Abigail’s Beauty – Part 2

Now the name of the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife Abigail: and she was a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb. 1 Sam. 25:3

Many years ago, when I was a small boy, my school organized an expedition for some of us to visit a ship at the coast. When we arrived, the ship’s captain led us on a tour of the big ship; but I do recall that the one thing that made a permanent mark on my mind was the engine room. It was huge. When we walked down there, it was like we had entered a different world altogether. At that young, impressionable age, the engines appeared to be a hundred stories high! Surprisingly, there was not much activity going on down there. In fact, I recall it was like we found no one down there. Just the large engines powerfully humming away by themselves.

Then the captain spoke to us about the engines. I remember the word he used. He said, “The engine room is the heart of the ship.”

The engines, he told us, drove everything on that ship. Nothing could work on that ship if the engines were dead. The engines were the life of the ship. In other words, the engines made the ship to become a ship! Without the engines, that ship was just a big piece of scrap metal sitting uselessly (and possibly dangerously) on top of the ocean waters.

It is the same with us. The heart is our engine room. It is our very life. Our heart controls everything we do. And God, in his infinite wisdom, is concerned only with what issues from our hearts, for this is where our life is. As far as God is concerned, if we are to do things without the heart, we might as well not do them. God does not regard anything that is not done from the heart. That was exactly what He meant when He told Samuel:

“…for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”

The man who wrote the Book of Proverbs probably received one of the greatest insights into God’s working, for he wrote:

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Out of a man’s heart comes every issue of his life. His character comes out of his life; and so does his success, his prosperity – and even his beauty. And, in more ways than one, this inner life comes out and brightens a man’s exterior life.

That said, we cannot, as spiritual people, measure success, beauty or prosperity in material terms. No, we measure these things through what comes out of a man’s heart.

Consider Joseph. The Bible says of him,

“And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.” (Gen. 39:6)

What does the Bible mean by “goodly”? Does it mean he was good-looking, handsome? He might have been, but that is not what the Bible is talking of here.

Or, “well favoured”; what does that mean? Does it mean Joseph was built like Hercules? By no means. We might not even have any inkling of Joseph’s physique, for that is not what the Bible is referring to here.

The Bible is not interested in these things. Rather, in using these terms, the Bible is trying to show us the kind of heart that Jospeh had. Joseph had a “goodly” heart (not physique); and the term “well favoured” means he had the grace of God in him. And, through having this kind of heart, Joseph prospered.

How about Moses? The Bible record about Moses states:

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” (Heb. 11:23)

Does that mean that Moses was more handsome than his siblings and that his parents therefore gave more consideration to him than to the others?

Hardly. On the contrary, the writer here is talking in the Spirit. In the Spirit, Moses’s parents saw into his heart. They somehow saw, in the Spirit, that this boy would turn out to be a vessel in God’s hands. And for that reason (for they were people of faith), “they were not afraid of the king’s commandment”; and they hid Moses.

Finally, let us consider the life of what most people regard as the Bible’s favorite character, David. In most people’s imagination, as well as in folklore and in countless modern-day movies on the subject, David is given the character of a strapping, handsome young man. My guess is that all this comes from what people read about David in 1 Samuel 16:12:

“… Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”

But th church has no place for Hollywood’s portrayal of a Biblical figure. All the attributes that the Bible lays out here talk, not of David’s physical appearance, but of his heart. Yes, the commendations that this particular scripture places on David are many, but that is because the heart of David had so many credentials to it.

Many of us would love to have such credentials attached to our names in God’s heavenly Kingdom;  but there is a price to pay. And these men and and women were willing to pay the price.

The price we have to pay to become beautiful in our spirits, as the writer of Proverbs tells us, is to guard our hearts. And, when it comes to guarding our hearts, there is no way around it apart from denying our selves, taking up our cross, and following Christ.

