True Goodness – Part 2

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 19-25

Jesus did so much good during His earthly ministry but, in the epistles, the Bible does not talk about those things. Instead, it talks about Christ’s sufferings and His endurance in the same! The Bible exalts the cross above anything that Jesus did or underwent. In fact, in Philippians 2:5-11, the Bible talks about the different stages that Jesus allowed Himself to descend from glory to shame and death. But it ends by stating that He

“became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (v.8)

The death of the cross. That is not any death. The death of the cross is not physical death. It is death to self. And it was on account of this death that scripture declares in verse 9:

“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name”.

You can die every kind of death; but if you have not died to self, you are nothing in God’s eyes.

I have an interesting illustration in this regard.

One day, a brother called me and told me he was travelling to the village to attend the burial of a close relative. I knew this brother’s financial condition, so I wanted to bless him with some money. I decided I would surprise him, so I called him back and told him to meet up with me at a certain place. He answered, “I am leaving right away.”

I walked briskly to our meeting point, my heart beating with excitement at the good I was about to do. When I arrived there, the brother was nowhere to be seen. True, he lived some distance away, but I expected him to take some form of transportation and hurry.

I called him and told him exactly that. I told him, “Take a motorcycle!”

He mumbled an answer and the phone went dead.

Finally, the brother showed up after about 20 minutes. By that time, my heart had turned charcoal black. The man had kept me waiting – and I was livid. I almost did not greet him, and I had to dredge up all the remaining dregs of grace left in me to hand him the money I had come to “bless” him with.

I had done good, but my good was not acceptable with God. In God’s eyes, it was the exact opposite of what you could call good. Why?

Because I had not accepted to suffer. God was not looking at the good I had gone to do. He was looking to see whether I would endure patiently when something grated at my will. Those 20 minutes of waiting were more important to God than any good intentions I had to help someone.

God waits for us at the point of suffering. He does not wait for us at any other place. He waits for us like the umpire waits for the athlete. The umpire does not wait for the athlete at any old point along the track. He waits at the finishing line.

Jesus waits for us at the finishing line; and our finishing line is the cross. When we accept to suffer patiently “for conscience toward God” we find God waiting for us right there.

By introducing the cross, the Bible destroys any notion of “good” that we have in the human sense. With God, “good” can only be when we serve Him under His terms, not ours. Actually, the cross is all about dying to our old man, self.

In John 21:18, we read Jesus’s words to Peter,

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”

Imagine that. Jesus told Peter that a time would come when Peter would not serve God under his own terms, but under God’s terms!

Did you know that Peter carried a sword to serve the Lord with? That was his will at work. In fact, Jesus once rebuked him with the words:

“Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (Mat. 16:23)

That is how we are much of the time: serving God, but carrying carnal weapons. If someone hurts us, we hurt back because we are not willing to suffer. We, just like Peter, are carrying weapons of our flesh with us.

We begin to understand why the Apostle Paul would not preach any other gospel other than “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23)

It is the cross alone that can deal with the flesh so that we may serve the Lord on His terms, not ours. Nothing else can. Not even prophecies. There are too many self-styled, self-willed ‘prophets’ roaming about. It’s time to show them the cross – or the door.

So, finally, what is true goodness? What is thankworthy and acceptable with God? It is when we submit ourselves to another’s terms, not our own. It is when we crucify our wills. Biblically, the flesh is our will.

All our good, all our striving, all our effort comes to nought if we have not reached the place of crucifying our flesh. God is not interested in what we do. He is interested in what we allow Him to do in us.

If we are good on our own terms, despite all the good we do, we, just like my brother John at the brook, will not even have began our spiritual journey.

[I love the arts!]

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True Goodness – Part 1

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Pet. 19-25

Long time ago, when I was about 8 or 9, my brothers and I used to go down to our grandmother’s farm where a little stream passed by. We loved to go down there and play in the water. The stream was too small even to swim in but, one day, as we were by the stream, my elder brother John announced to us that he intended to swim all the way up to wherever that “river” originated from. The stream came from a swamp quite some distance away.

We crossed our hearts in awe as we envisioned the undertaking John was about to engage in. He would be crossing steep ravines and fighting currents of every sort.

He quickly took off his clothes and before you could say “Abracadabra!”, he was in the water. Head down and arms flying like rotors, he beat away furiously at the water.

After about half a minute of this energetic exercise, he pulled up his head and asked, “Where am !?”

