Despising Shame

1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us rub with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb. 12:1-2

So many things here. But today I just want to address one thing here. But just before I do that, did you notice that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses? They are listed in Hebrews chapter 11. These are men and women who made it. By the grace of God they saw the reward in the Spirit and surrendered their lives that they might receive it.

But today I want to talk about ‘despising the shame’. The Bible says this was what Jesus did.

At first it did not catch my eye. I never understood what shame Jesus despised. Then, slowly, the Lord taught me.

Have you ever had situations in your life where you were shamed? I mean raw, ordinary shame. I would be surprised if you said “No”.

However well set we are, somewhere in life we all will have situations where we will be put to some form of shame. I can recall many times in my life where I have been shamed. Being shamed was the single most difficult spiritual trial in my life. Probably because it began since childhood…

Anyways, long into my salvation, I still reacted against being shamed. I never realized that our Lord Jesus Christ was also shamed. Then, one day, the Lord opened my eyes. I saw clearly that what I was fighting against was the same thing that the Lord despised. Shame. Our Lord not only endured the cross, He despised shame.

Wow! I had never seen it that way. The ordinary situations that we think are unconnected with the gospel. For me, a simple thing like my wife saying something to me in front of people which I considered offensive or ‘disrepectful’ (and she is a pro at that because she never really minds speaking the truth to whoever she needs to speak it to); something like that could start a conflagration that would have all heaven ceasing every activity to wonder at with open mouths.

But one day I heard the voice of the Lord speak to me. It was very clear. I was all alone when the Lord led me to that scripture. He asked me, “Is the word ‘shame’ there or is it not.”

I said, “It is there.”

The Lord said, “How come you behave as if you have never seen it?”

I said, “As a matter of fact, Lord, I had never seen it. This is my very first time to see it.”

He said, “This is exactly what that scripture is talking about. You must despise shame. Shame of every kind. That is what the cross is for.”

I had never heard anything so clearly. And I knew, just hearing that in my spirit, that I had taken one of the biggest steps in my spiritual walk. That I could despise shame! I had never thought I should.

Ever since that day, I know I not only should despise shame; but I can, too. I am not always able to; in fact, I fail often. But I realize I can laugh at shame. And whenever I manage to do so, what sweet victory!

So many situations rise up to shame me. But the realization that this was the very thing that my Lord Jesus despised gives me the strength to do the same.

What say you? Don’t you think we ought to despise shame? Shame of every kind? There are so many versions of shame, but we ought to despise every kind of shame.

But we cannot do that without the revelation of the cross in our hearts. Without that revelation, we will fight for our pride and rights.

While this applies to every believer, yet I cannot help thinking about many of today’s preachers in this respect. Those who have no revelation of the cross. Many today are so big they are bigger than God Himself. Today’s apostles, prophets, pastors, evangelists and whoever. The self-proclaimed ones. I cannot help thinking about them. They have a long way to go… down.

I don’t know about you. But me, I want to welcome and rejoice at any and every opportunity that rises for me to be shamed. It’s the only road we have as believers.

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Grow!!

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ… 2 Pet. 3:18

Oh, to grow! We are to grow in the Spirit. We are not to remain the same. Notice that to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is to grow in grace. The two are inseparable. You cannot say you have grown in the Lord Jesus Christ because you are now a bishop. Our claim to knowing Jesus solely rests on the fact that we have also grown in His grace.

This scripture challenged me greatly especially in my relationship with my wife. Now, there is no doubt at all in my heart that my wife is a rare gem. I consider her one of the most beautiful of God’s creations. She is amongst the regal women of this world (“Regal” means royal, majestic, stately, noble, according to my Thesaurus. My wife is all these. She has an incredible love for people.) I am very sure of the fact that, if it were men giving out wives, I would not have been in the race to ask for Flo’s hand in marriage. Had I come forward, the whole world would have had a long, hearty laugh. That’s a fact. In the natural, I am not the kind of guy who should have married Flo.

But the Bible says,

“Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.” (Prov. 18:22)

In other words, it is God who gives men wives. So, God gave me the woman I should never have had. End of story.

That’s the warm part. But now to the cold facts.

Regal she may be, but my wife is also my ‘iron’. What is it about her being an ‘iron’?

