Much Ado… Or The Heart?

6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him. 7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. 1 Sam. 16:6-7

One time, our church’s overseer, the very top man in our denomination, was invited by the leader of a big denomination to go and minister in his church. This pastor decided to take along with him one of his fellow elders. Now, our overseer is a man of slight build, while the man he took with him is big and tough looking. Moreover, our overseer dresses in the simplest way possible; but the elder prefers a more flamboyant look. On this particular day, the elder had chosen to wear a sharp-looking suit with a tie to match. The overseer wore only a shirt and coat. No tie.

When they arrived at the church where they had been invited, they found a big welcome team of pastors and elders awaiting them. With the exception of the host pastor, none of the others were acquianted with the visitors. Upon arriving, it was clear to the welcome team who the “bishop” was: it was the man in the suit and tie! Everyone hastily congregated around our church elder, pumping his hand and telling him, “Welcome, bishop!” After which they walked over to the overseer to give him a far less enthusiastic welcome.

Our elder, noticing what was happening, coughed and offered to speak up. When he had gained their attention, he said, pointing at our overseer, “Guys, he is the bishop!”

Much as we would like it to appear otherwise, we are all victims of the above scripture. The first reason for this, of course, is because God has said it; and if God says something, it is exactly as He has stated it to be. Therefore, here, as stated by God Himself, we are all victims of looking at men “on the outward appearance”. There is no exception. Whoever you are, reading this post right now (with all due respect), better own up. Don’t think for one moment that you are free from this one.

There is a way, of course, under the New Covenant, by which we can be free of this impairment in our spiritual lives; a freedom that God desires so much for us. And what, pray, is this way?

It is to have the Lord Jesus Christ firmly enthroned in our hearts. In other words, it is to identify our lives fully with the sufferings, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Apostle Paul says of himself in Galatians 2:20:

I am crucified with Christ…”

This is what we have been called to: to crucify our lives with Jesus. That is why the Apostle Paul talked of

“the preaching of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18)

Without crucifying our lives with Jesus, we are very much prone to being influenced by men on the outside, i.e. their outward appearance. We will be easily swayed by power, wealth, culture, and color. There are just too many Christians today who are enslaved by these things!

When Samuel therefore looked at this man, Eliab, he was easily swayed by just two things: the man’s countenance and stature. Eliab must have looked like an MMA fighter, but a handsome face. But God would have none of that nonsense. Notice His short reply to Samuel:

“I have refused him”.

Samuel was taking God into territory He does not play in. God does not look at a man’s face or stature. Nor in anything that is natural. God told Samuel,

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

God looks on the heart, not on any natural qualities or accomplishments we might have.

What am I leading up to in saying all these things?

Believers today think they may persuade God with things like much prayer, song, and hard work in ministry. But that’s just not right and it is unacceptable with God. Prayer, worship and ministry are all good, but the only thing with which we can persuade God are our hearts. A good heart is the first pre-requisite to any attempt at persuading God to be on one’s side.

A good heart goes a long way towards accomplishing the will of God than all the prayers in the world. God knew that, in the long term, David’s heart would work out His will more than his brothers’ seemingly outstanding worldly attributes.

You can always tell the man who is after God’s heart. It is not the man who is perfect (no one is). Rather, it is the man who trembles and who can humble himself. Humility is key to doing God’s will. A humble man will go far with God in the long term. If he sins, he can ask God for forgiveness. And God can continue using his humble heart, for in a humble heart God is free to move about and do what whatever He wants to, whenever He wants.

[Our overseer (seated to the left) is a simple man of God]

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God’s Kingdom – In Us!

20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Lk. 17:20-21

The inspiration for this post came from a conversation I had this morning with an elderly neighbour. I was out sweeping my front yard when my neighbour showed up and asked me, “Pastor, are you not going to church today?”

“No, madam, why?” I asked.

“Today is Good Friday!” she answered with surprise in her voice.

“Well”, I told her. “I know it is Good Friday all right but today I am not going to church.”

“Doesn’t your church hold a service on Good Friday”, she asked, clearly taken aback.

“No, we don’t”, I said simply.

“How come.”

This lady and I are very good friends, so I took the liberty to preach to her a proper Good Friday sermon. In as few words as I could, of course.

“Lady”, I said, “ever since Jesus came into this world, there is only one religious observance that we are called to and it is the purity of our hearts.”

Today, Good Friday, there will be so much activity going on in churches all over the world in honor of the crucifixion of Christ. I even know of people who will not be eating meat today as part of their religious observance. There is nothing wrong in all these things. The only thing we could fault them with is that the Kingdom of God is not found there.

The Apostle Paul preached one singular thing: the cross. Notice his words in 1 Corinthians 1:17:

“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.”

But I probably am getting ahead of myself… There is still much to talk about this religious observances.

When Jesus said, “Lo here! or, lo there!” He was referring to the entire spectrum of religious observances that people carry on with in church. And when it comes to religious observances in church in general, they are too many to mention here.

I remember one time, many years back, Pastor Amas and I had gone to a certain village to preach the gospel. In those days, unlike today when even in the most impassable routes there are motorcycle taxis, in those days much travelling into the villages had to be done on foot. So, on this particular occasion, after we had dropped off the bus, we had to walk for a full hour and a half to reach our destination.