Need we wonder, then, why the Apostle Paul would preach such a singular gospel,

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified”? (1 Cor. 2:2)

It was because he realized the power of the cross. The Apostle Paul said,

“Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Col. 1:29)

Christ worked in Paul’s heart mightily. The Apostle Paul was one of the most beautiful people spiritually. It was because he allowed the cross to work in him. When our hearts are well, we are the most beautiful people in the world.

Advertisements

Joseph’s Patience – Part 2

And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. Gen. 37:5

It goes without saying that in any race, the contestants endure because they are aware of the nature of the reward awaiting them. There needs to be a catalyst for one to endure any hardship. The catalyst for Joseph’s perseverance was because he had a dream. Yes, one day, Joseph dreamed a dream. In fact, he dreamed a series of dreams. I am glad to say that Joseph did not day-dream, and it is important for us to make note of that difference. Joseph dreamed an actual dream.

We all know that day-dreaming amounts to nothing. Day-dreaming, as it is popularly known, is another word for wishful thinking. But an actual dream can indicate something tangible.

In spiritual terms, we could liken day-dreaming to the desires for this material life that most believers have. Dreams like “coming to America”. “Coming to America” is like going to heaven for most people. Here in Africa, that is Dream No. 1. But going to America is a material dream and, in the Spirit, this amounts to wishful thinking for God does not reside in America. God is everywhere; but the even more important fact is that God desires to live in us, wherever we are.

On the other hand, we could liken an actual dream (under the Old Covenant) to a spiritual vision. A spiritual vision talks of having our spiritual eyes enlightened. A spiritual vision shows us the riches of God’s heavenly Kingdom – in us! Can you visualize that? Not just seeing God’s heavenly riches; but having those riches in us. Such a realization is way beyond what we can humanly imagine; it needs the hand of God to reveal these things. That is why the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians:

“1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:1-5)

It is a revelation!

In other words, therefore, we can say that Joseph had a spiritual revelation. This is the same revelation that Moses had:

“24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” Heb. 11:24-26

Yes, through the revelation that Moses received, he

“had respect unto the recompence of the reward.”

We could go on to talk of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

And many other men and women of faith.

It was the spiritual vision that made all these men and women to endure suffering. They understood God’s plan for their lives and, for that, reason, they persevered. There is a worldly plan and there is a heavenly plan, for our lives. We need to choose the right plan.

We cannot wait, like Joseph, for a dream in the night to lead us to a heavenly vision of God’s plan for our lives. Such a dream may or may not come. In any case, Joseph is an Old Testament character, and there are so many things that we under the New Covenant cannot carry on in the same fashion as the Old Testament figures did.

Under the New Covenant, we have the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit gives us our dream, the heavenly dream. This is what will enable us to persevere. We need that spiritual dream in order to persevere. Most believers have only a material dream. They have dreams of worldly riches, and worldly success. Such cannot persevere. When persecution comes, they easily crumble.

But a spiritual vision will have us standing tall and strong no matter how hard the winds of this world may howl.

God’s Singular Focus

1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,

2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.

7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.

8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. Mat. 17:1-8

There are slightly differing versions of this account in the three gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But there is no mistaking what happens at the end of each account. In every account of this story, Elijah and Moses left the scene, and disciples were left beholding only two things: Jesus Himself, and the words that God had spoken from out of the cloud:

“This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

In other words, God powerfully took Elijah and Moses out of the New Covenant scenario. Peter would have loved to retain both these Old Testament prophets with Jesus; but God firmly said no.

It is not possible to have both the old covenant and the new one working in our lives.

I remember in school we had something called a duster. The duster was used to clean off the blackboard. Here, in this account, God Himself came in a cloud and dusted Moses and Elijah off the map. But He did not dust off Jesus. The cross is undustable. The cross is inerasable.

Although the apostles were probably witnessing a heavenly scene (the Bible says that Jesus’ clothes and countenance changed and became heavenly white) yet, when God appeared on the scene in the cloud, He neither referenced Elijah nor Moses. Instead, He spoke only about Jesus:

“This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

This was a powerful demonstration to the disciples of the singular focus that God attaches to Jesus – and to the cross.