The Bible says,

“Iron sharpeneth iron…” (Prov. 27:17)

She is my sharpener. She keeps seeing all those weak points in me, and God has singularly created her to iron them out. In the early days of our marriage, she was especially enthusiastic about that job. She never wasted a moment in showing me the many creases in my character, after which she went about trying to straighten me out in the best way possible.

That was hard enough in itself. To say that I did not accept her chastisement would be a stupendous understatement. I kicked  and fought. But it did not end there. Regal she may be, but my wife is as human as the next. And to err, they say, is human. So, sometimes she erred and saw things that were not there. And she wanted to iron them out as well. She wanted to iron out things that were not there in me!

That was when my patience absolutely ran out. I was never one to take such injustice lying down. And so the mother of all battles would ensue. Mostly it was fought in the dead of night. Its details are yet to be de-classified.

As I got older, I decided to ‘grow’ and so I changed tactics. The trick, I realized, was to keep my mouth shut, and so I kept my mouth closed much of the time. But I closed my heart also. She would talk and talk… and I would keep my cool. I thought, Oh, what peace! What was I thinking all this time, making a scene? How so peaceful to just sit in my corner and watch her yap and yap!

One day, I attended a regional conference where our elder, Brother Miki Hardy, was preaching, and I heard him say, “I have purposed in my heart to never hold a grudge against my wife.”

I remember thinking, ‘I will never arrive there.’

Remember I am talking about the condition of my heart towards my wife whenever she tried to tell me something that grated against my pride or my rights. I am not implying that we lived a ‘war-torn’ life, no. Being the kind of woman she is, I believe I have enjoyed an incredibly happy marriage, in spite of myself. I am talking about those trying moments… the moments that tried my heart.

Anyways, one day I chanced upon this scripture.

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

I was sure I had never seen that word, “grow”, in the Bible. It seemed new to me. I mean, I had given up even trying to get out of the rut, and I had accepted the fact that when Jesus came back to earth, He would find me in exactly that state. But I consoled myself that Jesus would understand…

But, reading that scripture, it dawned upon me that we are commanded to grow. God commands us to grow. That means to stop moaning and to get up and move!! In the army, when you moan about how difficult an exercise is, they drill a bullet right next to your calf, and they promise that the next one will be on target. And they mean it.

But this scripture also means that God recognizes our weaknesses and our helplessness, and that He is there to help us grow in grace.

It was then that I stopped moaning. I stopped moaning, and I began working at growing. And, ever since then, never have I found a more delightful occupation. To grow. To grow in grace.

I know in my heart that I have now reached the place in my life where I could say, as Brother Miki once said, that I will never close my heart to my wife. I have purposed that in my heart. Not that she is perfect. But I have found the impossible is possible, for with God nothing is impossible (Lk. 1:37).

Does that mean I no longer react? Hardly. Does that my wife has stopped sharpening me? By no means. She is still my ‘iron’. As a matter of fact, she does not seem to be aware that I have changed and she digs into me even more. And – and I now know this is God’s doing – she keeps making those fallible ‘errors’. God allows her to see things in me that are not there. God allows it because He wants to see how I will react.

In recent times I have heard the phrase “open borders”. With me, it is “open heart”. I have brought up all my arsenal and placed it near the only place that matters – my heart. My heart ought to never shutter again – be it against my wife, nor against anyone else.

Granted, there is more to the Christian life than just relationships. But I believe the area of relationships is especially trying. That said, however, as believers, we are to grow in every area of our lives. We are not to keep glorifying our weaknesses. But we are to move on to maturity.

Fact: on the day of reckoning, Jesus will not ‘understand’ our lack of spiritual maturity.

The Power of Love – Part 1

Not too long ago, I was describing to a fellow pastor how the Lord changed my heart towards my daughter. Starting from her teens, my daughter was not always an easy girl to get along with. She was headstrong and stubborn to the core. Her mother and I wanted her to become an obedient little girl, but we got the exact opposite. Needless to say, this state of affairs hurt both me and her mother deeply. In varying degrees of coaxing and coercion, my wife and I would try to make her tow the family line. But she just wouldn’t.

When I was with her, I would rein in all my impatience and try to be as loving as possible as I lectured her repeatedly against her stubborn attitude. That was when I was with her. When alone, however, I would be clawing up the wall in fury and frustration.

