True Goodness – Part 2

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 19-25

Jesus did so much good during His earthly ministry but, in the epistles, the Bible does not talk about those things. Instead, it talks about Christ’s sufferings and His endurance in the same! The Bible exalts the cross above anything that Jesus did or underwent. In fact, in Philippians 2:5-11, the Bible talks about the different stages that Jesus allowed Himself to descend from glory to shame and death. But it ends by stating that He

“became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (v.8)

The death of the cross. That is not any death. The death of the cross is not physical death. It is death to self. And it was on account of this death that scripture declares in verse 9:

“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name”.

You can die every kind of death; but if you have not died to self, you are nothing in God’s eyes.

I have an interesting illustration in this regard.

One day, a brother called me and told me he was travelling to the village to attend the burial of a close relative. I knew this brother’s financial condition, so I wanted to bless him with some money. I decided I would surprise him, so I called him back and told him to meet up with me at a certain place. He answered, “I am leaving right away.”

I walked briskly to our meeting point, my heart beating with excitement at the good I was about to do. When I arrived there, the brother was nowhere to be seen. True, he lived some distance away, but I expected him to take some form of transportation and hurry.

I called him and told him exactly that. I told him, “Take a motorcycle!”

He mumbled an answer and the phone went dead.

Finally, the brother showed up after about 20 minutes. By that time, my heart had turned charcoal black. The man had kept me waiting – and I was livid. I almost did not greet him, and I had to dredge up all the remaining dregs of grace left in me to hand him the money I had come to “bless” him with.

I had done good, but my good was not acceptable with God. In God’s eyes, it was the exact opposite of what you could call good. Why?

Because I had not accepted to suffer. God was not looking at the good I had gone to do. He was looking to see whether I would endure patiently when something grated at my will. Those 20 minutes of waiting were more important to God than any good intentions I had to help someone.

God waits for us at the point of suffering. He does not wait for us at any other place. He waits for us like the umpire waits for the athlete. The umpire does not wait for the athlete at any old point along the track. He waits at the finishing line.

Jesus waits for us at the finishing line; and our finishing line is the cross. When we accept to suffer patiently “for conscience toward God” we find God waiting for us right there.

By introducing the cross, the Bible destroys any notion of “good” that we have in the human sense. With God, “good” can only be when we serve Him under His terms, not ours. Actually, the cross is all about dying to our old man, self.

In John 21:18, we read Jesus’s words to Peter,

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”

Imagine that. Jesus told Peter that a time would come when Peter would not serve God under his own terms, but under God’s terms!

Did you know that Peter carried a sword to serve the Lord with? That was his will at work. In fact, Jesus once rebuked him with the words:

“Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Mat. 16:23)

That is how we are much of the time: serving God, but carrying carnal weapons. If someone hurts us, we hurt back because we are not willing to suffer. We, just like Peter, are carrying weapons of our flesh with us.

We begin to understand why the Apostle Paul would not preach any other gospel other than “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23)

It is the cross alone that can deal with the flesh so that we may serve the Lord on His terms, not ours. Nothing else can. Not even prophecies. There are too many self-styled, self-willed ‘prophets’ roaming about. It’s time to show them the cross – or the door.

So, finally, what is true goodness? What is thankworthy and acceptable with God? It is when we submit ourselves to another’s terms, not our own. It is when we crucify our wills. Biblically, the flesh is our will.

All our good, all our striving, all our effort comes to nought if we have not reached the place of crucifying our flesh. God is not interested in what we do. He is interested in what we allow Him to do in us.

If we are good on our own terms, despite all the good we do, we, just like my brother John at the brook, will not even have began our spiritual journey.

[I love the arts!]

Building Christ’s Victorious Church – Part 1

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Mat. 16:18

Notice in the above scripture that Jesus said He would build His church. That is extremely important for the church to understand. The reason for this is because Jesus knew men would try to build His church, and He knew that if men built His church, it would not stand. Unless Christ builds His church, it shall not be victorious against the gates of hell. The gates of hell refer to evil in its every form. If Christ does not build His church, evil will prevail against it. The church will not be holy as God wants it to be.

