Joy In The Cross!

21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. Mat. 5:21-26

God wants us to grow and mature to the point where we can look scripture in the eye. The words that Jesus spoke here are not to be trifled with. But, many years ago, I read these same words and concluded that God did not really mean what He said. I had so much bitterness in my heart! In the early years of our marriage, I cannot count the number of times when I did something in church while in my heart I was at war with my wife. Anything close to me was susceptible to my violent temper, and she just happened to be the closest thing to me.

Our fiercest brawls always occurred on Sunday mornings. I remember one Sunday morning the pastor had appointed me to lead the morning service. On that morning my wife and I had a row which would certainly have found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, if only they recorded such things. After the epic row I rushed off to church, leaving wife behind.

I went to church and ambushed my wife there. I stood behind the pulpit and pretended to be leading the service, but in actual fact, I was waiting for her. From where I was I could see all the way to the gate of the church, so when she rounded the corner at the gate, I prepared myself. The minute she stepped into the church, I let go one single salvo that I knew would cripple her completely. I cannot remember now the exact words that I spoke (indirectly, of course), but I do remember it was a perfect hit. As everyone else was cheering at my words, she sat down like a rock.

That was mission accomplished for me.

But God wants us to grow. When we grow, we find we can carry a heart of mercy, we can forgive, and, probably most important of all, we find we can repent. Repentance is not simply saying, “I am sorry.” In those early days, I would say “I am sorry”, but I never really meant it. There was no work in my heart. At that time I was hearing the gospel of prosperity, and there was nothing going on in my heart.

Years later, I came to hear “the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ”. The change in my life began right there.

I believe that when we carry bitterness and unforgiveness, somewhere we will miss a blessing (v. 26). That is what scripture is telling us here. It could be in our personal lives, or in our relationships; but definitely in our spirits we will miss God’s blessing.

But when we are hearing the right gospel, we allow the work of the cross in our hearts, and we can grow up to the stature of Christ. This pleases the Lord exceedingly, for it is His will for us.

Today, the biggest accomplishment I can boast of in my life is where I have arrived at in my relationship with my wife. If I can go to church on Sunday morning and feel the peace of God emanating from me to my wife and vice versa, that gives me greater joy than anything else.

I believe that it is only by surrendering to the work of the cross that we can rise to the level of looking scripture in the eye, which is God’s will for us.

Need we wonder anymore why, when the Apostle Paul went to the Corinthians, he “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2)?

[Below: True joy is found where there is true repentance and forgiveness]

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LOSING ALL TO GAIN ALL

Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?

And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.

The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. Ruth 2:10-12

The question that we need to ask ourselves is: how much has it been shown to the Lord how we have ‘left all’ and followed Him? That is Christianity’s central question. I love what Boaz told Ruth: “It hath fully been shewed me…” It was fully shown Boaz that Ruth had lost everything in order to serve her mother-in-law, Naomi. How so, so beautiful!

The problem, really, is that we fear to lose. Find me a man who is willing to lose everything and I will show you a man (or woman) who will gain everything.

That is why it is so important for we God’s people to hear the right gospel, the gospel that will show us how, and empower us to lose all that we hold dear, including our very lives, for the sake of Christ. But the scriptures also warn us that there are many errant ‘gospels’ on the loose. These are gospels that will teach us that “gain is godliness” (1 Tim. 6:5). They will teach us to hold onto our lives. We need to stay warned.

In the above portion of scripture, we read about how Boaz happened to have heard about all that Ruth had done for Naomi and how she had “left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.”

I love the blessing that this man of God, Boaz, spoke upon Ruth’s life: “The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.”

Rightly so, Ruth gave birth to Obed, who bore Jesse, who fathered David, Christ’s ancestor. I don’t know about you, but that rocks with me. That’s more powerful than anything this world will ever know.

I can say here right away that the blessing that Ruth received from the Lord is the same blessing that every child of God who agrees to forsake all will receive.

