirit, that their fruit might abound in the Spirit on account of what they did in the natural.
“Not because I desire a gift…”
How so telling of the character of a true man of God! But, even more significantly so,
“… but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.”
Where are such men of God? Even amongst we who have shunned the false gospels of worldly men, where are the men and women who can run such a distance in the Spirit? Whom among us can deny themselves to such an extent? Where is such love to be found?
Paul’s words are rare indeed in this present world, and they present us with a challenge – a challenge to know and to walk in the true revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Then, the church will have a reason to praise and thank God for the rare gift that such men and women are to the church.

The Power of Love – Part 2

In the first part of this blog, I talked about how the Lord miraculously changed my heart towards my daughter. The lesson I learned there is that no amount of anger on our part, no amount of sermonizing, no amount of scolding will ever bring out the best in our children. The change must first begin with us. We, the parents, must pay the price for our children to change by changing first. And that is as it should be, for the Bible says:

“… for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” (2 Cor. 12:14)

As parents, we must carry the unconditional love of Christ in our hearts.

The brother that I was sharing my story with had joined our pastoral team here in Singida a few months earlier. But, already, I had come to love and respect him deeply. He was a man who was truly called of God, and he and I regularly spent a lot of time together. On this particular day, we were sharing the gospel casually as we normally do; the account of my daughter came up in the natural course of our conversation.

When I finished telling him my story, the brother looked down for a few minutes without saying anything. On my part, having finished narrating my story, I did not think much of what I had just said to him, and I was considering starting another topic. But the brother had other things on his mind.

After a few moments, he said, “I am touched by what you’ve just said because I, too, have a son.”

He told me that when his son finished his secondary school education, he took him to what we call here a “military school”. This is an ordinary high school, but run by the armed forces. There are therefore some military ‘extras’ in these schools.

A week after the boy had been enrolled at the school, he called his father.

“Dad, make arrangements to quickly get me out of this school. This school is completely useless. All we do here all day long are military drills. We are hardly doing any studying. Get me another school!”

The pastor told me, “I was livid. The reason I had taken this boy to this school in the first place was because he had failed his secondary school examinations. And the reason he had failed his exams was because of his bad behaviour. Instead of studying during his free time at home, he would spend the time walking around with his hands in his pockets, whistling nonchalantly and spewing every kind of garbage around the house. Whenever I told him to study, he would answer me in the most abrasive manner and continue his foolish ways.

“It had cost me a lot of money and much effort to find this school for him. When I heard him say, ‘Get me another school’, that was the end. I told him pointblank that if he ever left that school, I should never see his face in my home again. After which I hung up.”

He said, “I never called him again. But just this week he called me to tell me that the school is closing for the short holidays. He will be coming home tomorrow. Up till today, I did not know how I would receive him because I was still annoyed with him. But what you just shared with me has really touched me. I feel that, despite the boy’s rebelliousness, I also have not demonstrated any compassion or patience to him.”

The pastor left without making any promises. When we met a few days later, I had forgotten all about our conversation. But he brought up the subject almost immediately. He told me that when the boy arrived the next day, he went out to meet him. The boy, apparently fearing for his life, blurted out, “Dad, forgive me for troubling you. I have now gotten used to the school and I am enjoying it.”

To which the dad replied, “No. It is I who needs to ask you for forgiveness. Forgive me for being so hard on you. I ought not to have spoken so harshly to you.”

At which they both hugged and the father led his son inside the house.

“That boy has changed”, he told me. “Gone is the cockiness and defiance. It has been replaced by a seriousness I have never seen in him before.”

Every year’s end, during the December holidays, our organisation, CTMI (www.ctmi.org) holds regional youth camps in various countries around the globe. This year’s East African youth camp will be held in the town of Musoma, in Tanzania.

I am glad to say that, this year this young man will grace our regional youth camp for the first time. His father told me, “I just asked him whether he would go and he replied yes. I never expected that answer. It came out of the blue!”

“No, my friend”, I told him. “You paid a small price, and this is the reward for taking up your cross.”

The Bible says:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (Jn. 3:16-17)

Let us live, not to condemn, but to love.

[Below: Buses at a weighbridge near Dodoma]

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The Power of Love – Part 1

Not too long ago, I was describing to a fellow pastor how the Lord changed my heart towards my daughter. Starting from her teens, my daughter was not always an easy girl to get along with. She was headstrong and stubborn to the core. Her mother and I wanted her to become an obedient little girl, but we got the exact opposite. Needless to say, this state of affairs hurt both me and her mother deeply. In varying degrees of coaxing and coercion, my wife and I would try to make her tow the family line. But she just wouldn’t.

When I was with her, I would rein in all my impatience and try to be as loving as possible as I lectured her repeatedly against her stubborn attitude. That was when I was with her. When alone, however, I would be clawing up the wall in fury and frustration.

I had raised my children with the greatest care and attention to discipline and good morals. Somehow, I had placed a premium on my efforts, which meant that I expected them to tow a certain kind of line. But God never allows our ways to become His ways. No matter how sincere our intentions, no matter how good our plans, we must first acknowledge that it is all by His grace.

My daughter attends one of the colleges right here in our town but she stays on-campus. I was telling this brother how, one time, within a period of one week, I called her on the phone three times in a row, and she wouldn’t pick up her phone. Nor did she bother to call me back.

