BOOK ONE: THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD

 

KINGDOM DYNAMICS

THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD

Femi Aribisala
HEALING WINGS

CHRISTIAN VIDEO NETWORK MINISTRIES

 

 

KINGDOM DYNAMICS: THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD

By Femi Aribisala

Published by Healing Wings

Christian Video Network Ministries

12 Festival Road, VictoriaIsland,

Lagos, Nigeria.

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By Thomas Nelson, Inc., publishers.  Used by permission.

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Copyright © 2005 by Femi Aribisala

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“Listen, O coastlands, to me, and take heed, you peoples from afar! The Lord has called me from the womb; from the matrix of my mother he has made mention of my name.  And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he has hidden me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver he has hidden me.  And he said to me, ‘you are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’”

(Isaiah 49:1-3)

FOREWORD

 

Is it possible to write seven books and not know you have written them?  With man it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.

I was feeling down and low.  I felt trapped and hemmed in.  My wife locked us up in the bathroom.  I sat with her on the edge of the bathtub and cried unto God.  “Help me out.  I have reached the end of my strength.  Give me something.  I need something to hold on to.”

That night, the Lord woke me up at two o’clock in the morning and told me that I had written a book.  Within four hours, he put together a jigsaw puzzle of different things that he had made me write.  They provided the basis of what you have here today.

All the glory belongs to him.

I also want to thank those he used to assist me.  My wife, Karen King, is the award-winning writer in the family.  On more than two occasions, she salvaged this project with incisive criticism that made all the difference.  To my niece, Yemisi Ogbe, I owe a debt of gratitude for her editorial skills.  And to Martins Hile, who painstakingly proofread the chapters, may the Lord himself reward you.

 

Dear Holy Spirit, this book is about you and about your ways.  According to the prophecy that you have given me about it, so let it be.

Femi Aribisala

Healing Wings, Chapel of Faith

Lagos, Nigeria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

 

Foreword…….………………………………………………… ……………………………4

Introduction..…..…………………………………………………………..…………..…6

1     Seeing the Kingdom……………………………………………………………..….…8

2   Another Kingdom.………………………………………………….…………..….…18

3    Kingdom Dynamics……………..…………………………………………..…….…25

4    The Foolishness of God……………………………………………………..……….. 29

5    The Contradictions Of Faith………….………………………………………………38

6    Fake Kings………………….……………….………………………………………..48

7    The Kingdom Suffers Violence…..………….……………………………..………..59

8    The End Justifies the Mean……..………….…………………………………..………70

9    Riches in Glory….…………………………………………………………….……….80

10  Giving Without Receiving…..………….…………………………………..……..…87

11  Living on God’s Promises…..………….…………………………………………….97

12  Abasing to Abound…..…………..……………………………………….………….105

13  Winning by Losing……………….………………………………………………….110

14  The Power of Failure….…………………………………….……………………….120

15  The Work of Faith….……………………………………………………………….127

16  Redemptive Injustice….…………………………………………………….………140

17  Justification of the Ungodly……………………………………………….………..148

18  The Glory of Infirmities…..………….…………………………………………….159

19  The Blessing of Trouble……………….…………………………………………….171

20  Amazing Grace…….………….……………………………………………………..184

21  Written Identity…..……………………………………………………….…………194

   INTRODUCTION

 

I was born again to write this book.  It is only appropriate that it should be the very first book that I should write.  In the first place, it is about the kingdom of God, and I cannot think of anything more important than that.  In the second place, this book came by divine revelation.  As Paul said to the Galatians church:

I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:11-12)

No man ever told me what I am going to tell you in these pages.  What I have written here is not according to man.  I did not receive it from man.  I was not taught it.  But it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

I was not a prophet; neither was I the son of a prophet.  I did not meet the Lord until I was forty-one years old.  But I met him in person and not on the pages of the bible.  And I have had a personal relationship with him ever since.

I am the most unlikely person to write such a book as this.  I was an academic by training and by disposition.  I obtained a Masters degree from the School of Advanced International Studies of the JohnsHopkinsUniversity in WashingtonD.C., United States, and a Doctorate in International Relations from OxfordUniversity, Oxford, England.  For over fifteen years I was a Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos.  And for some time, I was Special Adviser to the Minister of External Affairs, Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I have never been to any formal BibleSchool or attended any Theological Seminary.  But one day, the Lord revealed himself to me and in me.  Since then, I have not looked back.  I have dropped everything to serve him.  Like Mary, I have been sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning from the Master himself.  The word of God says that God himself shall teach us. (Jn 6:45) All that I know, I have learnt from him.  Therefore, I want you to know that flesh and blood did not reveal anything that I am going to share with you in these pages.  But the Lord himself did.

For this reason, I am going to tell you something true and fresh.  I received it over a period of ten years in the wilderness with God.  It is so extensive that it is not going to take just one book to tell it all.  And so I have designed this book, in the first instance, to be in seven parts.  What you have here is only the first part.  By the time you have finished reading this, I am sure you will need no convincing about reading the others.

Femi Aribisala

Healing Wings, Chapel Of Faith

Lagos. 

Chapter 1

SEEING THE KINGDOM OF GOD

 

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you,

unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

(John 3:3)

When I had just given my life to Christ, I became so open to the spirit world.  Once I was in an anointed environment, my left leg would start to shake visibly.  This initially gave me great concern because I knew that I was not the one moving my leg.  Then one day, an inner voice said to me: “Ask me anything you want, and I will answer you by shaking your leg.  If the answer is yes, I will shake your leg.  If the answer is no, I will not.”

And so began this absolutely amazing process whereby I would ask a question in my mind and the answer would be provided through my leg.  Let us say, for example, that I was looking for my wristwatch.  I would ask my invisible friend: “Is it in the bedroom?”  If the answer were yes, my left leg would move up and down.  If the answer were no, there would be no movement.  Once I got to the right room, I would use the same question-and-answer process to identify the precise location of the watch.

This was all so very exciting until my invisible friend started giving me the wrong answers.  When I got to the place he identified, the thing would not be there.  And when I wondered why it was now giving me the wrong answers at times, it would tell me: “You are not supposed to question the Holy Spirit, you are just supposed to obey.”  After a while, I became confused, and really did not know what to make of this “holy spirit.” 

Then one day, my Pastor, Pastor Olukolade, came to see me.  He told me that the Lord revealed to him in a dream that the devil was laughing at me, boasting that he would drive me mad.  The Pastor said that the Lord would like me to fast for three days.  If I did, he would reveal certain things to me personally.

I was very irritated by the Pastor.  I did not initially make a connection between his revelation and my “holy spirit.”  I felt that this was what was wrong with these Pastors.  They are always seeing idiotic visions about other people. 

I was convinced that the Pastor wanted me to fast for malicious reasons.  Indeed, he knew that we would be travelling inter-state to Igbajo that weekend for the burial of my Sister-in-Law’s mother.  So he made a point of telling me that I should not eat anything during the feast that would be laid out at the funeral.  I said to myself: “These men just like to control other people’s lives.”  But I thank God that, in spite of my qualms, I decided to fast.  I felt I would lose nothing by fasting, and I must confess, I gained a lot.

Something strange and wonderful happened on the way to Igbajo.  I was sitting at the back of the car, reading my bible.  But every time I looked up, I would notice that the driver was driving too fast.  I warned him that all the members of my family were with me in the car and that he should not go above one hundred kilometres per hour.  However, once I went back to my reading, he would speed up again.  This ding-dong went on for a while with me looking up every so often and reprimanding him.

Then all of a sudden, the Lord took me out of the vehicle.  Whether in the body or out of the body, I don’t know.  But I was on top of the car looking down and I saw angels surrounding the car in formation and flying with us.  Then just as quickly, I was back in the car, with the bible in my lap.

From that time, I stopped bothering about the driver’s speeding and simply concentrated on my reading.  I am not telling you that you can drive at any speed you like.  I am just telling you about the grace that I received from the Lord on that particular occasion.

Then when I came back from the funeral, on the third day of my fast, I was sitting in my study all by myself, and something absolutely mind-blowing happened.  The power of God suddenly overshadowed the room, and the Lord started to talk to me.  What was so dramatic about this, and it has never happened to me since that time, is that the voice came from “heaven.”  It did not come from within me.  It came from somewhere in the ceiling.

The Lord told me to take a pen and write down what he wanted to tell me.  And there started from that day a recurring teaching from the Lord about the Kingdom of God.

The Lord said to me: “Femi, there are two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.  Everybody you are ever going to meet will come from one of these two kingdoms.  It is your responsibility to determine which kingdom the people you meet are from.  If the person is from the kingdom of your father, you must determine why I want you to meet him.  Every person you meet, you will meet for a reason, and you will meet by appointment.  Nothing that will ever happen to you will be coincidental.  Nothing will ever happen to you by happenstance.  Everything that will happen in your life will happen for a reason.  It is your responsibility to determine precisely what the reason is.”

As I was trying to write this down, I was covered with tears in my study.  I wept uncontrollably, because I could not believe why God would be giving me such privileged information.  What did I do to deserve this kind of visitation?  What did I do to deserve such a private tutorial on life?  I was completely overwhelmed.

This is an absolutely amazing kingdom dynamic that goes to the heart of God’s providence.  It means that everything about your life is working to a script: God’s script.  As David told God by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:

You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book! (Ps 139:16 TLB)

It means that if you stand on the street and a car passes by, it did not just happen.  The car was “programmed” to pass by.  Everything, and I mean everything, is by divine contrivance.  God leaves nothing to chance.  It is so complicated; it is mind-boggling.  If you think the World Wide Web is intricate and elaborate, think again.  God weaves the lives of everyone together as a weaver does the threads of a cloth.  Combined, they are all designed to form a particular pattern.

Just think; there are over six billion people alive today.  In your lifetime, you are unlikely to meet even fifty thousand of them.  Of all the people in the world, why do you meet the few that you meet?  Take a second look at the choice of the disciples, for example.  Do you get the impression that Jesus just chose a random twelve?  So how come Judas was one of them?  Did he make a mistake?  Surely, every single person was chosen to play a pre-assigned role.

Look again at this episode in the bible:

As he was walking along, he saw a man blind from birth.  “Master,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?”  “Neither,” Jesus answered.  “But to demonstrate the power of God.  All of us must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent me, for there is little time left before the night falls and all work comes to an end.” (Jn 9:1-4 TLB)

According to the revelation of Jesus, everything that happens is for a reason.  God’s purposes were served even by this man’s blindness.  He was blind in order that he might be healed and that God would thereby be glorified.

There is a simple kingdom dynamic in all this.  Understand it; internalise it.  God leaves nothing to chance.  Nothing about your life is haphazard.  Since Jesus died for you, you must know that you are too important to God for him to just leave your life at the whims and caprices of the devil.  Neither are you under situations and circumstances; Jesus has lifted you far above them.  Every little detail of your life is important.  So take nothing for granted.  God is not only in the picture when you go to church.  He is in the picture when you are in the shower, when you are at work, when you are crossing the road, when you are at the market.  God is all in all.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending.  He is the Almighty.

God knows everything about you.  Before you were formed in the belly, he knew you.  He knows you much more than you know yourself.  When God calls a man, he uses not only his strengths but also his weaknesses.  God uses the complete man.  While our strengths and abilities make us useful: our weaknesses make us usable.  Our failures and shortcomings serve to remind us that we need God in our lives.

The life of a man is like a jigsaw puzzle that God assembles.  That jigsaw includes every word you are going to speak on earth.  It includes everything you are going to do.  That is why you could not have been born in another century.  You could not have been anywhere else except where you are right now.  You could not have been doing anything else right now except reading this book. 

Without interfering with your free will, God puts you in a particular space where your dispositions are precisely suited to his will.  It is like acting in a play.  The Director told you that you could say whatever you liked, and do whatever you wanted in this scene.  But he foreknew you.  He knew your character; he knew your inclinations.  He knew that if you saw a woman being raped, you would not stand idly by.  He knew that if you saw an old man walking across the road, you would be inclined to help him.  So he told you: “Be yourself.”  But by being yourself, you acted exactly according to his script, because he had contrived everything fearfully and wonderfully. 

The bible affirms that:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; he turns it wherever He wishes. (Prov 21:1)

This shows that there is no situation that God cannot affect and change and there is no heart that is immune to his power.  God has full control over the heart of your parents.  He has perfect control over the heart of your boss.  He has full control over the heart of your teacher.  He has perfect control over the heart of your neighbour.  Therefore:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Php 4:6-7)

Once, the Police arrested my Business Manager, Ernest Oboh, on trumped up charges.  I had to go to the station to see what I could do.  Before I left, I said a short prayer asking God for help.  I asked him for the favour of God and the favour of man.  When I got to the Police Station, I spoke to the arresting officer.  The man listened to me intently for a few minutes and then asked that my Manager be released.  Then he gave me his reasons.

He said to me: “I am releasing him for three reasons.  I am releasing him because I have a lot of respect for people who have grey hair, and you have a lot of it.  I am releasing him because I understand that you have a doctorate, and I just have lots of respect for people who have doctorates.  I am releasing him because you are a Pastor, and I just have a lot of respect for Pastors.”

I told the officer: “I am sorry to disagree with you.  You are not releasing him because of any of those reasons.  You are releasing him because before I came here I went down on my knees and prayed and asked God to give me favour.”

You see, right from the beginning of that episode, God brought the case to a man whose mind he had already prepared to be sympathetic to me.  All the issues about grey hairs and doctorates were simply the devices of God.  Somebody else could have hated me precisely because my hair was grey, and he could have hated me for having a doctorate.

A number of years ago, some Liberian refugee members of our fellowship were arrested for “loitering,” and we had to go to the police station to secure their release.  So we knelt down and asked God to take control.  When we got to the Police Station, we were directed to the office of the Divisional Commander.  Immediately I walked into his office, I saw the kingdom of God.  His office was all about Jesus.  All over the walls were posters and slogans affirming the supremacy of Christ.  When I sat down, I told the DCO: “I see, Sir, that you are a Christian.”  In answer to that question, he and I started sharing testimonies about the goodness of the Lord.  This went on for some thirty minutes, after which he suddenly said: “By the way, why have you come to see me?”  I told him that some members of our fellowship were arrested for “loitering,” and I wanted to see if I could secure their release.

The policeman was angry.  “For loitering!” he exclaimed.  He not only directed that they be released immediately, but that those who arrested them should be locked up.

Beloved, recognise this: God has planted his people everywhere as salt and as light.  He told Elijah that he had in Israel reserves of the righteous who had not bowed down to Baal. (1 Ki 19:18)  He told Paul not to be afraid to preach in Corinth because he had many people strategically placed in the city. (Acts 18:10).  Therefore Paul himself assured the Romans that God has a reservation of godly and righteous men even in this dark world. (Rm 11:5)

God uses everything.  He uses the good, the bad and the ugly.  He works all things together for good.  Therefore, gather up all the fragments of your life, nothing will be lost.  Everything about your life is for a reason.  No detail is overlooked.  No episode is insignificant.  Go and read the bible.  You will find that God is a God of meticulous and punctilious detail.  He does not miss a beat.

I spent nine years in the university.  Another sixteen years pursuing a career.  Then suddenly God stepped in with his own completely different agenda.  He asked me to drop everything and preach the gospel.  So what was the point of my B.A., my M.A. and my Ph.D.?  It is easy to think that all those were now wasted.  But now I know that every little thing that I did previously is completely relevant to what I am doing now. 

Therefore, I say again, “gather up the fragments, that nothing may be lost.”  The Good Shepherd who is determined that no fragments of bread and fish should be lost is unlikely to lose any sheep.  Neither is the Almighty likely to lose any fragment of your precious life.

Therefore, the word of God says: In everything give thanks.” (1 Thes 5:18)  Thank God for the promotion you missed.  Had you obtained it, it might have been your ruin.  Thank God for your brother who died, had he lived longer he might have lost his salvation.  Thank God for the man who ditched you.  Had you married him, you would have lived a life of agony.  Thank God for the exam you failed because you failed it for a reason.  Take nothing for granted.  In every situation, go to the loving Father and ask him: “Dear Father, what are you saying to me through this situation?  What is it that you want me to learn through this delay?  What are you trying to teach me through this adversity?”  That is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

 

The same night that the Lord started teaching me about his kingdom, he gave me a dream.  In the dream, I was driving a big car.  It was like one of those long tail-finned American cars and my son, Femi, was with me.  There was a lady who came to my side of the car.  She knocked on the window and leaned down as if she wanted to talk to me.  I wound down the window, and the next thing I knew the car was gone.  It would appear that it must have been snatched, but all I know is that I was no longer in the car.  I was now walking hand-in-hand with my son, full of joy and gladness, along Kingsway Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.  And I just knew that Kingsway Road was the way of salvation, and that we were going down the road purposefully and joyfully.  It did not matter that we were no longer in the luxurious car.

And then the Lord shouted something in my ear.  That shout was not in the dream and it was not a dream.  The shout was in my natural ear, as if someone leaned down beside me on the bed and shouted into my ear.  The Lord said: “Matthew 13: 13-16.”  I opened my eyes and quickly got up.  I was concerned that I should not forget the bible passage that he gave me.  But I have never forgotten it.  It reads: 

“Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’  But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.” (Mt 13:13-16)

I was petrified while reading this scripture.  When I read about hearts that have grown dull, ears that are hard of hearing, and eyes that are closed, I was convinced that I was in trouble.  My heart was thumping in my chest.  Until I got to the verse where it reads: “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”  And so I say to everyone reading this book.  Blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear, for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you are going to see, and did not see it, and to hear what you are going to hear, and did not hear it. (Mt 13:16-17)

You may well ask what all this has to do with the shaking of my leg.  In the first instance, the Lord was congratulating me for the deception.  He said, in effect, that the reason I was deceived was because, finally, I could see and I could hear.  When you are open to the spirit world, you are open both to the good and to the evil: both to God and to demons.  That is why it is imperative not only to know the power of God but also to know the scriptures in order that you may not follow a stranger or know the voice of strangers.  Later, the Lord would explain to me that the reason why my body shook in an anointed environment was because I was not yet spiritually developed enough to retain the anointing that he had in store for me.  And I quickly severed all links with my deceiving “holy spirit.” 

Over the years, the Lord has continued to teach me personally and privately about the kingdom of God.  That is what I intend to share with you in these books on Kingdom Dynamics.  Years may go by but he would just show up and continue the teaching as if the last time he spoke to me about the topic was yesterday.  Let me highlight one particular teaching of the Lord at this stage. 

My oldest brother, Bayo, left Nigeria without telling anyone where he was going.  He did not tell our aged parents, his wife or his children.  And he did not tell Biodun and me, his brothers.  Moreover, he communicated with no one thereafter, so we did not know his whereabouts.  When our parents died one after the other, we had no way of reaching him.  His safety became a matter of great concern.  All we could do was to commit him to God in prayer, which was more than enough.

