Loving Jesus, Loving His Church – Part 1

And he is the head of the body, the church… Col. 1:18

Many years ago, when I was living in Musoma, a young man I knew was given the job of preparing a small piece of farm land down by the lake (Musoma is a port town situated on the shore of Lake Victoria). As he was digging up the earth, suddenly the hoe hit against a polythene bag that had been buried under the earth. The young man gingerly pulled up the bag and, as he did so, all the alarm bells in his body began ringing. He had the horrid feeling that the contents of that bag were not something he would want to see. But curiosity killed the cat, as they say. The mouth of the bag was tied with a thin, tight rope and, very cautiously, the boy began untying it. Upon peeping inside he saw what looked like the beginnings of human hair; and he did not wait to see the rest. He already knew what it was: it was a human head.

He dropped the bag and blazed a trail from that farm that would have been hard to erase. He ran as if the devil himself was after him.

I suspect none of us would have responded differently had we been in the same situation. Encountering a body-less head, or a headless body, would be an terrifyingly unspeakable nightmare for any normal human being.

If that is the case in the natural, should it not be much more so in the Spirit? Should it not be the scariest thing in the Spirit when we split up Jesus from His Body, the church? But, unbeknown to many, that is exactly what many believers are doing. And more terrifying is the fact that no one seems horrified by this attitude on the part of Christian believers. It appears as if it is the most normal state of affairs!

But we need to understand that the church is the apple of God’s eye. God looks upon nothing but the church. That is where His heart is. Just as a parent’s heart is on their child, God’s heart is on His church. That was why Jesus said,

“5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. 10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” (Mat. 18:5-11)

Jesus was talking of the church. The church is God’s “little ones”. You cannot destroy someone who has been washed by the blood of Jesus and get away with it.

But destroying the lives of God’s people is exactly what we do when we have no revelation that we need to lay down our lives. But, as we shall see in the second part of this post, preachers have taken it to an entirely new level.

Jesus told Peter,

“Feed my lambs” (Jn. 21:15)

“My lambs” was Jesus’s affectionate reference to His church.

Everyone is loudly declaring how much they love Jesus. You just go to any worship or prayer meeting and you will hear people emotionally telling Jesus how they love Him. But few can pay the price for the words they say, for the price of saying we love Jesus is to love God’s people with sacrificial love. God’s love demands that we lay down our lives for one another. Indeed, God’s love is the love that looks out for the spiritual wellbeing of your brother/sister-in-Christ.

You can easily gauge how much you love Jesus by measuring how well, especially, you wish God’s people in their spirits (3 Jn. 1:2).

Unfortunately, this kind of loving is one of the most difficult for most believers to do. This is clear from the fact that there are so many divisions within the church! There are inter-personal divisions: husband vs wife; parent vs child; brother vs brother, etc. There are social divisions: the rich are divided against the poor; the educated are ganged up against the illiterate; the Africans are gossiping against the whites; etc.

I believe with all my heart that God’s people first need to stop telling Jesus they love Him. When you tell Jesus that you love Him while you do not love the church, it is as if you were addressing a head which has no body. It is as if you are talking to the head and telling it, “I love you, head, alone, but not the body you are on. Cut yourself off that body and I will love you even more.”

Strange language indeed. This is the sort of thing that can only happen in voodoo. In voodoo they do these kinds of things.

But loving Jesus means loving our earthly brothers and sisters. The Apostle Peter tried to dodge the bullet, but Jesus would not allow it.

Jesus asked Peter,

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”

Simon Peter answered,

“Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

Jesus then told him,

“Feed my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)

In other words, If you love me, give your life for my sheep!

Do we love the Lord?

In Part Two we will talk about the worst culprit of them all, the modern-day preachers.

[The price for loving the Lord is loving His church.]

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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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The Value Of Admonishing Our Children

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Eph. 6:4

I want to talk about the word “admonition” in this scripture. It is fair, though, to also say something about the word “nurture” since it is also mentioned here.

Another word for “nurture” would be foster or develop. When it comes to fostering our children in the ways of the Lord, it is the life of Christ that we carry in us that will help to foster our children in the knowledge of Christ. Christian parents are like an incubator. They incubate their children – in the ways of the Lord. And there is no way you can do this unless you allow them to see Christ through the example of your life.

