Two Lessons – Part 2

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:

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:)

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. Gal. 2:1-10

Notice, in verses 7 through 9, the two things that the apostles in Jerusalem saw in Paul: they perceived and acknowledged that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto him; and they also saw and acknowledged the grace that was given unto Paul.

This spirit of humility is very important for the church. The end goal for the church should be unity in the Spirit. Unity in the Spirit cannot be achieved where there is no humility. Had the apostles in Jerusalem not been able to see in the Spirit and had they told Paul: “You are a novice in this ministry, what can you tell us?”, the end result would have been a divided church right from the start, and there is no telling where that would have led to.

That is why we need to hail the early apostles as heroes of faith. Not only on account of the miracles that they performed, but more so for their humility. Humility always attends true faith. It is for this same reason that King David is a great man in the Bible. David did one of the most horrific sins recorded in the Bible; yet right to the end he was God’s favorite. How come? It was because David had a humble heart.

It was through this humility that the apostles could recognize Paul for who he was in the Spirit. It was also through this same humility that both Paul and these men could agree on one of the most important pillars of true Christianity: to remember the poor.

Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. (v.10)

In ministry, we must remember the poor. Remembering the poor is central to our Christian faith. We can learn from the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In John 13:29, we read:

“For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.”

This scripture clearly shows that Jesus ministered to the poor financially. (We know from other accounts that Jesus ministered physically and materially to the people He preached to.)

What about the Apostle Paul? Paul tells the Corinthians;

“I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.” (2 Cor. 11:8)

Today there are men of God who rob God’s people to enrich themselves and to live comfortable lives. There is no way you are going to convince me that a Bentley or a Hummer or a 2000-dollar suit is for ministry. Which proves that even the private jets used by modern preachers are not really for ministry.

There is no place for this kind of lifestyle in the Bible. Paul did not “rob” other churches to enrich himself. But, as we see in 2 Corithinans 8, he took the money he got from the more affluent churches to serve the less fortunate ones. This was to fulfill what th scripture says:

“… he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack” (Ex. 16:18).

As of Paul’s own life, on the contrary, we read of his and his fellow apostles’ lives thus:

“11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; 12 and labour, working with our own hands…” (1 Cor. 4:11-12)

True apostolic ministry will always look out for the poor. That is why the early apostles, who were true men of God, could concur and exhort each other to “remember the poor”. With these men, you would not hear such immature references to the poor as “lazy”, etc.

The long and short of it is that a gospel that does not mind the poor is a dead gospel. Whatever the Bible writes it writes to show us the heart of God. In this singular scripture, it is easy to see God’s heart for the poor and downtrodden people of this world.

Why should we “remember the poor”? It is primarily because nothing in this world is worth a person’s soul. No amount of money that you can hoard in your pocket or bank account can compare with the value of a human soul. Money – or, rather, the love of it – should not hinder us from serving the poor. In serving the poor, we serve God.

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Faith and Compassion

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. Lk. 16:19-25

Notice here that one man “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day”; while his neighbor was daily “laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”

Now, the Bible here does not say that Lazarus was born again and that the rich man was not. It could well be that the rich man was also saved. But there is no doubt that Lazarus lived a life that pleased God.

The accusation against the rich man, on the other hand (vs. 19-21), involves how he treated his neighbor, Lazarus. It appears that he lived a selfish, unloving life. He did not love or show compassion to his neighbor, Lazarus, who was poor.

Even Abraham accuses him of only this sin:

“Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.”

God is not envious of us when we prosper. I haven’t heard of a father who is envious when his children prosper. God is the Father of fathers and He is happy when we prosper, even in material things.

But, in countless scriptures, God tells us how we ought to live our lives with the less fortunate in a manner that testifies of our faith in Him.

When we get to heaven, we will not just walk up to God and tell Him, “Lord, you know that on such and such a date I believed in Jesus and I got saved”.

That salvation script won’t work. What will happen is, God will bring out a rap sheet of your lifestyle. He will say, “Let us see your works.”

The Bible, in the Book of James, talks about faith without works.

“14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (Jam. 2:14-17)

Are you saved? Don’t get complacent; Judgement Day is coming. Get out there and “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)

Working out our salvation incudes how we live with the less fortunate. We are stewards of whatever God has given us. One day, we will give an account to God.

All that the rich man would allow the beggar, Lazarus, to have of his sumptuous fare were the crumbs that fell from his table! When we read this, we can think of any number of scenarios that could have been coursing through the rich man’s mind whenever he thought of Lazarus.

Scenario no. 1: He probably considered Lazarus a loser. In today’s church parlance, he would have said Lazarus was cursed. A child of God a beggar? Impossible! The fellow needed a ‘deliverance’ session.

Scenario no. 2: Or, he considered Lazarus plain lazy. Yes, Lazarus was a dirty, lazy beggar. His sores most likely were caused by an unhygienic lifestyle. The rich man therefore gave his security detail strict instructions to keep Lazarus locked out of his compound. He intelligently surmised that if Lazarus so much as set a foot within, something worse than the bubonic plague could erupt right inside his home, and he and his entire family could die.