I still recall the answer we gave him. We told him, “You are still right here with us.”

He hadn’t moved an inch. The river was too small to even manouver in.

I am going to use this analogy to share with my readers one of the greatest lessons that the Lord has taught me to date. That we can do so many things that are “thankworthy” and “acceptable” – but not before God. That we can do so much good in this world for but, when we get to heaven, we find ourselves standing empty-handed before the Lord.

Why? Because, somehow, we evaded that all-important thing in our lives: “suffering”. We never allowed ourselves to endure suffering.

It is this suffering that I want to talk of at length here.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

I want us to consider verses 19 and 20 and, in particular, the two words “thankworthy” and “acceptable”.

To whom does the word “thankworthy” refer to? In other words, who is thanking who here? Or, put differently: Who is commending who here?

Actually, verse 20 qualifies verse 19. In this verse, we read that if we suffer patiently for the sake of Christ, this is acceptable with God.

Imagine that. Imagine doing something that is acceptable with God. Imagine being commended by God. Imagine being thanked by God.

In my lifetime, I have met many very good people. Truly wonderful people. People who would die for you.

But, in these verses, the Bible draws a clear line between what is good, commendable, thankworthy or acceptable with man; and what is with God.

The two are as far apart as night is from day.

[It is not the good we do that God looks at, but our patience in suffering]

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Joseph’s Patience – Part 2

And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. Gen. 37:5

It goes without saying that in any race, the contestants endure because they are aware of the nature of the reward awaiting them. There needs to be a catalyst for one to endure any hardship. The catalyst for Joseph’s perseverance was because he had a dream. Yes, one day, Joseph dreamed a dream. In fact, he dreamed a series of dreams. I am glad to say that Joseph did not day-dream, and it is important for us to make note of that difference. Joseph dreamed an actual dream.

We all know that day-dreaming amounts to nothing. Day-dreaming, as it is popularly known, is another word for wishful thinking. But an actual dream can indicate something tangible.

In spiritual terms, we could liken day-dreaming to the desires for this material life that most believers have. Dreams like “coming to America”. “Coming to America” is like going to heaven for most people. Here in Africa, that is Dream No. 1. But going to America is a material dream and, in the Spirit, this amounts to wishful thinking for God does not reside in America. God is everywhere; but the even more important fact is that God desires to live in us, wherever we are.

On the other hand, we could liken an actual dream (under the Old Covenant) to a spiritual vision. A spiritual vision talks of having our spiritual eyes enlightened. A spiritual vision shows us the riches of God’s heavenly Kingdom – in us! Can you visualize that? Not just seeing God’s heavenly riches; but having those riches in us. Such a realization is way beyond what we can humanly imagine; it needs the hand of God to reveal these things. That is why the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians:

“1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:1-5)

It is a revelation!

In other words, therefore, we can say that Joseph had a spiritual revelation. This is the same revelation that Moses had:

“24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.” Heb. 11:24-26

Yes, through the revelation that Moses received, he

“had respect unto the recompence of the reward.”

We could go on to talk of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

And many other men and women of faith.

It was the spiritual vision that made all these men and women to endure suffering. They understood God’s plan for their lives and, for that, reason, they persevered. There is a worldly plan and there is a heavenly plan, for our lives. We need to choose the right plan.

We cannot wait, like Joseph, for a dream in the night to lead us to a heavenly vision of God’s plan for our lives. Such a dream may or may not come. In any case, Joseph is an Old Testament character, and there are so many things that we under the New Covenant cannot carry on in the same fashion as the Old Testament figures did.

Under the New Covenant, we have the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit gives us our dream, the heavenly dream. This is what will enable us to persevere. We need that spiritual dream in order to persevere. Most believers have only a material dream. They have dreams of worldly riches, and worldly success. Such cannot persevere. When persecution comes, they easily crumble.

But a spiritual vision will have us standing tall and strong no matter how hard the winds of this world may howl.

Of Joseph, and Jacob

17 He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:
18 Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
19 Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. Ps. 105:17-19

It is rare that I can read the story of Joseph without tears streaming down my cheeks. It is incredible the suffering the saints of old endured in order to carry through and keep alive God’s plan and purpose through the ages until Christ’s time should come.

All the more reason that we should consider it a privilege when we suffer for Christ’s sake. And it is for this very reason that the Apostle Paul would write:

“8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8-9)

If any man preach any other gospel than the singular gospel that Paul preached – (“But we preach Christ crucified…” 1 Cor. 1:23) – let that man be accursed.

