Grace, Grace For The Church – Part 1

Grace, Grace For The Church

 

28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.

29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first. Mk. 10:28-31

As usual, with the Bible no amount of writing can exhaust the riches to be found within even a tiny portion of scripture. All our blogs and all our posts just tap at the tip of these riches.

Having said that, let me begin by summarizing what I want to discuss with regard to the scripture above:

  1. Peter’s “carnal mind” (Rom. 8:7).
  2. The manner in which Jesus answered Peter’s question.
  3. The essence of the answer that Jesus gave to Peter. This one is guaranteed to blow away your mind.
  1. Peter’s carnal mind.

Someone showed me a clip of one of the world’s top prosperity preachers ranting: “If I want to believe God for a 65 million dollar plane you cannot stop me!”

Apparently, someone had told the man not to buy the plane, and he was not happy about it. As I watched the clip, I saw a man under siege; and I was reminded of how Peter also one time felt under siege; so much so that he began to hound Jesus after Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom that He had come to establish had nothing to do with worldly riches.

Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.”

That might appear to be a very innocent phrase, but it is not. When it says “Peter began to say”, it means there were other things he wanted to say. What the Bible is actually talking of here is a declaration of war: Peter was declaring war on Jesus!

In Matthew’s account it says: “Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (Mat. 19:27)

It is important to notice that Peter brought up this issue immediately after Jesus had finished telling His disciples how difficult it would be for those who love worldly riches to enter heaven. He had told them:

“24… Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:24-25).

And the Bible says: And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?” (v. 26)

Clearly, they hadn’t been expecting this. It is clear that Peter and his fellow apostles had all along been tagging behind Jesus expecting to receiving these very riches that Jesus was now declaring were not a part of the Kingdom He had come to establish. The news did not settle well with Peter and, being the edgy man that he was, he couldn’t hold in his impatience any longer: he wanted to know right away if, as it appeared, riches were out of the equation, then what was he and his friends who had “forsaken all, and followed thee” to profit in?

“C’mon, man, answer me!!” That was what he must have wanted to shout out aloud and he probably wanted to get his hands on Jesus and shake Him up. The Lord had just executed the biggest upset in the history of his life!

In engaging Jesus thus, Peter unwittingly exposed the lust in his heart. Peter is therefore the first self-declared prosperity gospel disciple that we find amongst the followers of Jesus.

But Peter was representative of all the rest of Jesus’ disciples… and he is representative of many of us today. There is no denying the fact that many believers today love the world and the things in it more than they do God or His spiritual Kingdom.

But – praise God! – Peter eventually parted ways with that “mind” of the flesh. After the cross, Peter repented and mended his ways. For, when the Jerusalem church was born, Peter and the apostles probably set the Guinness World Record for becoming the richest men within the shortest period of time. The Bible states that on the very first day that the church was born, 3,000 souls were added to the church! Subsequently, “…the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

That was surely a large number of people in that church. We have no idea of the total number of believers the church at Jerusalem eventually arrived at before it was finally scattered abroad by persecution.

Now, the Bible records that within this church, “34 … as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:34-35).

Notice the word “prices”. That is talking of hard cash; and with all those numbers, that must have been a lot of money in that church. And all this money, the Bible says, found its way to the apostles’ feet. But, somehow, it did not find its way into their pockets!

The apostles did not use it to fulfill their own lusts in the name of “ministry”. They did not use even a dime of it for themselves. On the contrary, we see Peter and John walking to church without a cent in their pockets on the day they healed the lame man.

All the money that the apostles received they appointed Godly men to distribute to the needy. They did not even handle it themselves.

It is in this light that I believe God is waiting for all the prosperity preachers and their followers within the church today to face the cross and embrace the true gospel of Jesus Christ, of Christ and Him crucified.

[Below: Under the shadow of the Uluguru Mountains lies the main bus stand in Morogoro]

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Drama vs Reality in Church

11 (She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house:

12 Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) Prov. 7:11-12

The segment that caught my attention in this portion of scripture is: “She is loud…”

The flesh is loud. The flesh loves making noises. It loves dramatics. It loves bombastics. Now, I am not saying that anyone who talks in a loud voice is carnal; no. We cannot interpret scripture in such a physical manner. Scripture is spiritual, and I am talking in the Spirit here.

Notice, “(She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.)