Some six years later, we got word that he was sighted in Gambia.  I had to attend the funeral of a member of our church in Sierra Leone, so I decided to take the opportunity to go to Gambia to see if I could find him.  The person who told us about him gave us the address of a street-corner shop in Serrekunda, Gambia.  It was not difficult to find and I was directed to a barbershop where I met a Nigerian man.  He told me that my brother had been living with him for years, but that several months prior to my arrival he left Serrekunda for a place called Basse.  I thought Gambia was a small country, but he assured me that Basse was nine hours from Serrekunda by road.  I told him that since I had come all the way from Nigeria, I would have no choice but to go to see him in Basse.  But the man told me that that would not be possible.  My brother had left no forwarding address.  “So where would you look?” he asked.

I concluded that my trip to Gambia was in vain.  I checked into a hotel and told the Lord: “It looks like you brought me to Gambia just so I can spend a quiet time with you.” 

But the day after I arrived in Gambia, the Lord woke me up early in the morning.  Out of the blue, he said: “Femi, let me tell you about the kingdom of God.”  And so he started another session teaching me about kingdom dynamics.

I was an intellectual who came to God through a divine revelation.  As a result, I was afraid initially that one day my intellect would confound my faith.  I did not stop being intellectual because I gave my life to Christ, but in so many ways my faith had confounded my intellect.  However, I was afraid that one day I would read something or see something that would contradict my intellect and my faith would be shattered.  I was afraid, for example, that I would discover intellectually that some part of the bible was false.  How then would I handle it?

I am told, for example, of a man who left the faith because of what he perceived to be conflicting reports on Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus.  Mark 10:46 and Matthew 20:29 state that Jesus healed Bartimaeus as he went out of Jericho.  However, Luke 18:35 states that Jesus healed him as he came near to Jericho.  The man apparently decided that if God could not make up his mind whether he healed Bartimaeus as he went out of Jericho or as he came to Jericho, then God was unreliable.  Someone ought to have told the man that Luke 19:1 also stated that Jesus entered and passed through Jericho, which might explain what seemed to be the conflict.

  

One of those things that I saw which confounded my intellect was the Lord’s statement in Luke 9:27 that many of those listening to him would not die until they saw the kingdom of God.  Well, I thought, but all his disciples are dead.  According to church history, all but one was martyred.  And yet, the kingdom of God has still not arrived.  After all, the church is still following the prayer guide of the Lord, which says “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, to whom was Jesus referring?  Who among his disciples did not taste of death until they saw the coming of God’s kingdom?  Could Jesus have got it wrong?  How could he have got it wrong?  Jesus is not merely truthful; he is the truth.  Moreover, he deliberately prefaced his statement by saying: “I tell you of a truth.” 

 

So that morning in the Gambia, the Lord brought up this little question of my fears.  He said: “Femi, you have been wondering what I meant in Luke 9:27.  You have been asking who among my disciples did not taste of death until he saw the coming of the kingdom of God?  You said all the disciples are dead and the kingdom of God has still not arrived.  So what could I have meant?  Let me answer your question now.  Those who were alive after my death and resurrection, and who became born again at, or after the Pentecost, saw the kingdom of God in their lifetime.  Look at what I said to Nicodemus in John 3:3.  I said ‘unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  Once a man is born again, he can see the kingdom of God.  The disciples were born again, so they saw the kingdom of God.  What I want to do this morning is to show you the kingdom of God since you also are born again.” 

And so the Lord said to me: “Femi, let me show you the kingdom of God.”  And just then, the telephone in my hotel room rang.  The Lord said: “Answer the phone.”  When I picked up the phone, the concierge said: “Dr. Aribisala, your brother would like to talk to you.”  I asked incredulously: “My brother?  From where is he speaking?”  The man replied: “He is right here in the lobby.”  I told him: “I am coming right down.”

I put down the phone and could not believe my ears.  What just happened here? I saw it, as clear as daylight.  The Lord had supernaturally moved my brother all the way from Basse, nine hours away to come down to Serrekunda to meet me.  Bayo never knew I was coming.  As I said, I had not heard from him in over six years.  He had simply decided to come down to Serrekunda to see his friends.  Little did he know that that decision was part of the Lord’s plan to bring him to Serrekunda to meet me.  When he got to the barber’s shop, the gentleman I had spoken to the night before quickly informed him that I had come to Gambia to see him.  And he gave him my hotel address.

There was nothing I could do but to keep my brother waiting in the lobby, while I fell on my knees in my room and worshipped the Lord.

That is how God works.  That is the kingdom of God on the move, in the quiet.  The natural man might call it a coincidence, not knowing that it is God that is at work.  God is at work, and he is at work spiritually.  His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, nevertheless the Most High reigns and rules in the affairs of men.

Are you born again?  If so, can you see the kingdom of God?  Now that you are born again, do you perceive God’s rule?  We are well trained to see the kingdom of darkness.  We see accidents when they happen.  We see people who suffer from all kinds of diseases and ailments.  We see armed robbers going on the rampage.  We see people being hateful, selfish and insensitive.  But do we see the kingdom of God? 

Jesus says God is always working. (Jn 5:17)  God never stops being good.  He is good all day, all week.  The question is: Can you see him at work?  Jesus himself says that he is always observing God the Father.  Whatever he sees the Father doing; so does he. (Jn 5:19-20)  Are you in a position to do the same? 

The problem here is that we often don’t appreciate what we have received spiritually.  Instead of assessing what we have, we often focus on what we don’t have.  I am reminded here, for example, of the case of the widow who came to Elisha for help with the huge debt that her husband had left.  Elisha asked her what she had in the house, and she said she had nothing but a jar of oil. (2 Ki 4:2)  A jar of oil might be nothing to an unbeliever.  But to a believer something, however small, is valuable.  In the kingdom of God, something is always for a purpose.

With the eye of faith, the oil became the anointing and the prophet used it as the basis for the miracle that cleared the widow’s debt and led her into abundance.  By faith, all it took was the jawbone of an ass for Samson to kill one thousand Philistines.  By faith, all it took was five loaves and two fish for Jesus to feed the multitude.  By faith, all it took to bring down the mighty walls of Jericho was one big shout.

Are you born again?  Then once you were blind and now you can see.  Don’t allow your vision to grow dim.  There are some things that you used to see before that you are no longer seeing.  Believe me, if you saw them before, then they were real. 

Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.  For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.  Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2:2-4)

Chapter 2

ANOTHER KINGDOM

 

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

(John 18:36)

A man was arraigned before a tribunal for trying to overthrow the government.  But when they started interrogating him, they discovered that he had no interest whatsoever in a coup d’etat.  They found instead that he was interested in overthrowing some imaginary government that people did not even know existed.  The obvious conclusion was that the man was either mad or confused.  The judge simply threw out the case.  “This man,” he said, “is not a threat to anybody whatsoever.  If anything, he can only be a threat to himself.”

This is a parable of the case of Jesus Christ.  They arraigned him before the highest civil authority in the land, Pontius Pilate, on the grounds that he was a coup plotter.  This man, they claimed, wants to overthrow Caesar.  He says he is the king of the Jews, when we have no other king but Caesar.  He is trying to mobilise people to have allegiance to a completely different king.  He does not even want people to pay taxes to Caesar.

Jesus’ case was a peculiar one.  This was the case of a man who was accused for being good.  Jesus was an evildoer because he went about being good.  In this evil world, the good are condemned and the evil applauded.  Jesus was condemnable for healing the sick, for delivering the demon-possessed and for caring for the people.  In his trial, they should have called as witnesses against him those who he cured and healed, as well as those he delivered from demonic oppression.  But of course they did not.  Instead they accused him of trying to overthrow the Roman Government.

But why did they make this kind of false accusation against Jesus?  Why did they accuse a righteous man of being a coup plotter in order to have him face the firing squad?

They accused Jesus of being a coup plotter precisely because he refused to be one.  If some people are planning a coup in the army and they tell you about it but you don’t want to join them, then you are in trouble.  They have to eliminate you because if you don’t join them you might expose them.  Every time Jesus preached, he exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the Priests and the scribes.  If this was allowed to continue unchecked, they felt that they would lose their position of respect among the people.  Soon, they would have to start buying and cooking their own food, and paying for their own rent.  People would stop giving them any money.

The first person who tried to recruit Jesus for the purposes of the kingdoms of this world was the devil.  In the temptation in the wilderness, he required Jesus to choose the kingdoms of the world over the kingdom of God.  The devil showed him the glories of the kingdoms of the world, promising to give them all to him if he would worship him.  But what exactly are those glories?  The glory of the world is sin.  It is sickness.  It is pain.  It is vanity upon vanities.  The dominion of the world comes with the price of the compromise with evil.  Jesus would have no part in it.

The Jewish people were also determined to make Jesus a political and worldly king.  They saw the miracles that he performed and were impressed.  Not even Moses performed those kinds of miracles.  No man, reasoned Nicodemus, could perform such miracles unless God were with him.

So they wanted Jesus to use those miracles to bring them out of Roman bondage, even as Moses used miracles to deliver the Israelites of old from Egyptian bondage.  But since he refused to meet their carnal expectations, they decided to accuse him of what they were themselves guilty of: disaffection, revolt and rebellion against the Roman government.

But why was Jesus disinterested in overthrowing the Roman government?  Clearly, it was an unrighteous government.  Would the world not have been a better place without the evil Roman Empire?  Jesus was disinterested because his assignment was to overcome the world and not to change it.  Jesus came into the world in order to witness about the kingdom of God and not to reform the kingdoms of the world.

The kingdom of God differs greatly from the kingdoms of the world.  It is not   a kingdom of earthly splendour and force, but a spiritual kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Rm 14:17)  The kingdoms of the world are defended by force of arms.  Kings maintain armies and fight wars.  If the kingdom of Jesus had been of this kind, he would have mobilised the multitude that followed him and also raised an army.  He would not have been unarmed and unguarded in Gethsemane.  And it would have been impossible to arrest him without a fight.

But the kingdom of God neither needs nor uses secular force to maintain and advance its interests. Moreover, as a spiritual kingdom, it was validated more in the death of its ruler, Jesus Christ, than in his life.  Thereby, what would have been the destruction of a worldly kingdom was shown to be the advancement of the kingdom of God and of his Christ.  Once you killed President Abacha of Nigeria, his rule was over.  Once you overthrew President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, his regime was over.  But after they killed Christ, they were confronted with an even greater force than they had ever imagined.  They discovered that they were no longer dealing with one man, but were now dealing with a large and growing multitude.  That is why Gamaliel gave a pointed advice to the Sanhedrin concerning the disciples of Christ:

            “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it— lest you even be found to fight against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)

The kingdom of God is an everlasting kingdom.  It is a kingdom that can neither be hindered nor overthrown.  Daniel noted that it is a kingdom which shall not pass away, and which shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:14)  It is a kingdom that is always on the move.  It is always advancing and cannot be stopped. (Isa 9:7)  From just Jesus and twelve disciples, there are now billions of people who believe in Jesus Christ and are citizens of the kingdom of God.  And it is a kingdom that will ultimately consume all other kingdoms. (Dan 2:44) 

By the time Pilate interviewed Jesus, it was soon clear to him that Jesus was not a threat in the way that the Jews had accused him.  Although Jesus admitted to Pilate that he was indeed a king, he told him that his kingdom was not of this world.  Since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:50), Jesus was not interested in setting up a physical kingdom.  He was only interested in setting up a spiritual kingdom that rules and reigns over the hearts and the minds of men.

The kingdom of Jesus Christ is a kingdom of truth.  It is a kingdom that reveals the truth.  Jesus is the fountain of truth.  It is by him and through him that God’s truth is communicated to men.  The prophets of old spoke exclusively by his inspiration.  His gospel is the “gospel of truth;” the only means divinely provided for the salvation of man.  As John the Baptist observed, no man has ever actually seen God.  But Jesus Christ the Son of God, who is the companion of God the Father, is the only one who can tell us the real truth about him. (Jn. 1:18).

The kingdom of God exercises dominion over men simply by revealing the truth to them.  By the presentation of the truth, the gospel of the kingdom of God convicts the unrighteous, restrains the wicked, and leads the sinner to repentance.  Men are not forced or compelled to believe the gospel.  But by the power of God’s truth they are made to see that they are sinful and that God is merciful.  They are made to see that they need a redeemer, and that Jesus is the redeemer.  When this happens, they willingly surrender all and submit themselves whole-heartedly to the rule and reign of King Jesus.

Listen to Paul’s statement about this kingdom dynamic of preaching the gospel of truth:

            “I use God’s mighty weapons, not those made by men, to knock down the devil’s strongholds.  These weapons can break down every proud argument against God and every wall that can be built to keep men from finding him. With these weapons I can capture rebels and bring them back to God and change them into men whose hearts’ desire is obedience to Christ.  I will use these weapons against every rebel who remains after I have first used them on you yourselves and you surrender to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:4-6 TLB)

As the preaching of the gospel reveals the truth of God, people are made free.  As it reveals the truth of God, the blind start to see.  As it reveals the truth of God, the deaf start to hear.  As it reveals the truth of God, spiritual prison doors are opened, and the captives are set free.  Thus, Jesus said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  (Jn 8:32)

It becomes clear, therefore, that the kingdom of God is not a threat in any way to earthly kings and rulers.  It does not in the least interfere with their prerogatives or with their physical dominion over their subjects.   It is neither intended to alter any national government or boundary, nor to confront any secular kingdom.  The kingdom of God only poses a threat to the kingdom of darkness.  Its principal objects are sin and Satan.  As the bible points out:

            He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn 3:8)

This kind of kingdom that Jesus spoke about was of no interest whatsoever to Pilate.  That is why he asked contemptuously: “What is truth?”  And he did not even wait for an answer; he left the room.  He could not be bothered about a kingdom of truth.

This was also the dilemma of Festus, when the matter of Paul was brought to him.  Listen to his presentation of the facts of Paul’s case to king Agrippa:

            “When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.” (Acts 25:18-19)

Festus was baffled that the entire problem arose because a man was dead, but Paul insisted that he was alive.  He clearly felt that the whole matter was idiotic and did not deserve any serious attention.

From talking to Jesus, Pilate realised that, whatever kingdom Jesus was talking about, it could not endanger the Roman Government at all.  To a natural man like Pilate, the kingdom that Jesus was interested in was ridiculous and nonsensical.  Pilate saw Jesus merely as some fanatic, or lunatic, or some confused and misguided fellow who was to be pitied.  The man was innocent and not dangerous.  He claimed to be testifying about some airy-fairy truth that could be of no interest to a sane man.

Pilate was no fool.  He knew that deep down Jesus’ accusers were not interested in defending the Roman government.  The government was maintained over the Jews by the force of arms.  Clearly they would quickly overthrow it if given the least opportunity.  So Pilate knew that the leaders of this same Jewish nation would not be concerned if one of them were trying to set up a rival government.

Pilate felt that the issue was simply a struggle for supremacy among the Jews.  Probably this Jesus was getting too popular, and the Jewish establishment did not like it.  And so Pilate did something devious.  It was the tradition for him to release a prisoner to the Jews during the feast.  Of all the prisoners who were there, Pilate chose a man called Barabbas.  This man was a real coup plotter.  He was an insurrectionist who was in jail because he had organised a revolt against the Roman Government.   Pilate asked the Jews to choose between Jesus and Barabbas.  The crowd asked for the release of  Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Therefore since they asked for the release of a convicted coup plotter, Pilate exposed their hypocrisy.  Nevertheless, since he himself was not particularly interested in the case, he simply washed his hands off it and gave Jesus to them to be crucified.

But the vital question here is whether you also are of the same school as Pilate.  Are you interested in the kingdom of God?  Is it foolishness to you?  Or do you feel it is more realistic to deal with the pressing issues of the kingdom of this world?

Observe that the Israelites had rejected the kingdom of God as far back as at the time of Samuel.  They wanted instead a kingdom of men.  They asked for a human as opposed to a divine king.  They were no different in the days of Jesus.  It appeared that every time Jesus preached about the spiritual kingdom of God, he was making a mockery of the cherished physical kingdom that was the hope of the Jews.  Even his disciples became tired of hearing about this airy-fairy spiritual kingdom.  Once, Peter actually took Jesus aside to advice him against preaching this kind of good news that was clearly bad news:

            From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”  But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt 16:21-23)

Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is about things of God and not about things of men.  If you are sold on the things of this world, then the kingdom of God is not for you.  But if you are interested to learn about the things of God and are prepared to jettison the things of men in its favour, then yours is the kingdom of God.

The truth is that most Christians are not interested in the kingdom of God.  They are primarily interested in the kingdom of men and in the glories of this world.  As long as you preach the kingdom of this world, the church will be filled.  As soon as you preach the kingdom of God, the church is emptied.  If you preach about the kingdom of God, people will accuse you that you don’t want them to prosper.  But if you preach the kingdom of this world, you are considered to be a blessing.

Many see Jesus simply as a tool with which to gain this world.  They use the letter of the gospel to reinforce the assumption that the promise of God is about this world.  When, for example, Jesus talks about giving us the abundant life, they confuse this with the material life.  Never mind the fact that Jesus himself warned that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things that he possesses.  Others point to Jesus’ assertion that:

            “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions- and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mk 10:29-30)

They are quick to seize on the fact that Jesus said the believer would receive a hundredfold “now in this time.”  They insist that this clearly means that the believer would not have to wait until he gets to heaven to enter into his glorious inheritance.  However, they overlook two critical aspects of this scripture.  First, Jesus says the believer has to leave house, relations and lands for the sake of the gospel.  Like the rich young ruler, many are not inclined to do that.  Secondly, they fail to understand that it is impossible to receive physically a hundredfold houses and brothers and sisters and lands.  I know of no believer who has.  The inheritance that Jesus is talking about is one hundred percent spiritual, and it can only be spiritual.

It is similar to Nicodemus trying to understand physically the concept of being born again spiritually.  “Would I have to go back into my mother’s womb to be born a second time?” he asked incredulously.  By the same token, if I am to inherit a hundredfold of mothers and fathers, would I be born physically a hundred times by different fathers and mothers?  If I am to inherit a hundredfold of brothers and sisters, would my parents have to start having children again?  Would they have to bear one hundred sons and one hundred daughters?  How long would they have to live in order to achieve that?  What happens in the case of someone like me whose father and mother are already dead?

This brings to mind the episode where Jesus declared that he is the bread of life.  He told the people that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood, they would have no life in them.  The people felt that this was an invitation to cannibalism and wondered how Jesus could give them his flesh to eat.  Jesus was at pains to explain to them that he was speaking spiritually and not literally:

            “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (Jn 6:63)

Therefore, Paul warns that the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:6)  Indeed, once a man gave his life to Christ, Paul did not stop praying for him.  Instead, he would intensify his prayers so that the new believer would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. (Col 1:9)  That way, he would be inclined to compare spiritual things with the spiritual and not with the natural.

The houses, the fathers, the brothers and the lands that we are to receive as believers in this lifetime are all spiritual.  They are all in Christ.  That is why in the church we refer to people as brother this and sister that.  As a believer, you now have so many mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in the Lord.  Not only that, you become heir of all things by being the heir of God. 