For Christ has called us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him. Jesus also said,

“13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. 15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Mat. 7:13-15)

Many false prophets will rise up in the last days who will show a different way, the easy way; but it leads to destruction. But the only way to eternal life is the way that Joseph, Jacob and the early saints, walked – the way of suffering.

 

Why Believers Are Afflicted

Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all. Ps. 34:19

How can righteous suffer; indeed, why must he be afflicted at all? That should not be since the righteous is supposed to be in God’s favor. But this scripture says otherwise. Indeed, the Bible says that the afflictions of the righteous are many. Why this state of affairs?

In Africa, during harvest time, the farmers thresh their produce, to remove the grain and store it, and to burn the chaff. God afflicts us because He wants to bring out the spiritual treasure that is in us. If you want wine, you have to press the grapes, right? In the same manner, God wants to show off the treasure in us, and there is no other way that He can do this apart from scrubbing us and whittling away at us, that the ‘gold’ in us may shine forth.

We have such treasure in us! But we are hardly aware of it. But we have gold in us.

When we have the fruit of the Spirit in us –

“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Eph. 5:22) –

… that is the treasure that God wants to show off to the world.

I have heard worldly preachers say that God wants to reveal riches like Bentleys, Rolls Royces and million-dollar mansions. But no. Those things do not comprise the heavenly riches. Actually, they are the height of spiritual poverty for when these things grasp your heart, that is the end of you spiritually.

God’s riches, the riches that He wants to show forth to the world in and through us, are the fruit of the Spirit. Those are the spiritual riches.

And so, therefore, God allows afflictions into our lives that they may press us and through this pressing the true heavenly riches in us will show forth.

The perfect example is Jesus. The Bible says in 1 Peter 2:22-24:

“22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

And, in Isaiah 53:7, it says of Jesus:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”

It is clear that Jesus was afflicted! He was reviled; and He suffered. But He wouldn’t utter a word. Jesus opened not His mouth!

Now, not opening our mouths when we are reviled is not easy. Actually, it is very difficult. The minute we hear something against us, our mouths begin moving even before the reviler has finished saying whatever they want to say about us!

But we have such riches in Christ Jesus. Imagine Jesus, He

“reviled not again”.

Imagine,

“when he suffered, he threatened not”.

That is not easy. Sometimes we may do nothing, but in our hearts we end up doing so much!

But we have such riches in us! That is why God allows us to be afflicted. When we are afflicted, these riches show forth. The fruit in us gives forth its aroma.

And if the fruit has not formed yet, afflictions will serve to show us our need for repentance and drive us to desire a greater work of the cross in our lives. There is so much work that afflictions accomplish in a believer’s life. In a word, suffering produces grace. There is no grace without suffering. That is why the Apostle Paul preached the cross before he would talk of grace.

Finally,

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

The word “temptation” here is the same word “affliction” that David used in Psalm 34.We will be tempted. We will be tried. We will be afflicted if we are true children of God. But God’s hand will be upon us and He will not allow any trial or affliction to overcome us. He will make a way, a way of grace for us to walk in victory through every affliction.

The Apostle And Unity In The Church – Part 2

And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. Col. 4:16

That is the voice of the father – a spiritual father. There are many more instances in the apostolic epistles of a spiritual father addressing his children. And here we see the Apostle Paul addressing the same thing to two different churches simultaneously: “When you read this letter, cause it to be read by the Laodeceans; and you likewise read my letter to the Laodiceans.”

How could this be? Was Paul addressing his denomination, or his ministry? By no means. A denomination is a dead thing because it is man-made; but Paul was addressing the church of the Living God. Paul was addressing a living Body. And this Body was one. Whichever church Paul had a relationship with was similar to the other for the simple reason that they were being conformed to the image of Christ. They were not being conformed to the image of Paul, but of Christ, who died and rose again.

One of the gravest dangers in the church today is conformationism. The church is being conformed all right, but to whom is it being conformed? Even in churches that confess the revelation of the cross, the question must be asked, to whom are they being conformed? Yes, they are being conformed to their pastor, but is the pastor conformed after Christ?

