Your Heart! – Part 1

17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.

18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;

19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?

20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,

22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride foolishness:

23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Mk. 7:17-23

In the Swahili Bible, something is added at the end of verse 19, an addition which is not there in the King James Version of the Bible. This addition reads,

“In saying this, He purified all foods.”

A modern version of this sentence would read,

“In saying this, He permitted all foods.”

Yes, that scripture is in the Bible. Firmly so. It is there, from the Lord Himself.

Many years ago , a small child caught a live cockroach in our church yard and, before anyone could get to him, he put it in his mouth and swallowed it. There were shrieks and screams of horror from all around and by the time people got to him, the bug had been safely tucked away inside the little guy’s stomach and there was little anyone could do.

Everyone was horrified; and his mother went into a sort of spasm. But, although these were church people, apparently they didn’t know the Bible much. They were unaware that inside the Bible they read every day, it is written that the little guy had every right to eat pretty much anything he wanted. The guy could eat a rat if he wanted to. He had every kind of permission and certification that he needed to do this, and he had it from the highest Authority possible – Jesus Himself. Jesus has permitted us to eat all foods.

Actually, the little guy ate this ‘forbidden’ (forbidden by we humans, of course) in the most proper place possible – on the church grounds. It is right and proper to do in the church compound something that Jesus has allowed. Like singing praises to the Lord and eating live cockroaches at the same time.

Today, that small guy is a twenty-something young man, and he is serving God beautifully in the church. Apparently, eating a cockroach did not harm him in his spirit. And nutritionists will tell you that the cockroach is rich in fat, which this growing child badly needed.

There are ‘Christian’ denominations today which are built on the belief that you cannot eat some foods. But here (in the Swahili Bible) we read that Jesus allowed all foods. All.

You can eat virtually anything that your guts can allow. In fact, this freedom to eat anything is so boundless that the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 14:1-3,

“1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

The Apostle Paul calls the one who eats only herbs “weak in faith”. What does that tell you. That single sentence is telling us a profound spiritual truth. It is telling us what our faith can do. It is telling us about the incredible freedom that we have in Christ under the New Covenant. We are no longer under law! Actually – and here I am getting ahead of myself, but it does not matter anymore – anyone who is bound by any law is “weak in faith”. God’s deepest desire for every child of His is to walk in freedom. Not the freedom of the flesh, but the freedom of the Spirit. As far as anything is not sin, you are free to do it.

You are free to do pretty much what you like as long as it is not sin. But we ought to note that to stumble, offend or grieve your brother is sin also (Rom. 15-21). If you do something which you think is part of the freedom that you have in Christ but you are doing any of the above things against your brother or sister-in-Christ, you have moved from the freedom of the Spirit to the freedom of the flesh.

But as long as we are not doing any of these things, we ought to celebrate the freedom we have in Christ. When it comes to foods, for one, the bold in the Spirit eat anything their teeth can crack. The truly interesting thing is that, in this matter of foods, the meats that are prohibited under the Old Testament are especially appetizing. In the region where I live, donkey meat is a rare delicacy. And yet in the Bible eating donkey meat was forbidden under the Old Testament because the donkey’s hoof is not cleaved (Deut. 14:7). Swine meat (pork) is one of the most delicious meat in the world. But under the Old Covenant, in Deuteronomy 14:8, it was expressly forbidden.

Many years ago, some young people in our school went on an official tour in the country of France and when they came back they told us they had eaten some things which I won’t write down here. The whole school had been assembled together in the school assembly hall to hear these guys speak, and when they broke this news, pandemonium broke out as the entire hall went gurgling with revulsion. None of us could not take it.

But the good news is… People all over the world are allowed to eat anything they can get their hands on, and this does not make them sinners in the eyes of God. Who has allowed them to eat everything?

God has. The people under the old covenant paid a heavy price. On judgment day we Christian believers will be judged twice as severely on account of the freedom that we have been given under the New Covenant.

[Church: the most exciting place to be]

The New Covenant And ‘Blessings’

When you read the New Testament, everything therein, (the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospels, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, the apostolic epistles, and the Book of Revelation), you cannot find the promises that God promised the children of Israel under the Old Testament. I cannot, for example, read anywhere where it is written, “Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store” (Deut. 28:5); or, “The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways” (v. 7). This one is mostly used by church people against perceived enemies. And the reason for this is because we cannot take defeat!

But the New Testament teaches us to love our enemies, to bless and not to curse them. We are to be meek, and to willingly turn the other cheek.

And, the favorite amongst Pentecostals: “And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shall not be beneath” (v.13) This one is for those who are seeking after worldly accomplishments, worldly stardom. Oh, glory! To meditate on such wonderful promises!

But the new covenant has no place for such ‘blessings’. Ours is an entirely different blessing! And yet Christians spend all their time “confessing” Old Testament blessings. I used to do so too. Wrong approach. Claiming the blessings of God that are in the Old Testament is a completely useless activity for we who are under the new covenant. If such blessings are to come, let them come. But, apparently, there are many Godly people in the Bible for whom these ‘blessings’ arrived too late, if they ever did arrive at all.