Why will evil prevail against the church? Evil will prevail against the church because the church will be weak. A weak church cannot stand, much less defend itself. A weak church is a baby church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul tells us what a baby church or Christian is:

“1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” 1 Cor. 3:1-3

Thank God we begin as babies in Christ. That is as it should be. But after we have been born again in the Spirit, we ought to grow in that same Spirit. If we do not grow in the Spirit, we will forever remain babies in Christ, and we shall be overcome by evil.

Now, when many believers hear or read of the gates of hell or evil, they immediately think of the devil and his works. That is true, of course, but many do not realize that the only way that the devil works his works with any impact to the church is when believers have not crucified their flesh.

The knee-jerk reaction of a Christian who does not see in the Spirit is to think of the devil every time the word “evil” is mentioned. But for the believer who sees in the Spirit, he or she will understand that the gates of hell, or evil, refer nearly all the time to the works of the flesh in the believer. The devil may attack our bodies, but he cannot attack our spirit if the flesh is not alive in us.

The devil is not when my neighbor is persecuting me. In fact, in all likelihood, that is God at work. On the contrary, the devil works when I allow my old, carnal nature of the flesh to rule in me.

When the carnal nature is at work in me, I will exhibit the works of the flesh as laid out in Galatians 5:19-21:

“19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Notice the fine script in verse 21: “and such like”. That means that the things listed here by no means comprise the exhaustive inventory of the works of the flesh. Just because you have a trait of the flesh that is not mentioned here does not mean you are not a carnal Christian.

The church cannot take even one effective step in its heaven-bound journey without understanding and acknowledging two things:

  1. Firstly, the flesh is the church’s number one enemy. When the devil was coming at Him with all his fury, Jesus said he “hath nothing in me.” (Jn. 14:30) Jesus’s flesh was not alive in Him.
  2. Secondly, it is Christ Himself who has to build the church.

So how does Christ build His church? More appropriately, however, let us begin by looking at how men try to build God’s church.

When men can quote scripture, when men know the Bible from one end to the other; when men have been to Bible school and have graduated with degrees; when men know all the Biblical doctrines about “repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:1-2); when men know all these things BUT ARE NOT CHANGING; when men know all these things BUT REMAIN WITH THEIR CARNAL NATURES AND ATTRIBUTES yet continue going to church and continue ministering to God as if there is something fruitful going on in the Spirit, this is how men try to build Christ’s church.

When we think that our singing pleases God, and we go to extremes to make our worship experiences as beautiful and powerful as possible, BUT ARE NOT CHANGING INTO THE CHARACTER OF CHRIST, this is how men build God’s church.

When men boast in their power to pray and we even hear of “prayer warriors” in church, BUT MEN ARE NOT CHANGING, this is how men try to build Christ’s church.

When preaching becomes the focus of our calling; when miracles and “mighty works” of the Spirit become our focus; when we hear of ministries that go by men’s names, this is how men will try to build Christ’s church.

When we boast in mega-structures and mega-numbers in our churches; when we plaster our churches with such exotic names like “Helicopter Church”; this is how men build Christ’s church.

The result of all these things and many others like these; the result, as we see today, is a weak, defeated church. We can clearly tell from scripture that the early church was a strong, victorious church. Sin was dealt with firmly and effectively. But the church today is overcome by every kind of sin. To begin with, the true doctrine of the cross (“Jesus Christ, and him crucified” – 1 Cor. 2:1) has been removed from the church, and it has been supplanted by false doctrines.

The natural outcome of this is that the flesh has thrived in the church. It is noteworthy that preachers today exhibit every work of the flesh in their lives. The prosperity preachers top this list, of course. And they have a massive following, which means that a large proportion of the church is following after the flesh.

Man has tried to build Christ’s church and the result is that the church has not taken one productive step in its quest for the life of Christ both on earth and in heaven.

Christ, therefore, has to build His church for it to be strong and victorious against the gates of hell. Finally, we arrive at the critical question: how does Christ build His church?

We shall see the answer in the second part of this post.

[Below: Today’s church is largely a cosmetic affair]

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Spiritual vs Carnal Believers – Part 2

… Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.

51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.