I had raised my children with the greatest care and attention to discipline and good morals. Somehow, I had placed a premium on my efforts, which meant that I expected them to tow a certain kind of line. But God never allows our ways to become His ways. No matter how sincere our intentions, no matter how good our plans, we must first acknowledge that it is all by His grace.

My daughter attends one of the colleges right here in our town but she stays on-campus. I was telling this brother how, one time, within a period of one week, I called her on the phone three times in a row, and she wouldn’t pick up her phone. Nor did she bother to call me back.

Ironically, I had initially actually called to say ‘Hi’. I had decided that, as her dad and pastor, I should now shoulder the responsibility of carrying the cross for everyone. But the exercise backfired. Two calls went by without being answered, and I wasn’t taking it nicely. By the time I made the third call, it was just as well she did not answer. Had she answered, the phone lines would have experienced a small atomic tremor.

After the third call, I spent the entire week preparing a doomsday speech – in my mind. She had to know who was boss! Even if it took her a year to come home or to call me, that speech would be delivered. I honed and honed on it until I felt it was as perfect as it could possibly be. Then I stored it in a specific location in my brain.

At the end of that very week, my daughter called me and informed me she would be coming home for the weekend. I answered her with the darkest “Welcome” that will ever grace this world.

I waited for her with mixed emotions. As with all parents, I love my daughter deeply. But, somehow, I could not take her intransigence. She had to learn to obey!

But a miracle took place that night. Yes, a miracle as instantaneous as the miracles that took place during Jesus’ time. That night, as I lay in bed, awake but tense, I suddenly felt an indescribable calm sweeping over me. A strange peace washed all over my heart and even over my body. I lay still and savoured its presence. All of a sudden I felt knots and lumps loosening up in me. At that moment I knew, suddenly, that I was free.

Actually, now, in retrospect, I realize it was the Lord Jesus Christ in person who visited me that night. In an instant, a whole new change occurred in me. I felt an incredible love for my daughter. I realized how she must be suffering also in her inability to obey us, her parents. I knew she wanted to obey, but she just couldn’t. Or, could it be…? All of a sudden, I realized that it was I who had failed her. I had failed miserably in showing her the love and patience she needed.

At that moment I felt I was ready to accept my daughter as she was. And this feeling came straight from my heart. I wondered, What had I been doing, being so hard on her?

She came on the evening of the next day. As luck would have it, it was I who opened the door for her. Upon looking at her face, I found the expected: an expression that indicated she was expecting trouble. Eyes sharpened to a knife-edge; and a mouth that was firmly set.

But she was in for the surprise of her life. I quickly moved out and took her in my arms, hugging her tightly. Then I looked into her face and said warmly, “Welcome!”

Her mother, who was inside preparing dinner, asked, “Is that Keren?”

“Yes”, I said.

Then I turned to her and said, “If you had not come tonight, you would have missed today’s chicken.”

The long and short of it is that, ever since that day, Keren and I, and her mother also, have become the best of friends. The even better part is that nothing she will ever do can take away or lessen the love that the Lord put in my heart that night. My love for her is perfect and unconditional.

Could things get better? Yes, of course. The best part is that Keren has been set free. When she is home, she no longer has the confrontational attitude that she possessed before. Gone also is the hounded look on her face. She has no need of these things because in her heart she can feel that they are no longer needful in our relationship. She can feel my unconditional acceptance of her.

Today, when she is at home, Keren brightens our house.

[Below: An indigenious people of the Manyara region, the Wamang’ati]

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God Looks Upon The Heart!

1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Ps. 51:1-3

David is undoubtedly one of the most rotten sinners in the Bible. He lusted after his neighbor’s wife, had the man, Uriah, killed, and took the woman to be his wife.

But God wouldn’t allow such folly from one of His most trusted servants to go unpunished. David would reap heavily as a result of this sin. His family would be torn apart, and he would lose many things in the natural.

But it is the heart that David maintained after he had sinned that we are to be most concerned with. Notice, in the scripture above, that David acknowledged his sin.

Now, people read this kind of scripture and they think it was a stroll in the garden for David. Such would be the case had David not been doing it from the heart. Many believers do that all the time. But with David it was done from the heart, and it cost him dearly.

