Knowing God… Food for Thought

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

2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…

It is a fact that the men of old who knew God did not recognize him in the miracles He performed, important as these were in announcing His presence and power. The clearest example of this is Elijah who, as we saw in 2 of my earlier posts (“Take Up Your Cross And Follow Christ” and “We Are Dead Men!”), the wind, the earthquake and the fire came but he did not move from his position. No manifestation of God’s power would budge Elijah from seeking to know God for who He truly was. Praise God for that! That is the mark of a truly spiritual person.

When finally Elijah heard God’s “still small voice”, then it was that he went out to meet Him.

Remember many of these prophets were men through whom God worked many mighty miracles. But, apparently, in their spirits they saw something much, much bigger than the miracles they were performing!

What was it that these men saw that was a far greater wonder than the mighty miracles that God did in their day? They saw Jesus. But they did not see any Jesus. (Right here let me say that it is sad how today’s Christians seem not to know the Bible: the Apostle Paul warns us of “another Jesus”, “another spirit” and “another gospel” (2 Cor.11:4); and yet God’s children swallow anything as long as it has the name ‘Jesus’ attached to it. The church needs to be able to discern! There are ‘Jesus’s’ galore in the world today, and spirits and gospels, and they are deceiving God’s people).

But these men of old saw a suffering Jesus, and from this suffering Jesus they saw an indescribable glory that awed them in their visions and dreams. 1 Peter 1:10-11 says: “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11 searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”

And for them, if the indescribable glory they had seen was in a suffering Christ, then that was where God was, too! In a hazy understanding of the glory that would be there in the New Covenant, they came to an understanding that God was not anywhere else except in His Son Jesus, whom He would give to suffer and die as a propitiation for the sins of the world.

We too – indeed, more so – cannot, and should not attempt know God except through a relationship with Christ “and him crucified”. The Apostle Paul makes that clear in 1 Corinthians 2:2. That “him crucified” means identifying our lives with His suffering and death. Anything else is “another Jesus”.

In light of Hebrews 1:2, the voice that Elijah heard was the voice of Jesus. In other words, Elijah received a revelation of Jesus just as we too have received. And in waiting until he had heard God’s “still small voice” before he went out to meet Him, Elijah was not only displaying his maturity in his understanding of God, but he was also foreshadowing what would happen under the New Covenant: “God… hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”.

Both what Elijah saw and what the writer of Hebrews is speaking of there are one and the same thing: it was a revelation of the crucified Christ.

Do you know that Jesus came to earth and spoke? Yes, He did, and He spoke many things. You can find His words, verbatim, in the gospels of Matthew through John. God made it is so much easier for us to know exactly what Jesus had spoken to the Old Testament prophets by writing Jesus’ words down right there in the Bible.

It wasn’t so easy for the Old Testament prophets. What a grace we have today, and are we aware of it?

God spoke through the apostles in the early church, men who had come to know Christ through identifying their lives with His sufferings and death; and He is still speaking today through the apostleship ministry of such men. These are the men whom God has given the responsibility to reveal Christ to the church. These are men who talk of the cross of Christ, because Jesus talked of the cross above everything else.

When we lack the revelation of what Jesus said, we run after the miracles and everything else!

Talking of miracles, you see, God is the God of the entire universe. He is Lord over all and He is capable of doing anything. We cannot therefore confine Him to miracles and signs and wonders. He can perform these all right, but He is beyond these. He is more than these – infinitely so.

And God is concerned that we should know Him as He IS, in His fullness. Shouldn’t we be grateful for that? I believe we should.

Just as the men (and women) of old saw God in the cross of Christ, so should we. The greatest miracle that can happen in any man’s life is for the cross to work in their lives, to change them and perfect them. All heaven eagerly anticipates the glory that will be found in such a life!

Knowing God is a work – a daily working of the cross in our lives. A daily crucifixion of our character, our carnal desires and our lives.

Knowing God is not a one-touch thing.

Some years back, someone excitedly came back from a meeting he had attended in a neighboring country and told me: “Something happened to me! When the preacher placed his hands on me I fell down!”

That’s all right, and I did not want to doubt that something had happened to him. God’s power could have been involved in whatever happened to him. But God is more than that. After the excitement is over we need to move on. Even after Lazarus was raised from the dead, he still needed to take up his cross and follow Christ.