We could paraphrase this scripture in the following manner: ‘She is loud, but there is no change in her character. She is proud, unfaithful and disobedient. She is full of the flesh. She is full of sin.’

This scripture is talking about a carnal, worldly church.

Many years ago, I attended an open-air evangelistic meeting in our town of Musoma. I had just arrived in town and I did not know any pastor, save the one whose church I had begun to attend.

During the meeting, all the pastors from the town were called to introduce themselves. They all stood on the large podium and began introducing themselves one by one.

It is many years ago, but I can never forget this particular pastor who took the microphone and, with a voice like thunder, sounded the loudest “Hallelujah!” I have ever heard in the history of my life.

This preacher was a tall, strong man, and he looked extremely lively and energetic.

“Halleloooooooooooooooooooooooojah!” he roared in a voice that seemed it would end in eternity.

The response from the crowd was like the Niagara Falls. They roared back an almighty “AAAAAAAmen!!” accompanied by shrieks, screams and ululations from the hundreds of women gathered there.

I was new in salvation, and I had never heard anything like it. The power of that noise overwhelmed me. As I stood there I felt a tingling in my body, a tingling that began at the soles of my feet and washed its way up my body, caressed the nape of my neck, and ended with every hair on my head standing on end, like a needle.

That was power!! I thought.

The pastor appeared larger-than-life to me and I remember thinking, “This man’s church is the church I want to attend!” I wondered how anyone could attend any other church.

At that particular time I was working in a certain company and I never got around to making good my resolve to begin attending this pastor’s church. But with time, however, I came to meet and to know this man much better. It would be unfair to go into details here, but the more I got to know him, the more I realized that his “Hallelujah!” was more a gimmick than they reality of his own life.

As I grew more in my salvation, I began getting very suspicious with dramatics in church. And many experiences down the road have proved this belief to be true.

I believe that no force on earth or in heaven can raise as much dust as the Holy Spirit, when He deems it fit to do so. But when the Holy Spirit conducts dramatics in church, the church is edified. In other words, God’s people grow in grace.

On the other hand, the dramatics of the flesh are merely manifestations of the flesh, and they effect no change in one’s character. Actually, all they accomplish is that they puff up the flesh.

When the Jerusalem church received the Holy Spirit, there was much noise broadcast abroad, and much ‘manifestation’; so much so, in fact, that the whole city was stirred. But pray, what was the fruit of that Holy Ghost-inspired ‘drama’?

The fruit was that the disciples’ lives were changed, the Word of God went forth mightily, and the Church was born. The Holy Spirit’s ‘noise’ brought about the fruit of the Spirit in people’s lives – obedience to the gospel.

But today, it is a slightly different story. Not every manifestation brings edification, simply because not every manifestation in church today is of the Holy Spirit. People sway to and from in church but they are not spiritual on the inside.

That is why I cannot understand why someone in church begins shaking and tossing about their heads when someone is on the pulpit and making a big noise over practically nothing. American Pentecostal churches are particularly hard-hit by this phenomenon.

You will find, for example, some preacher proclaiming in the pulpit: “I have been chosen! I have been hand-picked! I will not fail you!” – whatever that means – and there are people in this man’s congregation swaying to and fro ostensibly “under the power” as if what this man is saying is the greatest spiritual experience these people have ever undergone!

But the important question that we need to ask ourselves is: What has all this shaking and swaying and teeth-chattering effected in our lives? Have we grown more spiritual? Have we changed? Are we carrying more and more bowels of mercies within us? Are we becoming more forgiving? Are we getting more humble in character? Is the joy of the Lord increasing in our lives? Are our hearts more and more becoming carriers of peace?

If the shaking/dramatics that we are experiencing in church are not bringing us to this state of affairs in our character, then we ought to know that all this shaking is a work of the flesh. The Bible makes it clear that all this lust after dramatics comes from the flesh.

We should therefore stop all this useless shaking and drama in church and instead concentrate on seeking after the true gospel, the gospel that will effect a work of the cross upon our lives, to change us.

The Bible does not say that anyone in the early church began shaking upon hearing the gospel. But it does say they changed.

[Below: A street in Musoma Town]

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The Priorities Of Life – Part 2

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. 1 Jn. 2:15-17

My last deposition in this 2-part series deals with the born-again believer’s attitude towards materialism. Actually, that is a contradiction. Christianity and materialism do not go together. Let me put it as clearly as I can right up front: WE HAVE NOTHING TO LIVE FOR IN THIS WORLD.