But the price Ruth had to pay to receive a heavenly blessing was also the highest possible. She lost everything! It is not easy to leave one’s father and mother and to go “sell yourself” to a strange people. There is no question that in doing so you will be inviting trouble from every which direction. Ruth’s relatives must have spoken the most awful words against her. Her parents probably even cursed her, cutting her off completely from their lives. It is a miracle her Moabite tribesmen did not send an assassination party to seek and finish her off! She had brought a reproach upon them!

But Ruth had seen something! Jesus said, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Mat. 7:14).

I wonder how many of us really “find” that way. It is so hidden! And when you look at the kind of mainstream doctrines being taught in church today, I would doubt your sanity if you told me that many are they who have found that road.

The Apostle Paul loved the church. That is why he would not preach them any other gospel other than the revelation he had received from Jesus Christ, which was “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) Here Paul was not just teaching them that Christ was crucified for their sins. He went beyond that and taught them to crucify their lives with Christ, to lose all, that they might have the resurrection life in themselves.

But God gives grace to the humble. I am doubly sure that God will reveal the road to any one of His children who are willing to humble themselves. He will point them to the cross and He will give them the grace to lose their lives.

I am sorry to say this, but there is so much pride and arrogance within the Body of Christ today. God’s people know so much! Everyone has a doctrine they are trying to propagate, no matter it has not even a whiff of biblical truth in it. And each one is holding their ground, firm in the belief that what they have is the right gospel. Some are even paying attention to doctrines taught by demons.

But when we read the Bible with unveiled face, we find that there is only one true gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that teaches us to deny self, take up our cross and follow Christ. It is the gospel where we come to a place where we willingly lose our lives, which is the only way to gain that other life, Christ’s life. We must surrender the world to gain heaven. There is no other way.

Of Proclamations and Our Worship of God – Pt. 2

I haven’t read anywhere in the Bible where God is upbraiding His people for not praising Him loud enough. On the contrary, I have read many Scriptures where God tells His people, both in the Old and New Testaments, that He does not actually need their praises. In fact, in one scripture in the Old Testament, God has a particularly nasty reaction to the Israelites’ songs and their ‘empty’ worship of Him.

The reason God was so angry with them is because they were walking in sin but at the same time praising Him.

The Christian world today is outdoing itself in its efforts to praise and uplift God. Many beautiful new songs are being composed, old songs and hymns are redone and presented with ever greater passion; singers with the most beautiful voices are being discovered; piano chords and guitar strings are tweaked to the highest levels of creativity – the whole spectrum is a sight to behold indeed. There are churches which have been set up solely on the praise and worship theme. I think all this is good, but at the same time I believe things are not as rosy in the Spirit as they appear to be on the outside.

There are also what we would call new age ‘Christian’ artists and preachers and songs that I would rather die than listen to or watch. I once went to Youtube and they were singing a song about “crying holy” or whatever, and it was the most revolting thing I have ever seen. There are thousands of these artists, and regrettably Christians are going absolutely gaga over them. I have never understood why we need to identify with the world in order to preach the gospel of Christ. Most likely, we misinterpret scripture.

I have not seen a preacher wearing earrings yet (I mean the male preachers), and probably they are there, it’s only that I have not seen them. But our choirs today are awash with male singers touting Rastafarian hairstyles and all decked out in gold chains and earrings, etc. I do not know what to expect next, but it is clear Jesus has quite a band coming His way…

Christian proclamations and declarations from the pulpit all the way to the street present a picture where the Christian world is one of total victory over the devil and all his works.

By now you probably are thinking that if I am not the Anti-Christ himself then I am a major pessimist who has failed to find joy and fulfilment in his Christian life. Don’t even consider the thought. I am as happy as Jesus Himself. And don’t get me wrong. As I said earlier, I have no problem with Christian worship when it is done in the right spirit. What I am pointing out here is that God is more interested in the state of our lives than our vocal proclamations. There are far too many Christians today walking in sin, and yet their mouths are full of proclamations of the glory of God. And God’s real problem with us today, just as with the Israelites, is sin. God loves praise, but He hates sin and He would rather deal with the latter first.