You cannot have a church in Tanzania that carries its own peculiar image (read its pastor’s image) and one in Europe that carries a different image (its pastor’s). If it is so, then this speaks of churches that are not under the ministry of an apostle, for there cannot be two different images of Christ. There is only one image of Christ, which the apostle brings into the church. Where the apostle is ministering, throughout, you will find only one image amongst the people:

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

That is so simple and clear. And it ought to be very, very clear to the church. The church cannot be said to be like Christ because it worships in a certain way or prays in certain manner.

This is the reason for God bringing the apostle to the church. A true apostle is a man who has died, that Christ may live in him. In this way, he reveals the crucified Christ. Therefore, wherever and whatever he touches or ministers, it is no longer him, but Christ who will be seen and known. And there is no other Christ that can be revealed to the church apart from

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

The issue of Christ being formed in the church is no light thing. It is something that requires a total death to the body of the one chosen by God to carry this ministry. Recall what God told Ananias about Paul:

“15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16

Paul would suffer. He would suffer just as Christ suffered, until he put away his carnal body.

An apostle who has suffered in the body will reveal the cross; he will reveal the crucified Christ. Hence the Apostle Paul writes:

“From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17)

The Body of Christ. It must be one. The church cannot be like So-and-So. It must be like Christ. It must have the image of Christ, not the image of a man. Throughout the entire world. Through conforming to the image of the crucified Christ, who it is who rose again.

Then the church will be one, showing off the character and riches of Christ in the Spirit.

My final thought is that the church should be extremely wary of anyone who calls themselves an apostle. This is not someone you can invite lightly into your life or church. He must be someone whose life you have examined in the light of Christ and found to fulfill the criteria that the early apostles carried. And we can find them only if we have a heart for God in truth and in the Spirit.

[The great Mara River bridge]

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Of Oxen And Cribs

Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox. Prov. 14:4

A crib here is not the thing where a baby is raised in. According to the context, this particular crib refers to a cow pen or paddock. This is the place where cattle live and sleep. It is their home.

Now, we all know that this is not a particularly clean place. Cattle keep urinating and defecating here all the time. Naturally, this gives the farmer a hard time cleaning out the pens if he has to. In Africa, however, we don’t bother cleaning cattle pens precisely because they are not stationed indoors. The cattle are simply penned in outdoors and there they will comfortably live all their lives. We allow the manure to compact and mature during the dry season and, just before the rains come, we take it out and pile it in the farm to await the planting season.

I have never heard of a clean cattle pen. But, again, the Bible tells us here that a pen can only be clean if there are no cattle living there! In other words, if there are cattle living inside, the pen can never be clean.

The men who wrote the early Wisdom were practical men. They could relate to life in a down-to-earth manner. That being the case, it is true that even in a big house there are bound to be many people, and all these people come with their different habits and characteristics. Without a doubt they are bound to do things that are not pleasing to the owner of the house. But it is also true that they will in turn do many things that are helpful in that house. You cannot have ten people living in your house and it turns out that it is you who is running every errand. The truth is that many, many chores, duties and errands will be accomplished without your knowledge even.

There are many people who opt to live lone lives. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t for one minute defend how we Africans treat our dogs; but I am tempted to believe that many Westerners also have a hidden agenda in their love for their dogs. I think many do so because dogs are easier to cope with than human beings. After all, dogs are so subservient and humans so intractable. But, still, it is human beings that we are called to cope with.

At any rate, most people would rather not dirty their hands or suffer in any way; and yet, with the gospel, we are called to suffer for the gospel’s sake.

That said, notice the word “increase” in that scripture. The Bible says that if the crib is clean, the farmer has no increase or profit; he will experience only loss. Why? It is because there are no oxen in his crib!

These are the same words that our Lord Jesus echoed in Matthew 10:39.

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

In the natural, the more the oxen you have in the stall, the dirtier that stall is bound to get. But then, again, it means you will have more strength in those oxen to accomplish things that will bring you profit.

It is the same in the Spirit.

“… much increase is by the strength of the ox”.

In the Spirit, the more stumbling blocks you meet on your spiritual journey; the more trials and temptations you come across, the more spiritual you are bound to become as a child of God. The stronger spiritually you will become. A weak Christian is one who does not experience challenges to their faith. If you hold onto your life, you will lose it.

It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul said:

“9 … Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

It is only by allowing more trials and tribulations into our lives for the sake of the gospel that we will develop that inner spiritual strength needed to please and serve the Lord in the Spirit.

[It is for this reason that I, too, would not want to know any other gospel than that which was preached by the Apostle Paul: Jesus Christ, and Him crucified]

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