Do you want to know who God is? Don’t look for Him in the miracles, in the healings, nor in the provision. All these are of God all right, and they are for His children. But remember Jesus gave these to the Jews but when He began to show them where the real glory lay, “they forsook him”!

If you are serious about wanting to know God, look for Him where the men of old – the Old Testament prophets, and the New Testament apostles – looked for Him. They sought and found God in identifying their lives with the sufferings of Christ.

Desire to catch the revelation of the cross in your life.

[Below: Birds on the shores of Lake Victoria, Mwanza]

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We Should See Chastisement

Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.

Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.

And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north.

Then the LORD said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.

For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.

And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.

Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. Jeremiah 1:11-17

Even with the gospel, unfortunately, things sometimes “go with the territory”, as the saying goes. People “see” all kinds of things, and it goes with the environment they are living in. The “seers” in the more affluent West see different things than what those in less developed countries see.

It is highly unlikely, though, that many of these “seers” have the vaguest idea which direction God is headed in.

Listening to many of our local so-called gospel songs (sang by the aptly-named ‘gospel artists’), one hears the craziest things! Africans are generally a poor people and if they are not in the Spirit, they tend to “go with the territory”. In other words, they talk and behave according to the environment of poverty that they are living in. That is why the message of prosperity is so popular in Africa. Preachers of this gospel are the richest people in Africa because they have made money out of promising riches to a desperate and poor people, who in turn give all that they have into the church coffers, expecting to reap a hundred-fold in return!

People are seeing all kinds of things! One time I heard a local song that began with the words, “What are you seeing in the Spirit, my brother?”

That sounded pretty deep, so I sat up to listen. The singer had the answer to her own question, though. She screamed: “Say, ‘I am being lifted high! Like Esther and Joseph of old, I am being lifted up high! From the dust I am being raised to glory!’”

I have no grudge against gospel artists, but seriously, if they have to sing, they should just sing “Glory, Hallelujah!” and no more. They especially should not try to “preach”.

In the scripture above the Prophet Jeremiah saw many things. But here I will talk of only one of the things that he saw in the Spirit. He saw a rod.

What does  that mean and what are the implications for the Church today? A rod means chastisement. That scripture means Jeremiah saw chastisement. In other words, he saw the cross of Christ. In his spirit he saw the crucified Christ and understood the message of the cross, just like the Apostle Paul would many generations later.

Jeremiah had seen well. He suffered much and he endured many things during his ministry.

When we are not on the right foundation we see what we want to see. We see all kinds of things. Another artist asked in one of his songs: “Why should I suffer when Christ is in me? Why should I have any trouble in this world? In Jesus’ Name, I command all problems to leave immediately! Right now!!” And you can hear people in the background literally going around the bend.

It goes with the territory, as I said. When we are poor, and we do not see in the Spirit, all we see is our poverty; and we begin looking into how Jesus can get out of our poverty.

If, on the other hand, we are well off financially and materially (and if we are spiritually blind), pride, arrogance and apathy become our bane.

But God has news for us, just as He had news for Jeremiah and the nation of Israel. Christians today are worshiping at the idols of materialism and the desires of the flesh. God’s servants are preaching a gospel of the flesh, for the flesh. God says He will punish them. But God in His boundless mercy always begins by punishing His servants, the faultless ones. This speaks of the true apostles and prophets in our generation who will have to suffer for the Church just as Jeremiah suffered for the nation of Israel. In other words, God always pays the price Himself! God begins by chastising His own servants.

The Apostle Paul tells the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”! Gal. 4:19

There are many people today who are calling themselves apostles and prophets, but they are not. They are counterfeits. You can tell them by the lifestyles that they live. These kinds of ‘ministers’ would not suffer for the gospel or for the Church. But a true apostle or prophet of God will suffer much for the Church.

It is clear today that the Church is working wickedness through the gospel of materialism that it is preaching. Someone has to pay the price to bring the Church back to God.

Just as Jeremiah saw a rod, the Church today will experience chastisement in order for it to return to a true relationship with God. That is why an understanding of the cross is so vital for the Church today. We need to embrace the revelation of the cross that Christ is bringing into the Church.