You would be surprised to learn how difficult it is for believers to actually confess or acknowledge their sins. If it is going to come from the heart, then it’s gonna cost. It’s gonna hurt! Unfortunately, it is not in our human system to want to pay the price attached to this kind of acknowledgement, the heart confession. Unless Christ has done a work in our hearts, we will only concede a little bit of lip service, a casual “I am sorry”; or we will simply ignore the situation and go about “building God’s Kingdom” as if nothing had happened.

One time I had an argument with a brother from my church, and I became charged. I told him, “The problem with your tribe is that you are mule-headed!”

The minute I said that, I become conscious of the fact that I had crossed an invisible red line in the spirit. You could feel it because the atmosphere changed immediately I said those words. Deep in my heart I realized, instantly, that I was in deep trouble.

But I also knew, right there and then, what I needed to do. I needed to confess and repent of my sin.

You would think that I began dancing with joy at this clear revelation of what I needed to do in order to get right with this brother and with God. But you would also be surprised to learn how, once we are seated on our high horse of self-righteousness, it is the most difficult thing to climb down. We would rather walk from the North Pole all the way to the South Pole and back and probably even accept to die along the way, than admit that we are in the wrong!

But I thank God for His grace. In my heart I knew exactly what I needed to do, and the Lord gave me the readiness to do it. I waited till I was ready to escort the brother out and then I told him, “Brother, I want you to forgive me. I ought not to have said those words to you.”

The brother put his hand on my arm and said, “No, brother, what you said is the truth, everyone knows it.”

“No”, I replied. “Probably that’s the way men see it, but it is not the way God sees you. In any case, I have sinned before you and before God and I really need you to forgive me.”

Sometimes you need to go down before you can go up! We made amends with my brother and from that day, God set me free from the bigotry that I had in my heart towards that particular tribe. I became completely free in this area!

Henceforth, God has tested and reminded me to humble myself and accept these brothers even as Christ has accepted them.

The revelation of the cross in our hearts does wonders in the Spirit… one of the things it does is to bring true relationships between us and our brethren, and between us and God.

Hurray For The Gospel!!

On the same day that I visited Cucu S.D., I also visited one of the pastors who have recently joined CTMI. About 2 years ago Pastor Eldad, upon hearing the gospel of the cross, realized the futility of the flamboyant but ineffecual charismatic gospel that he was preaching.
The Lord miraculously opened his eyes to see the revelation of the cross, and today he is one of the keenest preachers of the gospel of the cross in Musoma Town. His church, without losing a single person, hungrily embraced the gospel. Actually, that’s putting it mildly; that church’s response to the gospel could be best described as a revolution. (You couldn’t blame them, they had been battered almost to death by the false gospel of prosperity that the pastor and their denomination had been pounding them with for years!)
Behind every successful man, though, there is a woman. (That’s why the Bible says that a bishop must be the husband of one wife; in other words, a bishop must be a married man. But that’s another topic, for another day.)
Eldad’s wife has a heart of exquisite beauty – and that’s for fear of overstating it. Hers is another compelling story which we might find time to share in the future.
[Below: Eric (in red shirt), one of our local pastors, was he who took me around on his motor-bike]

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A Celebration of Life!

I have many special women in my life (in the spiritual sense, of course), women whom I love with all my heart in the Lord and who equally cherish me. But there is no doubt about the fact that, apart from my wife Flo, none has a more special part in my life as “Cucu S.D.” Her real name is Eunice Manyama, but we nicknamed her “Cucu”, a Kenyan word meaning “grandmother”; S.D. are the initials of her husband’s name, also a dear friend.

Cucu and I have that heart love that words can simply not express. It is an indescribable love. Just the thought of her is sufficient to make my day. With me and her, it is simply love at its best.

Since the first day we met it was love at first sight, and each day thereafter has been a celebration of that love. After we married, Flo came right in and fit perfectly into our love triangle. The Lord has granted us to enjoy many memorable moments together; not just we alone, but even with members of the church, since Cucu S.D. is an integral part of the church I spent years overseeing with Pastor Amas before moving to Dar es Salaam.

Having ‘known each other’ now for more than 20 years, our love has simply matured with time and today, more than ever, Cucu and Flo and I are woven together in an indescribably tight love knot which we can only ascribe to and thank the Lord for.

But, now that we are far apart physically, our opportunities for interaction have naturally been severely curtailed by circumstances and sometimes we can go for months without hearing from one another.