52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? Mat. 26:50-54

In this our second part, let us continue to reflect on Jesus’ words to Peter:

“Put up again thy sword into his place…”

Jesus was telling Peter that the sword was not needed in the Kingdom of God. The sword here stands for the evil things that reside in our hearts – hatred, envy, violence, vengeance, etc. These are the weapons that we use to fight with in the flesh; and here Jesus was telling Peter: “Put them away!”

Vengeance is a big problem with man. Many of us, when wronged, feel that ‘righteous’ anger and the need to retaliate. But God wants us to become spiritual and not retaliate. In becoming spiritually mature, we fulfill the divine command:

“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom.12:19) .

There are even believers who love watching things like wrestling on TV, and boxing and even football all out of the need to satiate their lust for vengeance. But these are attitudes that need to be flushed from our system – flushed out through a work of the cross.

One of the things that the gospel of the gospel accomplished in our church many years ago was to remove these things from our hearts. When the gospel came, we were watching all these evil things on TV and you could see the result of this from our sick and antagonistic hearts. Then, one day, it was all over. People just stopped watching these things. The desire was gone!

That was a work of the Holy Spirit. No one told us to stop watching. But the Lord Himself intervened, and when He did the hunger for competition was removed from people’s hearts and it was replaced by love for one another. Today, many years later, people are loving and serving one another with ever greater fervor.

The spirit of competition is a spirit of the world. We want to win and we want someone else to lose! It is a problem of the heart.

As for wrestling and other violent ‘games’, I firmly believe that these are no-go zones for the believer. Why would you want to feed your spirit with all that violence?

We need to heed Jesus’ words: “Put up again thy sword into his place…”

We are to be people of peace. The Bible tells us to be “harmless as doves” (Mat. 10:16). We cannot be harmless if we are carrying weapons of warfare in our hearts.

Let us consider the last part of this sentence:

“…for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

That’s a warning and it’s a tough one. What this scripture is actually saying is that if you decide to defend yourself in the flesh, you shall lose or die. Notice the word “perish”, right there. Yes, you will perish spiritually – and there is nothing as tragic as a spiritual death.

The Bible here categorically denies us the right to take up the weapons of our flesh. In practical terms, it means that when situations rise up against us, we should not react. The fact is, God will have allowed these situations into our lives because there are things that He wants to remove from our hearts – things of the flesh. We cannot wish these things away. We have to put them to death through submitting ourselves to the cross. When we fail to give them up and when we keep putting up defences against the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we are “taking the sword”, and the result is that we will die spiritually.

It was the Lord Jesus Himself who said so:

“…for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

These are words that we need to consider seriously.

In many places the Bible lists the things of the flesh:

“19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20 These are the things which defile a man” (Mat. 15:19-20)

Roman 1:29-31 provides another list:

29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful”.

These are things that we must put to death. That is why the church needs to have an understanding of the cross. Taking up our cross and following Christ is the only way to become a spiritual believer.

[A burial. In the same manner our carnal nature needs to be dead and buried]

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“Feed my lambs” – Part 2

In this last part we shall see how Jesus wants us to feed His sheep. But at the very end of this post we shall also consider another surprising aspect of the grace of God.

Let us first look at how Jesus calls upon us to feed His sheep. In the Kingdom of God we cannot do things just as we want, because God has the blueprint for every tiny thing concerning His Kingdom and it is that which we must follow.

So, how do we feed Jesus’ sheep? Is it by preaching? Or praying for God’s people?

Yes, that could be true. Indeed, the biggest ministries and churches today are based on prayer and “power preaching”. But the true manner in which we are called upon to feed Jesus’ sheep is by laying down our lives for the sheep. That is how Jesus did it and we cannot substitute it (Jn. 6:48). This is the reason why the church needs to understand the cross of Christ in a deeper sense. It is through the cross that God reveals His love for His church.

Some cultures have trivialized the reality of love with husband and wife calling each other “Honey!” and “Baby!” while they rush to divorce one another. But how can you call someone “Honey” and divorce them? It would more honest if you called them “Mara” or “Bitterness”, like Naomi did.

True love is different. Attaining to true love is the toughest, grittiest dirty-job business on earth.

In the scripture above, therefore, the word “feed” is very significant. It cannot be simply to preach. That is too easy! But the word “feed” here talks of the true gospel, the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the gospel that singularly declares: deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Christ.