When Jesus’ disciples wondered why he was often speaking to the people in parables, he answered that it was because he knew that they would not understand what he was talking about, since it was about the kingdom of God, and not about the kingdom of men.  Then he explained to them this kingdom dynamic:

            “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”    (Mt 13:11-12)

I put it to you that most churches do not preach the kingdom of God.  The reason is that it has not been given to them to know its mysteries.  Most churches preach the kingdom of this world.  The gospel is seen erroneously as a means of gaining the world.  They preach that gain is godliness, whereas godliness with contentment is great gain.  They tell you how to prosper in the world, even though the bible clearly states that it is the ungodly who prosper in the world. (Ps 73:12)  They will tell you that what Christ has in store for you are earthly riches and that the abundant life is all about driving Pathfinders and building beautiful houses.  They will tell you all these things because it has not been given to them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.

Pilate was the Governor, the highest secular authority in the land, but it was not given unto him to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  Caiaphas was the High Priest, the highest spiritual authority in the land, but it was not given unto him to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  It was necessary for Jesus to witness about the kingdom of God to these two men in positions of authority, even though they failed to appreciate what he was talking about.  That is why Paul wrote to Timothy, pointing out that Jesus witnessed a good confession. (1 Tim 6:13)

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Pastors and the church leaders in the time of Jesus, did not know the mysteries of the kingdom of God because it was not given to them.  That is why Jesus said to Nicodemus: “I thought that you are supposed to be a respected teacher of the Jews, so how come you don’t know these things?”  Jesus has come to give sight to the blind and to give blindness to the seeing.  In the same way that many in the church were ignorant about the kingdom of God in the days of Jesus, so are many in the church ignorant about the kingdom of God today.  Therefore, these books on Kingdom Dynamics are designed to ensure that you know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.

Chapter 3

KINGDOM DYNAMICS

 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55:8-9)

 

 

I was invited to conduct a Bible Study at Victory Parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.  The topic was “The Names of God.” It was a big topic and the allotted time was so short that by the end of the session I had only managed to cover half of my notes.  As I went to sit down, the Pastor announced that I would have to come back to complete the study.  The Lord was talking to me too.  He said: “I am asking you to return because you have not done a good job.  You have treated it as you would an academic presentation.  But the teaching of my word is not an academic exercise.  The teaching of my word is with the demonstration of my Spirit and of my power.”  Two weeks later, over thirty people in the congregation were healed.  The Lord told me to ask all those who were touched by his power to give a public testimony.

What is the definition of kingdom dynamics?  This is not an academic exercise.  This is not an academic book.  Kingdom dynamics simply means the ways of God and the ways of his kingdom.  God’s ways are so odd and unique that there must be a special way of identifying their peculiarity.  God says “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Jesus goes even further to reveal that the ways of God are not only different from, but often diametrically opposite to, those of man.  He insists that:

What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Lk 16:15)

This means that if man thinks something is black, God is likely to consider it to be white.  If man thinks that something is good, God is likely to consider it to be bad.  Or if man thinks something is beautiful, God is likely to consider it to be ugly.

Let me put this even more graphically.  If man establishes a university and says that the first one hundred pupils in the exam would be admitted, then know that in God’s university it is the last one hundred pupils that would be admitted.  Or if man has an Olympic games and gives the gold medal to the person who comes first, then be sure that in God’s Olympic games the gold medal would be given to the person who comes last.

God seems to violate deliberately every human yardstick and criterion.  This inclination was a matter of great fascination to Solomon, who noted that:

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill. (Eccl 9:11)

When God sent Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the new king of Israel, Samuel forgot that he was not acting on behalf of a man.  He immediately jumped to the conclusion that Eliab, the oldest, tallest and most distinguished son, was the Lord’s choice.  But the Lord quickly corrected him:

“Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

The kingdom of God is designed to bring about a radical transformation of the human or world order.  For this reason, God works in contradictions, creating a reversal of fortunes:

The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up.  The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and lifts up.” (1 Sam 2:6-7)

According to the counsel of God, the rich are going to become poor and the poor are going to become rich.  Therefore, if you are rich be considerate.  Use your riches wisely for the time of poverty is coming.  If you are poor take heart, the time of enrichment is coming.  Let the weak say that they are strong, and let the strong realise that by strength no man can prevail.  The first must become last and the last become the first.  The older shall serve the younger, and the master shall become the slave.

John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, prophesied that: 

Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isa 40:4-5)

Observe that the glory of the Lord cannot be revealed until every valley is exalted and every mountain and hill brought low. 

Accordingly, every advantage in the world becomes a disadvantage in the kingdom of God.  Likewise every disadvantage in the world becomes an advantage in the kingdom of God. Every mountain of beauty, wealth, position, brains, skill, background or pedigree shall be brought low.  Every valley of ugliness, poverty, lowliness, stupidity, lack of skills, lack of education, or lack of social status shall be exalted.  At the end of the age, God has promised that:

“All the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the LORD, have spoken and have done it.” (Eze 17:24)

It also means that everything will be renewed.  God is determined to wipe the slate clean and begin all over again.  Therefore he says:

            “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isa 43:18-19)

Indeed, to enter into the kingdom of God, every man has to begin all over again.  As Jesus told Nicodemus:

“Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3)

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount turns everything on its head.  It is the poor in spirit who are enriched by the inheritance of a kingdom more glorious than all the thrones on the earth.  It is the meek who renounces self-aggrandisement who ends up by inheriting the earth.  It is those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (and not earthly riches) who are filled.

In the kingdom of God, the way up is down.  In order to win you have to lose. (Php 3:7-8)  In order to succeed you have to fail.  In order to abound, you have to abase.  In order to be a master you have to be a slave. (Mt 20:25-28)  In order to be rich, you have to be poor. (1 Sam 2:7)  In order to live, you have to die. (Jn 12:24)  In order to save your life, you have to lose it. (Mt 16:25-26)  And in order to be glorified, you have to endure suffering. (Rm 8:17)   

Is God just determined to be disagreeable?  Not so.  We have to remember that his kingdom was the only kingdom.  The kingdom of God preceded the kingdoms of this world.  But the kingdom of God on earth was given to man to administer, and man ceded the dominion and authority to the devil as a result of sin. 

So it was not God who decided to be contrary.  It was the devil, the ruler of the darkness of this world, who was determined that everything about this world should be the antithesis of the kingdom of God:

            For all that is in the world— the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life— is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 Jn 2:16)

Look around you and you will see that the prevailing way of doing things in this world is ungodly.  The policeman who harasses innocent motorists in order to extort a bribe from them; the mechanic who puts fake parts in a car that he is repairing; the pharmacist who sells fake drugs; the area boys who snatch handbags and steal the mobile-phones of passers-by; the armed robber who snatches cars; the civil servant who demands a bribe for approving government contracts; the lecturer who demands sexual gratification from students in order for them to pass his course; and the student who buys exam papers beforehand.  The world around us is under Satan’s power and control. (1Jn 5:19) 

Therefore, know this for certain.  If it is popular in the world, then it is not of God.  If Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” was the highest selling album of all time, it must be because the devil approved of it.  If Bruce Wilkinson’s book “The Prayer of Jabez” is such a runaway best seller, it must be because the principles it presents are fundamentally ungodly.  If Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ”, is so popular, it must be because it is designed to excite the flesh and not the spirit.  That is how we get the darlings of the world, such as Jerry Springer, Eminem and J. K. Rowling.

Thank God, the ungodly system of the world is not eternal.  The system is temporal; it is passing away.  It is the godly system of the kingdom of God that is going to remain and abide forever.  The plan of salvation involves re-establishing on earth the ways of God.  From its tiny beginnings in Galilee, the kingdom of God has grown on its own to include disciples from all over the world.  The kingdom works from the inside, invisible to the naked eye, but unstoppable in its effects and in its power.  It spreads and bears fruit even though the naked eye cannot see how:

Then he said, “How can I picture God’s kingdom for you?  What kind of story can I use?  It’s like a pine nut that a man plants in his front yard.  It grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches, and eagles build nests in it.”  He tried again.  “How can I picture God’s kingdom?  It’s like yeast that a woman works into enough dough for three loaves of bread- and waits while the dough rises.” (Lk 13:18-21 THE MESSAGE)

Chapter 4

THE FOOLISHNESS OF GOD

 

The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

(1 Corinthians 1:25)

A few years ago, my wife, Karen, was visiting her mother who lives in New York.  When I phoned her, she wanted me to fill her in on the goings on in Lagos.  I said to her: “The Lord has been talking to me about the foolishness of God.  I am going to preach about it during the Sunday service.”  Karen became somewhat apprehensive.  “The foolishness of God?” she enquired.  Femi, make sure that it is God who has been talking to you.”

The preaching of the cross affirms that the most important event that ever happened in the history of mankind was the killing of a humble little Jewish carpenter named Jesus outside Jerusalem about two thousand years ago.  It declares that the shedding of his blood provided atonement for the sins of mankind.  It goes further to state that Jesus not only died on the cross, but rose again to life three days later, and that thenceforth, all those who believe in him have eternal life. 

Paul observes that this:

Message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:18)

But what is so foolish about this story?  Martyrdom is neither easily nor frequently accomplished.  Martyrs are often people of great conviction, even if they are sometimes confused and mistaken.  The most prized possession of a man is his life, and sane men are not prone to lay down their lives with frivolity.  As Jesus himself observed:

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)

There are so many examples of men and women who, in the course of human history have laid down their lives for noble causes.  Many have died and become sources of great inspiration for others.  But no other person but Jesus has died in order to bring eternal salvation for all mankind.

Jesus’ death was a death like no other.  It was a death foreseen and written about hundreds of years before it took place.  Eight hundred years earlier, prophet Isaiah identified its distinction.  He noted that Jesus would not just die for a cause.  In his death, he would bear our grief; in his death, he would carry our sorrows.  He would not die on his own account.  He would not be afflicted as punishment for his own wrongdoings.  But he would be wounded because of our transgressions, and he would be bruised for our iniquities.  He would be sentenced to death because we were guilty.  He would pay the price for us and suffer our punishment.  He would appropriate all the pain and the suffering that we deserved.  Thereby, he would bring healing to our sick lives.  Jesus would willingly become our scapegoat, and the Lord would lay upon him the iniquity of us all. (Isa 53)

The man Jesus himself seemed, at face value, of very little account.  He was born in a manger, ostensibly in Nazareth, a town hardly on the map.  He lived as a carpenter with his mother and his brothers and sisters.  He had no formal education and there was nothing extraordinary about his appearance.  For three years, he went about preaching about a kingdom that was invisible.  In the end, he who was deemed to be the Saviour of the world could not even prevent himself from being killed. 

If God were involved in it, surely he would use a more dignified example to fulfil his purposes.  Surely, he would find a more impressive and majestic person than a lowly Jewish carpenter.  Surely, the God of all the earth could find a better instrument of salvation than the cross, which has proved for many to be a major stumbling block.

If you want people to buy Coca-cola, is it wise to choose a man clearly suffering from a stomach upset as your spokesman?  Or if you want to sell cigarettes, would you be so foolish as to use a man in a hospital bed dying of lung cancer in the advertisement? 

The Jews had expected the Messiah to be a great temporal prince who would restore the kingdom and the glory of Israel.  Therefore, they could hardly believe that Jesus was the Messiah, a man of such humble parentage and background, with no formal credentials and no military experience.  Not only did Jesus not raise an army, he ended up by dying the most contemptible kind of death according to the law- being hanged on a tree.

The Greeks laughed at the absurdity of a saviour who could not save himself.  Their reasoning went something like this.  How could one be expected to trust a condemned malefactor who was crucified with a couple of thieves?  How could one live through someone who died?  How could we be blessed through a man who was made a curse?  How could we be justified by a man who himself was condemned?  Therefore, they would have none of it.

The very manner of preaching the gospel itself seemed nonsensical.  The gospel was not entrusted to philosophers, orators, statesmen or men of power and influence.  Instead a few lowly and uneducated fishermen seemed to be its chief exponents. 

But then wait a minute.  There seems to be a pattern here.  It is a pattern that is very much in evidence everywhere in the Bible, as we shall see.  It is a pattern that speaks of the finger of God.  This pattern is the seeming foolishness of God.  This pattern is what is referred to here as kingdom dynamics.  Time and again, the bible confirms that:

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor 1:27-29)

God has this tendency to operate in contradictions.  He tends to walk exclusively with men who are not wise in their own eyes.  It is the way of God to make somebody out of nobody.  God creates great things out of nothings and he brings salvation out of “foolishness.”

It is little Joseph, despised by his brothers, deceived into slavery, maliciously and treacherously imprisoned, that ended up as Prime Minister of Egypt.  Thereby, he became the means of salvation for the very brothers who had so spitefully used him.  It is little David, the last child of a family of eight, a boy of no account, given the unglamorous assignment of tending sheep, who God used to kill Goliath, and who was anointed as king over the people of Israel.  It is the little Jewish girl Esther who rose from grass to grace to become the Queen of Persia, where she was used by God to save her people from their enemies.

The Bible reveals that the wisdom of God is different from the wisdom of man.  Man cannot acquire the wisdom of God by reasoning.  The gospel is God’s plan for salvation, and it is achieved through the “foolishness of preaching.”  The preaching of the gospel is designed to activate in us faith in Jesus Christ, which satisfies in entirety God’s prerequisite for the salvation of man:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:21-24)

In every high school, there is a child who is regarded as stupid, and who is the butt of jokes and pranks.  In every village, there is an idiot who is held in contempt.  That foolish child, that idiotic villager, is Jesus Christ.  And to that fool, to that idiot, Christ holds out his outstretched hands as Saviour and Redeemer.

In the film, Superman, there is a man called ClarkKent, working in a newspaper-publishing house.  The man is a nincompoop.  He bungles and fumbles everything.  He is an accident about to happen.  But whenever there is a crisis, this man goes into a telephone booth and turns into Superman: a man who flies and performs the most incredible feats.  Nobody knows that the foolish Clark Kent and the heroic Superman are one and the same man.  ClarkKent works in the newspaper office with a girl called Lois Lane.  Lois cannot stand Clark because he is so stupid.  But she is in love with Superman because he is so masculine and self-assured.  Lois does not know that Clark and Superman are one and the same.  Superman is a fictional representation of Jesus Christ.

Certainly, according to the values of the world, it is foolish for a man to know, as Jesus did, that people were out to kill him and to do nothing to prevent it.  It is foolish for a man to know that one of his disciples is a thief and to make that very person his treasurer, as Jesus did with Judas.  Indeed, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he presented the “Beatitudes,” is a lesson in how to be foolish according to the ways of the world.  It is a fool who turns the other cheek when he is slapped.  It is a fool, who prays for his enemies.   It is a fool who glories not in wealth, or position, or ability, but in the death of the man who is supposed to be his saviour.

But the dynamics of the kingdom lie in God’s insistence that only those who agree to be foolish in the world can be wise in Christ and in deed:

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness.” (1 Cor 3:18-19)

The way that seems right to man is completely different from the way that is right in God.  The way that seems right to man is always wrong.  Peter fished all night and caught nothing.  He caught nothing because he fished in his own ability and without faith in Christ.  He did the “right” thing and at the “right” time, but everything failed because it was without faith.  So the next day, Jesus asked Peter to do the “wrong” thing.  He told him to fish in the wrong place at the “wrong” time.  But there would be a fundamental difference this time.  He would believe that he would catch fish.  That belief would not be in doing the right thing.  That belief would be in Jesus Christ. 

And so Peter did the wrong thing by faith and discovered the “righteousness of fishing.”  Peter fished the wrong way by faith and he caught a multitude of fish. The revelation here is that if you believe in Jesus, your belief (that is your faith) will always lead you to the right way and to doing the right things in the sight of God.  That is what the bible means when it says that the righteousness of God is by faith in Jesus Christ.   The right thing to do is always that thing which expresses faith in Jesus Christ.  Therefore when the Jews came to Jesus to ask what they must do so that they too could work the works of God, Jesus told them that all they had to do was to believe in him. (Jn 6:28-29)  There is a clear division of labour here.  It is the business of God to do the work: it is the business of man to believe in Jesus; the doer of the work.

But belief in Jesus is problematic because, being of another kingdom, he is inevitably “a rock of offence” in the kingdoms of this world.  For this reason, the church has been busy reconstructing the biblical image of Jesus.  The preferred portrait is now one of a handsome European-looking man with blue eyes.  Jesus is no longer naked and unashamed, but covered on the cross.  The cross itself has become an ornament that is worn and not a burden that is carried.  The gospel is now preached with the enticing words of man’s wisdom.  We have created in Jesus the beauty that we desire.  As a result, we have ended up with a worldly Jesus and with a worldly faith.

I don’t, as a rule, go to a barber to cut my hair.  I stand in front of the mirror and cut it myself.  But one day, the Holy Spirit challenged me about my reticence in going to the barbing salon.  I was forced to admit that I did not like the shape of my head.  My head is shaped at the back like an egg, and I feel I know best how to hide its funny contours with my hair.  The Lord insisted that my head was exactly the shape that he had given me.  But before I could have the audacity to complain as to why he could not have given me a more attractive head, the Lord asked me one of those strange questions.  He said: “Femi, do you think that Jesus is the most beautiful man that ever lived?”

Somehow, I had naturally assumed that he must have been.  And then I discovered on examination that the Jesus of the bible is remarkably different from the Jesus of our children’s books, and from the Jesus whose portraits now adorn our living rooms.  The real Jesus of Nazareth was physically ugly.     Isaiah had predicted that:

He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. (Isa 53:2)

This means that in all probability, the real Jesus had a big nose and protruding teeth.  He probably had big ears as well.  According to Isaiah, he could not have been big and muscular, but must have been thin and frail.  Even Samson could not have been shaped like a strapping “Mr. Universe,” but must have looked like the average Joe.  If he had big muscles, people would not have wondered where his strength lay.  They would have assumed that it was in those muscles.  But according to the foolishness of God, an average-looking Samson was able to uproot the city gate and carry it up to the top of the mountain.

Jesus was not only unattractive: he was despised and rejected.  He is the one “whom man despises” and whom “the nation abhors.” (Isa 49:7):

He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; he was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isa 53:3)

At the age of thirty, he looked nearly fifty. (Jn 8:57)  He is the stone that the builders rejected which turned out to be the chief cornerstone. (Ps 118:22)  The bible affirms that he came unto his own and his own did not receive him. (Jn 1:11)

It is the devil, and not Jesus, who has the beauty of the world:

            “Son of man, take up a lamentation for the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.  You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, Beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold.  The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.  You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.  You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.’” (Eze 28:12-15)

The foolishness of God shows how the mighty are fallen.  It shows how the beauty of Israel is slain upon its high places. (2 Sam 1:19)  But the beauty of the Lord is the beauty of holiness. (Ps 29:2)

Therefore Isaiah asks: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isa 53:1)  Isaiah’s question is rhetorical.  The arm of the Lord is revealed to those who believe the report of the Lord.  And the report of the Lord says that foolish Jesus is the only means by which God exerts the power of salvation to sinners.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God that changes the most hardened heart of men.  It is the power of God that overcomes the propensities in man to sin.  It is the power of God that makes the sinner a saint.