The second word, “admonition”, talks of warning. We are to warn our children in the ways of the Lord. In other words, we are to speak to our children about God.

It is a good thing to speak to our children about God. Let me give an example to illustrate this. My children, just like all children, love watching TV till the late hours of night. (Actually, we do not have TV, it is the videos they love watching.)

I don’t like it that my children love staying in front of the TV screen until midnight. I have talked to them severally regarding this but, apparently, my talk show has not borne much fruit. They will give this and that excuse and right after, I wake up at night to find them all quietly sitted watching a movie or whatever. If it was those early days they wouldn’t dare do it since I would shut that TV down and send them to bed with a boot to their backsides. But now they have gotten older, and I cannot discipline them in such a manner. Moreover, my going easy with them is my way of showing my appreciation to them for not being such a big headache to me in their teenage years.

Anyways, one Sunday, one of our pastors was preaching in church and he decided to direct his sermon to the youth. He read from Hebrews 12 and talked to them about the value of parental chastening. He told them that parents do it out of love. And he said, “If your parent ever stopped talking to you, or if they ever got tired of admonishing you, that would be the end of you.”

That evening, I was working on my laptop in my room when, at 10 p.m., I heard the lights going off in the sitting room, and I heard doors closing as my children went to their bedrooms. I had forgotten all about the sermon, and I was surprised to see my children going to bed so early? They had recently began watching an exciting new series and every day I would wake up at night to find them glued to the TV screen.

It was then that I recalled the sermon that we had heard that morning. I realized then that my children had quietly taken the pastor’s words to heart, and I was seeing the fruits.

I believe it is good to speak to your children about the Lord. God’s Word is powerful. One day, the words that you speak to them will bear fruit. It might be sooner, or it might take time. But whatever the time-frame, God will respect His Word that you have lovingly planted in your child’s life.

Much of the trouble that we witness coming from children nowadays stems from the fact that parents do not see the importance of “admonishing” their children in the ways of the Lord. In such a scenario, how can you blame the child who has never even heard the name “Jesus” mentioned in his/her home?

Let us be encouraged to talk to our children the words of life. And may we learn to put them in an environment where they will keep hearing these words.

[Three generations of “admonition of the Lord”]

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A Heart For God’s People

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

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.

14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction.

15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. Phil. 4:10-18

Ever heard of aliens? Well, there is no such thing as an alien. At least, that is my belief. But there is a new kind of ‘alien’ that we are going to learn about today.

During our recent regional CTMI conference (www.ctmi.org) in Dar es Salaam, the speaker, Brother Miki, quoting from 1 Peter 2:9 said, “A new race of people arose in the world when Jesus died and rose from the grave. A new race of people, saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. It is called the Christian race.”

I was sitting there and my mind was moving super-fast. I began thinking, This was a race that is not white, black, Asiatic, nor Arabic. You won’t find this race among all the races in the world. It will never be found there. It is a race of people that is alien to this world. It is indeed, as the scriptures say, a “peculiar people”.

It is in this light that we can appreciate Paul’s words in the scripture above. It is also in this light that I personally find it hard to count myself as a part of this peculiar race. How could I attempt to compare myself with this man who did something so unbelievably extraordinary?

And what is it, pray, that the Apostle Paul did that was so extraordinary?

The portion of scripture that answers this question is in verse 17:

“Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.”

Once you understand what Paul is saying here, you will understand that this was a man who was truly in a class of his own, spiritually speaking. In simple words, the apostle here is saying that he wanted the Philippians to give; but not for the reasons that many of us would be thinking of.

Paul had only one reason to want the Philippians to continue giving. The reason he rejoiced for their giving, he says, was because

“I desire fruit that may abound to your account.” (v. 17)

The reason I say I am not in Paul’s league is because  whenever I have a need I always think of the shortest way to have that need met. And if a brother or sister comes to my aid, I will tell them, “God bless you”. But more often than not my “God bless you” is my selfish way of saying, “Thank God the need has been met” rather than a sincere desire to see the brother or sister blessed in the Spirit.

But God’s sacrificial love is revealed in the Apostle’s life in two ways here. In the first place, even though Paul had needs, he did not think of himself in time of receiving. On the contrary, he thought about the giver. He rejoiced, not on his account, but on their account. He rejoiced, not because he was receiving, but because they would be receiving!