There are other gospels that do not feed Jesus’ sheep. These are gospels of deception and self-gratification. They are the very anti-thesis of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. These gospels are preached by people who do not care an iota about the welfare of God’s people.

Jesus knew that once He had gone, there would come people proclaiming, “I love Jesus” but preaching a gospel of self-gratification. And sure enough, the church was hardly out of its crib when it encountered these very people. In 2 Corinthians 11:4 the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians:

“For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”

When Jesus therefore told Peter: “Feed my sheep”, He meant “Preach and live the true gospel – the gospel of the cross. Give your life. Become an example.”

And now, finally, let us look at another extremely interesting aspect of the grace of God. Jesus does things eminently differently than we can fathom, and we can hardly be prepared enough for the singularly unique ways in which He surprises us.

Here we see that Peter left ministry and went fishing (Jn. 21:3). He even instigated the other apostles to do the same. This was a mark of selfishness and a lack of faith on Peter’s part. This was enough to disqualify him from the ministry. He was unstable.

But Jesus took this incredibly weak man and gave him the greatest responsibility by telling him, “You lay down your life for my sheep!”

It was the same with the Apostle Paul. In the natural Paul was the least of all men because he persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. But the amazing fact was that it was to him that God gave the unmatchable responsibility and grace to preach “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” amongst the Gentiles (1 Cor. 2:2).

No wonder Paul wrote:

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

All this speaks of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus takes the weakest among us and makes them the strongest. He takes the unlovable and makes them the most lovable.

Christ calls us to Himself. But He wants us to continue and carry the same grace that He has towards other people. This responsibility is an incredible grace, and we should guard it well.

[Below: In Singida, as in many other parts of central Tanzania, the land is so flat one can see to the ends of the earth!]

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Human Prejudice vs God’s Will

13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Mat. 16:13-19

We wonder at the prejudice that the Jews had in Jesus’ day, little realizing that we probably are more prejudiced than they, though in very subtle ways.

I don’t know what God saw in Peter, but it is clear from the scriptures that God chose to reveal something to Peter over the other apostles. In fact, what God revealed to Peter was the greatest revelation that will ever be revealed to mankind: that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Notice it was God who gave that revelation to Peter. It was not Jesus who did it. But Jesus keenly observed what the Father did, and bent His will to do the Father’s will.

Peter was not Jesus’ favorite disciple; John was (John 21:20). And yet, when Jesus saw the favor that God had placed on Peter by revealing to him who He was, He obeyed God and He chose Peter to lead the church Jesus was leaving behind in Jerusalem (v.19).

God’s choice of Peter as the leader of the church in Jerusalem is also confirmed by the Apostle Paul. In Galatians 2:7-8 he says, “7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; 8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)”

But Peter was a man who had many weaknesses. In fact, right after receiving that momentous commendation from Jesus, he found himself being castigated by Jesus Himself for something foolish he had said! (John 16:22,23). And we know also that Peter carried a sword with him up till the day Jesus was arrested, and he used it to cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear! (John 18:26)

He was a fire-breathing apostle, this Peter!

Can we discern what God has put in a man’s heart and respect him for it – in other words, respect the deposit that God has put in that man’s heart – rather than focusing on his weaknesses, however big they may be?

Jesus did exactly that with respect to Peter. He saw what God had deposited in Peter’s heart and since Jesus lived to do God’s will alone He chose to respect Peter for it, and He announced it as so in front of everybody. I am sure that Jesus deliberately chose to obey God in placing Peter as the leader of the church.

Jesus was no respecter of persons. I believe that Jesus made this decision solely based on what He had seen the Father do in revealing to Peter who Jesus was rather than to any other apostle. Jesus respected what His Father respected. Probably Jesus would have liked to choose John as the leader. But He perceived God’s choice, and Jesus lived only to do God’s will.

Much of the time God comes at us from center-left. He works in ways that are completely contrary to our human preferences. I am of the opinion that even the best among us has some prejudices against some type of persons. But God is God and He will remain God. And He always has a way of dealing with human arrogance.