As we were walking along the road we saw afar off a man approaching us. From afar we noticed he was wearing a suit and tie. Deep in the village! Even before we had got anywhere near him, I said, “That’s a pastor.” And true enough, when we finally met him, he was carrying a Bible. He was probably going to preach in the city.

Yes, wearing suits was once – and it still is in some circles – considered a religious duty, just as wearing a gown and crucifix is considered a fulfilment of some religious role in some denominations. There are churches where one cannot preach without wearing a suit and tie.

The list of Christian religious duties and observances, as I just said, is too long to write down here. People are looking for God in every nook and cranny. There are some who are looking for Him in form. Many more are looking for Him in miracles and signs and wonders. But the Kingdom of God is not found in these things. Jesus told us exactly where the Kingdom of God is to be found:

“…behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

What did Jesus mean by these words?

He meant that the Kingdom of God is the life that we live. We as the church should be very careful that we do not get carried away by all the “star-spangled” (to borrow a phrase) shows and goings-on that men can put out in the natural. Nor even in signs and wonders. Instead, our sole duty is look deep into our hearts and to make sure there is a work going on there – the work of the cross! The Apostle Paul said,

“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.”

To which he added,

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”

Are we crucified to the world and is the world crucified to us? Have we become new creatures, not in name, but in truth and fact? Do we live transformed lives?

These are the central questions that we need to ask ourselves, not whether we can do a little gardening on a Sunday afternoon or not.

[Water geese at the Musoma pier]

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God’s Purpose for Our Lives – And How to Achieve It!

45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” 49 And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. (John 11:45-52).

The Bible states clearly that Caiaphas spoke under the direction of God. Therefore, the words that he spoke were not his, but God’s. The man that Caiaphas spoke about was Jesus, and Jesus underwent all what Caiaphas had prophesied. He died and was crucified on the Cross for the sins of the entire world.

It is interesting to note that the days that Jesus and the Apostles lived in are identical to our own in many ways. In Jesus’ days God’s people boasted in outward appearances. They boasted in their education, their mode of dress, their flawless knowledge of the Law. They even prayed publicly at the crossroads! We could say they gloried in the flesh.

And yet, at the time of Jesus’ birth the nation of Israel was in a time of deep spiritual darkness. They “sat in darkness … in the region and shadow of death” (Mat. 4:16). It was a period of deep spiritual darkness in Israel, which meant that sin was rife.

In our own generation, the Church has grown exceedingly rich in many areas: financial and material prosperity, education, magnificent buildings, growing TV coverage. Today we even have Christian multi-millionaire pastors. In the spirit realm, miracles occur, and healings take place.

Yet alas! Despite all these outward ‘riches’ the Church is in a deep mess. Sin is commonplace. ‘Prosperous’ Christians and pastors are sinning. Depression and defeat pervades the Church.

Miracles will not bring victory in the Church. Indeed, miracles are not meant for the Church, so we cannot boast in them. Remember, the Corinthian church “came short in no spiritual gift” – yet it was a shamefully carnal Church! All our knowledge and materialism cannot fulfill God’s purpose in the Church and on the earth.

But the Cross will fulfill that purpose!. Caiaphas prophesied that someone had to die in order for something important to happen in the spirit. To fulfill that prophesy Jesus died on the Cross.

Jesus had a difficult time getting a place to be born in in Bethlehem. Today, He is having a difficult time indeed getting born in men’s hearts. Am I saying people are not getting saved? Certainly not! But I am talking about that extra all-important step, taking up our Cross and following Jesus.

In Jesus’ day, God fulfilled His purpose through Jesus’ obedience. Today, He wants to fulfill it through our obedience.

Many Christians know the Bible, but if they do not crucify the flesh, this knowledge will not profit them.

If every Christian would partake of the death of the Cross by denying self and losing our lives for the sake of Christ, then the life of Christ will be found in the Church, and we won’t need to make so much noise nor will we need to explain ourselves to people because the grace of God and the anointing on our lives will attract men and women to us.

When we die to self, God Himself will bring in His people, who are scattered all over the world, into our churches. They will come into our churches and they will know they have arrived home. In our CTMI congregations we have witnessed this happening many times. Someone comes into church, and the minute they experience the life inside and hear the sound teaching, they announce: “This is what I have been searching for all my life!”

Neither good, Biblical explanations, nor a Bible college education will build the Church of Christ. Jesus said He Himself would build His Church (Mat. 16:18). It is time we allowed Christ to build His Church by allowing the work of the Cross in our lives.

Why was Paul so effective in building the Church? The answer lies in Galatians 1:16 Paul says the minute he believed in Christ, he did not “confer with flesh and blood”. In other words, he carried the Cross from day one, and he never put it down. He did not ever use his education again. In fact he threw it away, like dung. This is so humbling! Today’s Church needs to throw away so much stuff. There are too many things we are boasting in, but which are not profitable in the least to our spiritual growth.

The day men and women of God begin boasting with Paul in ONE thing only: “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), then we shall witness the purpose of God -to gather His people together in unity of spirit – accomplished in our generation.