In effect, the arm of the Lord is revealed to the man who is prepared to operate in the foolishness of faith.  Only fools can truly walk with God.  Only people who are inclined to suspend their judgement and their reason can walk by faith.  Hosea observed the common perception that the prophet of God is a fool and that the spiritual man is mad. (Hos 9:7)  When a man starts to operate in supernatural faith, the conclusion of the world is that he is crazy, or that he is stupid.  When God was made manifest in the flesh, many called him mad:

Many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (Jn 10:20)

When Festus listened to Paul preaching about the cross, he said to him:

“Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” (Acts 28:24)

When Hannah prayed with great anguish of spirit in the temple, Eli concluded that she was drunk.  When the disciples were baptised with the Holy Ghost and with fire at Pentecost, bystanders hearing them speaking in tongues concluded that they were intoxicated.  Paul acknowledges Christian tomfoolery without apology:

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!  To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.  And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now. (1 Cor 4:10-13)

But is God himself foolish?  How could he be?  On the contrary, the bible affirms that we serve the only wise God. (1Tim. 1:17)  But for God to be able to relate to man, he has to be foolish.  For God to fellowship with man, he has to come down to our level.  You cannot dangle a baby on your knees and discuss Quantum Physics with him.  No.  You might start making idiotic cooing sounds and you might even start making stupid faces.  God is the El Shaddai: the Almighty and the all-Sufficient.  But surely, the all-sufficiency of God must include the ability to come down to man’s level in order to relate to us, communicate with us and interact with us.  If he is unable to do so, then he is not God, for surely God is able to do all things.  And so there must be foolishness to God and that foolishness must be to man’s advantage and justification.  Certainly, the wisdom of God is beyond man.  Therefore, there must be a foolishness of God to accommodate man’s foolishness, so that the all-wise God can also be the God of foolish man.  For as David said:

“O God, you know so well how stupid I am, and you know all my sins.” (Ps 69:5 TLB)

Accordingly God, in his foolishness, became flesh.  He dwelt among men and we beheld his veiled glory.  God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a baby, crawled on the ground, sucked a woman’s breast, and learnt to walk and to talk.  God, in his foolishness, grew in wisdom and in stature.  And God, in his foolishness, was hated despised and vilified.  He died a shameful death on the cross as a man, but in his divinity, he rose from the dead with power. 

The dynamics of the kingdom of God require us to take leave of our senses, for only by so doing can one walk with an invisible God.  Peter was a foolish man, for only a foolish man would leave the safety of a boat, and start to walk on water.  But because he was disposed to operate in the foolishness of faith, he was able to do what was impossible to a natural man.  While this shows that there is foolishness to faith, it does not follow that faith is foolish.  There is a method to the madness of the believer.  The basis of that foolishness and the foundation of that madness is Christ: the power of God.

Make no mistake about it even “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” (1 Cor. 1:21)  How was the city of Jericho taken?  It was taken by the foolishness of God.  Instead of using battering rams to attack the gate, instead of using ramps to reach the enemy on the wall, the children of Israel, in their foolishness, walked silently around the wall for six days.  On the seventh day, at the sound of the trumpet, they gave a great shout.  And this foolishness of God brought down the walls of Jericho.

Way back when, the Lord told me that there were a lot more people on the wall on the seventh day than on the first.  Many would have gone to call their friends, saying: “Come and see these stupid Israelites.  Every day they come here and instead of attacking us, they simply march in procession around the city wall with some stupid priests blowing trumpets.”  And so, even as God confounded the enemy by bringing down the walls of Jericho by the foolishness of merely having men march around it, even so it pleased him to bring men to salvation by the mere preaching of the gospel.

For one hundred and twenty years, Noah preached about the ark.  He preached that God would bring a great flood and that only those who sought refuge in the ark would be saved.  But the preaching of the ark was considered foolishness.  How do you talk about a flood when it never rained?  How do you build an ark on dry land?  As a result, poor Noah must have been derided at length.  Many must have been convinced that he was insane.  I can even imagine little children throwing stones at him as he worked on the ark.  Even those he employed to help him in building the ark were not foolish enough to come into the ark with him. 

But Noah was not ashamed, and in the end the ark proved to be the power of God unto salvation to the few who believed.  All those who laughed at Noah, made fun of him, called him a crazy old man, perished in the flood.  All those who mocked him for his stupidity drowned in their wisdom.

Jesus’ foolishness was particularly offensive because he was a non-conformist.  He insisted that the faith he taught was “new wine” which could not be put in “old bottles.” (Mk 2:22)  He proclaimed that he was the fulfilment of the law.  And he was opposed to those who showed greater concern for the traditions of men than for the commandments of God.

His radicalism was evident in many of the customs of the day that he challenged.  He touched lepers, which was taboo.  He spoke publicly to women, which was not done.  He befriended the despised Samaritans, which was unacceptable to Jews.  He dined and consorted with tax collectors and sinners, who were publicly ostracized.  He befriended prostitutes and women of easy virtue, which men of honour would never do.  He healed on the Sabbath, which was against Jewish law.  He was a partygoer who even drank alcoholic wine, a tendency that quickly earned him an evil report.  He spat at people in the name of healing them, a disgusting act at the best of times.  Even when the occasion seemed to be special as during his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus was peculiar in that he rode on a donkey instead of a horse or chariot.

But there is a message in Jesus’ peculiarities.  Through them Jesus is saying that those of us who believe in him and who accept his sacrificial death as atonement for our sins no longer have to conform to the sinful dictates of Satan’s world order.  This is brought out clearly as we are made to listen in on Jesus’ prayer to God the Father about his disciples:

            “I have given them your commands. And the world hates them because they don’t fit in with it, just as I don’t.  I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from Satan’s power.  They are not part of this world any more than I am.” (Jn 17:14-16 TLB)

We still live in the world, but our values, attitudes and behaviour are no longer of this world, but of the kingdom of God.  Through our faith in Christ, God gives us the wisdom and the strength to overcome the wicked ways of the evil one:

            For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith.  Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 Jn 5:4-5)

Chapter 5

THE CONTRADICTIONS OF FAITH

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

(Jude 1:3)

The bible records that once Jesus took three of his disciples up into a mountain to pray and suddenly he was transfigured before them.  They saw him covered in glory, talking to Moses and Elijah.  Peter became so excited; he did not want to leave.  He asked the Lord if they could make tabernacles on the mountain and stay there permanently.  But while it is our prerogative as sons for the Father to take us to the mountaintop and show us the glories of the kingdom of God, it is not his will that we should remain there.

Everything is wonderful on the mountaintop.  On the mountain, we don’t live by faith; we live by knowledge.  On the mountain, we behold the glory of God with open faces.  On the mountain, we see God in a new dimension.  There we see clearly that Jesus Christ is God.  There we can believe God for just about anything.  We stretch forth our rod, and the Red Sea parts.  We march and the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.  On the mountaintop, we can move mountains.  But the problem with the mountain is not the going up, but the coming down.  Peter did not want to come down from the mountain, but he had no choice.  You cannot stay up the mountain; you have to come down.

It must have been exhilarating for Bill Clinton to be President of the United States.  But what does he do now for the rest of his life as a former President?  Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain said in an interview that she would see something in the news and reach for the telephone.  Then it would suddenly dawn on her that she is no longer Prime Minister.

Life must have been exciting and challenging for Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin.  Why not?  They were going to the moon.  But after they got there they had to come back. What do you do with your life after you have been to the moon?  What happens after you get that Olympic gold medal, or after you win the World Cup?  How many times are you going to tell your friends the same story and show them the same old photographs?

Let me bring it even closer home?  What is going to happen after you finally get married?  What happens after you get that job, build that house or buy that car?  What happens is that you have to live in the valley.  On the mountaintop, we behold the glory of God.  But we don’t live for his glory there.  We live for his glory in the valley.

What is the valley?  The valley is a place of humiliation, a place of drudgery, a place of turmoil, a place of problems and of the mundane.  Most of us can do things if they are heroic and vainglorious.  I bet you sometimes stand in front of the mirror and acknowledge imaginary cheers and applause.  The truth is that we long for the dramatic.  But when confronted with the commonplace, the boring and the routine, we draw back.

Peter wanted to die with Jesus.  But Jesus is not looking for people to die with him or for him.  It is so very easy to die for Jesus.  But it is so very hard to live for him.  When we die for Jesus, it is a once and for all thing.  When we live for Jesus, we die daily.  When we live for Jesus, we live in the valley.  But the valley is full of slime-pits and ditches.  Moreover, the valley is the home of Goliath.  All the giants you are ever going to face, you will not face them on the mountaintop.  You will face them in the valley:

And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and they encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array against the Philistines.  The Philistines stood on a mountain on one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. (1 Sam 17:2-3)

It is in the valley where our true worth to God is realised.  It is in the valley where our genuine faithfulness to God is revealed.  It is in the valley where you wait patiently for the salvation of God.  It is in the valley where you are required to live in the knowledge of the glory of God, which was revealed to you on the mountaintop.  It is in the harsh reality of the valley that you declare, against all the odds, that I know that my redeemer lives.  Thus, when God opened the eyes of Prophet Joel, he saw multitudes and multitudes in the “valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14)   

Which is real, the mountaintop or the valley?  Can you face the imaginations of the valley, in the knowledge of the reality of the mountaintop?  That is the challenge of faith.  Do the situations and circumstances in the valley panic me into faithless action, which deny the power of God?  After every moment of exultation, after every revelation of his glory, we are brought back into the harsh reality of the humdrum and the mundane. 

Jesus appeared to me once in a dream.  I was seating in a big theatre with lots of people.  It might have been a church service, except that there was nothing and no one on the stage.  Then suddenly, a lion came out.  I expected there to be pandemonium, but everyone remained in their seat.  I started to wonder if I was the only one who could see the lion.  I thought: “Why is it that nobody is afraid?”  Then the lion climbed off the stage, walked down the isle and stood in front of me.  I was mesmerised on my seat.  Then just as amazingly, it started to play with me.  I could see that all eyes were on the lion and me, but I was uncomfortable.  How do you play with a lion?  What if it suddenly remembers that it is a lion?  I just could not take my mind off the fact that it was a lion that was playing with me.  And then the lion did something even more puzzling.  It showed me its claws.  As it did, one of them grew out as if extended by some hidden hydraulics.  Then it put the claw into my eye and used it to stroke my eyeball.

When I shared this dream with my wife, she quickly concluded that it was Jesus, “the lion of the tribe of Judah,” who had visited me and that he was determined to tell me that he is my friend.  But the reason why I am recalling this dream is because of what happened afterwards.  That day of my dream turned out to be one of the worst days in my life.  Every thing that could go wrong went wrong.  The devil attacked me ferociously, determined to negate what I had been shown on the mountaintop, and to force back into my consciousness the reality of the valley.  However, the intensity of our attacks in the valley is the strongest testament that we have been to the mountaintop and that we are approved of God.

When God took Paul to heaven he deliberately allowed him to be afflicted afterwards.  His purpose here was to keep pride from Paul:

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (2 Cor 12:7-9)

Is your God a God of the hills?  Let him also be a God of the valleys.  The enemy loves to fight in the valley.  The bible records that the servants of the King of Syria told him that the God of the Israelites is a God of the hills and that that was the reason why they were stronger than the Syrians.  Therefore they advised him to fight against Israel in the plain where Syria would surely prevail. (1Ki 20:23)  But God’s response to this counsel was swift:

Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,” therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (1 Ki 20:28)

Therefore recognise that our God is a God of the hills as well as of the valleys.  Indeed, it is in the valleys of life that God is at his most wonderful.  It was in the valley of the shadow of death that Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead.  David said even if he were to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he would fear no evil.  This is because he realised that the God of the hills and the valleys, Jehovah Shammar, was with him.  Thus the Psalmist wrote:

Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a spring; the rain also covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. (Ps 84:5-7)

The Valley of Baca refers to a place of weeping and lamentation, but a man of faith turns it into a fountain of joy.  The believer must be able to mount up with wings as eagles.  But he must also know how to come down.  Indeed, the power of the saint lies in the coming down and in the living down.  Paul said he could do all things through Christ.  But what things was he referring to?  He was mainly referring to humiliating things.  The believer is that woman who can live, for example, with the reproach of not being married.  He is that man who can live in the valley of not yet having a child, a job, a car, or a house.  He can live by faith and not by sight. 

How do we live in the valley?  We live in the valley in the sure knowledge that every affliction we go through is working in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2 Cor 4:17)  We live in the valley in the confidence that:

“Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Lk 3:5-6)

Since the believer is in the world but not of the world, and since he lives simultaneously physically in the world and spiritually in the kingdom of God, he must learn to reconcile the contradictions between the two kingdoms.  Those contradictions are always there because the one kingdom is exactly antithetical to the other.  Therefore the just shall live by faith.  Reality must be redefined by the revealed word of God, which warns that the things that we can see are illusory because they don’t have enduring existence, while the things we don’t see are eternal. (2 Cor 4:18)

Let me illustrate this dynamic with one or two examples.  When the Messiah was born, the angel brought good tidings of great joy to men.  But soon after this, something contrary and contradictory seemed to happen.  Herod, threatened by the birth of a new king, had all children of two years and under put to death.  In effect, what was the source of great joy in heaven was the source of anguish on earth.  While the angels were rejoicing in heaven, the bible records that a voice of lamentation weeping and great mourning was heard in Ramah.  Rachel was weeping for her children who had been slaughtered by Herod. (Mt 2:18)

Juxtapose this with the time when Jesus was going to the cross to seal the salvation of believers.  This was the most wonderful thing that God would ever do for man.  And yet the heirs of salvation were not rejoicing, they were mourning and lamenting. (Lk 23:27)

There always seems to be a contradiction from the perspectives of heaven and that of the earth.  Indeed, Jesus presented this dichotomy with characteristic emphasis.  He pointed out that what is most highly exalted among men is abomination in the sight of God. (Lk 16:15)  Therefore, in the epic book of Revelations, a voice was heard in heaven saying: “Rejoice O heavens and you who dwell in them:  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea.” (Rev 12:12)  Whenever heaven is rejoicing, earth is troubled.  Whenever earth is rejoicing, heaven is disturbed.

Kingdom dynamics requires the believer to navigate within these seeming contradictions.  The believer lives in two worlds simultaneously.  He lives physically in the world but spiritually in the kingdom of God.  Without he is in the world: within he is in the kingdom.  Therefore, while without in the world he might have tribulation: within in the kingdom of God he remains cheerful, secure in the knowledge that Jesus has overcome the world. (Jn. 16:33)  This is the reason why Paul describes his condition as that of a man who is sorrowful, and yet always rejoicing; a man who is poor and yet making many rich; a man who has nothing and yet who possesses all things. (2 Cor 6:10)

This life of contradictions was first revealed in Abraham.  In order for him to be a father of many nations, he had first to be childless for so many years.  During this period, God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, which means the father of many nations.  Just imagine the irony in all this.  Abram puts an advert in the newspaper saying: “I, previously known as Abram, now wish to be known as the Father of Many Nations.”  Can you imagine how much of a laughing stock he must have been?  The man does not even have a single child, and he claims to be fathering many nations.

Faith always operates within the framework of our expectations.  It is not what we have but what we hope to receive.  If we have something, it is no longer relevant to faith.  Therefore if Christianity is based on what we have instead of what we hope for, our faith becomes non-existent:

For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Rm 8:24-25)

Faith is the evidence of that which is not seen.  Once it is seen, it moves outside of the realms of faith.  Therefore, it is paradoxically in the interest of the believer that there should be no evidence for his faith so that it might continue to be faith.  Faith is only necessary and only valuable when there is no evidence.  God gives us faith precisely as a substitute for the evidence.  The evidence is counter-productive.  It negates faith; it does not confirm it.

You say that you are healed. Yes, indeed.  But there is no sign that you are healed.  That is the evidence, the lack of signs.  The bible notes that the men and women in the Hebrews “Hall of Faith” believed without receiving:

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise. (Heb 11:37-39)

As far as they were concerned, all the promises were fulfilled by faith and not by sight.  What sight does, in effect, is to negate faith or render it ineffectual.  But these men lived in faith and died in faith without receiving the promises.  And yet they did not call God a liar.  They did not accuse God of unfaithfulness.  The reason being that they received everything that God promised them by faith.  They received the promises not by the evidence but by faith.  They simply trusted God.  Therefore, the bible says, God is not ashamed to be called their God.

Without faith it is impossible to please God.  God is spirit; he is immaterial.  He is invisible.  Therefore, if we cannot relate to that which is not seen, we cannot relate to God.  We cannot have a relationship with him.  The believer must be completely satisfied with faith and with nothing more than insubstantial and immaterial faith.  Thomas would not believe that Jesus had resurrected until he had seen the Lord.  Therefore, Thomas is denied the blessings of faith.

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Jn 20:29)

It is by faith that we receive every good report.  How do you know that the man you marry will not marry another wife?  How do you know that your new car will not be stolen?  How do you know that you will not become diabetic?  The believer knows by faith.

Often we make the kind of mistake that Jeremiah made in understanding faith.  In sending Jeremiah as a prophet to Israel, God told him:

“And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall; and they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you; for I am with you to save you and deliver you,” says the LORD.  “I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem you from the grip of the terrible.” (Jer 15:20-21)

Jeremiah went forth in the confidence of this assurance and had the surprise of his life.  He became the object of considerable hostility, especially in his native city of Anathoth.  Even his own brothers and relations entered into a conspiracy against him.  They declared him to be a dangerous fanatic. (Jer 12:6)  Jeremiah was subsequently thrown into a dungeon, where he nearly died from cold and damp.

As a result, Jeremiah concluded that God had deceived him:

“O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.  Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” (Jer 20:7-8 NIV)

God told Jeremiah that he had made him a brass wall and yet Jeremiah suffered persecution.  What was responsible for this contradiction?  When the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah offering protection, what exactly did God give him and what exactly did he receive?  Jeremiah thought that he received protection from persecution.  But what God gave him was faith.  What is the difference and what does this mean?  In practical terms, it actually meant that Jeremiah was headed for trouble.  What God did was give him the word of faith to sustain him in trouble.

Why does God give faith?  Why tell Abraham you will give him a son instead of just giving him a son?  What exactly does God mean when he says he will give a man a son?

Let me answer by illustration.  A man was living in a house next to his office.  Then one day, the word of the Lord came to him.  God told him: “I am going to give you a car to get you to work.”  Why would God promise to give a man who lives in a house next to his office a car in order for him to get to work?  It must mean that his office is going to become far from his house.  Or it is going to be difficult for him to get to work for some time.  Or he is going to have to get to work for some time without a car but be comforted by the fact that some day God will give him a car.