The gospel of prosperity, as it is being preached today, is simply idolatry. It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is one true gospel: the gospel of chastisement, like the one Jeremiah saw. That is the revelation the Church needs to catch today.

The Danger of Pride – Part 2

Today, in Africa, it does not feel comfortable to not address a man of God without preceding his name with a title. You hear, “Apostle so-and-so” or “Prophet” or “Bishop” or “Pastor so-and-so”. Some preachers are simply known by the title “Bishop” and half their congregations do not even know their names. Preachers love addressing each other by these titles. It is like there is an obligation – an obligation to satisfy each other’s egos! Calling a man by his title is not a problem with God, of course; but the fact that men love this glory thing  is a big problem with God. In other places preachers actually demand it.

But there is another danger here: the Church is being taught to covet these things. In other words, the sin of covetousness is being taught and perpetuated by church leaders. No wonder, therefore, that everyone wants the big posts. The result is that wars and factionalism have become common in church today.

We Christians, above everyone else, should be keenly aware that the glory belongs to God alone.

In several places in the scriptures we see the apostles – Peter, John, Paul – rushing to correct people’s wrong perspectives of them as great men – or even as gods. They told them, “We are ordinary men just like you. All we have done has been by the power of God, by whose mercy and grace we live and have done all that you see.”

The Apostle Paul says of himself, “I am nothing”.

You don’t hear that kind of language very much in the pulpits today. On the contrary I see many men and women who are perfect examples of pride and arrogance.

Regrettably, just as with Herod, God sometimes moves. In our town there was this very gifted preacher, a young man. He had the gifts of the Spirit and he had charisma, and when some missionaries came from abroad and saw him, they took him under their care. They took him to a Bible school in their country, where he stayed for a number of years.

When he came back, he was no longer the humble man we knew before. He was now a ‘great man of God’ and he made it clear, without speaking so much as a word, that he was a cut above us. He had money and a big car. He lived in the biggest mansion in town. I once asked him whether his house was not too big for him and he said no.

With his charismatic bearing – and the gifts of God still upon him, since God’s gifts are without repentance – he became the most popular preacher in town. He started his own ministry and he preached all over the country and even abroad. Soon you could not address him without appending the title “Bishop” to his name.

After some years he fell into sin. He fell into adultery. Somehow, unfortunately, he contracted the AIDS virus.

The rest, as they say, is history. Before we even knew what had happened, he had vanished from the ‘radar’. He disappeared from town and his whereabouts remained a mystery… until we got wind that he was in his rural village where he was dying. Soon enough he died, and a handful of preachers went to bury him.

It is no secret that preachers today love the glory. But such examples as of this young preacher – and the dissimilar examples of the apostles’ lives – should teach us that the glory belongs to God alone. We are nothing.

The Danger of Pride – Part 1

And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country.

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.

And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.

And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. Acts 12:20-23

Many years ago I used to work in a big farmers’ organisation. The chairman of that organisation was a very powerful man. He spent most of his time far away in Dar es Salaam, simply enjoying the good life, which included visits with our country’s president. Whenever he was around the company’s offices in our town, which was very rare, everything would revolve around him. In the first place, he always arrived by plane, sometimes charted. I was in charge of vehicles at the company and it was my responsibility to make sure that every vehicle was at the airport at the moment of his arrival. He would then be brought to the offices in a long motorcade.

But he had a strange peculiarity. He would get out of his car in the middle of town and walk to the offices on foot. That way, a big procession of his workers and other town folk would escort him, the top managers packed close to him and answering to his every breath.

I would sit in my office and watch the procession approaching. I did not have the heart to engage in such sycophancy. In fact, he and I hardly knew each other personally.

But ours was an organisation that was ruining farmers. The top management and everyone else used the farmers to enrich themselves while the farmers rotted in poverty. (One and a half years later I resigned in disgust).

One day, we heard that the chairman had fallen ill. But it was no ordinary disease. It was what the locals call a ‘bush boil’. It is a boil that simply pulverizes the entire pelvic area and it is known to be unhealable. The locals call it a ‘curse’.  They dread it more than any other disease. Our chairman was taken to an expensive hospital, but no hospital could treat that boil. After some time they brought him back home.