Secondly, the Apostle Paul desired spiritual blessings for God’s people. He rejoiced because he knew that as they gave materially, they would be receiving spiritually.

Today many preachers will tell you to give in order that you might receive a material reward in return. I heard one preacher say, “If you do not pay your tithes, you will not be fed!” Fed, presumably by God. Wow!!

Today, the Name of God is blasphemed all over the world because of preachers of the gospel who do not have a heavenly agenda. A preacher who only has an earthly agenda is the most dangerous living thing alive. Seriously. This man or woman will take God’s people down the road of destruction for he or she will show them only how to prosper materially. Moreover, all he or she is thinking is how he can gain from them. He does not have their spiritual interests at heart.

But the Apostle Paul had the spiritual interests of God’s people at heart. And it is here, in this scripture, that God’s heart for His people is revealed: it is a heart that desires for us to get hold of the heavenly vision, and a heavenly reward, not an earthly one.

God’s Unsearchable Love

I once overheard an old man say, “Heaven is our home”.

The following clip is of a plane in distress as it approaches LAX, in the U.S. No doubt, God wanted these people safely home. And “home” here was not Los Angeles;  home was heaven. And so He, who holds sway over every affair both in heaven and on the earth, intervened on these passengers’ behalf – and on behalf, possibly, of many other people on the ground.

I wonder whether we value God’s perspective  concerning our lives as He does?

Little Things Matter

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Jn. 15:12-13

42 And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. Mat. 10:42

[The inspiration for this post came from a sermon given by a very good friend of mine]

I know this might appear like a vain attempt on my part to reach for the stars, and I know it will most certainly sound surreal to my friends and readers. But I will go ahead and make this astonishing claim: that I have met the most beautiful woman in the world. Yes, among the many blessings that God has bestowed upon me, worldly speaking, is that He has granted me to set my eyes on the most physically beautiful woman in the world. For those willing to believe, yes, I have. In the flesh, I mean. And up close and personal, if you will. Now, just to set the record straight, I know it is said that beauty resides in the beholder’s eyes, but with this woman (who I will call D) it is not a matter of the beholder or the non-beholder. It is, simply, that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, period.

But, even a die-hard believer in this blogger might be tempted to stop believing me when I make my second claim, which is that this woman also has the most beautiful heart I have ever seen. How I arrived at the conclusion of the latter is the subject of this post. (The fact of D’s physical beauty, as I indicated, is not up for debate here).

Here is how it all unfolded.

A number of years back I visited the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to attend the annual Church Team Ministries International (www.ctmi.org) conference. It was my first time to go ‘abroad’ (meaning outside of our two other East African countries of Kenya and Uganda). I met the most wonderful people on this island and I saw firsthand how hearts that have been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ truly look like. But I had to overcome my personal fears first.

When I arrived there I was taken to one of the elders’ homes where, to my horror, I found many other visitors from different parts of the world also accommodated. Coming from one of the more backward parts of Africa, you can imagine I was not exactly the most inviting sight to see. By the time I arrived in Mauritius after a 4- hour flight, my hair had reverted to its original African state of uncombedness and, even though I had tried my best to really scrub myself, an abrupt landing into a more ‘developed’ environment brought into sharp focus every mis-detail about my physical appearance. Moreover, I was completely uneducated in the art of etiquette and, in a desperate attempt to make an impact, I quickly bungled the few chances I had and I ended up making one wrong impact after another, especially with my mouth. For starters, I called our host’s wife “Mama”, thinking I was being social and polite. But in Mauritius you don’t call women “Mama”, and I later learned that it was simply because everyone in that house was full of the grace of God that I was not immediately tossed out.

But it was a girl who was in that house that really made the difference with me. D took everything to another level, so to speak. But before we get to that part, I cannot help but mention again her incredible beauty. Despite the large number of people there, you couldn’t help noticing her, simply out of the fact that she was the most beautiful young lady anyone could ever have set their eyes upon. The minute I saw her I remember thinking, “This cannot be real. She must be a model.” There are simply no words to describe D’s beauty.

Anyways, the very first evening I arrived, after I made my debacle with the “mama”, D walked up to me and warmly greeted me with a hug and a kiss on my cheek. To this day, I cannot forget her smile as she came towards me. I thought she was greeting me as a formality and I remember wondering whether the next morning she would find the grace to even say hi to a half-moron-looking fellow like me.

