Welcome, 2019

… for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Mat. 5:45

On this particular day, 1st January 2019, I feel a great sense of thanksgiving to God. The reason for this is because I feel He has been overly gracious to me. I can plainly say that during the last year, I cannot put myself anywhere near those who have been “good” and “just”. I have not only not done many things that I ought to have done; but I have also done things that I ought not to have done. And yet, come the year 2019, and I can clearly hear God whispering in my ear, “I love you.”

In Psalms 51:10-13, David wrote:

“10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. 13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

After David had confessed his sin, he was given the chance to start doing anew what he loved doing best: teaching transgressors the ways of the Lord, and converting people to the Lord.

I feel forgiven, re-born, and ready to start anew. It is a difficult mountain to climb, this way of the cross. But through His Holy Spirit the Lord gives us a love for such a challenge. I cannot comprehend the joy that awaits me as I return again to the place of restoration, and to serving the Lord wholeheartedly.

It is therefore with a deep sense of thanksgiving  that I welcome the year 2019.

[I kick off this year with my favorite song]

Advertisements

The Greatest Gift Of All

The greatest gift that God can give you is a humble and contrite heart. A heart that repents easily, with no questions asked. That is the greatest gift that any man can have from the Lord. Notice, of all people, the person that God is willing to dwell with in His heavenly abode.

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Is. 57:15)

In the world, the high and mighty consort with the equally well-heeled. But with God it is different. His dearest friend and closest companion is the man who can preserve a humble and repentant heart. God’s singular friend is the man who is lowly in heart.

In Isaiah 66:1-2 God we read also:

“1 Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? 2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

Lest we misunderstand God when He says “poor” He is not talking about financial or material lack. He is not talking about that kind of poverty. God has never headed that way. You could be poor as a church mouse all your life, and it wouldn’t bother God in the least. You wouldn’t be the first one. In fact, we read of people in the Bible who were rich, but who joyfully allowed themselves to be robbed of their material riches on account of the gospel (Heb. 10:34).

What troubles God is when our hearts are not right. As long as you are okay in your spirit, God is satisfied with that.

On the contrary, when God says “poor” He is talking about a heart condition. He is talking about the person who does not count himself righteous before Him. He is talking about the person who can say from the bottom of his heart,

“God be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk. 18:13)

Such a man/woman makes God exceedingly glad.

I have heard it said that man’s best friend is the dog. Well, coming from Africa, I don’t know much about that. That idea comes from the white man, but we Africans might have closer friends than dogs.

But it sure is nice to know who God’s best friend is. God’s best friend is the man who can humble himself. It is the man who can say simply, “Forgive me. I have sinned.” He can say that to God, and to his fellow man.

Man’s (and God’s) worst enemy is prideful self. From these scriptures we can see clearly that God hates pride. God cannot sit with a proud man. And by proud I mean someone who cannot humble themselves. Someone who does not carry a repentant heart.

What is a repentant heart?

Probably the best illustration in this regard are the two famous kings of Israel, King Saul and King David. They both sinned before God. David took Uriah’s wife and then had the man killed so he could keep her.

Saul disobeyed God by not killing all the Amalekites as God through Samuel had commanded him to (You can read the entire account in 1 Samuel chapter 15). In retrospect, Saul’s was a far greater sin than the one David committed! It is called the sin of rebellion.

But, anyways, both sinned. Whether big or small sin, both sinned.

The truly interesting thing was that God gave them both a chance to repent. I mean, He could have chosen to kill them both instantly the minute they sinned without even sending someone to confront them. It being the Old Covenant times, such a thing was not unthinkable with God. Anyways, God gave them both a chance to repent.

But Saul would not repent. Instead, he dived straight into self-justification. And He wanted more. He wanted to come out of the whole saga with his pride intact. And so, therefore, after unloading a ton of excuses, he told the Prophet Samuel:

“I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord thy God.” (1 Sam. 15:30)

Can you imagine that? How can the two go together:

“I have sinned: yet honour me now”?

There was absolutely no repentance there. This was what killed Saul. The man would not bend.

These are the kinds of attitudes that God absolutely cannot stand. God cannot stand a prideful and rebellious heart.

Saul was irredeemable, and this was how things ended for him:

“34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul. 35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:34-35)

As we see with King Saul here, if you are a man or woman with an extremely hard heart, God can reach a point of no return with you and leave you. The condition of our heart is something to constantly watch over. God left Saul and the outcome was very bad for Saul. He reached to the point that he went to consult with the very witches that he had ordered killed when he had a zeal for God!

In contrast to King Saul, let us see King David, who also sinned. After David was informed of his sin by the Prophet Nathan, notice how short the interaction was:

“And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”

It is not that we cannot sin. But it is the repentant heart that God is looking for. God will perfect the man with a repentant heart.