He died a few weeks later, in a witch doctor’s hut, his last resort.

 

It is apparent that Herod was a great orator. When he visited the people of Tyre and Sidon, he gave such a rousing speech that the people were overwhelmed by his oratorical powers. They shouted in unison: “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.” Other factors were in play, of course.

God is so patient that up till then, Herod was without fault in God’s eyes. But then the Bible says that he “gave not God the glory”. In other words, he accepted the glory for himself.

An angel of the Lord smote him immediately and he died – “eaten of worms”. He died a violent, horrible death.

Herod could simply have said, “No, guys, I am not a god” and the angel of death would have passed over him.

But he did not; on the contrary, in his heart he accepted the glory as his due.

In this period of grace that we are living in, it is the easiest thing for Christians to not realize that they are taking up the glory for themselves, instead of giving it to God. When the church is not walking in the revelation of the Cross of Christ, the flesh becomes alive and no one is even aware of it!

Many men of God have been blessed with many extraordinary gifts by God. Some are formidable orators, like Herod was. Others have powerful gifts of the Spirit working in them. Others have been blessed materially. By giving them all these things, God meant for them to glorify Him. But, sadly, many take up the glory for themselves.

Of Baptisms…

Mat_20:23:  And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with.

I hate being bogged down in theology, and the subject of baptism is one sure quicksand in that respect. But, despite the clear risks, I want to attempt to address something about this subject here.

Did you ever notice that during His earthly ministry Jesus never baptized anyone in water? The Bible does say in John 3:22 that “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized”; but in the very following chapter we read: “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)” John 4:1-2.

The reason Jesus personally did not baptize with water was because He had not come to baptize people with that baptism. He had another baptism with which He would baptize His followers. In Mat_3:11  we see John the Baptist contrasting his (water) baptism with the baptism that Jesus would administer: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:”

The Apostle Paul says 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.”

Both Paul and John the Baptist caught the revelation of what Jesus would be coming to accomplish in men and women’s hearts. The difference, though, was that John, being of the older order, saw this revelation from afar, as it were – like the prophets of old. When he was in prison, he would begin doubting what he has seen of Jesus, for he had seen Him more in the natural than in the spirit. Paul, on the other hand, not only received a clearer and fuller spiritual revelation of who Jesus was and the work He was to accomplish, but he fully lived and experienced that revelation in the spirit. It consumed his entire being. The outcome of it is that today we are partakers of the fruits of Paul’s experiences through the gospel he received and lived. His gospel and life have enriched all believers’ lives. This was the same gospel that the Early Apostles and the Early Church lived.

Long before John the Baptist would talk of the Holy Spirit and fire, God had spoken these same words through Isaiah. Isaiah 43:2 says “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”

We see that even under the Old Testament God had never promised His people that they would live a life free of trouble. He promised to baptize them.

John and James were two of Jesus’ closest disciples, yet He could tell them these same words. I doubt that we can expect anything less.

What is the fire the Bible is talking about? The reality of the gospel that Paul preached to the Corinthians is brought to our lives through the many trials and tests that we are made to go through daily. Through these we experience first-hand the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as He moulds us into the image of Christ and enables us to live a holy and righteous life in “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4). When we live the revelation that Jesus brought and that Paul elucidates in his epistles, that is our true baptism.

We will be tempted and tried in many ways. Many of us, unaware of the need for this baptism, constantly cry out to God to set us free from these trials and temptations. But that is exactly the baptism that God desires to have us pass through: the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. We cannot expect, for example, to learn how to forgive if we are not hurt or wounded on the inside. We fear having our feelings hurt and yet that is the very area where God wants to touch our lives so that He may set us free from our selfish nature.

If there is an area in our lives where we are struggling in the flesh, we should stop everything and cry out to God to set us free. He will give us His Holy Spirit who will enable us to stand our ground as we are being put through the fire. That fire will purify us as we by faith anticipate the outcome, which is becoming worthy (golden) vessels to carry the Life of God, like the Apostles did.

Israel, not Jacob!