It is easy to read the interaction between God and Abraham in Genesis 15 and conclude that God was giving Abraham an heir.  But such conclusion misses a very critical kingdom dynamic.  First and foremost, God was giving Abraham the measure of faith.  That measure of faith was necessary in order to sustain Abraham through a further extended period of childlessness.  It would take more than another twenty years for Abraham to receive Isaac.  Therefore although God was telling Abraham that he would give him a child, the very reason for telling him this was because Abraham would not have a child for a very long time.  Therefore an essential ingredient in the word of faith is that it requires us to trust God.  Through this process, Abraham became convinced about God’s faithfulness.  Therefore when God subsequently told him to sacrifice Isaac, he had no qualms about doing so.

Again, what does this mean?  It means that the dynamics of the kingdom of God are worked out in the contradictions of faith.  This peculiarity is expressed in Hannah’s “magnificat:”

“The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up.  The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and lifts up.” (1 Sam 2:6-7)

Therefore, if God says he is going to make you rich, get ready, you are going to be broke first.  God makes poor before he makes rich.  In order to be rich you have to be broke.  And while you are broke all you will have to sustain you is the promise that God will one day make you rich.  As a result, your relationship with God would not be based on the fact that he will make you rich, otherwise once you become rich there would be no further basis for the relationship.  Your relationship with God would be based on your trust in him.  As a matter of fact, by the time the riches finally materialize, they should have become irrelevant.

When God promised him and his descendants the land of Canaan, Abraham asked God: “How shall I know that I will inherit this land?”  God offered him a strange insurance policy: “You will know because I will make your descendants to be without land for four hundred years.” (Gen 15:13-14)  In which case, the guarantee of the promises of God is the lack of evidence or, often, the contrary evidence.

Four hundred and thirty years later, when God finally decided to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, he sent Moses to Pharaoh to tell him to let them go.  But instead of letting them go, Pharaoh increased their burdens.  Therefore, God’s attempt at deliverance created more problems for the Israelites than ever before.  Take a look at the confused reaction of Moses to this kingdom dynamic:

So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me?  Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.” (Exo 5:22-23)

Observe here the irony whereby God’s good is evil spoken of when we are without understanding.  According to kingdom dynamics, the very fact that when God moved, Pharaoh increased the burdens of the children of Israel and things became so much worse was a sure sign of their imminent salvation.  This is because everything about the kingdom of God is worked out in contradictions by faith.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  Therefore for every move of God there must be trials of faith.  You might see giants, the enemy might hire Goliaths, you might reach the dead end of the Red Sea, the city might be completely shut up behind high walls like in Jericho, and the opposition might be the combined forces of three enemy nations that are armed to the teeth.  It makes no difference whatsoever for the just shall live by faith and not by sight.

Let us highlight this kingdom dynamic of “evidence by contradiction” by close examination of the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Look at the case of Jesus’ deliverance of the child with the deaf and dumb spirit in Mark 9:25-27.  When Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out then the demon convulsed the child greatly, and he became as one who was dead.  But it was all a lie, for soon afterward, Jesus took him by the hand, lifted him up and he arose, sane and in his right mind.

Look also at the case of Jairus in Luke 8:41-50.  After Jairus prayed to Jesus for the healing of his twelve year-old daughter, the devil quickly killed the girl.  The whole design of the enemy here was to discourage Jairus so that he would not stand in faith.  Indeed, someone quickly came from his house to tell him not to bother praying to Jesus anymore because the case of his daughter was now past redemption.  But Jesus told him: “Fear not, believe only and it shall be well.”

Therefore beloved recognise this kingdom dynamic.  Things get worse before they get better.  Indeed, according to kingdom dynamics, the worse could not win.  His opponent was simply too strong for him.  Therefore, he decided to do as much havoc as possible.  So he bit off Holyfield’s ear.  I refer to this as the “sour grapes” approach.  Tyson was promptly disqualified and the fight was not even prolonged any more.  It is important for a child of God to recognize the devil’s “sour grapes” vis-à-vis the power of God.  He knows that you are appointed for salvation, and that he cannot stop the purposes of God.  So he does all that he can to trouble you while you are still physically in the world.

The bible says that the devil has come down to earth having great wrath because his time is short.  These are the last days.  The devil is running out of time, so he has to do as much havoc as possible in the little time that he has left.  But time is a commodity that the believer has in great abundance.  God has moved the believer from time to eternity by giving him eternal life.  Therefore the word of God says that he who believes should never be in a hurry. (Isa 28:16) 

But the devil and the people of this world have very little time.  If the devil had a lot more time, he would not be as angry and as desperate as he is now.  But because he has very little time left, he is going to try to do as much havoc in as little a time as possible.  The man of the world also has to make haste because he is running out of time.  He has very little time to “make it,” and very little time to “enjoy life.”  By the same token, the devil has very little time to afflict the believer.  Since he is running out of time, he is getting more and more desperate.  And when it is time to leave, he might convulse you and afflict you all the more.  That is what I call the last hurrah.  Expect the devil too put in one last big effort.  But be steadfast in faith, giving glory to God.  Whatever last-ditch measures he takes, know this of a surety: victory is certain.  He is defeated.

It is like a man who has been served quit notice by the landlord and has to move out immediately.  Therefore on his way out, he decides to destroy some items of furniture in the house or some of the fittings.  Don’t let it bother you.  The God that you serve is a redeemer.  Jesus is “plenteous in redemption.”

Let me illustrate this further by reference to a spiritual discipline: fasting.  Let us say that you want to fast for a day, which can sometimes mean going without food for eighteen hours.  The first few hours you might be fine with little or no problem at all.  But the closer you get to the eighteenth hour, the more difficult it might become.  Some people stop the fast at the seventeenth hour because of this tendency.  By that time, you might be seeing visions of delectable meals, and you can smell what is cooking even in the house next door.  The bible reveals that this is because the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another. (Gal 5:17)

But you should know that the reason for this bombardment of temptation to break your fast is because you are nearing the end.  Don’t give up.  The kingdom dynamic here is that the greater the temptation: the nearer the deliverance.  The higher the temperature: the nearer the healing.  Jesus said:

“Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Lk 21:28)

The devil knows that he is defeated; nevertheless he puts in a last hurrah.  Don’t allow the last hurrah to shipwreck your faith.  Don’t allow the last hurrah to discourage you.  As a matter of fact, the last hurrah is definite proof that deliverance or healing is at hand.

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. (Rm 13:11)

Don’t fail at the edge of breakthrough.  Don’t give up at the very last minute.  You have waited until thirty minutes to midnight.  Don’t give up now when there are only a few minutes left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

FAKE KINGS

“Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

(Matthew 21:5)

They were expecting a visiting Head of State from another kingdom.  The streets were lined with people.  School children were everywhere, holding and waving flags.  The roads were completely cleared of all vehicles.  Then suddenly there appeared a raggedy looking man, riding a bicycle.  “Get off the road,” they jeered.  “Clear off.  Stupid idiot, what are you doing there?”  Little did they know that the man they were abusing was the visiting Head of State.

Jesus was clearly not the person they were expecting.  This king does not drive around in a Mercedes Benz.  This king does not have chariots and horses.  This king is a lowly king who comes on a donkey.  He is born in a manger.  He works as a carpenter.  He is not a university graduate.  He has not been to the theological seminary.  But there is something telling about this “insignificant” king.  This king is a shepherd.

Matthew refers to a prophecy first cited in Micah 5:2:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.” (Mt 2:6). 

When I read this scripture, the Holy Spirit rang a bell in my head.  I ruminated: “A ruler who will shepherd.  A ruler who will shepherd.”  Then the Lord asked me: “Femi, who was a ruler who was a shepherd?”  I answered: “David.”  Then he said: “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.”

Thus, Matthew caught this revelation that the pattern of the life of the Messiah would closely mirror that of David.  But the question is what kind of king would he be and what kind of shepherd?  Many people missed Jesus because they did not recognise the distinctions.  David was king of a physical Israel: Jesus is king of spiritual Israel.  David was king in the kingdom of the world: Jesus is king in the kingdom of God.  David was a shepherd of sheep: Jesus is the shepherd of men. 

David himself caught the revelation of the Messiah when he wrote his most famous psalm:

            The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

            He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters.

            He restores my soul; he leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (Ps 23:1-3)

It is the business of kings to exercise authority and dominion over a given territory.  It is the business of kings to fight battles to secure the territories under their control and even expand them.  The people of Israel had insisted on having a king because they wanted someone to fight their battles for them. (1 Sam 8:19-20)  They did not want to be subject to an invisible God.  They wanted to be subject to a visible king.  God gave them the king that they desired in the person of Saul. 

Saul was all flesh and no spirit.  Even so the people were not prepared to follow him until he answered the challenge of Nahash the Ammonite.  Nahash asked the people of Jabesh Gilead to allow him to put out their right eyes as a condition for peace.  Saul raised an army and routed the Ammonites.  Thereby, everybody recognized that Saul was the new king.  In fact, some people wanted to kill all those who had earlier refused to accept his authority:

Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he who said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” (1 Sam 11:12)

Having prevailed against the Ammonites, Saul was promptly anointed as king in Gilgal.  In effect, Saul’s authority as king was established in the field of battle.

Saul was a successful soldier.  He killed thousands and thousands of men in battle.  But one day, the enemy changed the battle plan.  The Philistines came up with a champion called Goliath.  Goliath was a warrior with a difference. Saul was taller head and shoulders above all the Israelites.  But beside Goliath, Saul was a Zaccheus.

Goliath was big strong and threatening; a seasoned warrior armed to the teeth.  He threw a gauntlet to the Israelites.  Just send someone to come out and fight against me.  Whoever wins, his side wins the battle.

When Saul saw Goliath, he decided that he did not want to be king anymore.  He probably said to himself: “No way that I am going to fight this battle.”  But then he offered that anyone foolish enough to fight against Goliath would become his son-in-law.  This is like saying: “Anyone foolish enough to commit suicide by fighting Goliath would marry my daughter on resurrection day.”

From that day on, Saul lost the respect of the people.  They realized that this king is a fake king.  This king is a king without substance.  This is a king that can no longer fight. 

If it is the job of a king to fight battles, it is also the job of the believer, who is created in Christ as a king and a priest unto God (Rev 1:6), to fight battles.  He is required to make raids into enemy territory, set the captives free and bring them into the kingdom of God.  At the end of the age, his Lord and Master should say to him: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”  (Mt 25:21)

But the battle we fight today is fundamentally different from the battle of yesterday.  Everything is now in the spirit. The weapons of our warfare are no longer physical.  We now use spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

Therefore, it is the business of a believer king to prevail in prayer.  Indeed, we are the spiritual Israel who wrestle with God and prevail.  Jesus said: “Men should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1)  Since the kingdom of God suffers violence, the believer is the violent one who takes over enemy territories by force.  But the wisdom of God cautions that:

No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house. (Mk 3:27)

Therefore a believer must recognise that he is called to battle and should prepare for war.   He must be ready to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ:

No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Tim 2:4)

David was faithful over a few things.  As a shepherd, he was faithful in handling a few sheep.  Therefore, the Lord made him ruler over a whole nation.  According to the dynamics of the kingdom of God, he began as a servant and he ended up as a ruler.  But even after Samuel anointed him as king, David continued to tend the sheep.  And he continued to be a shepherd of men.

In that capacity, he was able to transform a motley crew of 400 to 600 down-and-outs into a band of capable mighty men of valour.  The bible says: “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” (2 Cor 5:17)  David made mighty men out of outlaws for of such is the kingdom of God. 

But the true test of a king is in the battlefield.  When trouble comes; when affliction arises; and when it is time to go into battle; then the true kings are known.  Pretenders to the throne and hypocrites become exposed.  The Goliath challenge exposed the cowardice of Saul and revealed the new king: David.  Once David killed Goliath, the praise-singers of the kingdom quickly recognised him as heir-apparent to the throne.  They sang that “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  On hearing this, Saul knew that his throne was in jeopardy:

Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” (1 Sam 18:8)

How do you recognise a true believer?  Not by his church attendance record.  Not from the number of scriptures that he can quote.  Not by how many praise songs he sings and how many hallelujahs he shouts.  A believer is first and foremost a king, and kings are giant killers.  A believer king is a killer of Goliaths.  You recognise a believer king by the way he responds to affliction, to temptation and to difficulties:

In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings. (2 Cor 6:4-5)

If the believer is a fake king, he will mumble and grumble and be overwhelmed in adversity.  Jesus points out that this is because:

He has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. (Mt 13:21)

But if he is a true king, he will stand and withstand all the devices and attacks of the enemy.  As Daniel said: “The people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.” (Dan 11:32)

Therefore, fake believer kings are exposed in the crucible of affliction.  Demons know who the true kings are and they don’t mess with them.  When the seven sons of Sceva had the audacity to try to conduct deliverance without being properly grounded in the faith, the bible records that the man they were ministering to leaped on them and beat them up, so that they fled naked and badly injured.  The evil spirit in the man reportedly asked them: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” (Acts 19:15)

True believer kings are supernaturally empowered.  They do not put on the armour of Saul: they put on the armour of God.  When a believer king does not know the true character of the kingdom, he sees the prerogative of his kingship as liberty and license to sin and to indulge the flesh.  Thus, the bible reveals that even David married more wives when he realised that God had finally made him king of Israel. (1 Chr 14:2-3)   

Although kings fight battles, the bible records that, as king, David also became negligent:

It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah.  But David remained at Jerusalem.  Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. (2 Sam 11:1-2)

When David should have been fulfilling his responsibility as king, he remained in Jerusalem.  At the time when David should have been at war, he was at home.  Let me put it within the contemporary setting, for the bible is a living word and not merely a historical document.  At the time when David should have been engaged in spiritual warfare, he was busy relaxing at home.  He spent the day sleeping and got up at sundown or in the early evening time.  At the time when he should have been prevailing in prayer, David was watching a blue film.  He climbed to the roof of his palace and watched a naked woman while she was having her bath.

David was feeding his flesh.  Jesus said to his disciples at the garden of Gethsemane: “Pray, that you don’t enter into temptation.”  But they spent the time sleeping instead.  Jesus also taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  David did not pray, so he entered into temptation. 

David inquired about the woman and was told that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.  Nevertheless, David sent for the woman and slept with her.  This sin was compounded because she became pregnant. 

A king is above the law.  Indeed, if every man had faith, we would need no more laws. (1 Tim 1:9-10)  Every one would do the right thing at all times, as the unction of the Holy Spirit teaches him. (1 Jn 2:27)  However, the liberty or freedom of action that a king has only puts him in a unique position to be of service to God and man.  God has freed us so that we can serve.  He has freed us, so that we can worship him.  In that classic liberation struggle of the Old Testament, God said to Pharaoh (who was a type of Satan): “let my people go, that they may serve me.” (Exo 8:1)  Therefore, believer kings are worshippers of God. 

David was a God worshipper par excellence.  However, he took the liberty of the Spirit as a licence to sin.  David felt that as king he could do as he liked.  In spite of his deep walk with God, David slept with another man’s wife, and got her pregnant.  He tried to deceive the husband into believing that the child was his.  When that failed, he had Uriah killed and married his wife Bathsheba.  David was king, and yet he was ruled by sin, thereby negating his kingdom authority.

A king is always a free moral agent.  He is always held responsible for his actions.  There are no mitigating circumstances.  Because King David was ruled by sin, he could not retain his kingship.  God allowed his son Absalom to rebel against him and to overthrow him.  David was forced to run out of Jerusalem in order to preserve his life. 

David’s sin, and God’s judgement, forced him to recognise that he did not have the attributes to be a king according to the principles of God.  A broken David not only sought God’s forgiveness, he asked God to make him a true king, with the ability to exercise godly dominion, not only over people but also over himself.  He pleaded with God to create in him a clean heart and to put a new and right spirit within him. (Ps. 51:10)  This prayer of David was completely answered in Jesus Christ.  Because David was contrite, because he showed godly sorrow that leads to salvation, God forgave him his sins.  Moreover, God promised David that he would use his lineage to establish the kingdom of God on earth.

When David’s son, Solomon, succeeded him on the throne, he too recognised that he did not have what it takes to be the kind of king that God required.  Therefore, when God gave him the opportunity to ask for whatever he liked, Solomon asked God to give him the wisdom to know how to be a true king.  He wanted the wisdom to know how to judge the people according to the principles of the kingdom of God:

“Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.  And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted.  Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Ki 3:7-9)

In the revelation of kingdom dynamics, the bible juxtaposes the fake kings of the world with the kings and especially the King of Kings of the kingdom of God.  The Old Testament is full of fake kings.  The books of First and Second Samuel; First and Second Kings; and First and Second Chronicles; detail one fake king after another.  So also do the books of Esther and Daniel, among others.  Not a single one of the kings in these books had any authority whatsoever over sin.  Indeed, in many respects, their own subjects often ruled them.

For example, in the book of Daniel, King Darius of the Medes and Persians, was suckered into proclaiming an edict that no one was to petition any god or man except the king himself for thirty days.  Anyone who violated this decree would be sent to the lion’s den.  But unknown to him, the motive of the authors of this decree that he signed into law was to trap Daniel, who he was thinking of appointing as Prime Minister.  Daniel’s enemies knew that he was faithful in all his ways, and that the only way they could discredit him was on the question of his faithfulness to God.  So just as they had planned, Daniel broke the law because he would not stop praying to God, and the matter was promptly reported to King Darius.

The king was in a dilemma.  He was supposed to be the king, and yet he discovered that his subjects had manipulated him in order to destroy his most faithful servant.  He was determined to deliver Daniel but found that he was powerless to do so.  Daniel’s enemies reminded him that the law of the Medes and Persians states that no decree that the king established could be altered.  “Mighty” King Darius’ hands were tied, and by his own decrees.  So, against his wishes, the king was forced to send Daniel to the lion’s den.  And he was forced to express the hope to Daniel that what he was unable to do, the king of heaven would do.  He told him reassuringly that: “Your God, whom you serve continually, he will deliver you.” (Dan 6:16)

Daniel’s predicament is the predicament of man.  The devil deceived Eve to transgress God’s commandment.  Adam sinned wilfully by also eating the forbidden fruit.  The devil knew that once man sinned, he would be permanently separated from God.  The devil himself had sinned and had come under irrevocable judgement. So he tricked man into sin, determined to give God the agony of seeing his beloved man bound by sin and condemned to eternal damnation through his own decree.  The devil had discovered to his great cost that the wages of sin is death.  He therefore contrived that man should die the same death, thinking that God’s hands were tied.

But while King Darius was powerless to deliver Daniel from the lion’s den; King Jesus is powerful to deliver man from the snare of the fowler.  In Christ the immutable decree was not repealed.  The sentence was passed and enforced.  Christ died the death of every believer, and the devil was completely outplayed.  The devil discovered to his comeuppance that man was sentenced under the law of liberty and given a life sentence of sinlessness.  The believer was sentenced to a life of righteousness eternally.