But it was what D did next that completely blew me away. During the course of my stay in that house, D literally owned me. She made me her personal responsibility. Every day she would come from work and she would make a beeline for me where she would come up and hug and kiss me. After which she would sit by my side and take her time making small talk. One of the questions that I recall she would ask each time was, “Zakaria, how was your day?”

And I remember thinking: It is me who should be asking her how her day at the office was! It always struck me how energetic and joyful she seemed after a day at the office, a time when most people are so tired they have no energy left to do anything physical, let alone deal with people.

Even when I was transferred to a different residence and we were separated with D, she doggedly followed up on me. We would meet in church on Sundays and she would shower me with her peculiar love and kindness.

Later on, long after I had left Mauritius, D wrote me an email in which she confided to me that, at the time I was in Maurtius she was undergoing a particularly tough phase at her workplace and that soon after I left she had had to give up her job. The realization came to me that, at the very time she was sacrificing her life for me, she was going through hell herself!

My heart broke. To think that it was I who should have been comforting her at the very moment she was comforting me!

But God is incredibly faithful. All that is behind her now. Today, D is a happily married young lady, with an incredibly happy and fulfilling family life.

I remember writing her and telling her about the little things that she did for me while I was in Mauritius. She wrote back, saying, “Yes, sometimes the small things we do without knowing can impact people’s lives”.

Indeed. Jesus gave us the opportunity to use even the little things in life to show forth His love. Remember Jesus spoke highly about giving someone a cup of cold water. There is nothing remarkable about a cup of cold water; but it means the world to a thirsty soul.

There are many little things that we can do with the love of God in our hearts, and these things can bring a difference in people’s lives. Say “hi’ to people. Stop and help (there is much of that on our streets). Visit your neighbor. Visit the sick and elderly. Call back, write back. Go out of your way. Purpose to be a blessing to someone. Above all, don’t think only about yourself.

Loving God’s Son

53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you… 66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Jn. 6:53-66

The gospel of the cross can only be accepted and carried out by those who have a true love for the Lord Jesus Christ.  I once watched an Irish movie called “Touch of the Master’s Hand”. In that movie, a wealthy nobleman dies leaving a will wherein he gives instructions for his priceless collection of paintings to be auctioned off. But in the will is a hidden clause that states: Whoever buys the nobleman’s son’s portrait (which has been done by a local artist) will inherit all the nobleman’s wealth, including the massive collection of expensive paintings. His son is already deceased.

The whole world wants these paintings, and art collectors and the elite and moneyed gather from every corner of the world to view and buy the art collection. The first item to be auctioned off is the portrait of the nobleman’s son, a dull and unremarkable piece of art. No one wants to buy the painting; indeed, no one takes any notice of its submission and even as the auctioneer tries to get their attention on it, everyone is busy clamoring for the auction to “get underway”!

The painting is finally bought at a very cheap price by the rich man’s gardener. This was a man who was extremely loyal to his master and who had always admired the young boy. And that purchase brings the auction to an abrupt and unexpected end for, as the auctioneer reads from the will, the nobleman had stated that whoever would buy his son’s portrait would inherit all his wealth, including the paintings.

Benumbed and clueless as to what had taken place, the visitors shuffle away empty-handed.

That is a picture of the church today. Everyone wants all the goodies that God has to offer – the blessings, the healings, the dancing and celebrations, the amens and hallelujahs – but few are willing to love the Lord Jesus Christ to the extent of dying with Him. But, contrary to popular belief, there is no life in these things; the life is in the partaking of the death of the cross. Our calling, therefore, is clearly set forth in both these scriptures which we ought to meditate upon before “believing” anything else:

Philippians 1:29: For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake…”

and 2 Timothy 2:11-12: 11 It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us”.

According to the Bible, few believers are willing to deny themselves (Mat. 7:14). Denying oneself means forgoing one’s (worldly) rights and being content and happy therein. Denying oneself means taking up our cross daily and following Christ.

To love the Lord Jesus Christ is to die; to die the death of the cross where the flesh with its worldly lusts, have been crucified.

It is to not love the glitz and glory of this world, which today has been comfortably allowed to settle in church. Rather, it is to have our sights set upon the unseen treasures of God’s heavenly Kingdom.

To love the Lord Jesus Christ is to become lowly and humble:

Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Rom. 12:16)