The question here is: Do we have the grace to put aside our preferences, and our prejudices and respect God through respecting a man for what God has put in his heart? And sometimes, as we just saw, that person may not be our favorite person, or he may not be one who is worthy of our respect.

I believe that if we are seeing in the Spirit we will have no problem accepting it. But if we do not see in the Spirit, we will hold on to our prejudices, likes, and preferences.

In Acts chapter 10 we see that the Apostle Peter was also tempted in like manner. But God told him, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (v.15).

In Galatians 2:12 also we find, alas, that the apostles at Jerusalem, led by James, were also unable to overcome their prejudices! They could not stomach eating with Gentile believers – their fellow brethren!

We might be tempted to think that all this is history and that in our more enlightened times we are faring far much better. But I happen to know it is not true. Prejudice is still a big stumbling block to us obeying God.

That is why this generation needs a revelation of the cross in our hearts. We will know a brother for who he is in the Spirit and respect him for that alone.

The Apostle Paul, the man who would know nothing else apart from the cross, was led by the Holy Spirit to put it this way: “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (2 Cor. 5:16).

How so beautiful!

[Below: Dare we respect a man for who he is in the Spirit?]

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Peter, A Humble Apostle (Part 2)

Would you endorse someone who had publicly humiliated you? I am not talking about politicians here; I am talking about we believers. You see, one trait about a believer is that he walks in the truth, and the truth is not always sweet. In the world there is a lot of lying and covering up, and we cannot use the world as our model.

So, would you endorse or truthfully approve of someone who had publicly shamed you. There are some things which are easier said than done, and this is one of them. But we see the Apostle Peter giving his approval, in the Spirit, to the Apostle Paul, someone who had withstood him to the face… before them all.” (Gal. 2:11-14)

Paul had rebuked the Apostle Peter in front of the church. Now, let’s face it, that’s a hard one to take. It is like a slap in the face. What Paul did to Peter would have many church leaders today literally running to civil court to file libel charges.

But not Peter. We see him writing to the church: “15  And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” 2 Pet. 3:15-16

He open-heartedly endorsed the ministry of the Apostle Paul. This scripture alone reveals Peter’s heart far more than anything else that he did or said.

And yet Peter does not always come out in the Bible as a very ‘spiritual’ person. He had many weaknesses and shortcomings which the Bible strangely finds the liberty to lay out for all to see. Every born- again believer today is aware of Peter’s failings. In contrast, only a very small portion of the other apostles’ failings are listed in the Bible.

But even within the Body of Christ today we know who the most lovable of Jesus’ disciples is. Everyone will tell you it is Peter! Which means that even we understand that simplicity of character and a willingness to expose our lives pleases God.

As a result of Peter’s humble character, God gave him more revelations than any of the other apostles. And because of this Jesus automatically chose Peter to lead His church.

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat. 16:17-19)

You notice that Jesus used the expression “rock” on Peter, the Peter whose weaknesses everyone was all too aware of. But Jesus was laying the foundation for what the Apostle Paul would later tell us about the Godly nature: “… It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Cor. 15:43)

Notice also that when it came to choosing who would lead the church Jesus did not cast votes. He knew it in the Spirit – and from the character of the man himself.

Peter had a trait which many people, especially church leaders, do not have. He had humility. Many of today’s church leaders are chosen on the merit of “proven leadership skills”, which much of the time translates into a well-educated, groomed character. Jesus chose the rough stone which was Peter. He was looking for someone spiritual, not any ‘perfect’ persons.

Remember Jesus said, “he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” – Lk. 9:48. (What He meant was, ‘He who humbles himself most’). He did not say, ‘He that is most educated’ or ‘He who is richest among you’. Were we to use the same gauge that Jesus used in choosing church leaders, the church would be far more spiritual than it is today!

[Below: Sunset in Mugumu Town, the last stop before entering the Serengeti]

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Peter, A Humble Apostle (Part 1)

(This post is about the Apostle Peter, but you won’t read about him until Part 2)

30 Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,

31 As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings. Joshua 8:30-31

Do you know there is clockwise and there is anti-clockwise? You would be surprised to learn that most of the time we are working in an anti-clockwise manner in our Christian walk with God. While God is trying to perfect and glorify us ‘clockwise’, we are busy trying to seek for that same perfection in an anti-clockwise way!