Nowhere did Jesus or the apostles mention the word “Blessed” or “blessings” in connection with anything material. On the contrary, the blessing in the New Testament is always in connection with identifying our lives with the life of Christ, for which there is no promise of any comfort in the flesh. Actually, the new Covenant is solidly against the flesh. Under the new covenant, God openly comes out to declare war against the flesh. Romans 8:7 states clearly:

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God…”

When it comes to this life (where, apparently, most believers’ hearts are set on), although I am sure God is not against us living a comfortable material life, yet I believe the case of Lazarus and the rich man illustrates the fact that we have not been called to live the kind of prosperous lifestyle as portrayed under the prosperity teachings. In fact, many scriptures point to the fact that we have been called to live a thrifty lifestyle. In heaven, Jesus castigated the rich man for living a compulsively lavish lifestyle while his neighbor Lazarus lived a poor life.

And how can we, anyway? Take, for example, John the Baptist’s words,

“He that hath two coats,let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” (Lk. 3:11)

Due to our human weakness, God allows us to have more than others. But there are excesses to which God simply does not subscribe. How can you reconcile what John said with owning a Rolls Royce in this world so full of poor brothers and sisters in Christ, let alone a poor world in general. Or manhandling people to buy you a $65 million private jet as if God called you to a mission to Mars?

That fact alone reveals that you are not denying yourself. There is absolutely no justification in this world to own those things. Maybe there is in some other world. But not in this one. You may claim I am being judgmental, but I am not. I am just stating a plain Biblical fact. The Bible tells us to live “soberly” (Tit. 2:12). The word “sober” means an inexpensive, reasonable lifestyle. That means that, under the New Covenant, there are limits to the kind of lifestyle that we can live. We are not King Ahasuerus by any means.

Jesus also said,

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth…” (Mat. 6:19)

There are so many scriptures that show that the blessings of the Old Testament as we interpret them are not exactly the kind of thing we have been called to. If God wants to give them to us, well and fine. But they are hardly the main menu. They are not even the dessert. The true meal that God has promised us under the new covenant is Christ, Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23). That was the blessing that God gave to Abraham (before the setting up of the Old Testament covenant and laws with the children of Israel). In Galatians 3:16 we read,

“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”

Now, who told Paul that this seed was Christ?

God did, through revelation.

Back to our coveted blessings. At any rate, we have no justification to claim the blessings of the covenant that God made with the Israelites. In the first place the covenant was with the Israelites, not we Gentiles. It has absolutely nothing to do with us. Secondly, and most importantly, ever since Jesus came, that covenant and everything to do with it has been annulled. We are now under a completely different covenant, the covenant that God made with Abraham which, as we have just seen, is Christ. And who, pray, is Christ?

The Bible says of Christ, that it is

“Christ crucified”. (1 Cor. 1:23)

And hereby is the cross set revealed to us.

The cross, not material blessings, is the singular blessing in our lives. Whether we have the things of this world or not is completely immaterial. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote:

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel… lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” (1 Cor. 1:17)

That word, “effect”, is crucial to our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It talks of the power of the cross in our lives. Understanding the power of the cross is central to our understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ. The cross comes to crucify the flesh. That is why, in Philippians 1:29 the Apostle Paul writes:

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”.

Our singular blessing is to partake of the sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ.

Mind you, this is not the gospel of the Jews, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is God. The Jews are people just like us. They have the same human problem just as we, the problem of sin and self. Sin and self go hand in hand and these two comprise the universal human problem.

There is no greater power than the power to deal with sin and self. And this power is in the cross.

[Where the revelation of the cross is lacking, the doors are open for every kind of perfidy to invade the church]

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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.”]

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The Apostolic Message (Part 3)

Under the Old Covenant, the highest spiritual ministry that God gave to his people was the ministry of the prophet. In other words, if God wanted to communicate something really important to His people He sent the prophets. The Bible tells us so in Hebrews 1:1:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets…”

But in the New Covenant, we see the arrival of a new ministry, the apostle. This ministry is greater than that of the prophet, for in 1 Corinthians 12:28 the Apostle Paul writes: And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers …”

So what does the apostle do? Actually, he does not do much. All he carries is a message. But it is a message full of the power of God. The apostle’s message has the power to transform a man from being carnal to being spiritual. In other words, from a person of sin to a person of righteousness. In even better words, from a person who does not please God to one who pleases God.

The message that the apostle carries is the message of the cross. The Apostle Paul puts it this way: “17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:17-18).

The message of the cross of Jesus is greater than baptism or any outside markings. There are some Christian denominations that put all their emphasis on baptism. To them, getting baptized is synonymous with being born again. But one could come out of the water and be no different from someone who has just taken a bath.

The second birth, however, is a miracle of God that occurs in a man’s heart, and this miracle is what transforms a man. That is why the Apostle Paul says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Gal. 6:17).