But the Lord in His grace confirms His involvement in the relationships that He builds amongst us, at times in dramatic ways.  About a week ago Flo came from Dar es Salaam, where she and the kids are, to visit me here in Singida. The morning after she arrived I was listening to a song on my laptop and I said to her, “I don’t know why, but whenever I hear that song I find myself thinking of Cucu S.D. I recall everything about the times we spent together! This song always leaves me feeling terribly nostalgic.”

Flo and I then spent some time talking about our delightful times with Cucu. We even spoke of how long it had been since we last heard from her. I had not heard from her for many months, nor had I called.

A few moments later I moved from the bedroom and was just beginning to prepare breakfast when my phone rang. Unbelievably, it was Cucu!

“Flo!” I yelled. “You won’t believe this!”

“Who is it?” she enquired.

“It’s Cucu!”

“Impossible!” she exclaimed. She scrambled out of bed and came crashing into my tiny sittingroom-cum-kitchen.

We settled down and after a long round of greetings, African-style (you have to ask even how the grandchildren are doing!) I deliberately asked Cucu why she had called. The profound coincidence had more than tickled my curiosity.

Was she probably aware that Flo had come to visit?

No.

“Well”, she explained, “I woke up this morning and simply felt this indescribable feeling that I needed to call you – and I did!”

She was 500 miles away; the Holy Spirit had ‘connected’ us supernaturally.

But if Cucu thought she had given me a surprise, I was about to give her a bigger one. I narrated to her the morning’s goings-on in my room just a few minutes ago. She was stunned.

But so, again, were we!

[Below: A celebration of life with Cucu S.D. during my last visit to Musoma]

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A Spiritual Relationship – Part 2

I know there was a time I did not care the least bit about my relationship with my wife. I would fight with her and seconds later I would kneel down and begin claiming God’s promises for my life! One Sunday morning, after our normal fight I hurriedly left home and headed straight for church, where I lay in wait for her at the pulpit. From my position at the pulpit I could see anyone coming in all the way from the gate. Half an hour after I had arrived I saw her turning in at the gate and I prepared to strike. The minute she entered the church door, I shot one well-aimed poison barb that I knew would cripple her right there and then. Of course, I was not so stupid as to mention anyone by name, but I could see I had hit the bull’s-eye because she faltered in her step. It was a miracle that she sat through that service!

It is not easy to love. That is something I have come to discover. The words “I love you” fill the air but much of the time we do not realize that true love can only come out of a mature Christian. It can only come out of a heart that has been tested and tried by God Himself. And we can be assured that when God tries a man’s heart, it is no lullaby. He grabs you by the neck and gives you a bear-shake. The Bible puts it this way: “… but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb 12:26,27).

I have a responsibility to “publish” the Good News first in my family – to my wife and children – before I can step out that door. It is neither an easy undertaking, nor is it one that I can take lightly. But I must. I need to depend on the grace of God daily to accomplish this.

This is the reason I am obsessed with my wife. God is working in both of us to bring us to a place where we can relate to one another spiritually. A place where “iron sharpens iron”. A place where God’s truth reigns supreme between us. A place where one can tell the other, “No, don’t take that road!” A place where we are willing to lay down our lives (read rights) for one another.

God is not interested in a conventional husband/wife relationship. He expects something more, something infinitely much deeper, something spiritual.

Can anyone deny that Ananias and Sapphira, of whom we read in Acts chapter 5, ‘loved’ each other. Oh, yes, they did – to the extent that they could gang up to do evil together! Theirs was not a spiritual relationship. But God wants us in the Church to have a spiritual relationship. If the revelation of the Cross of Christ is there in a relationship, that is the right, spiritual relationship. If that revelation is not there in a couple’s lives and they are not carrying the death of Christ, theirs cannot be considered a spiritual relationship. It will be a relationship all right, but it is not spiritual.

Lastly, I can confess that allowing my flesh to be dealt with is the most difficult thing in my life. But, on the other hand, it is also the sweetest of victories when I find myself winning even a tiny bit of the many battles that the Spirit wages against the flesh in me. My greatest consolation is that I can see the narrow road ahead. I cannot say I see the end of it now, but I am sure if I keep walking it one day I shall lay hold of the crown of Life that awaits me at the end of this road. What a relief – and a joy – that will be!