That’s how funny we are.

I will explain that in a minute, but let me begin by saying that the reason we work against God is because we fear. We fear to expose our failings and our weaknesses. But we should not fear to be who we are, nor should we fear to be seen by people for what we truly are. That is the essence of the gospel as far we are concerned. We are not called to ‘protect our identities’, nor are we called to be ‘politically correct’ either in word or in deed.

Many born-again believers, especially after they have grown in years and find they are still struggling in some areas of their lives, decide to hide their failings. In trying to do this they build up a beautiful façade, putting up an image of how they would like to be viewed.  What they don’t realize is that in doing this they are ‘setting themselves in stone’ and that God will not be able to work in their lives. However difficult or hard or shameful it may be (to us) we are not to avoid confronting the truth and exposing ourselves at whatever cost. That is what humility is all about, and God is concerned with humility in our hearts above anything else.

God told the children of Israel that they should not try to chisel the stones upon which they would offer sacrifices to Him. He Himself would sanctify the stones by His presence.

You remember also that when the angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah, Samson’s father, in Judges 13, Manoah offered a sacrifice unto the Lord upon a bare rock (v.9). The Bible does not say that he chiseled at the rock first, no; he offered the sacrifice on the rock just as it was… and the rock instantly became the altar. These were men who understood the ways of the Lord.

And the Bible says that “19 …and the angel did wondrously; and Manoah and his wife looked on.

20 For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground” (Jdg. 13:19-20).

What this means for us is that we should go to the Lord just as we are and allow Him to perfect us. We are not to lay even a finger upon our character to try and change it. If we do this it becomes highly displeasing to God and we deny the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in our lives.

But, alas! many of us try to suppress things. ‘Suppression’, however, has never been a good word, and certainly not for born-again believers. You suppress bombs and those kinds of things, not your spirit. We need to be what we are.

God loves your roughness. Let us say you easily get angry, for example. What a wonderful place to be! Don’t bother hiding it. Simply acknowledge it and allow God Himself to work in you to perfect you and use you for His glory. When we get busy trying to act right we lose flavor with God. God loves us most when we are exactly what we are. He loves to be able to perfect us.

The Nature of Our Calling – Part 2

Now, as I said, Genesis 24:58 is a great eye-opener. When we accept to go with Jesus, it is better we understand what we are walking into. Trouble!

(At weddings people are asked to make vows which involve words like, “I will be with you in joy and in sadness”. Unfortunately, many people do not honor that vow and they opt out at the first sign of ‘sadness’, and consequently divorce is considered an option even in church today!)

But when Christ calls us, He calls us to partake of His sufferings and death. When Jesus walked in this world, His disciples were always thinking in terms of worldly glory and worldly gain. We recall James and John sneaking in behind the other apostles to ask that very special favor from Jesus. We also recall Peter’s question to Jesus in Matthew 19:27: Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?”

Mark 10:29-30: “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, 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.”

Jesus’ answers to questions regarding God’s Kingdom, and His teachings in general, indicated that forsaking the world (in our spirits) and partaking of His sufferings and death (again, in the spirit) was the sole calling that He calls us to. We have been called to identify our lives with Jesus’, not only in His glory, but also in His sufferings for the Kingdom of God.

In Hebrews 11:9-10 the Bible talks about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the following manner: “By faith (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

These were people who suffered with Christ – and theirs was a far more literal suffering than ours. We are far more privileged. We can roam the world in personal jets and still go to heaven. These guys, the Bible says, lived in tents with smelly goats, cows and camels and they did not even think of building a permanent house to live in!

For anyone listening, that truly changes our perspective of our calling. We hardly have enough breathe left to cheer about money, cars, houses – or private jets.

We have been called to live an entirely different lifestyle. We have been called to a life of forgiving those who wrong us, to love people; to feel the very heartbeat of our brother or sister. It is impossible to live that kind of lifestyle while we are selfishly holding onto our lives or onto the world.

If you want someone to let go of something you hit him again and again (or you shake them) until they give in. That is what God in love does to us. He wants us to let go of the world; we therefore will need to suffer much in order for that to happen.

And that work in our lives – taking up our cross and following Jesus – is what we should be cheering about.