I once heard a preacher say that he handles only clean, brand new dollar bills. He said something about having a phobia of all the germs that one can easily collect from touching old, dirty bills.

Just like Lazarus’s benefactor, this preacher was also a very intelligent man. But I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes when God shows up.

We should be careful how we handle people, especially God’s people. We should not call them names like “lazy” when we don’t even know – or care – what they are going through. The Bible faults us when we carry this very uncharitable attitude. Colossians 3:12 says:

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering…”

We ought never to forget that Christ died; and that He died for these very people. It is for this reason that we cannot despise or mistreat people, least of all God’s people.

I believe it was this very sin that took the rich man to hell.

[STOP being merely religious and reconsider your WAYS with regard to God’s people while you still have the time]

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The Apostolic Message (Part 1)

You notice in the Bible that the word “apostle” is not there in the Old Testament. We find it only in the New Testament. That means that the ministry of the apostle begins under the New Covenant.

But before we get to that, let me first share something in connection with this.

We humans are wired in such a way that we want to understand things rationally. We want everything that comes our way to be explainable and to be understood by the human mind. That is okay as far as this world is concerned. We wouldn’t be where we are progress-wise without the great rational and deductive minds of this world.

But this human predisposition becomes a problem when we turn to God. Deduction and rationalization are hardly the ways to get to know God. God is Spirit, and the human mind is matter; how can it understand spirit? It is not possible. And man’s inclination to do just that has proved to be his undoing.

This is why especially intelligent people of the world have a problem understanding God. I can assure you that when we get to heaven we will find very few intelligent people up front. Now, I know someone is probably about to burst a neck vein over this statement, but notice I did not say there will not be intelligent people up front. All I said is that they will be very few, at least in proportion to the ‘dumb’ people that you normally find in church.

This is because it is the lowly people that God choses to be the heirs of His Kingdom!

The Apostle Paul tells the carnal-minded, intelligently puffed-up Corinthians: 26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence. 30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: 31 That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”  (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

In James 2:5, the Apostle James also echoes Paul’s words: Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?”

Notice it is God who has chosen them.

Do you know the poor? Living in Africa, I know the poor. Being poor, of course, means, first, that they have nothing. Secondly, they are uneducated, and not very intelligent. Thirdly, they have absolutely no class. It requires a strenuous effort for someone who has class to even notice this group of people. These are people that no one has any need of.

I once knew of a certain rich man in my home town who would keep people – his own employees – standing outside his house the whole day waiting for him to get out and see them. And sometimes he would not come out at all.

Generally, however, worldly people are not so cruel. Most people do all sorts of kindly things for the poor. It is called philanthropy, and much of the time it comes from a true heart of compassion. More so in church we are taught to love others as we love ourselves. But let’s face it, there are very few even amongst the best of us who do not have a red line drawn somewhere deep in our subconsciousnesses where we do not allow certain classes of people to cross over.

But God is the great I AM, and He has no such qualms. He would laugh at our weak attitudes were it not for the fact they sadden Him so much. God is so rich in grace He can do things which we can only dream about. And to prove it, God reaches out and calls the very people that this world has no need of. Now, notice the Bible does not say that God first consults with the rich people of this world on whether He should call the poor, or which poor people He should call. No. Nor does He call up a panel of illustrious university professors and ask them to prepare a list of which uneducated folk He should share His deep mysteries with: (“Oh, y’know, I am not sure whether they can handle it.”)

God is above the high and mighty of this world, and He does not consult them.

God expressly calls and uses the ‘dumb’ and lowly. Some of the Old Testament prophets that we revere today were mere shepherds!

Even when God used educated people, in the spirit they first had to relinquish their stations in life. The great man of law, the Apostle Paul, says that he suffered the loss of all things”! (Phil. 3:8) All!! When he says all, it means even his intelligence, his doctrines and beliefs, his high office as a Pharisee; and even his very identity. Remember Paul was once known as Saul. He lost even that.

And why does God call and use “the foolish”, “the weak”, “the base” the “despised”, and “things which are not” and not “the wise”, “the… mighty”, or “things that are”?

It is so “that no flesh should glory in his presence”!

The biggest thing that mankind glories in is their mind. But we cannot presume to know God by our minds, however fine they are. We can only know God through our hearts and for that a miracle must happen in our hearts.

As we study the apostolic message, therefore, it is good to pray to God to open our spiritual eyes that we might understand His heart for the church, of whom we are a part.

[Below: In order to interact with God we must have humble hearts]

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A Lowly Mind

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:12-14

You simply have to admire the gall that Jesus had. Instead of thanking His host – a top religious bureaucrat – and telling him what a wonderful and generous man he was, Jesus took the opportunity to lecture the fellow about what constitutes true Godliness! In fact, Jesus had some not too pleasing things to say to the people who attended this particular dinner. Apparently, it was a party for the social elite, and the host had made the mistake of thinking that Jesus – probably because He had all those crowds following Him – was also an elitist!

But Jesus was simply simple. He could interact with the lowest of the low. He was quick to lend an ear and a helping hand to the wretched folk of this world, men like Bartimaeus.