Today, people want to lump Jesus, Moses and Elijah together. They want to place the old and the new together. But that is simply unacceptable with God.

Today the majority of believers are either into law or into miracles and signs and wonders. But, at the same time, all these people proclaim, “Jesus!” But, although these things (law and miracles) may be good in themselves, neither one of them have the power that is needed to do in us the singular thing that pleases God, i.e. to transform us and to form in us the character of Jesus. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24:

“22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

You can be ‘baptized’ into the law up to your neck, but you cannot please God through the law. You can also be into miracles and signs and wonders; but you cannot please God through these things. Jesus said that many who are doing miracles right now will not go to heaven (Mat 7:22). The only thing you can please God with is by taking up your cross and following Jesus.

Few today are hearing the gospel of the cross preached. Even fewer still are willing to take up their cross and follow Christ. Many would rather listen to the comfortable gospel of prosperity and of solving one’s problems (financial prosperity, miracles, healing, promotion, etc.).

But God has wiped everything off His blackboard and left only one thing: Jesus Christ, and him crucified. God wants His new covenant class (the church) to focus on only one thing. This was the singular focus that the Apostle Paul also had (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:1). The cross is the SINGULAR way we can please God. Why the cross? The cross crucifies the flesh and this brings the grace of God into our lives. And it is through carrying God’s grace in our hearts alone that we can please God:

“Wherefore… let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”. (Heb. 12:28)

That is how we can come to understand the reason for Paul’s singular focus on the cross of Christ. In all his teachings and in all his life, Paul purposed to know (and to live) nothing apart from Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And the power that was in Paul’s life was and is profound and unambiguous even to this day; and it will be unto eternity.

Christ crucified is God’s revelation to the world.

[“And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.”]

Image14387

A God of Grace, Not Law!

In concluding this series on the goodness and grace of God, ultimately we must come to the most important conclusion on this subject: that God is not a God of law, but of grace. Now, I am aware that many believers come up against, or have even probably been raised in a permanent atmospehere of law, to the extent that they have been systemized to nothing but law. There are believers who cannot understand grace at all. In fact, there are entire denominations where nothing but law is taught.

But God is not a God of law. He is a God of grace. In John 1:17 the Bible says just that: For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

The word “but” in this scripture is so important. In other words, once upon a time there was law (with Moses), but now, today, in Christ, there is something else. There is only grace – and truth. There is no more law.

But verse 18 is also so very important: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

In other words, Christ has come to reveal the true nature of God. We cannot therefore seek to know a God of law. We must seek to know a God of grace, for that is whom Jesus has revealed.

In the Old Testament God allowed the Israelites to fight and kill, and to take revenge. An eye for an eye, and a life for a life.

But in the New Testament, Jesus comes and says that if a man strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the left also. And if a man takes your coat by force, remove your shirt also and give it to him. And if a person forces you to go one mile, go two. All with a good, humble, forgiving and loving heart.

That is who God is and that is what God does.

That is why we can enjoy incomprehensible grace under the New Covenant. God gives us so much rope. Not to sin, of course, but to walk the road of the cross.

But as much as sin is inadmissible under the New Covenant, so is law. In fact, sin and law go together. There are many examples that we could give in this regard, but none is as important as Moses. The “flag carrier” of the law was himself unable to enter the promised land! And, much as we would not like to admit it, yet the reason Moses failed to enter the promised land was because he sinned against God.

Notice what Paul says in Romans 5:1-2: “1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

The words used here are important and telling: “faith”, “peace”, “grace”, “joy”, “hope” and, ultimately, “glory”. There is not a word of law here, not a word of “Thou shalt not!” The only things that you can find in Christ, the things that God “through our Lord Jesus Christ” has given to us, are those mentioned above, and many other things of like nature.

God would not allow Moses to see His glory. He allowed him only to see the tail-end of His coat as He disappeared in the distance.