[The meek shall inherit the earth – Mat. 5:5]

IMG_20180726_112937

Grasping The Eternal – Part 2

5 And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.

8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?

9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?

12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Mat. 16:5-12

Jesus was always thinking and talking in the Spirit. At no one time did Jesus think to talk to His disciples (as a teaching) about earthly bread. But His disciples were on an altogether different algorithm. They thought, talked and acted in the flesh. Just like us. Ever noticed how worldly situations get us down so quickly? When we are short of something like money, food or clothing, we carry that long face. Bur these things are temporal.

But we are to walk in the Spirit! That is which is eternal. And herein we are going to see what the spiritual life is.

Verse 12 establishes that Jesus’s disciples finally caught on to what He was trying to tell them, thank God. He was warning them to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Now, that word, “doctrine”, is central to Jesus’s teaching here. Was He talking of a teaching per se? A teaching without the Spirit produces form. Form is what we portray on the outside. Without the life of the Spirit in you, you appear holy, but you are not holy. In fact, you do everything on the outside to appear holy. But you are not so on the inside. You build spiritual castles in the air, so to speak. And many great Christian denominations in the world are that way. So, unfortunately, are the majority of Christian lives.

So, was Jesus talking about a teaching? Hardly. On the contrary, Jesus was talking about a way of life. He was warning His disciples to beware of living an empty ‘Christian’ life. In fact, St. Luke put it more clearly in Luke 12:1-5:

“1 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. 3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. 4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”

Form is what we portray before men; reality is what we carry before God. And, with God, without reality is hypocrisy. But reality is repentance. And living a life of repentance is living a life where I am daily desiring and striving to put off the works of the flesh in my life. The Pharisees had the best form of worship, but they harbored every kind of evil in their hearts, including murder.

True repentance means living a life that fears God more than men. It does not really matter what form I worship God in. What counts with regard to eternal life is the heart life that I live before God.

Jesus said, “Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell”.

[“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” – 2 Chron. 7:14]

A God-Affected Heart

“For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. Is. 66:2

A few years back I visited the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius and, in the course of my stay there, some brethren took me for a swim in the ocean. Mauritius is an incredibly tiny piece of volcanic rock situated right in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and the currents here can be very strong. On the particular day that we went swimming, we decided to swim out as far as we could into the ocean. We would go out and allow a powerful wave to pummel us back onto the coast again. I enjoyed the thrill, but I was aware I was risking my life because the water was extremely powerful and once or twice it threatened to sweep me out to sea.

In the same vein, it would be impossible for one to stand next to the rail tracks as a train hurtled past at 100 miles per hour and not be affected by the wind blast.

I use these two analogies here to show how impossible it is to be unmoved when one meets the Living God – unless one’s heart is made of stone. Only a rock by the rail tracks would remain unaffected by the blast from a speeding train.

Still, even if the train was moving at a trillion miles per hour, God is infinitely more powerful than that train. And even if all the oceans of the world were to join themselves into one mighty wave – a mighty wave it would be indeed! – still, God is infinitely more powerful than that wave.

Now, I am thinking that if the blast from a speeding train can affect us, how much more can God’s power affect our hearts? And yet, here, when God says

“… but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word”,

it is clear that not all men tremble at God’s Word. Indeed, it is more than likely that more people do not tremble at God’s Word than those who do.

Now, that is a most wonderful thing to contemplate… the fact that there is something that God’s power cannot affect, which is a hard heart!

To tremble at God’s Word. Jesus said,

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Mat. 7:21)

When God calls us, we should fear, above all, becoming merely religious. We should not forget the power of God that moved in us when we first believed. The Bible says it is impossible for one to remain the same when God meets them. God told Moses:

“… Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Ex. 33:20)

That scripture is in the Old Testament. But now, the Bible says,

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

Now, under the New Covenant, we behold God face to face. Therefore we cannot live. We must die. Hence, the cross. Hence, the need to understand clearly the meaning of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 2:2:

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

There is only one place where God’s power is unable to do anything: a hard heart. That is the reason we need to make sure we allow the cross to break us every day. When we accept Jesus into our hearts, God immediately gives us a humble and contrite heart. The word “contrite” indicates a heart that breaks, or repents, easily. It is the heart that cries easily. But this heart also moves quickly to do that which pleases God.

This heart, which God gives us, is a treasure, and it is a treasure to be guarded at all costs. Wherever treasure is to be found, someone will always try to steal it. It is our responsibility to guard that treasure.

When we allow things into our hearts that make our hearts hard, we have lost that treasure, for the Holy Spirit is gentle and He can only work where there is a soft heart. Things like unforgiveness and pride harden our hearts. When our hearts are hard, God cannot move in us.