Jesus went on and taught people to shun high-mindedness.

I correspond with a lot of people, and I have come to notice that the people who are quick to reply to my correspondences are mainly the simple folk. And every time I read their letters I can feel the warmth flowing from their hearts. They are eager to interact. They are eager to give their all. That is not a judgment on those who do not write back. We all need God’s grace!

The human being is wired in such a way that the minute he crosses a certain level of “success” he metamorphoses completely. He becomes vain, pompous and, worst of all, he becomes contemptuous of those he considers lower than himself. Few humans can resist this force of nature.

But, in the Spirit, this is an incredibly weak characteristic and Jesus died to set us free from such weak attitudes (Romans 8:2-4).

It is unfortunate that even in church one sometimes finds categorizations and groupings. People coalesce according to social status, and it becomes a case of birds of a feather flocking together! And there is no denying the fact that the perpetrators of this unscriptural state of affairs in church are the rich, the privileged, and the educated – the so-called elite.

But God literally cares about the poor and downtrodden of this world. Did you ever read James 2:5? It says, “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” In other words God is saying, “All right, guys, do not think I have forgotten you in not giving you the riches of this world. In fact, I have something infinitely far much better that I have reserved for you!”

The scripture here says that God has chosen the poor of this world to be “rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him.” In recent years, a certain false gospel which teaches that God is on the side of the rich has slowly but inexorably crept into the church. But I don’t see such a teaching in the scriptures. Such a teaching only brings pride and arrogance into people’s hearts, and I believe that pride is God’s worst enemy. And God will do everything in His power to crush this most hated of His enemies.

Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul admonishes us: “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” Romans 12:16

I know this is tough, but if we really want to become true sons and daughters of God, to be like God Himself, then we have a lot of dust to bite.

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True Prosperity

Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. 3 John 1:2

In today’s fast-track and materialistic-minded world, it is an uphill task for even the Church to know what is what.

The scripture above is one of the most used by Christians today and yet, when you listen to its application in most of the cases, you will find it has been grossly misrepresented. Without going into any deep theological arguments, did you notice that the Apostle John takes it as a given that Gaius’s soul is already prospering. John’s letter would not have been so upbeat and positive if Gaius’s soul had not been prospering. After being assured of Gaius’s soul’s prosperity, John felt so happy and energized that he could now pray for any secondary needs that the man of God might have had, including his material prosperity and his good health.

In other words, this scripture above all shows us that with God the first and most important thing is the prospering of our soul. Material prosperity and good health come a long way after.

It is interesting when in a prayer meeting you mention that someone is sick and they need our prayers, you find people very concerned. But if a brother or sister is not well spiritually, it does not appear to be too much of a deal. In fact, much of the time, it is like people are not sure how to deal with the matter – such issues appear far removed from them.

‘Oh,’ we think, ‘the pastor will deal with that.’

In even some cases, such a need provides material for people to talk behind a fellow brother’s back.

But mention sickness or any need that touches directly on the body (finances, or even someone travelling – people will bind every small demon that may be camping along the road that brother or sister is going to use); here people know exactly how to deal with the enemy. Many of the most profound prayers I have heard have been crafted around praying for such needs.

But we as born-again believers need to realize that the thing we need to make sure about is the welfare of our soul. We need to make sure and doubly sure that our soul is well and prospering. We will pray God for our health and material needs because we need them here on earth; but they are not that important. (I hope I am not rocking somebody’s boat here!)

Many years ago, when I was working in the secular world, my life was controlled by how much money I had in my pocket. If I found my reserve shrinking below a certain level, I would feel the fear begin to rise within me. I would try to suppress it but it was more powerful than my faith.

‘What will I do now?’ I would ask myself.

Accordingly, my spiritual gauge would plummet and I would find myself worrying and agitating.

I wonder how many times we wake up and we feel the need that today I want to look after the welfare of my soul. How we need to make sure we are constantly doing something that profits our souls, like feeding ourselves on the right gospel, praying, fasting, even sharing the gospel with someone.

My pastor, Amas, always tells me, “Mwita, if I spend a day without sharing the gospel with someone, that day I sleep a poor man!”

Maybe that is why some Christians are having bad dreams at night! My advice to such brethren: try sharing the gospel with someone and see whether you will not sleep like a baby!

Many Christians wake up in the morning and they know exactly what they need – for the body, that is. Two eggs, scrambled; a cup of coffee, toasted bread, etc. That is for the Westernized world, mostly.

In Africa, a big bowl of hot porridge, two or three boiled sweet potatoes; and for those who can afford it, beef or goat soup! Then we are ready to begin the day.

Nothing wrong in all that, except that if after we have thus filled our bodies we find we have no idea about what to do for our souls, then there is a problem. May God help us!

Let us take time, energy and everything else that we have to make sure our souls are prospering.

Yes, we can even use our money and material wealth to prosper our souls by giving to the poor. There are some rich Christians who call the poor lazy. This is a big insult to God because the Bible says that if you lend to the poor you lend to the Lord; which means that God recognizes and respects the poor as they are and He puts Himself on their side.

Human pride, Bwana!