This comeuppance was also evident in the case of Daniel.  The king’s powerlessness ensured that Daniel was able to reveal to him the true king.  The bible records that when Daniel was sent to the lion’s den, King Darius spent the night fasting.  No musician was allowed to come to him.  The next morning, he rushed to the lion’s den and cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel: “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?”  And miracle of miracles, Daniel answered: “O King, live forever.  My God sent his angel to shut the mouth of the lions so that they have not hurt me because I am innocent.” (Dan 6:20-22)

So the king gave the command that Daniel should be taken up out of the lion’s den.  And all those men who had accused Daniel were cast into the lion’s den with their wives and their children.  Before they even landed on the ground, the lions snapped them up and ate all of them.  All this went a long was into making a believer out of King Darius who proclaimed:

To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you.  I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel. For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; his kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end. (Dan 6:25-26)

Jesus’ teachings specifically identified Herod also as a quintessentially fake king.  Therefore he warned his disciples to beware of what he called the “yeast of Herod.”  This false doctrine is most evident in Herod’s treatment of his chief protagonist: John the Baptist.

Herod actually feared John the Baptist, knowing that he was a righteous and a holy man. (Mk 6:20)  But when Herodias’ daughter danced at his birthday party Herod, in an expansive mood, promised to give her anything she asked for.  But only the true king can make this kind of offer without the risk of embarrassment.  Only the true king can confidently say to his subjects as Jesus did:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Mt 7:7-8)

Therefore, when at her mother’s evil promptings, the girl asked for the head of John the Baptist, Herod was suddenly caught in a bind.  He was the king and all his guests had heard the promise he made to the girl.  Therefore, although he did not want to do it, and he knew that it was the wrong thing to do, Herod was forced to order that John the Baptist should be beheaded.

Hundreds of years before Christ, the philosopher Plato speculated that if only a man could know the right thing to do, he would do it.  How wrong Plato was.  Herod’s act shows that it is not enough to know what is right.  A man must have the power to do the right thing.  But kings of the earth, no matter how powerful, have no such power.  Kings of the earth are slaves of sin.

Herod believed that John the Baptist was a prophet.  He even liked to listen to his teachings.  Herodias had insisted that John should be executed, but Herod had refused to do so because he was afraid of the political consequences of killing a popular prophet.  Nevertheless, at that critical juncture on his birthday, Herod discovered that he could not do what he knew was right but could only do what he knew was wrong.

Paul expressed this predicament so graphically in the book of Romans:

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.  Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.  O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rm 7: 19-24)

Only the true king, Jesus Christ, can bring about such deliverance.

In effect, the bible shows that Herod was a fake king.  He was a king without self-control.  He was a king who could rule men but could not rule over sin.  Was Herod really the ruler on his birthday, or was it his guests who were ruling him?  Herod was a fake king because he could not even do what he believed to be right.  Herod was a king who was manipulated by a little girl and her mother to act against what he believed to be true.

After he killed John the Baptist, Herod had nightmares about what he had done.  When he heard about Jesus, he was convinced that he was John the Baptist who had risen from the dead.  His servants told him; “No, no, it is not John the Baptist.  It is Elijah who has returned.  It is another prophet.”  But Herod insisted that it must be John.  He said to them:

“This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.” (Mt 14:2)

The book of Matthew in particular juxtaposes the fake King Herod of the kingdom of the world, with the true King Jesus of the kingdom of God.  In the first place, it points out that while kings of the earth like Herod become king, Jesus was born king.  At the birth of Jesus, wise men came from the East to Jerusalem asking:

            “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Mt 2:2)

 

When Herod heard about this he felt threatened and the Jews anticipated a power struggle.  He summoned the wise men and made them promise to tell him the whereabouts of this “new king.”  But having found Jesus by divine providence, God warned the wise men to return home by another route.  He also warned Joseph to flee with the baby Jesus and his mother to Egypt.  Realising later that the wise men had returned home without reporting back to him, Herod went on the rampage.  He had all the male children in Bethlehem of two years and under killed.

Herod’s madness and genocide provides a sharp contrast with Jesus’ simplicity and tranquility.  Jesus entered the world in a family so poor that Mary had to offer two turtledoves, rather than the required lamb, as the sacrifice for her purification. (Lev 12:8)  He grew up in a small non-descript town of Nazareth far from the seat of political power.  He lived in obscurity as a carpenter for thirty years.  Finally, he inaugurated his ministry on a riverbank and, for only three years thereafter, crisscrossed the dusty roads of Palestine, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.  He raised no army and sought no earthly position of authority.  He ultimately humbled himself by accepting death at the hands of selfish men who, like Herod, saw him as a threat to their position and power. 

And yet, through it all, Jesus was the true king.  Indeed, he is the King of Kings.  But the outward display of pomp and pageantry was not essential to his stature as king.  Instead, he sets up a whole new set of values, proclaiming that it is in these that we are to find true fulfillment. 

The bible compels a choice.  We can either see dominion in terms of outside splendour and power as Herod did, or we can look beyond the external to distinguish the inner core of greatness.  It is important for us as believers to see in Jesus’ humility the key to true greatness and glory.  The believer can find an inner freedom that the world around us cannot understand.  It is this inner freedom and power that was exhibited by Jesus. 

The bible portrays Jesus as a person in full control of himself.  Jesus demonstrated his kingship by showing that he has authority over the worst of man’s enemies- himself.  He exercised freedom from within.  Power without self-control is no power at all.  We must gain power over ourselves.  A true king must have the power to humble himself.  He must have the power to submit to God.  He must have the power to give up his rights.  He must have the power to obey God’s commandments.

Jesus exhibited such total liberty of the spirit that he went about doing good.  People looked for all kinds of ways to stop him.  The devil kept sending people to try and impede him.  When he sent Peter to dissuade him against sacrificial death, Jesus said: “Get thee behind me Satan.”  Some wanted to use the excuse of the Sabbath to hamstring him.  They argued that it was not right to be good on the Sabbath.  But Jesus insisted that it is lawful to do good every day of the week.  In the end they decided to kill him.  They thought that, at least when he is dead and buried, he would not be able to do anyone any good.  That was their biggest mistake of all.  When they killed him, he rose from the dead, thereby doing the greatest good of all by atoning for the sin of mankind.

As king, Jesus exercised authority in all the critical areas of life.  He cast out demons, signaling the overthrow of the forces of darkness.  He raised the dead, announcing the supremacy of life over death.  He healed the sick, proclaiming the cessation of all human suffering.  He multiplied bread pointing to the end of all physical need.  He stilled the storm heralding the end of chaos, strife and conflict on earth.  And he forgave sins, proclaiming the dawn of the righteousness of God.  In Jesus, the very power of God entered into the mainstream of human life.

The bible noted that when the multitudes saw all this they marvelled and glorified God who had given such gifts to men.  Others exclaimed that they had never seen it like this before.  No, not in Israel.  This was a kingly authority with a difference.  The fake men: the chief priests, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were confused.  They confronted him asking: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?”  Jesus never answered them.  But it is clear that Jesus operated under the authority of God.  When Jesus spoke, all the limitless power of God spoke through him.

Having established his authority by the miracles he performed, Jesus gave the same authority to his disciples.  He sent them ahead of him to preach the gospel in the places he scheduled to visit.  But they were not to go in pomp or in luxury.  They were not to drive about in Jeeps and Pathfinders.  They were not to live in the best hotels.  They were to live among their fellowmen as Jesus did, humbly and as servants.  And they were not to coerce men to receive the gift of God.  Jesus simply told them that some people would receive them and some would even hate them.  The role of the disciples was to use their authority to serve.

How very different this is from the life that kings and powerful men of the world lead.  Clearly the authority Christ delegates to his disciples is intended to be exercised by all believers who accept his offer of spiritual rebirth and renewal through the forgiveness of sins.  The call to kingdom life and ministry includes the assurance that the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit would develop in the believer.  The same Holy Spirit who administers the gifts of power for kingdom service also works mightily in us to produce kingly qualities of life, love, and a holy character.

What kind of a king are you?  Are you a fake king or are you a true king?  Are you a king who has no rule over his emotions?  Are you a king who has no control over his sexuality?  Are you a fake king who is ruled by cigarettes, by alcohol, drugs and other addictions?  Are you a king who is controlled and manipulated by demons?  Jesus says:

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” (Rev 3:11)

Chapter 7

THE KINGDOM SUFFERS VIOLENCE

 

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom

of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

(Matthew 11:12)

 

 

Imagine yourself in a privileged position where you were at a meeting with the President of the United States of America.  Suddenly, some policemen came in with his Personal Assistant to arrest him.  The President refused to call the National Guard.  He refused to call the army.  When one of the Secret Service details around him decided to make a move, the President restrained him.  Then he told his abductors: “Well, you guys could not arrest me before.  But in any case, now is your moment.  Okay, let us go.”  So he held out his hands and they handcuffed him and led him away.  Would you not have concluded that something strange was going on? 

This is analogous to what happened in Luke 22, when they came to arrest Jesus.  How could unbelievers arrest Jesus and get away with it?  If unbelievers could arrest God, what about the children of the kingdom?  What about those of us who are the bone of his bone and the flesh of his flesh?  Have you ever had the audacity to place God under arrest?  Have you ever gone boldly before the throne of God and say:  “Father, you are under arrest?”  This is a strange kingdom dynamic indeed.

When you were in the world, did someone ever owe you money and you decided to “lock” him?  You held him and threatened: “You are not going anywhere today until you pay me what you owe me.”  Women traders are very good at this in my part of the world.  The man is “Mike Tyson” and there is this tiny woman who is holding on to his shirt.  She refuses to let him go unless he pays his debt.  Bystanders are trying to warn her: “It’s Mike Tyson that you are rough-handling.  He is the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world.” 

But she says: “I don’t care who he is.  He is not leaving here without paying me.”  And you get really scared for the woman because you remember the left hook with which Tyson knocked out Larry Holmes.  If he just connects that left hook on this woman’s jaw, you are convinced that it would kill her.  But do you know what happened?  Mike Tyson gave her the money.  And then you wonder: “How did she do that?”  “How did she manage that?”

Have you never read that which Jacob did: how he wrestled with God till the break of day?  Did he not “lock” God?  Jacob was insistent: “I will not let you go until you bless me?”  Did God kill him?  How can a man have the audacity to wrestle with God?  The whole thing simply does not make sense.  And the fight went on all through the night.  What exactly does that mean?  Was Jacob as strong as God? 

The fight did not end in the first round.  It went the distance.  And do you know what the bible said?  It said Jacob had power with God and prevailed.  “Pre” what?  He prevailed.  Prevailed against whom?  He prevailed in a wrestling match against God.  And what happened?  God blessed him there. Where?  In his area of weakness.

Jesus was walking into Jericho, and blind Bartimaeus was on the wayside begging.  He shouted repeatedly for help and Jesus did not answer him.  On his departure from Jericho, Bartimaeus was still by the wayside begging.  He cried out so much more than before and made a complete nuisance of himself.  Bystanders told him to keep quiet.  But Bartimaeus refused to be denied and he cried out a great deal more.  Suddenly, his cries put Jesus under arrest.  The bible records that Jesus stood still.  He told his disciples to bring the man to him.  Then he asked him: “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus requested that his sight should be restored.  Do you know what happened?  His sight was restored.

Jesus said: “When you pray, enter into your closet and shut the door.” (Mt 6:6)  Have you ever got to that point in your relationship with God that you locked the door and would not allow him to leave until he answered your prayers?  The songwriter says somewhat threateningly: “Today, today, Jesus will answer me, today, today.”

Strange things happen in the bible.  I am not talking about the Red Sea parting.  Or about the walls of Jericho falling down.  Or about Daniel in the Lions’ den.  Or about the three Hebrew children in fiery furnace.  Or about little David killing mighty Goliath.  I am not even talking about all those wonderful miracles that Jesus did.  After all, what else do you expect?  Can a carpenter “carpenter?”  Does a tailor “tailor?”  Then miracles are absolutely nothing for he who is the Lord God Almighty.  In the hands of Jehovah, miracles must be the most natural phenomena in the world.

I am not concerned here about miracles.  They are to be expected.  I myself I am a walking miracle by the grace of God.  Signs and wonders follow me about.  I go to bed at night and I wake up in the morning.  That is a miracle.  I walk about without a battery and without being plugged to electricity.  That is a miracle. 

Of course, I believe in miracles.  But I don’t understand how Daniel can pray and God answers his prayers.  Nevertheless, some Prince of Persia restrains the answer to the prayer for twenty-one days. (Dan 10:12-13)  What is going on here?  Who is this Prince of Persia?  Where did he come from?

I don’t understand why when Jesus was born, his parents had to run away with him to Egypt.  Run away from whom?  From a fake King called Herod.  What in heaven’s name can that mean?  The king of kings ran from a fake king.  Why not give Herod a little taste of what Pharaoh went through?  Or why can’t God just send some anopheles mosquitoes to bite him. 

Indeed, God might have done that in the Old Testament, but it does not conform to the kingdom dynamics revealed in the New Testament.  Therefore some policemen came with clubs and staves, and they successfully arrested Jesus like a common criminal.  No wonder the man who betrayed him committed suicide.  Never in his wildest dreams did Judas think they would be able to arrest Jesus.  He had seen them try so many times before and failed. (Jn 8:59)  Therefore, Judas figured he was in a win-win situation.  He would collect the money but Jesus would elude arrest.  Imagine his surprise when Jesus put up no resistance and allowed them to take him.

Beloved, it is important for you to understand kingdom dynamics.  Otherwise you wonder why it is that when Paul wanted to visit the Thessalonians church, Satan effectively hindered him. (1Thes 2:18)  How come Satan can hinder a child of God?  Is he not under our feet? 

Have you ever heard the story of a thief who stole a car only to find out that it belonged to the Inspector General of Police?  What do you think he did?  Of course, he returned the car.  So answer me this?  How can a believer be married for years and still not have a child?  How can a boss in the office sit on the promotion of a believer?  How can?  How can?  How can?  Why does God tolerate this kind of nonsense?  If God be for us, who can be against us?  I want to know the person.  Who has the audacity?  Who are you, O great mountain, to stand before Zerubbabel? 

I once went to pray for a brother at an orthopaedic hospital.  He wanted to enter a bus and the Holy Spirit told him: “Don’t go in there.”  There was no doubt in his mind that the cautionary voice was the Holy Spirit, nevertheless, he decided to go into the bus.  While in the bus, he started to take authority over the spirit of accident.  He went into serious spiritual warfare in the name of Jesus, covered the bus with the blood of Jesus and asked the angels of God to encamp all around it.  But in the middle of his effectual fervent prayer, there was a loud screech and the bus had a terrible accident.  He woke up in hospital only to discover that he was paralysed from the neck down. 

Why did his prayers not work?  Why could God not have prevented the accident from happening instead of telling him not to go on the bus?  And why did the accident still happen, even in spite of his prayers?  Is God powerless to act in certain situations?

These kinds of questions agitated the mind of Jeremiah in the bible.  He put God in the dock and started to question him.  Why are the wicked so prosperous?  Why are evil men so happy?  Why God, are you allowing all this evil to happen?  Have you abdicated your throne?  Are you not God any longer?

David too had a bone to pick with God.  He asked in the Psalms: “God, are you asleep?”  Then wake up.  How long will my enemy be exalted over me?  Why are you silent, O God?  Why don’t you talk to me?  Why won’t you arise and let my enemies be scattered?

Habakkuk also has a similar gripe.  He wants to know exactly what God is doing?  Where is God in all this madness?

O Lord, how long must I call for help before you will listen? I shout to you in vain; there is no answer. “Help! Murder!” I cry, but no one comes to save.  Must I forever see this sin and sadness all around me? Wherever I look I see oppression and bribery and men who love to argue and to fight.  The law is not enforced, and there is no justice given in the courts, for the wicked far outnumber the righteous, and bribes and trickery prevail. (Hab 1:2-4 TLB)

God always seems to be missing in action when we need him the most.  Where is God when armed robbers come into your house and cart away all your possessions?  Where is God when you are abused, mistreated, raped, plundered, beaten up or shot at?  “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me?” (Ps 22:1)

What was God’s answer to Habakkuk?  He told him: “If you think things are bad, you haven’t seen anything yet.”  I am going to make things so much worse.  I am going to bring about the kind of havoc that you have never experienced before. (Hab 1:5-7)  God’s answer to Jeremiah was equally unsatisfactory.  He told him: “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?” (Jer 12:5)

So, let us go back to square one.  Where was God when they came to arrest Jesus?  How come they were able to arrest him?  How could some powerless evil men arrest the king of glory?  Listen to Jesus’ own explanation:

Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment— the time when Satan’s power reigns supreme.” (Lk 22:53 TLB)

Are we hearing correctly?  Is Jesus by any means acknowledging the power of darkness?  Yes he is.  This scripture reveals an important kingdom dynamic: there are moments even in the life of the Son of God when Satan’s power reigns supreme.

Make no mistake about it; the power of darkness is real.  I am talking both from personal knowledge and from revelation knowledge.  The power of darkness arrested Jesus, nailed him to the cross and buried him in a tomb.  The power of darkness killed off all of Job’s children, destroyed all his businesses and put sickness on him.  And all that time what was God doing?  Absolutely nothing.  God just stood there watching and doing nothing. 

But if the power of darkness is real, should the believer fear it?  Not at all.  Remember this:

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. (Col 1:13)

Listen carefully; before God created the earth, darkness was upon the face of the deep.  And God said: “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  In bringing about light, God created time.  Although darkness was scattered by the light, nevertheless darkness was not condemned to perpetual banishment.  God actually apportioned some time to darkness.  And without darkness, we might not fully appreciate light.  So darkness takes its turn with the light.  Darkness has its place and it has its use.  God thus divided time between light and darkness.  He called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. (Gen 1:4-5)  So the evening and the morning were the first day.

Take note: in heaven, there is no time.  There is no sun and no moon.  There is no night.  Heaven is outside of time; it is eternity.  But the earth is bound by time because of the interchange between light and darkness.  God says:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isa 45:7 KJV)

In heaven there is perfect and perpetual light and no darkness at all.  In hell, there is utter darkness and no gleam of light.  In that world between these two there is a great gulf fixed.  But in this world, they are inter-changed.  We pass daily from one to another.  Therefore, we must expect both day and night.  That is the providence of God.  Don’t cry because it is nightfall when you know another day is on the way.  And when it is daytime, remember that night is coming.

We must expect peace and trouble, joy and sorrow, and should set the one over-against the other.  We should accommodate ourselves to both as we do to light and darkness.  We must make the best of both.

Why should the wicked prosper?  Why should sinners be rich?  Why should God reward the unrighteous with money?  All this is like asking: “Why should night fall?”  God has allocated a time, more like a moment, for the ungodly to prosper.  Don’t waste your time envying someone who is dying of AIDS.  Don’t waste your time envying someone who is headed for the firing squad.

Before a man is sent to the electric chair, they ask him to request whatever meal he wants.  He says: “I want to have a pizza “napolitana,” and then I want rum-and-raisin ice cream.  And I want a very cold Guinness stout.”  So when you see him eating his last meal you find yourself envying him.  Would you like to change places with him?