Everything that is in this world has to do with the lust of the flesh. That is why the Word of God says that “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof”.

I believe it is an affront of the highest order for a portion of the church to believe that Jesus left His abode in heaven and came to endure all that He endured in this world so that we might live a comfortable material life here on earth as “King’s Kids”. It is like saying that He died so that we might keep up with the Joneses!

That is atrocious, to say the least. God has not called us to such a race. As far as I can see in the Bible, the only promise that God gives to His children concerning this material world is that He will meet our basic needs. God’s attitude with regard to our life here on earth is best captured in the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” (1 Tim. 6:8). I wonder how we can add anything to that.

But Christians today are not just adding to God’s Word; they are actually contesting scripture!

I recently overheard a preacher of a mega-church in our city say over the radio, “The life of Lazarus (the poor beggar who lived on the crumbs which fell from his rich neighbor’s table) is not a model of the life that we have been called to live as children of God. His life is a disgrace! It is a cursed life. We are blessed. We are supposed to live the high life!”

In fact, her sermon was all about Lazarus and she literally ripped him apart. My heart fainted as I thought of all those unfortunate, deprived Christians listening to her on their small FM radios. They must have been devastated.

There are many “spirits” at work today, and this preacher certainly was talking under the influence of one (or probably a ‘legion’) of them; but I happen to know she was not talking under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

No doubt when she talked about Lazarus’ life, this poor preacher was referring to his natural life. She utterly failed to see Lazarus’ rich spiritual life. (Of course, it is not written down but from Jesus’ words you can gather that Lazarus was a God-fearing man.) She just saw Lazarus the sore-infested beggar, and she despised him. She did not see the Lazarus who lived a life that pleased God in the Spirit.

And, by the way, who said that begging is a sin? I don’t see that in the Bible. I will tell you what sin is in this setting. Pride and arrogance are.

The ‘prosperity’ gospel has been planted into the church by the enemy and it has received a large following because it is a close companion to the flesh, which grabs at it the way a drowning man grasps at a piece of straw. Many people, for a lack of a revelation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ that says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mat. 16:24) rush into the arms of such preachers. They are unaware that there is the true gospel, the revelation of the cross in our lives where we can gladly crucify the flesh and all its worldly lusts.

I personally know of dear, beloved brethren whose hearts are, unfortunately, very much on money. They are set on “making money”. One brother called me and said, “I am in the U.S. to seek after the mighty dollar!” I loved his candour.

I love these brethren, and I am not judging them. But it is also true that, with the gospel, you cannot have your cake and eat it.

We are spiritual. Whatever our lot in life, we must single-mindedly seek after only one thing. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mat 6:21). Our hearts need to be where our treasure is, which is God’s spiritual Kingdom. We need to seek after spiritual things. Our lives need to be alive to the will of God.

Paul sums it up well in Colossians 3:1-4, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

For this to happen, we need to hear the right gospel, the gospel of the revelation of the cross. We cannot just swallow anything and hope that we will become spiritual. Becoming a spiritual person requires the keenest attention to that narrow road that Jesus talked about; and when we hear the right gospel, that road becomes clearer and clearer in our hearts.

We are not called to seek after this earthly life. Far from it, the Bible says about this world and its lusts, “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof”.

Of Proclamations and Our Worship of God – Pt. 1

If you come to our church, you will find I probably shout the loudest “Hallelujahs!”, “Praise the Lord!”s and “Amens!” than anyone else. If we were talking in the natural, this state of affairs could be attributed directly to the fact that in the tribe which I come from we yell instead of speaking. In our village it is perfectly normal for two people to talk across a valley while they are a good 3 or 4 nautical miles apart. If a neighbor is passing by your house, he prefers to greet you from the other side of the road so he can express himself more satisfactorily. That means the whole village will know so-and-so is passing by. The favorite evening activity in our village is young men letting out great war cries which can be heard several villages away.

When members of my tribe come to the big cities we are a real problem to the cultured people there because we cannot talk quietly. One man from my tribe can silence an entire bus when he is talking on the phone.