The condition of our hearts is something we need to take extreme care of. We need make sure our hearts are soft and pliable in God’s hands. That is our true responsibility.

[Below: Once in a while, a song moves in my heart in such a tremendous way that I can do nothing but surrender to it. Sarah K’s song, “You Alone”, has been the very song these last weeks. I thought I should share it with my readers.]

A Pure Heart

“10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. 11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (Jas. 5:10-11)

Now, you would think that this scripture is about Job. It is all right, but it is more about God than Job. This scripture tells us that God rewarded Job because of His great pity and tender mercy towards him. It does not say that God blessed Job because Job went banging at the doors of heaven demanding he be paid for his patience.

This teaches us that the fact that we have suffered patiently does not give us the right to demand anything from God. He has promised to, and He will. But, that notwithstanding, we should always bear in mind that whatever God does in vindicating us He does on account of His great pity and tender mercy towards us. He can choose not to reward or vindicate us here on the earth, although He will most certainly do so in the world to come. In the meantime, God requires you to maintain a pure heart.

Equally important is the fact that we should always maintain an attitude of humility towards God.

There are doctrines today that teach people to demand things from God. Many years ago I was taught to ‘force’ God into a corner, grab His throat somehow, and demand that He honor my prayers.

But such attitudes show how much we do not know God. God is not required to do anything for us. All that He does comes out of His good heart towards us. We have no right at all to demand anything from God. All our righteousness comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. If we demand things from God, it means we are spoilt children. The Bible calls such believers “bastards” (Heb. 12:8). In other words, they are people who have no discipline.

When Satan persecuted Job, Job kept a pure heart throughout, and this moved God to bless him.

I once heard of a band called “Pureheart”. When I heard it, I said, “What a lovely name!” For Christianity is all about keeping a pure heart. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8)

To see God! I believe there is nothing more desirable – and certainly more important – for a believer than to see God. Of what use is it to have every other blessing and not see God’s glory? Such a scenario would hardly ring true.

That is why the devil’s most hunted treasure is our hearts. Once he darkens your heart, he has gotten you. It is the reason why we must keep our hearts pure at all costs.

What does it mean to guard your heart, anyway?

One of the things that I have learned about maintaining a pure heart is that it means keeping a blameless heart. That means not blaming people. I am not talking of not blaming good people (that’s hardly likely); I am talking of not blaming, complaining or judging people who do bad deeds to us.

The Bible says: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be CONDEMNED: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (Jas. 5:9)

Now, that is a very specific warning. The Bible says that if we carry grudges we shall be condemned. “Condemned” here means suffering at the hands of God. That is not a place anyone would want to be. We should avoid that spot at all costs.

Much of the time, though, keeping our hearts pure seems to be the hardest of tasks. The flesh has a tendency to react and, if we have not the grace of God in us, we cannot prevent it from doing what it wants.

But the Apostle James, drawing from Biblical experiences, encourages us to maintain a pure heart in the midst of adversity or persecution. He says:

“10 Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. 11 Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (Jas. 5:10-11)

The prophets of old were men who endured hardship, depravation and persecution. But they did not blame anyone. They neither blamed God, nor men, nor Satan. This means that these men guarded and kept their hearts pure while they suffered. Chief of these men, James tells us, was Job. And the Bible concludes:

“Behold, we count them happy which endure.”

Why happy?

For, in Job’s case, “Ye… have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”

Now, if when we suffer patiently God rewards us out of His good heart, what do you think will happen when we suffer and are not able to maintain a pure heart?

It means, automatically, that God has no further recourse. He has not the wherewithal to reward us.

There are many believers today who are bitter at heart: some are bitter towards God for failing to answer their prayers, while others are bitter for perceived wrongdoing by men. They think, talk and plot things that are not pleasing to God.

I have often found myself in exactly this same situation. But I have discovered the perfect weapon for fighting such attacks. It is called repentance. Repentance is the perfect antidote for a blameful heart. When men have hurt me and I reacted, the Lord has taught me that I needed to repent of that attitude. Then I became free to serve God and my fellow man.

[Job was an incredibly patient man and he therefore endured affliction]

Image9997

Job: A Case Study In Total Repentance

5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.

6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:5-6

I can’t seem to get away from the topic of repentance. It appears to me as if repentance is the only thing that we can do to make true our relationship with God. We must repent at every cost! If need be we must get on our knees and pray for a heart of repentance. Repentance must be on our top priority as children of God.

In Job chapter 1 verse 1 the Bible says that Job was a man who was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”

I doubt there are many born-again believers that the Bible can talk about in those same exact words. Job was a truly righteous man. But the Bible here says that when this same Job saw God with his own eyes, he abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes. So what did Job repent of? He repented of sin. When you have no sin you do not need to repent.