But know of a surety that light has supremacy over darkness.  The bible notes in Genesis that God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. (Gen 1:16-18)  Observe here that light was made the ruler of darkness.  Sunlight ruled the day.  Moonlight even ruled the night.  So even in darkness, God has provided some modicum of light.  The moonlight and the stars were made to rule the night. (Ps 136:9)  But darkness was not given authority to rule the day in any capacity whatsoever.

Take a second look at John’s doxology about Jesus:

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (Jn 1:4-5)

Darkness can never extinguish light.  It can never overcome light.  Even in the darkest of places, God retains some measure of light.  That is why he has retained believers in this dark world.  That we may operate as lights that shine in a dark place.  Thus, Jesus said:

You are the world’s light— a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see.  Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father. (Mt 5:14-15 TLB)

Therein lies the essential kingdom dynamic.  When light shows up, darkness must recede.  When the believer shows up, darkness must recede.  The whole purpose of the believer’s existence is to arrest the powers of darkness.  Darkness cannot rule light.  The devil is a ruler of the darkness of this world.  He is not a ruler of the light of this world.  The believer is the light of the world.  He does not only rule; he overrules.  God made the believer the light of the world that he might overrule the darkness of this world.  The devil only operates in darkness; he cannot operate in the light.  He cannot comprehend the light.  Therefore, as long as the believer walks in the light, darkness cannot comprehend him.  It cannot overcome him.

Any “victory” of the enemy in the life of a believer can only be temporary.  God said to Satan in the Garden of Eden:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Gen 3:15)

But why even allow the devil to bruise even the heel of the seed of the woman?  Why does God give any room whatsoever to the devil?  The reason is straightforward.  God operates outside of time.  But when he operates in time, he has allocated some moments to the power of darkness.  Just as he allows darkness to come everyday, so does he make some allowances for the power of darkness to prevail sometimes.

Observe that, at different times, the Pharisees sent officers to arrest Jesus, but they could not.  Why could they not do it?  They could not do it because it was not their time.  That was why Jesus was extremely time-conscious.  He said:

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (Jn 9:4)

Why were they able to arrest Jesus when they did?  They were able to do so because it was their time.  They were able to do so because it was their season. 

Beloved, don’t be bothered by somebody else’s time.  Wait. Your time is coming.  Rejoice with people when they are rejoicing without envying them.  It is their time.  God is not unrighteous.  Your time is coming.

Solomon observed that because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. (Eccl 8:11)  God allows evil to prevail until the cup is full, then he moves. (Gen 15:16)  Judgment is spared until the iniquity is full.  God allows sinners to persist in sin for a certain length of time.  That time either allows for repentance or it enables the sinner to really specialize and graduate in the sin.  In that manner, God ensures that there is some equitable proportion between the sin and the ruin.  Those who continue impenitent in wicked ways are simply treasuring up wrath unto themselves.  The measure of the sins of some people fills slowly.  The Sodomites, who were sinners before the Lord exceedingly, soon filled their measure.  But the iniquity of the Amorites was long in filling up.

Beloved, in all probability, as you are reading this book, there is some area in your life where you are experiencing a great hindrance from the enemy.  Don’t you worry about it.   This is their moment, and the power of darkness.  But their moment is not even a time.  Their time is a moment, while your time is a time.  And your time is God’s time.

It is important for you to know the times and the seasons.  Even if you do not know them, it is important for you to recognize them.  The fact that you seem to be losing now is simply a question of times and seasons.  The time of victory is at hand.  The fact that you seem to be in sorrow now should not be exaggerated.  Know that a time of joy and gladness is coming.  The fact that the enemy seems to be winning hands down at the moment should not bother you.  Know that the Lord is going to arise very soon. 

Remember the statement of Job:

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26)

Job knew that no matter how long it took; God was going to arise on his behalf and justify him.  That is the dynamic of the kingdom of God.  For every sorrow that you sorrow know that there is redemptive joy on the way.  For every pain that you undergo, God is going to give you double for your trouble. (Isa 40:1-2)  Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

The Lord once said to me: “Femi, thank me that nothing lasts in this world.”  I could not thank the Lord immediately as it was necessary for me to process exactly what he meant.  Then on reflection, I understood.  It is of the mercies of the Lord that everything in this world is temporal.  Otherwise if you were to hurt your knee for example, the pain would endure for a lifetime.  But as soon as you hurt your knee the pain starts to recede.  The pain does not last.  God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden because he did not want their sinfulness to be permanent.  Had they eaten of the tree of life after the fall, there would have been to room for redemption.  They would have remained sinners forever.

Then the Lord said, “Now that the man has become as we are, knowing good from bad, what if he eats the fruit of the Tree of Life and lives forever?”  So the Lord God banished him forever from the Garden of Eden, and sent him out to farm the ground from which he had been taken.  Thus God expelled him, and placed mighty angels at the east of the Garden of Eden, with a flaming sword to guard the entrance to the Tree of Life. (Gen 3:22-24 TLB)

Thank God, everything about this world is subject to change.  But everything about the world to come is permanent.

Therefore, it is important to understand the dynamic of the times and the seasons.  Is it a time to plant or a time to pluck up what is planted?  Is it a time to weep, or a time to laugh?  Is it a time to mourn or a time to dance?  Is it a time to gain or a time to lose?  When Gehazi sought gratification from Naaman for being healed of leprosy, Elisha asked him: “Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants?” (2 Ki 5:26)  So when would the right time be?

A believer should have a spiritual wristwatch in order to know what time it is.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they could not discern the times. (Mt 16:2-3)  He also wept over Jerusalem because the people did not know the time of the Lord’s visitation. (Lk 19:41-44)  When it is raining, we know it is time to sell umbrellas?  When there is a petrol shortage, it is time to increase the cost of transportation.  But do you know God’s timing?  Don’t you know that he has made all things beautiful, but in his time? (Eccl 3:11)

At the inauguration of his ministry, Jesus proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord.  He declared that it was the year of the Jubilee.  It is like somebody coming to church today and saying: “I have come to declare that today is Christmas day.  As from today, every day is now Christmas, and I want you to know that this prophecy is hereby fulfilled in your hearing.”  What does this mean?

Under grace, there are now only two dates in God’s calendar: today and now.  Grace is more than able to turn the hands of the clock.  Under grace, it is now a question of need and not of timing.  What do you need?  Come boldly before the throne of grace.  Ask and you will receive. (Heb 4:16)

At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, Jesus was not inclined to perform any miracles.  He told his Mother, it is not yet the time for miracles: “My hour has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4)  But grace brought the time forward.  Grace advanced the future into the present.  Although the hour for miracles was not yet, nevertheless Jesus turned water into wine.

The Canaanite woman came to Jesus to ask for healing for her demonised daughter.  At that time, healing was strictly the “children’s bread,” and the Canaanites were not yet children of God.  According to God’s dispensation, the gospel had to be preached to the children of Israel first, and only after they had rejected it could it be preached to the Gentiles.  So Jesus told the Canaanite woman that he could not heal her daughter.  He said to her: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  He went even further: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” (Mt 15:24-26)

This kind of response is more than enough to discourage the average person.  But the woman refused to be denied.  It might not be time but it is the time.  Grace must make it the time:

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. (Mt 11:12)

The violent take it by force whether it is time or not.  Therefore, the woman persisted and Jesus could not resist her.  Her daughter was healed immediately.  The bible says she was healed from that very hour.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well:

“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (Jn 4:23)

He said to the Jews who challenged him for healing on the Sabbath:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (Jn 5:25)

This is a wonderful dynamic of the kingdom.  “The hour is coming and now is.”  Does it mean that the hour is coming, or does it mean that it is here already?  It all goes back to the contradictions of faith.  As observed, a believer is often required to stand in two contradictory positions simultaneously.  For example, he is poor in the world but rich in Christ.  He is weak in the body but strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  This is because although he is still in the flesh, he does not walk after the flesh but after the spirit.

Therefore, although the time is coming in the flesh, if you stretch your faith it is already here.  There is no distance in the spirit.  The spirit does not operate in time.  The spirit operates in eternity.  The believer is required to operate both in time and in eternity.  The believer has all the time in the world.  But at the same time, he has no time at all.

We have no time to waste.  Are you careful with the way you spend money?  Well what about time?  Time is one of the most precious things that the Lord has given us.  How do you spend your time?  How much time do you have?  It is imperative to be time conscious.  Jesus said:  

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (Jn 9:4)

Paul amplified this even further:

But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. (1 Cor 7:29-31)

As children of God, we belong to the “Now Generation.”  This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek God; who seek the face of God. (Ps 24:6)  For us, “now is the accepted time.”  Behold, now is the day of salvation.

Faith is a now thing.  The writer of Hebrews says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)  Now faith is.  Faith is not about yesterday; it is not about tomorrow.  It is all about now.

God is a very present help in trouble.  Jehovah means “I AM.”  Not past, not future, but present continuous.  God moves today.  He heals today.  He delivers today.  He blesses today.  You don’t need to book an appointment.

When the church in the wilderness failed to enter the Promised Land, God delimited a certain day for believers to enter into his rest.  That day is now: today.

But he has set another time for coming in, and that time is now. He announced this through King David long years after man’s first failure to enter, saying in the words already quoted, “Today when you hear him calling, do not harden your hearts against him.”  This new place of rest he is talking about does not mean the land of Israel that Joshua led them into. If that were what God meant, he would not have spoken long afterwards about “today” being the time to get in. (Heb 4:7-8 TLB)

The bible enjoins us to exhort one another, while it is still called today. (Heb 3:13)  Moses said to the Israelites when the armies of Egypt were pursuing them: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.” (Exo 14:13)

The promises of God in Christ are yea and amen.  They are all now available today.  Abraham had to wait for us, but we are here now.  The windows of heaven are now open perpetually.  These are now the times of the latter rain. 

Jesus told Zaccheaus: “Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (Lk 19:5)  Not tomorrow and not next week.  He said to the thief on the cross: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:43)

Idle men work tomorrow.  Fools repent tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the devil’s today.  The devil is not bothered about your good resolutions, as long as you fix them for tomorrow.  As long as you say that you will stop drinking tomorrow, or stop smoking tomorrow, or start fasting tomorrow, the devil is pleased.  As long as you are focussed on tomorrow, you will fail to meet the challenges of today.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Mt 6:34)

Jesus sent his disciples to go into the city to a certain man, and to say to him: “The teacher says, my time is at hand.  I will keep the Passover at your house.” (Matt 26:18)  “My time is at hand.”  That is a wonderful revelation.  At a certain time, you need to turn to the Father and, like Daniel did, tell him that the set time is now:

You will arise and have mercy on Zion; for the time to favor her, yes, the set time, has come. (Ps 102:13)

Chapter 8

THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS

 

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

(Matthew 5:11-12)

I was reading the bible, and when I got to the Sermon on the Mount, I started reading the beatitudes that I had read so many times before.  Suddenly I heard the Lord say to me, deep in my spirit man: “Femi, the end justifies the means.”

What does this mean?  And what does it have to do with the beatitudes?  Is it yet another one of those surprising dynamics of the kingdom of God?  Can we, should we, justify the end by the means?  I decided to search the scriptures.  I did not have to go far.  The whole thing opened to me like a book.  Indeed, I discovered that in the bible, and in the kingdom of God, the end always justifies the means.  It is a cardinal principle of the kingdom of God.

Does it mean that if I rob a bank and succeed, and thereby come into millions of dollars fraudulently, I am justified in doing this?  Does this mean that it is okay to rob a bank, as long as I succeed?  Yes.  That is precisely what it means.  As long as you succeed, it is okay.

But there is a catch.  The bible says that it is impossible to rob a bank successfully.  Why ever not?  Is it because of the security system of banks?  Is it because of the efficacy of the police?  Not at all.  It is impossible to rob a bank successfully because God is the Alpha and the Omega: the beginning and the end.  No matter what you do; no matter who you are; you are going to answer to God.  Therefore, if you rob the bank you might escape from the detection of man but you cannot escape the detection of God.  And you cannot escape the judgement of God.

David thought that he had killed Uriah and married Bathsheba and gone scot-free.  But nine months later, Prophet Nathan showed up to reveal that God saw it all.  In repentance, David acknowledged that God is all knowing:

Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight— that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. (Ps 51:4)

He had come to know the hard way that all evil is done in the sight of God and there is no escape.  In desperation, David even sought God’s advice about how to escape from God:

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me.  Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You. (Ps 139:7-12)

Jesus once told the story of a steward who was clearly unrighteous. (Lk 16:1-9)   Knowing that he was going to be fired, he decided to prepare for his dismissal by ingratiating himself with his master’s debtors.  He rigged their accounts so that the records would show that they owed his master considerably less than they actually did.  Thereby, he reasoned that when he was out of the job, they would be inclined to help him out, seeing as he had also helped them out.

Now here comes the initially confusing part.  Jesus said that the master checked the accounts and discovered what his servant had done.  But instead of rebuking him (he was already fired anyway), the master commended the unjust steward for acting shrewdly.  The master looked at the accounts and said: “Man, this steward was smart.  This steward planned for his future.  This steward planned for his dismissal:”

“So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.” (Lk 16:8-9)

And do you know what might have happened in this situation?  In a matter of months, the unjust steward might have started his own business.  He might have floated his own company.  He might even have started to compete with his former master.  And then he would have come to church and paid big tithes.  The end would have justified the means.

Have you ever seen a movie in which a robbery has taken place, and the crack detective (a Sherlock Holmes) arrives on the scene.  After he completes his preliminary investigation of the crime, he shakes his head and acknowledges that this is simply a work of art.  He just cannot help but admire the thief.  This is not a nickel-and-dime job.  This is the work of a worthy adversary.  This is a theft that required careful planning, meticulous attention to detail, and brilliant execution.

There is an organisation called the CNPP (Conference of Nigerian Political Parties).  It is an association of over 20 out of Nigeria’s 30 political parties, all united in their opposition to the governing party, the PDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party).  At a meeting convened to protest the outcome of the 2003 elections in favour of the PDP, the chairman got up to make this surprising statement:

“No court in Nigeria can invalidate the election of President Obasanjo on account of rigging.  We all rigged the election.  ANPP rigged.  AD rigged.  APGA rigged.  And PDP rigged.  But the issue was that PDP out-rigged all of them.” (“All the Parties Rigged,” THIS DAY, Tuesday, April 29, 2003, p.6.)

He said, in effect, the thing about the PDP was that it had better rigging machinery than all the others.  Therefore, the losers should simply congratulate the winner since it turned out that the election was a contest to determine which political party was best at rigging.  The PDP did a much better rigging job than all the others.  The others should try to do better next time.  In the meantime, the PDP had “won” the election.  The end had justified the means.

What kind of principle is this?  Is this not a principle of the world and for the world?  No, says Jesus.  There are some principles of the world that need to be inculcated by the church.  Jesus said: “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly.  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”  The sons of light need to display the same kind of shrewdness that the sons of this world display.  Elsewhere, Jesus added:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Mt 10:16)

The question of course is how can you be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove simultaneously?  We shall get a better understanding of this wisdom of God as we go on.

When the sons of this world have an objective, they go all out to get it.  When they want to become President, they go to any lengths.  Tell them to bury five hundred cows and they will do it.  Tell them to bring the foreskins of one hundred Philistines and, like David, they are likely to bring two hundred in order to make assurance doubly sure.  Tell them to sleep with ten prostitutes possessed by legions of demons, and they will do it.  Tell them to falsify the votes and they will do so.  They are determined to do whatever it takes to accomplish their objective.

God likes this kind of people.  They have the kind of raw materials that the Holy Spirit can readily work with.  They are the ones who are likely to remove the roof of a building in order to get to Jesus.  They are the riff-raff like blind Bartimaeus who refused to keep quiet until he got Jesus’ attention.  That is why you find that in the kingdom of God, the first become the last, and the last first.  The first are usually complacent, but the last go all the way.

Take a look at the ministry of Jesus.  It was those who were disadvantaged and therefore went the extra mile that received his commendation.  Zacchaeus, who went so far as to climb up the tree in order to see Jesus, was a despised tax collector.  The woman who went to the extent of anointing Jesus’ feet with an alabaster box of ointment in Simon’s house was a sinner, a woman of bad repute.  The woman who refused to be discouraged even when called a dog was a Greek.  The centurion with the great faith was Roman.  As for the Jews, the children of the kingdom, they failed to exert or to distinguish themselves.

Have you never wondered why God loved Jacob so much?  God loved Jacob even before he was born:

(For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”  As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Rm 9:11-13)

It is Jacob, and not even Abraham or Isaac, who became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The children of Israel are exclusively of the house of Jacob.  The people of Israel bear the name of unrighteous Jacob and not the name of righteous Abraham.  Why Jacob of all people?  Clearly, Esau was a much nicer man than Jacob, and yet the bible calls Esau profane.  What was so special about Jacob?

Jacob was true to his name.  He was a liar and a cheat.  So how come a holy and a righteous God, singled out Jacob for his love?

Jacob was a master practitioner of the kingdom dynamic whereby the end justifies the means.  Jacob was one man who knew what he wanted and he went for it anyway and anyhow.  Jacob was one man who refused to be denied.  Jacob was one man who would not take no for an answer.

If Jacob asked you for something, and you refused to give him, he would steal it.  If he asked you for money and you refused to give him, he would pick your pocket.  If he asked you for the time and you refused to tell him, he would steal your wristwatch. Jacob would climb any mountain and cross any ocean to get what he wants.

God loves this kind of person.  This is the kind of a person that Jesus is looking for in his kingdom.  Once you are able to convert him, he will suffer violence and take the kingdom by force.  If you can get this kind of man to fall in love with God, you can be sure he will be a man after God’s heart.

Jesus said men ought always to pray and not to give up.  When Jacob wanted Rachel as his wife, he was prepared to serve Laban for seven years without pay because of her.  And when he was deceived on his wedding night by Laban who gave him Leah instead, he readily served another seven years for Rachel.

Have you ever heard of a man who asked a woman out and she said no, and he told her that she was wasting her time.  He said: “You are not only going to go out with me, you are going to be my wife.”  She retorted: “Who is going to marry such a useless good-for-nothing man like you?”  The man is not bothered, but said: “Just wait, you are going to marry me.”  The woman said to him: “Are you out of your mind?”  The man replied: “I am not out of my mind.  You are going to marry me.  You want to bet?”  The woman was disgusted with the man and asked rhetorically: “Who is going to bet with you?”  But the man is undaunted: “Just you wait and see.” 

You already know what happened. The man ended up marrying the woman because he would not take no for an answer.

Right from the womb, Jacob was determined to be the firstborn.  From the womb, he started struggling with Esau who was strategically positioned for that distinction.  God observed Jacob’s fight in the womb and said: “Wow, I love this boy.”  The bible records that at birth, Jacob took Esau by the heel, presumably to prevent him from coming first.

The inference here is that Jacob was spiritually sensitive.  He was prepared to go to any lengths in order to be the heir of salvation.  He lied; he cheated and deceived his own brother and father in order to inherit a birthright that was not his.  He even had the audacity to enter into a wrestling match with God, not in order to get a house, or a land, or a job, but because he wanted something as seemingly intangible as a blessing.  Yes, Jacob was the quintessential child of the world.  For him, the end justifies the means.