But my tribal heritage really has little clout in my spiritual walk with the Lord. The real reason I shout and sing so loudly in church is simply because I love the Lord, and it is always in my heart to want to express my love and gratitude to Him with all my strength. During worship I will clap my hands and sing with all my might, telling of the goodness and love of God to me, and declaring my love to Him in return. And once the preacher begins preaching I shout “Amen!” regularly, assenting to his every word with all my heart. If I am in a quiet church I have to be quiet, of course, but I feel restrained! That does not mean I consider quiet people less spiritual, no! It is simply that I feel I want to express myself in a certain way, and I do.

Apart from my loud proclamations of love to my God in church I am also the perfect Christian, and it would require a long shot for anyone to point an accusing finger at me. Of course, there are small imperfections even a few brethren are aware of, but the bulk of the people whom I come into contact with would be forgiven to think I am perfect, considering the ‘perfect’ carriage I proffer!

And yet… even though I make such vocal declarations of love to my God, and in spite of my perfect conduct on the outside, I know the many areas in my life where I have failed the Lord and where I continue to fail Him. And they are not the small areas like anger against my wife or kids, but even in really big things.

Consider the fact, for example, that there was a time in my Christian life where I found myself looking at other women apart from my wife with a lustful eye. Now, looking is a different thing, but I went even further and actually began thinking about them. The Bible calls that sin adultery. You know, there are some things in the Bible that Jesus or the Apostles talked specifically only to men about and there are others that they talked to women about (For example, there are women who want to take charge at home or in the church and they are more than a thorn in the flesh, and they bring a dishonor to the gospel of Jesus Christ). With men, I believe they have a bigger problem with sexual sin in church than women.

These were sins that I would hide deep in my heart, and I would not allow the slightest hint of them to be known by anyone. The fact that I had not physically touched any woman gave me a sense of relief; but on the inside I knew it was a false one.

But I will tell you something more important that happened. The Lord knew what was going on in my heart and one day, by His grace He showed His light into my heart. When He did that I cried out. When the Lord showed me the rotten nature of my heart, I remember saying, “Lord, what have I done? How could I do this to you?” I did not ask God “How could I sin against You?” because I am always sinning; but it was more like, “How could I be so ungrateful as to go this far from You?” I felt helpless and dirty.

But an even more important thing happened. I repented of this sin. I tell you I repented. It was not in my power to stop this sin, but it was in my power to repent, and repent I did. I poured out my heart to God and asked for forgiveness and strength.

If you ask me how what happened after happened, I will tell you I do not know. But I do know something deep and tangible happened in my heart. And I do know it was a work of the Holy Spirit. After I had repented, I felt a cleansing, and I experienced total victory in my life. By ‘total’ I do not mean that I have not been tempted since, no. What I mean is that today I can go anywhere, and I can be away from my wife, and every day and in whatever situation I feel that victory in my life, strong and alive. I can look at any woman, and I can see beyond the outer sheen of her beauty and see the need in her heart.

That, my friend, whatever you call it I call it victory. And I tell you, there are many women out there who desperately need spiritual help, and we can only help them if we are walking in victory over the flesh. Otherwise, as is so often the case nowadays, we will take advantage of them. Or we will keep away from them, which is not much help!

You see, women will always be there, and if you are a carnal man you could waste your entire life moaning about why God put women on earth, etc. But I tell you, we must face the Cross and allow Christ to strip the body of sin from us. The Bible says clearly in Romans 8:3 that God (in) sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”.

It is when we come into contact with the right gospel, the gospel of the revelation of the Cross of Jesus and what it came to do in our lives, that we are set free. When we hear the right gospel, we will have victory over sin. That’s a fact. The true gospel brings us to a place of true repentance. And true repentance brings true victory, be it a ‘big’ sin or a ‘small’ sin. Why? Because it allows the Holy Spirit to come work in our hearts, to transform us and give us that victory. Paul tells Timothy: Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” 1 Tim. 4:16. What is that about? He is talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is able to deliver men and women from sin’s power.

How can we be born-again believers and continue to live under sin, or to walk under the power of sin? It is totally unacceptable to God. Probably it is acceptable to us and that is why we spend so much time wringing our hands about this or that. But Christ came for just one purpose: to defeat the works of the enemy, which works are sin.

The whole problem with Christianity today lies in the fact that we want to have victory over the devil but not over sin.

We conclude tomorrow.