If I am playing with my children and I see a snake, I will kill the snake first then continue playing with my children.

We Christian believers should not therefore put a smokescreen of praise before God. God can see the sin that is ravaging the Church today. It is open secret that Christianity in our generation has a major problem with sin. Sin is rampant among lay Christians and preachers alike. Even big-time preachers who have been known to raise the dust on TV and some who served God faithfully in years past have been hit by scandals…

Something is wrong, and we should stop praising and listen.

It is time to go back to the basics. Let us go back to the Cross, where Christ was crucified. Therein is the power to defeat sin in our lives, the gospel of the revelation of the Cross of Christ. Paul preached this very gospel, and even if his ministry was not inundated with miracles as today’s gospels appear to be, it had the power to set men and women from the power of sin, and we see from his epistles that this was Paul’s chief concern: to set God’s people free from sin.

That gospel, though unproclaimed in similar terms, has always been there in earlier generations, and the men and women who walked in it lived a victorious life over sin.

I remember that in the 1970s and the early 80s, at least in the small world that I lived in, a saved person was a threat to sinners, who evaded them like the plague. My elder brother was the first to get saved in our big family. Whenever he would begin praying an overpowering Presence would fill our home and we would all run away – dad would walk staidly towards the village beer hall but clearly a man on the run! We would come back only when we were sure John had finished praying. Then, my mom, who had been a beer brewer, gave her heart to Jesus. Then followed two of my brothers, then my dad, who was the village champion drunkard. Many years later, I too accepted the Lord. I am assured we are all the fruit of not only the prayers of my brother, but also the victorious lifestyle that he led. In those years Christians lived a victorious life over sin, and we saw it, and it affected us.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing even for many of those same Christians today. Something has gone awfully wrong somewhere. We talk a lot, but there is a power that is simply not there. There is song, yes, but not the power.

Nowadays a preacher divorces their husband or wife then they come on TV and, to the accompaniment of a ‘powerful’ praise session, they begin talking and justifying themselves. Where is the power of the gospel in that? And there, in the auditorium, are thousands of Christians cheering him/her on. If you multiply that number with that of the faithful who are watching at home on TV and assenting to this preacher’s doctrine, you realize this truly is a big church, but then you begin wondering “What kind of ‘church’ is this going to turn out to be?” The answer is: a defeated, sinning church. I once saw a homosexual ‘church’ on TV in South Africa, complete with a homosexual pastor, and they were praising Jesus! But we ‘straight’ sinners cannot disassociate ourselves from this abomination if we are divorcing and remarrying in church and continuing with our praise and cheering sessions.

In all this chaos, it is not that people are not praying as before, or that they are not reading their Bibles. Rather, it is simply that wrong doctrines have been allowed into the Church, and have taken the place of the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ. Wrong doctrines which simply have not the power to deal with sin.

Jesus came to earth to deal with sin and all its works once and for all. And He did that by crucifying the body of the flesh. If there is no crucifixion of the flesh, if the Christian is not having a daily revelation of that work of the Cross, there is no way he is going to live a victorious spiritual life. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:31: “…by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily”. In order for Paul to rejoice in his labors for Christ, he had to crucify his flesh daily. It means he partook of the sufferings and death of Christ. Now, if you cheer when all this is going on, God has no problem with that because after this there will be victory. Unfortunately, many Christians today are cheering while there is so much defeat in their lives!

The gospel bequeathed to us from Jesus Christ through the Apostles states that just as we were sold into sin, we have now been sold to righteousness. How? By dying to the body of the flesh. After which, by the working of the same Holy Spirit who resurrected Jesus from the dead we too are resurrected into the glorious life of victory in the spirit, victory over sin.

This is the gospel that needs to come back to the Church today, and which the Church needs to accept. I believe it is coming back, through true Apostles and ministers of God whom God is reinstating in our day. But is the Church willing to accept it? Or we will continue dancing while sin ravages the Church?

The Bible warns of a falling away of many believers just before the return of Christ. At no other time do we need to heed Christ’s and the Apostles’ warnings than in the days we are living in.