But in Christ there is so much freedom we can behold God as He is. Indeed, this is the delightful challenge that God Himself has put before us. He urges us to run the race to get to know Him as He is. It is open field for everyone. The vilest sinner can enter the race and win. The faltering believer can strengthen himself and finish in victory. Everyone is welcome, and God has given to us His Holy Spirit to enable us.

[In Tanzania, modernity struggles to edge age-old tradition off the road]

Image10103

Prosperity Gospel vs Suffering for Christ

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him… Is. 53:10

Moses never went through the sufferings that his brethren underwent under Pharaoh’s brutal oppression. But soon enough he would undergo sufferings of his own, probably more severe than the Israelites were going through. Soon he would fall from a position of unlimited power and luxury to become a poor shepherd “boy”. He would know rejection, and loneliness. He would know the simple life like he had never known it in his life. It would be a system shock for him.

When Moses killed the Egyptian in defense of his people, he thought he knew God; but God told him no. In the wilderness, after the liberation of the children of Israel, Moses would know more suffering. He would know opposition. He would know hunger and thirst (40 days he spent in the presence of the Lord without food or water). Moses would pass through much for him to claim to know God.

In other words, in order for Moses to fit in with God’s plan for his life, he had to suffer. This is so important for the church to grasp. If it pleased God to “bruise” Jesus, it can hardly be supposed that we will not be “bruised” in like manner. Yes, we will, and we must be willing and prepared to pass through the same sufferings in the flesh that Christ went through. If we truly desire to be conformed to the image of Christ, we will rejoice at this revelation.

But the charismatic gospel that teaches the good life simply has no idea of this singular fact which confronts every child of God who desires to please God. That is why the bulk of today’s gospel is at fault. It does not recognize that our lives are to be identified with the sufferings and death of Christ on the cross. Nearly everything else is taught in church today, except that. But the sufferings of Christ are the essence of the gospel.

I can comfortably say that the majority of the church today has not grasped the revelation that the Apostle Paul received concerning our identification with Christ in His sufferings and death. But suffering and dying with Christ is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have never read of anyone in the Bible who pleased God who did not go through some form of suffering.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him…”

The Bible also says, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). Who are tempted? It is we. And how are we tempted? It is through the sufferings that we undergo in the flesh that our faith is tried.

In the clip below I want to show that the comfortable gospel that many of today’s major Pentecostal preachers are preaching something that clearly goes against the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The vein of their doctrine is the good worldly life. No hint of welcome for the sufferings of Christ.

Someone, in trying to defend these preachers, talked of context. But there is no issue of context here. You do not need  context to know where these men and women are headed.

The real tragedy here is that these are the kind of churches where the majority of Christians are concentrated. This is where many of God’s people are being comfortably robbed of their spiritual inheritance.

So what should we do? The Bible says “come out from among them” (2 Cor. 6:17). Yes. Come out from these kinds of churches. That’s painful and difficult, but it is the only way.

Way too many of God’s children are sitting comfortably by as worldly preachers whittle away their spiritual inheritance while promising them the temporal things of this world.

[Below: No suffering!]

Grace or Justice?

And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17

I don’t want to one day stand before God and feel ashamed. That is something I am praying desperately about. I want to one day look into my Lord’s eyes and feel completely one with Him. But I know that in order for that to happen, I must lose my life somehow (Matthew 16:25).

One way in which I know I need to lose my life is to be honest with myself and with my fellow man. Brutally so, if necessary.

The world is increasingly becoming a dangerous place to live in and as a result there are many challenges facing us as children of God. We have choices to make, and the options are not in our favor.

There is the issue of crime, for example. In recent times, for instance, the U.S. has become one of the most violent peace-time nations on earth and the atrocities that are committed in this great country beat all sense out of anyone. Crimes of unspeakable horror are being carried out on a daily basis and people’s lives are being senselessly destroyed.