Ironically, I had initially actually called to say ‘Hi’. I had decided that, as her dad and pastor, I should now shoulder the responsibility of carrying the cross for everyone. But the exercise backfired. Two calls went by without being answered, and I wasn’t taking it nicely. By the time I made the third call, it was just as well she did not answer. Had she answered, the phone lines would have experienced a small atomic tremor.

After the third call, I spent the entire week preparing a doomsday speech – in my mind. She had to know who was boss! Even if it took her a year to come home or to call me, that speech would be delivered. I honed and honed on it until I felt it was as perfect as it could possibly be. Then I stored it in a specific location in my brain.

At the end of that very week, my daughter called me and informed me she would be coming home for the weekend. I answered her with the darkest “Welcome” that will ever grace this world.

I waited for her with mixed emotions. As with all parents, I love my daughter deeply. But, somehow, I could not take her intransigence. She had to learn to obey!

But a miracle took place that night. Yes, a miracle as instantaneous as the miracles that took place during Jesus’ time. That night, as I lay in bed, awake but tense, I suddenly felt an indescribable calm sweeping over me. A strange peace washed all over my heart and even over my body. I lay still and savoured its presence. All of a sudden I felt knots and lumps loosening up in me. At that moment I knew, suddenly, that I was free.

Actually, now, in retrospect, I realize it was the Lord Jesus Christ in person who visited me that night. In an instant, a whole new change occurred in me. I felt an incredible love for my daughter. I realized how she must be suffering also in her inability to obey us, her parents. I knew she wanted to obey, but she just couldn’t. Or, could it be…? All of a sudden, I realized that it was I who had failed her. I had failed miserably in showing her the love and patience she needed.

At that moment I felt I was ready to accept my daughter as she was. And this feeling came straight from my heart. I wondered, What had I been doing, being so hard on her?

She came on the evening of the next day. As luck would have it, it was I who opened the door for her. Upon looking at her face, I found the expected: an expression that indicated she was expecting trouble. Eyes sharpened to a knife-edge; and a mouth that was firmly set.

But she was in for the surprise of her life. I quickly moved out and took her in my arms, hugging her tightly. Then I looked into her face and said warmly, “Welcome!”

Her mother, who was inside preparing dinner, asked, “Is that Keren?”

“Yes”, I said.

Then I turned to her and said, “If you had not come tonight, you would have missed today’s chicken.”

The long and short of it is that, ever since that day, Keren and I, and her mother also, have become the best of friends. The even better part is that nothing she will ever do can take away or lessen the love that the Lord put in my heart that night. My love for her is perfect and unconditional.

Could things get better? Yes, of course. The best part is that Keren has been set free. When she is home, she no longer has the confrontational attitude that she possessed before. Gone also is the hounded look on her face. She has no need of these things because in her heart she can feel that they are no longer needful in our relationship. She can feel my unconditional acceptance of her.

Today, when she is at home, Keren brightens our house.

[Below: An indigenious people of the Manyara region, the Wamang’ati]

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Love, Not Anger

I raise chickens for a living. A man of God taught me that raising chickens is one of the jobs that a servant of God can engage in without compromising his faith. Here, you don’t deal with the tax man or the policeman. You are free as a bird!

Now, raising chickens has many challenges. For me, however, none used to drive me half as mad as a hen with newborn chicks. The same hen who used to rub herself against me as I fed her, the same hen who would jump away from me whenever she sensed that I wanted to catch her to give her a vaccine; this same hen, once she had newborn chicks, would turn into a lion! By the time she and I came to an understanding that all my interest in her barn was to feed her and her little chicks, I would have suffered quite a number of scratches and tears on my body.

When I first began raising my chickens, this state of affairs was a real challenge to me. But I responded to their ‘aggression’ with equal force. Coming from a tribe which does not allow a man to be challenged by another man – forget about that coming from a woman or child – I decided that I wouldn’t let a mere chicken intimidate me. But a hen with newborn chicks is fiercer than any tribe on earth. So my duel with my hens would end with a stalemate, so to speak.

I wish I could say it was the other way round but today, in perspective, I am ashamed to say that, with all due respect, it was I whose IQ was lower than the hens’. It was my heart also that was more twisted than the hens’. I am sure God in heaven was shaking His head in disbelief – disbelief at my blindness. For, I came to understand, what drove the hens to do all they did was… love! It was love for their little chicks that drove them to fight me off.

The hens had never held any grudge against me. But when they sensed that I was a threat to their chicks – which was the only interpretation they could get from my intrusions – they immediately came to their defense. At that moment, it did not matter whether I was stronger than them or not. Their love was far much stronger… far stronger than anything.

That is the love that God had for us when He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us.

It was the love that our Lord Jesus Christ had for us when He accepted to come and die for us.

It was the love that the early apostles had when they gave their lives to be buffeted and ultimately killed for the sake of Christ’s church.

It was this same love that the early church had when the Bible declares:

“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” (Acts 4:32)

The early church followed the example of Christ, who followed God the Father.

How about us? The foremost of the early apostle, the Apostle Paul, tells us:

“1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; 2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” (Eph. 5:1-2)

What is it that drives us? Is it anger? That is the emotion that is closest to us when we come against any resistance to our will.

But… only love should drive us, the love that is as strong as the hen’s which has newborn chicks. The love to die for another.

That little hen would put most of us to shame. Let us beware lest, when we get to heaven, that little hen will be brought to judge us.

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