In Hebrews 6:1 the Apostle Paul also writes:

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection…”

And in Colossians 1:28: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

Even as God wills that we all be saved, yet it is our perfection that God is most concerned. Hence the revelation of the cross through the apostolic gospel.

In the Old Testament, the cross had been revealed since God’s dealings with Adam. But it was never revealed clearly, for God waited until the fullness of time would come, when Christ, the perfect Lamb, would be sacrificed on the cross. All the Old Testament prophets therefore saw the cross, but they did not see it clearly. Nonetheless, everyone who pleased God in the Old Testament had to have carried the cross, one way or another. But it is clear from the Bible that these were only a handful of people.

When Jesus went up to heaven, He sent us His Holy Spirit. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…” (Jn. 16:8)

That statement by Jesus immediately sets alarm bells ringing in us that these things – sin, righteousness and judgment – were not dealt with sufficiently under the law of the Old Covenant.

Or they were not dealt with at all.

But now, through the ministry of the apostle, the Holy Spirit would effectively deal with these things. If it is sin it would be defeated. If it is righteousness it would be established. And men will be made to know that a time is coming when all will be judged by a righteous Judge.

Everything is bound up within the cross of Jesus Christ. It is through the cross that these things will be accomplished. If these things were not made clear under the Old Covenant, now, under the New, they will become clear as day, for Christ has accomplished all.

The apostle, therefore, is like a professional, sent by God. If you are taught something by an amateur, it is not always clear or perfect. When the professional arrives, however, everything flows smoothly. He brings things out more clearly and perfects everything.

That is what the apostle does through revealing the power and grace that is found in the cross. Any child of God who submits himself under the ministry of the apostle can understand all that the cross is meant to do in their lives, not bits and pieces about salvation. When the message of the cross is delivered to the church under the anointing of the apostolic ministry, God’s people can understand that, even as they rejoice at the fact of their salvation, yet, more importantly, they realize they are called upon to suffer for the sake of the gospel.

In this way, both the flesh and sin are confronted in church.

In the Old Testament, very few people pleased God. Not many did His will. God had a difficult time dealing with His people. But God bore with them, sometimes punishing them according to the law, although He never punished them according to the extent of their evil ways because He is a merciful God.

But in the New Testament, God expects all His children to walk in the fullness of His will, and to please Him fully. Not by law, but by grace.

Still, for the believer who does not walk in this revelation, the gospel of the cross is as difficult as trying to commit a Ph.D dissertation to a kid in kindergarten. He will say, “Too hard!” – and seek for an option that eases the suffering on his flesh. That is why, for many Christians who are not under the apostolic ministry, all they know about the cross is that Christ died there for their sins (the initial salvation). They do not know the role of the cross in enabling them to live a victorious life over their flesh and over sin.

The apostolic message is one of self-denial, of taking up our cross daily and following Christ:

“…For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” – Rom. 8:36.

“As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ” – Gal. 6:12

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” – Gal. 6:14.

That is why all the other ministries, including that of the prophet, must come under the ministry of the apostle, for grace’s sake. The grace of Jesus Christ diffuses from this one ministry – this ministry that clearly sees the cross – to the other ministries. Any ministry purporting to work outside the authority of the apostolic ministry is simply lighting strange fires.

The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, “You may have ten thousand teachers, but it is I who bore you in the gospel!”

There are many churches today where you find the pastor is the alpha and omega. In others it is the bishop, or the archbishop. In others it is make-believe ‘apostles’, ‘prophets’, etc. There are all kinds and all levels of spiritual leaders, but the true father of the church is the apostle. He has the authority and power in the Spirit to bring and men and women into the true image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Where the apostolic ministry is not, there is no grace, there is only law. That is why pastors introduce long strings of rules, laws and regulations (do’s and don’ts) in church.

The Apostle does not do that. Did you ever read how Paul dealt with the Corinthians even after they had reneged on their contributions for the church in Jerusalem for a whole year? He did not threaten them. Nor did he set a law on them. Nor did he tell them, “Ok, let’s try the ten percent.”

On the contrary, he used the example of the Macedonians to encourage the Corinthians to give. He dealt with them the way a father would deal with his children.

Instead of giving them rules and principles, Paul talked to them about the grace of God. Indeed, he was in effect telling them: If it is not of grace, it is not worth it. All that God accepts is what has been accomplished in our hearts as a result of the working of the Holy Spirit.

Now, today, you have very many teachings in church about giving. All are geared to make God’s people to give. I went to one church where I found five different categories of envelopes, each one for a different offering!

All this is due to a lack of a connection with the apostolic gospel. Without the apostolic message, law reigns supreme. It might be more so in some churches than in others; but still it is law.

The gospel is about setting people free and only the apostolic gospel of grace and truth can do that.

Have you seen the light? Which by interpretation means, have you met up with the true ministry of the apostle,the one who can show you the strait and narrow way?

Is the cross close enough to you that you are able to take it up daily and follow Christ? (Lk 9:23)

[“Have you seen the light?” One of the most beautiful songs, here beautifully sang]