(In all modesty, let me say that such brutal, sustained violence as we hear of in the U.S. is simply not there in my country and such things appear all the more unbelievable to us.)

As a result of this violence there has been a raging debate about the death penalty and about the administration of justice in general. Many of these crimes committed in the U.S. are so horrific you wonder how the perpetrator could be allowed to live for even one second. (In Africa we have what we call ‘mob justice’. That means that before the cops arrive, the ‘death penalty’ is quickly administered to the guy by an angry mob, and the cops find case closed. In fact, in some cases the cops are known to deliberately delay their arrival so they can give the mob enough time to finish the administration of ‘justice’!

And if the villain is caught by the police themselves he will see hell long before he arrives in court. That is ‘justice’, Africa-style.)

But I am made to understand that in the U.S. the guy is handcuffed peacefully, taken to prison and fed like a king, and given all the creature comforts he needs, all of which is paid for by the victim’s family’s tax money. Then the case will drag on for eternity and even after a verdict of “Guilty” has been handed to the fellow, anything is likely to happen, including the all-too-often possibility of him coming back into society soon enough to sow more terror. That rankles, to say the least.

I don’t need to go too deep inside my heart to discover that I support the death penalty or any equally deterrent sentence, and this where my problem really is. To be brutally honest, with such cases I am at heart firmly for “A tooth for a tooth”. I can’t really say I hate these murderers, rapists, etc, but I know I feel angry enough to support at least something to be done to them.

If we were to vote on it, I probably might cast my vote against the death penalty, although in doing so I would simply be appeasing my conscience as a Christian. In my heart I would be screaming, “Hang them!”

I know that this is an attitude of law with me and I know I have carried it for a long time. It is not a reflection of grace, no matter which angle I look at it with. Grace has power beyond any sin.

But I also know that God has been dealing with my heart more and more, as I constantly get to hear of all the violence going on in the world today.

God did not scream, “Hang them!” even though they killed His Only Begotten Son. Ever since the death of His Son, God has been running after the perpetrators of His Son’s murder (that’s all of us, by the way), not to commit them to the electric chair, but to show them forgiveness, mercy and love. And we all know where God found some of us – hiding in the gutter and rebellious to the core! He did not flinch to wade into the foul-smelling mire we were in, pull us out, wash us clean, forgive us completely and, yes, “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).What incredible grace!

The Bible says that we who have been shown such mercy by God are to be “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Mat. 5:48). There is a price involved in arriving at that perfection.

I have had to humble myself and see how wanting I am in the area of grace. I know that God has helped me in many areas in my life, and I need to do Him justice by admitting that. And yet, I know I am not through with being a man of the law yet. My ‘law problem’ does not stop with my ire at the murderers and rapists in far-away U.S. but it seeps through right to my doorstep, in my dealings with the people that I interact with daily.

Now that the Lord and I are on it, though, I know I will arrive somewhere. I am not pessimistic, I have faith. I also have a goal. My goal is to carry within me a heart of total forgiveness and total grace, the same heart that God Himself had for me. It is a tall order indeed, with the way things are in the world today. But again, if anything is not a challenge in our lives, it is not worth it.

The Lord wants us to become men of grace. Law was done with by the arrival of Jesus. Jesus did not bring law. In fact when He came the law was already there. And He came to abolish it because of its inability to deal with sin. He brought grace and truth instead. Where did Jesus bring these things? He brought them into our hearts.

There are many men and women who wouldn’t be where they are today if God’s grace was not operational today. Brutal, violent men in our generation have experienced the indescribable generosity of God, and changed.

The question each one needs to ask themselves is: Where are we in all this? What is our role in the administration, not of ‘justice’, but of grace in the world today?

I would not in any way underestimate the pain and destruction that brutal people inflict on others. But again, it is all the more reason that we need to carry the heart of grace.

Grace is to be found only at the cross. As we take up our cross and follow Christ, we find in us the indescribable grace needed in a world such as ours.

“And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”

Amen.