The Foundation of our Faith – the Pauline Doctrine (Pt. 4)

We are now in chapter 4 and any intrepid reader who is still following my ramblings must be wondering whether I am lost…. Well, I am not, and in fact I will be finishing in the next post. I just want to fill in the gaps, a job I am not sure I am doing too well. Nonetheless, I am trusting the Lord every step of the way. And let me thank each one of you individually for your love and patience, and for your encouragement.

In this chapter we will look at how Paul’s gospel was ‘different’ from the other Apostles’ gospel and what the implications of this are for us today.

Trouble for the gospel began early enough, in fact right after the birth of the Early Church in Jerusalem. The Bible says: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Act 6:1 Lines were drawn within the Church of Christ ! But the Apostles handled it swiftly and wisely, choosing spiritually mature men to oversee the “serving of tables”.

But another disturbing scenario crops up not long afterwards. In Acts 11:19 we are told that after Saul’s persecution of the Church began at Jerusalem, the believers who fled to the diaspora preached the gospel all right but “unto the Jews only.” Demarcation lines were drawn once again, by believers. Clearly, the Jerusalem Church had a problem understanding the universal nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Soon it was time for the Apostles themselves to be tested. Although Peter knew and understood what the Scriptures said about salvation for the Gentiles (Acts 10:43), yet when God wanted to send him to take the gospel to Cornelius – and, by extension, to the Gentiles – we see in Acts chapter 10 that the Lord Himself had to appear to him in a vision in order to persuade him to accept the truth that salvation was for the Gentiles also!

(After he had preached to them the gospel, God promptly confirmed His acceptance of them by pouring upon them His Holy Spirit.)

When news of the fact that Peter had entered a Gentile home reached the Apostles at Jerusalem, they summoned him before them to explain why he had “crossed the boundary”. After Peter explained to them that it was God and not him, the Bible says “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Act 11:18)

After reading the above Scripture, and hearing Peter’s proclamati0ns you would think that the Apostles were in full agreement with God about accepting the Gentiles as equal heirs with them of the Kingdom of God. But you will be surprised at what happened later, as we read in Galatians 2:12-13:  “For before that certain came from James, (Peter) did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.”

The Bible here is saying that Peter feared a delegation that was coming from James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. Why? Because they would do him in for consorting with uncircumcised Gentiles.  In other words, in spite of what they knew from Scripture and from Peter’s experience with Cornelius these Jews were not ready to accept any stranger in their midst merely on the supposition of grace. For them keeping the Law of Moses was paramount!

In short, it was like this: the Apostles had received the gospel all right, but at heart they were still Torah hardliners!

I want us to look at one last scene before we get done with this chapter. When Paul went to Jerusalem on his final journey, his host, the Apostle James  together with the other elders met him and told him, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:” (Act 21:20) In other words, even though the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ had been preached in Jerusalem for a long time and many Jews had accepted Jesus into their hearts the fact of salvation by grace without works was proving to be a thorn in the flesh for many of them.

But if the Apostles themselves had a problem with this truth, as we have seen, they most likely would have been preaching a gospel tainted with law and it is no wonder, therefore, that Jerusalem was crawling with samurai-wielding believers!

And it was not only in Jerusalem. The Jews were creating havoc wherever the Word of salvation reached out to people, even amongst the Gentiles.

And here you have the basic difference between Paul and the Apostles at Jerusalem. You see, right from the beginning Paul never had any problem accepting what the Lord had revealed to him about salvation being for every man who believed on the Lord Jesus, Jew or Greek, and that it was by grace and grace alone.

Paul understood grace perfectly well. The Apostles at Jerusalem were limited in their understanding of it.

Many years later, after more light had entered Peter’s heart, he would affirm to the Church that the Apostle Paul received far greater “wisdom” than what he and his compatriots received from the Lord (2 Peter 3:15). Peter here was not talking about intellectual or human wisdom. The Bible never refers to human intellect because God is spirit. I am sure Peter was talking about the grace that Paul received from the Lord, and the power that came with that grace to not only bring salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, men and women, high and low, but to also set them free from the power of the flesh and to perfect them in the image of Christ.

We conclude in the next post!