But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not:  for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name;  thou art mine.” Isaiah 43:1

In the scripture above we see that God is addressing two different kinds of people: Jacob whom He created, and Israel whom He formed. Without going into long drawn-out discussions about the meanings of the words “created” and “formed” here, we at least know that God is more interested with Israel than Jacob because when the angel of the Lord met Jacob on his way back to his fathers’ land, Jacob demanded a blessing from Him, and the Lord told him, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel:  for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Genesis 32:28.

Henceforth Jacob would be known as Israel. That is of profound significance.

In all His dealings with man God allows the natural to precede the spiritual, and if we are not careful we miss out on the real blessing that God intended for us to have. That is why we who are called by God under the New Testament cannot simply rejoice in the material and physical blessings that God gives us. They come so easily and naturally we are tempted to think they are an end in themselves. On the day I got saved God healed me of a terrible physical illness. It was such a big miracle, and it could still be the highlight of my life with Jesus.

But we must discover the hidden meaning of God’s true calling in our lives. The Apostle Paul talks about a hidden mystery. When we read the Apostles’ epistles we see they did not talk very much about miracles and material blessings, even though they experienced all these. Rather, they spoke about something infinitely more spiritual – the changing of our carnal selves into spiritual, which is a process!

Nor can we rest in the mere act of salvation itself. We cannot underestimate its importance in our lives (eternal life with Jesus), yet the Bible is filled with proof that this is not the end of the matter. For example, in 1 Corinthians 3:15 we read that If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss:  but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

Elsewhere in Jude 1:23 we read: “And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire;  hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”

Paul also talks about “a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:  and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

There are many Christians today who are so worldly-minded that it cannot be said of them that they would love the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Which means that people will be saved all right, but there will be a distinction: while some will enter in triumphantly, yet for others it is as if they will have barely made it.

The conclusion of the whole matter is that God does not want us to remain ‘Jacobs’. Here I mean carnal, or immature Christians. He wants to form us into the image of His spiritual people, “the Israel of God”  -Galatians 6:16. When we speak of “form” we get the impression of people in whose lives God’s hand has worked to bring out something out of something. He works on what He has created to form something new. It is this which He desires to do in our lives. There is a big difference between the simple calling of God and his formative work in our lives.

Hence the revelation of the Cross. It is of utmost importance to us to understand that the apostolic gospel that has come down to us is a revelation. The Apostle Paul (whose mental faculties we cannot fault) says he received the gospel by revelation. Moreover, in Ephesians 3 he implies that all true apostles and prophets in every generation would be men who would have caught the gospel by revelation, a revelation of the Cross. They would understand what it means to be a Christian: it is to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, that our minds may be renewed (i.e. put far from sin) and that we may conform to the image of Christ. And this will be accomplished by the work of the Cross in our lives.

When you receive the Cross as a ‘Jacob’ (i.e. without revelation) you will understand that Jesus came to die for your sins so you do not go to hell, which is true. But you cannot go beyond that, and soon you will turn to the weak, worldly materialistic gospel which does not have the power to deal with sin. But when you get the revelation of the Cross, which is only found under the true apostolic ministry, you will understand that the Cross came to work in your life also so that your body of sin may suffer and die with Christ, and to rise to the resurrection from the dead in newness of life; and to become a mature son and daughter of God, worthy and capable to inherit that spiritual Kingdom, as we read in Galatians 4:1-7: “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son;  and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Note the angel’s words to Jacob: “as a prince hast thou power…”! He had fought the good fight and he was worthy!

In other words you become a man or woman who has died to sin. Many people today are praying for the hand of God upon their lives. Behold, the hand of the Lord is the Cross! If we think the hand of the Lord are the worldly blessings He gives us, the healings and all that, we are doomed to spiritual immaturity and carnality. While in Mauritius, I witnessed the death of a man whom the church had prayed for a long time to get healed. I visited him one week before he died, and he was sitting there, weak in body, but strong in faith, in righteousness and holiness. He died triumphantly, and we rejoiced on the day of his burial.

We need to join ourselves with the true gospel of Jesus Christ, Christ crucified. Then we will know, as Paul says in Romans 12, “that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” How can we say we are in the will of God while we are walking in sin? It is simply impossible. We are called to a walk of holiness and purity – of body, soul and spirit: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;  and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Anything beneath that, however flamboyant it might appear, and under whatever name it is called, is carnality!