Just pause and imagine that. In his perfection, still, when he saw God face to face, Job found he was a sinful man! So much so that he repented in dust and ashes.

That is so powerful! It underlines the fact that God is that much higher than we, even when we are at our most perfect.

If you light a candle and put it next to a burning 10,000 megawatt bulb, I think you will notice the difference. The difference is that there will be not much of a candlelight to notice.

If Job thought he was holy and upright before he had seen God, when he finally did see God, the Bible says, he abhorred himself and repented.

What does it mean when the Bible says that Job abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes?

It means that he utterly despised himself. Now, we take it very hard when other people despise us, how much more difficult do you think it is for someone to despise themselves? This shows the greatness of this man, Job.

“Repent” talks of a broken spirit. In the Old Testament, God commanded Moses to grind fine flour for His sacrifice (Lev. 23:13). Under the New Covenant we do not grind flour. But we humble ourselves and become broken in spirit, broken into many small pieces, which are then continually ground into much finer flour – ready for the King’s sacrifice!!

God told the Prophet Samuel:

“… for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)

God looks upon the human heart. There are many things that we do in church seeking to draw the attention of God. But God is like the professional archer: He never misses the mark. You will never do anything to make God take His eyes off the human heart. God will always look upon the heart. And God is pleased with a repentant heart.

Repentance has to become a way of life for the church. We must allow this into our lives at any cost. If we had only one thing to pray to God for, we should pray for a spirit of repentance. Brokenness is a process that has to be a permanent attitude of our hearts. That is why Jesus said,

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk. 9:23).

In His love for us God will allow many situations into our lives in order to give us that broken spirit. Daily we must make a choice – the choice to accept to be broken.

[Below: Mwanza is the second-largest city in Tanzania. Mwanza Airport is soon to be upgraded to international status]

Image12373

Repentance – God’s Singular Command

… And they went out, and preached that men should repent. Mk. 6:12

Notice that the Bible does not say that the apostles went out and preached that men should become apostles or prophets or pastors. Nor did they preach that men (by “men” the Bible includes women) become prayer warriors. Nor that men should sing. The Bible says that the apostles preached that men should do just one thing: to repent.

I in no way intend to belittle the gifts and callings that God has given to men on behalf of the church. But the gospel today has become a multi-billion dollar enterprise and its ministers have become celebrities. Genuine ministries of the Holy Spirit have been turned into money-minting and ego-raising activities.  And God’s people are more concerned with these things in men of God than humility of spirit!

It is good and desirable for men to carry these ministries. But this is of little value to them and to the church if these men do not also do the singular thing that God directs men to do: to repent. As far as God is concerned, it is infinitely much better for one to carry a humble and repentant spirit than all these ministries.

A lifestyle of repentance involves a price that many of us would rather avoid. But I believe that one day, in heaven, impossible heroes will be revealed to us. Recently, a pastor friend of mine was telling me about an incident that occurred in his church. He told me that during testimony time, one of his members, a woman, stood up and went to the front. She would not look up and she spoke in the lowest of voices, so low that the pastor had to ask her to speak up.

She was saying, “One day pastor came to my house and I hid from him the sweet potatoes that I had cooked for my husband. I ask him to forgive me.”

And the woman stood there, utterly devastated by her own admission.

The pastor was stunned. The lady had hidden sweet potatoes from him!

But this lady’s heart had smitten her because of the sweet potatoes she had hidden and she made the decision to repent. (In Africa, most sins are committed out of poverty.)

The pastor said to me, “I called her up and I told her I had forgiven her, after which I prayed for her.”

I was so touched by this story. I realized this was a woman of incredible faith.

I told the pastor, “You must take me to this woman!”

And he said, “I will.”

This is the person I want to meet. This is a truly spiritual woman. In all honesty I would rather go and take a long, hard look at this woman than meet with someone who calls themselves bishop so-and-so. Being a bishop does not make one spiritual. But humbling oneself the way this lady did makes one a truly spiritual person, and a friend of God.

This lady was shamed here on earth by making her confession, but I am sure that in heaven her ratings shot to the very top. She is a hero.

But it is also clear that she paid an incredibly high price in doing what she did. She allowed her reputation and honor to be destroyed. There are many bishops, apostles and prophets who cannot confess their smallest failing in church. Their pride would not allow them to do such a thing. There are some who cannot even tell their wives, “I am sorry. Please forgive me.”

But this is the cost that we must pay to be spiritual. This is the cost that constitutes true repentance. Repentance is not the sinner’s prayer we made on the day we got saved. True repentance is something we do every time we miss it because we have in us the humble spirit that Jesus had.

[A man sells local hand-made wares at the city of Arusha]

Image12117