But what about the sons of light?  Like Esau, they are a bunch of jokers who don’t know what they want.  They are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ, but they have little or no regard for such blessings.  They say they want to go to heaven.  Fine.  But tell them to sell all that they have and give to the poor and follow Jesus, and they are likely to have a change of mind.  Tell them to fast, and they won’t.  Tell them to pray, and they come up with excuses.  Tell them to read the bible, and they would rather read “Mills and Boons.”  Tell them to come to a revival service, and they are a bit busy doing something else.  But do they really want to go to heaven?  Yes, they do.  But they don’t want to pay the price.  As a matter of fact, they don’t want to pay any price whatsoever.

And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like?  “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not weep.’  For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  But wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Lk 7:31-35)

Wisdom is justified of its children.  That is another way of saying the end justifies the means.

The bible says that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.  It might seem foolish to stand on the bank of the Red Sea without a boat or a canoe and all you have is the word of God, which says lift up the rod in your hand and point it at the sea.  But what is the effect of this foolishness?  The Red Sea parts and people walk across in the midst of the sea.

You might think it is ridiculous to want to attack a walled city, and the word of God tells you to march round the city in silence for six days, and on the seventh day let out a big shout.  But what is the effect of this foolishness?  The walls of Jericho fell down flat.

You might think that it is idiotic for a teenager to go out to fight Goliath, without any armour and without a sword, but with a catapult and five stones.  But think again, because the result of this foolishness is that Goliath is killed in the most humiliating and pathetic manner possible.  No wonder the brothers of Goliath were looking for David after that, determined to take away the reproach of his humiliation.

The cure of the patient who observes the prescriptions of the physician justifies the wisdom of the physician.  That is why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  This is because whatever the gospel might be to many, to them that believe it is the power of God unto salvation.

A man has cancer and instead of rushing him to hospital, you gather round him and you lay your hand on him, and you say some prayer or the other in the name of Jesus.  This is absolutely ridiculous, and it continues to be ridiculous until the man goes for another check-up and they find no trace of cancer in him whatsoever.  Then you know that the end justifies the means; however foolish the means.

Therefore, the cross of Christ, which to some is foolish, turns out to be the wisdom of God and the power of God to those who are saved.  If unbelief brings reproach to Christ by calling God a liar: faith honours him by setting to its seal that God is true.

In 1988, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Nigeria’s former Minister of External Affairs, invited me to lunch. He told me that he had just had a meeting with President Babangida, and that it had been approved that I was to be the new Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA).  He said that the President would like to see me.  I should go to see U.K. Bello, the President’s aide-de-camp, and make an appointment to finalise the arrangement.

I went home and thought about it.  Me as Director General of the NIIA?  I was only 36 years old at the time.  What would I do as the D.G. of NIIA?  How would I reorganise the place?  How would all those people who are senior to me at NIIA take my leapfrogging over them?  Do I really want to be the D.G. of NIIA?  Is it God’s will for my life?

I refused to go and see President Babangida about my appointment as D.G. NIIA.  I knew President Babangida personally.  Before then I had travelled with him about seven times.  I had written speeches for him.  I had been to see him before in his office in Dodan Barracks.  I had actually had the privilege of sitting down in front of the desk of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  I had also attended a Council of Ministers meeting in which President Babangida presided as a member of the Foreign Minister’s team.  But I told myself that if the President wants to make me Director-General of the NIIA, he should just go ahead and do so.  I was not going to lobby for the job.

But please let me tell you something.  Nobody becomes D.G. of NIIA by sitting at home.  Nobody is going to offer you a substantive job in Nigeria by having you sit on your behind, waiting for them to call you, or to beg you to come and take the job.  For every job, there are a million applicants, willing to do whatever it takes, as long as they will get the job in the end.

Have you heard that this man was made a Minister, or that one was made a Commissioner?  That is not the full story.  That is just the tip of the iceberg.  Before that announcement was made, there was a full complement of lobbying, and phone calls, and money changing hands, and pledges being made, and contracts being signed (sometimes in blood). 

Make no mistake about it, the children of the world, give up a lot to get where they are.  They give up a lot and they know it.  They give up joy.  They give up peace.  They give up love.  They covenant their children.  They murder sleep.  And in the end, they make it.  They become President, they become Governor, they become Managing Director and they become Director General.  

Similarly, in the kingdom of God, the violent take it by force.  Yes, it is the good pleasure of the Father to give us the kingdom.  But if he has given it to us, why do we have to fight for it?  If he has given us the Promised Land, why are there giants on the way?  Why do we have to fight spiritual battles upon battles upon battles?

We have to fight the good fight of faith because that is the way he has determined to give it to us, and wisdom is justified of its children.  The end justifies the means.  When you fight spiritually, do you win the battle or do you lose?  Once you fight spiritually in Christ Jesus, you cannot lose:

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. (2 Cor 2:14)

Victory is determined by whether or not you chose to fight the fight of faith.  The problem with contemporary Christianity is that many want the victory, but are determined not to fight.  The bible talks disparagingly about the children of Ephraim.  They were armed and carrying bows, but they turned back in the day of battle. (Ps 78:9-11)

The end justifies the means.  But remember, precious child of God, Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the beginning and the ending.

You go to watch a film, and after about ninety minutes of drama and twists and turns, the hero finally marries the princess, and then they write: THE END.  It is a lie.  The story did not end there.  In fact, at that point, the marriage just began.

Jesus is the beginning and the ending.  No man asked to be born.  You were not even consulted.  It was done according to the good pleasure of God, which he purposed in himself.  And nothing ends until he says so.  Only Jesus can say THE END.  Only Jesus can say: IT IS FINISHED.  So it is not inconceivable that two years after the hero married the princess, the marriage broke down.  The hero kicked out the princess, and married another woman.

The end justifies the means.  He rigged the election and won.  He became President of the Republic.  But who told you that that is the end of the story?  For what shall it profit a man if he becomes President and loses his own soul?  What shall it profit a man, if he successfully robs a bank and loses his own soul?  What shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?

It does not end with this world.  It ends with Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the beginning and the ending.  It ends with the Lord in heaven and the means is the choice we make whether or not to follow God’s often-difficult road to the end.

A man wanted to go to heaven, so he went to the motor park.  He asked which vehicle was going to heaven.  They told him Jesus is the way the truth and the life, no man can get to heaven except through him.  He asked what kind of vehicle is Jesus?  They showed him a terrible ramshackle old mammy wagon.  The vehicle had neither form nor comeliness.  There was no beauty in it that he should desire it.  On the vehicle was written “suffering.”

But beside it was a Rolls Royce.  Where is that one going to, he asked?  That one is going to Abuja.  The man decided that he would rather travel in a Rolls Royce than in a battered mammy wagon.  As a result, he ended up in Abuja instead of in Heaven.  He had not been taught that the end justifies the means.

Let us go back to where I started.  I was reading the bible, the Sermon on the Mount to be precise, and I heard the Lord say to me, deep within my spirit man, “Femi, the end justifies the means.”  What does this mean?  The end validates everything about the gospel.  All the trials, all the struggles, all the persecutions and afflictions pale into insignificance as we enter into our inheritance.

These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! (2 Cor 4:17 TLB)

The bible reveals that:

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9)

Therefore, anyone who defines the end of the gospel as in any way relating to what we get in this world is a liar.  He is making you useless for the gospel.  He is making sure that you will fall from grace.  He is making sure that you will not be determined to pay the price.  And the price has to be paid in this world.  But the reward is not in the here and the now.  It is the ungodly that prosper in the world. (Ps 73:12)

Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  The blessing is not in being poor in spirit.  The blessing is in inheriting the kingdom of heaven.  But you cannot inherit the kingdom unless you are poor in the spirit.  So the question is this: are you prepared to pay the price of being poor in the spirit for the privilege of inheriting the kingdom?  Let no man come and preach to you that there is another way of inheriting the kingdom without being poor.  Let him be accursed.  The bible warns that:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Prov 14:12)

The beatitudes are all unpleasant.  There is nothing nice in being poor (either in spirit or in the physical).  It is not pleasant to mourn, neither does it feel wonderful to hunger and thirst.  The meek are often taken advantage of, and it does not feel good to be persecuted and reviled.

Neither does it feel good to crisscross the country shaking hands with one thousand or more people a day.  Or to go from town to town and from village to village day-in day-out, promising free education, uninterrupted power supply, good roads and other attributes of the coming Eldorado.  But if that is what it takes to become President, many gladly do it.  Similarly, we should do whatever it takes to confirm our status in the kingdom of God, knowing that the glorious end justifies the suffering means. 

What are you prepared to give in exchange for your soul?  Are you prepared to give your life?  Are you prepared to give your appetite?  Are you prepared to give your sexuality?  Yes I know that you have powerful sexual urges, but is it worth going to hell in order to satisfy them.  Or, more appropriately, is it worth giving up heaven for them?  Are you prepared to lay aside every weight and to give up every besetting sin for the sake of the kingdom?  Are you prepared to live the rest of your life incognito, with no name recognition, without accolades, without earthly wealth or glory, if that is what it takes to inherit the promises of God?

“If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” (Mt 18:8-9)

Chapter 9

RICHES IN GLORY

 

And my God shall supply all your need according to

His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 4:19)

If you were appointed today as Minister of Finance, would you steal?  It all depends on the kingdom that you belong to.  If an unbeliever becomes a Minister of Finance, he would be a fool not to steal.  Because he has the wisdom of the world, he would steal knowing that he would not be in that office forever, and that he might be removed at a moment’s notice. 

But put a Christian in the same office, and what do you find?  He also steals.  But why would he do such a thing?  Jesus says the Christian would steal because, as a rule, he is not as smart as the unbeliever.  “For the sons of this world are shrewder in their generation than the sons of light.” (Lk 16:8)  The unbeliever steals because he prepares for his future.  But the Christian steals because he prepares against his past.  Instead of preparing for his future in heaven, Christians prepare for their past on earth.

Therefore, Jesus observes that the children of this world are wiser because they know how to prepare for their future, which is on earth.  But the children of the kingdom of God are unwise because they do not know how to prepare for their future, which is in heaven.  Jesus warned the believer not to lay up treasures on earth, but to concentrate on lodging spiritual credits in a heavenly account. (Mt 6:19-21)

The Lord came to me once and asked me a characteristically loaded question.  He said: “Femi, what do you own?”  While I was pondering what exactly he meant and how to go about identifying my possessions, he decided to help me out.  He said to me: “If what you have can be lost, then it does not belong to you.  If it can be stolen, then it has no value.  If it can be burnt or destroyed then it is illusory.”  Then he asked me further: “So what do you have left?”  The Holy Spirit helped me out.  “The only ‘thing’ you have left is Jesus.”

I am reminded of a story that a woman trader from Kano told me about a former President of Nigeria who was affectionately called “Maradona.”  She said that after he became President, he called his best friend and asked him what he could do for him.  “I am President now,” he said.  “Ask me for whatever you desire.”  The friend gratefully declined on the grounds that he was all right.  God had been good to him, he said, he had no needs.

When the friend left, the President called his assistants.  “Find out what that man is relying on,” he demanded.  They came back and told him of his friends business interests.  He has this company: he has that business.  So the President gave a simple instruction:  “Block everything.  Make life as difficult for him as possible in every area of his interest.”  And his lieutenants set out to the task.

Soon the friend came back to see the President.  “See me see trouble,” he cried.  “I am having this problem and having that difficulty.”  The President was most sympathetic.  “What am I here for?” he asked expansively.  “Did I not tell you that if you have any problem all you have to do is tell me?”  So after listening to his friend go over the details of his predicament, he told him not to worry.  He promised to take immediate action.  Thereafter, he instructed his lieutenants again concerning his friend.  “Unblock everything that you blocked.”

You may well ask what the motive of the President was in these machinations.  He was not satisfied with being the man’s friend.  He wanted to be his God.

After hearing this story, I decided to add to it.  I said what if when the President asked his people to find out what his friend was relying on, they came back and told him: “Sir, he is relying on Jesus Christ.”  What do you think the President could do in such a situation?  The man already has God, if he is wise, he would not trade a God of spirit for a god of flesh.  What if the President says as well: “Block everything.”  What exactly are his lieutenants going to block?  Can a man block God?  How would he go about it? 

There is a reason for everything.  The bible calls it “for this cause.”  David asked Eliab: “Is there not a cause?”  There is always a cause.  There is a reason for everything that happens in the life of a man.  There is a reason for every incident, for every situation, for every affliction, for every triumph, and for every failure.  There is a reason because God does not leave anything to chance. 

So why would God make a child of light a Minister of Finance in a world of darkness?  Why would God “promote” a member of his kingdom with a high-ranking job in the kingdom of the world?  Indeed, why would God leave you in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, instead of carting you straight to heaven immediately you gave your life to Christ?  The answer lies in the understanding of kingdom dynamics. 

Jesus went with his parents on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  On their way back, they suddenly discovered that he was not with them.  They searched for him frantically for three days and finally found him in the temple discussing with the teachers of the law.  When they told him how they had looked for him everywhere, the twelve-year old Jesus wondered why.  “Didn’t you know,” he asked, “that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49)

What precisely is the Father’s business, and how could it be said that we have been going about it?  Jesus said to his disciples:

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. (Jn 15:16)

We were chosen for a purpose.  If we stand in that purpose, if we operate in that purpose, it is impossible to ask something of the father and not be given it.  Somebody working for the glory of God is working alongside God.  Clearly if he needs something to promote the glory of God, God would provide it.  If God does not provide something he asks for, it can only mean that it is not necessary.  Certainly God knows best how to promote his own interests.

For what cause were you born and why was it necessary for you to be born (again) a second time?  Were you born spiritually so that you can prosper materially, as many teach erroneously?  Were you born a second time so that you can make a lot of money, build a lot of houses, and reach the pinnacle of your career?  Or were you born again to actualise the spiritual aspects of your nature, even if this involves suffering shame for Christ’s name?

Peter says to the believer:

You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9)

How does the believer proclaim the praises of God?  Is it by what you have or by what you are?  If you believe that it is by what you have, then if you become a Minister you would be determined to acquire as much wealth as possible.  But if you believe that it is by what you are, then you would use your position to serve others and would be a pillar of integrity.

Jesus said that one of the reasons why the believer is still in the world is to determine if he can be trusted with the true riches.  Thus, Jesus often gives the believer access to wealth in order to see whether he is trustworthy.  He looked at his twelve disciples and decided to make the thief, Judas, the treasurer.  Judas must have thought that, no matter how spiritual Jesus is, he is a fool.  Therefore, Judas stole from the common purse every now and then.  What Judas did not understand was that he failed a simple test.  If he had not stolen, then he would have qualified to be entitled to true riches.  True riches are those that endure; the type that don’t grow wings and fly away.  Jesus asks:

“And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own?  No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Lk 16:12-13)

According to Jesus, money does not belong to the believer.  It belongs to someone else.  What then belongs to the believer?  God himself and the kingdom of God belong to the believer.  As God proclaimed concerning the priests and the Levites who were representatives of the modern church in the Old Testament:

“It shall be, in regard to their inheritance, that I am their inheritance. You shall give them no possession in Israel, for I am their possession. (Eze 44:28)

 

The problem is that the children of this world have been preaching the gospel.  The children of this world have been pretending to be the children of light.  Inevitably, they have been corrupting the message.  They have preached with the enticing words of man’s wisdom.  They have presented money as the promise of the gospel. They have presented wealth, possessions, and prosperity in the world as the inheritance of the kingdom of God.  But Jesus said the money belongs to Caesar or to the government. (Mk 12:17) 

God blessed Solomon because he did not ask for the world, or for the worldly.  These are what the gentiles seek.  God blessed him because he sought wisdom to understand kingdom dynamics and to rule according to kingdom principles:

            And God said to Solomon: “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked riches or wealth or honor or the life of your enemies, nor have you asked long life— but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself, that you may judge My people over whom I have made you king— wisdom and knowledge are granted to you; and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had who were before you, nor shall any after you have the like.” (2 Chr 1:11-12)

Therefore those who understand kingdom dynamics seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  And the kingdom of God is spiritual; it is not physical.

What is the glory of the man in the world?  What are those things about which he makes his boast?  What are those things that are the pride of his life?  A rich man glories in his possessions.  A strong man glories in his strength.  A powerful man glories in his influence.  A wise man glories in his wisdom.  Some glory in their connections, some in their family background, some in their looks, and others in their experience.

But what is the glory of the man of God?  What is the glory of the spiritual man?  What is the glory of that man who has been born of God?  He glories in the fact that he knows God and that God knows him.  He glories in the cross, which paved the way for his reconciliation with God.  He glories in the name of Jesus.

The glory of man is often tangible, physical and earthy.  But the glory of God is denominated in spiritual currency.  Man is an instrument for the manifestation of the glory of God.  Jesus said that God has deposited light, which is another word for glory, in the church.  Now he enjoins us that we should allow the glory to be made manifest.  He said:

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)

How does the light of God shine in the life of the believer?  It shines through the work of faith.

If money belongs to Caesar, what then belongs to God?  To God belongs the glory.  David said:

            “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as head over all.” (1 Chr 29:11)

When Moses asked to see the glory of God, he saw no pride of life.  He saw no houses, no lands, and no riches as men call riches.  But he saw the riches of the glory of God.  He saw mercy, he saw grace, he saw goodness and longsuffering.  These are the riches of the glory of God.  God is rich in mercy.  God has riches of goodness and forbearance and longsuffering.

The design of salvation is for God to display the riches of his glory in the life of believers:

That He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. (Rm 9:23-24)

It is important for believers to recognise that we are not called to showcase the glories of the world.  We are called to show forth the glories of the kingdom of God, which are clearly absent in the world.  While the world is rich in money, it is poor in mercy.  There is so much money in circulation worldwide that Central Banks keep looking for ways to mop up funds?  Do you realise, for example, that while the United States is awash with dollars, it is short of goodness.  The world is lacking in righteousness, in truth and in compassion.  Therefore Isaiah laments that:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. (Isa 59:14)

The man of God is born again to salt the earth.  He salts it with the fruit of the Spirit of God.  He supplies the missing quotient of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  He salts the earth with the riches of goodness.  He is merciful, compassionate, holy, righteous, truthful, honest, faithful and just.  The world is starved of these attributes.  But they are the ornaments of the kingdom of God. 

Look around you.  There are people in your neighbourhood who are in great need of mercy.  There are people next door that are in need of compassion.  People need truth.  People need the righteousness of God.  Paul says my God shall supply what you need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  Believers are the riches in glory of God purchased by Christ Jesus.  If you are the glory of God then it is your responsibility to supply what the world lacks.

The values of the kingdom of God are precisely the antithesis of the values of this world.  In the Old Testament, God dealt with a physical nation of Israel, and his blessings were physical.  The Israelites were not born again, so his relationship with them existed primarily on the physical as opposed to the spiritual level.  The glory of God was portrayed in a physical temple built by human hands.  God took them to a Promised Land that existed in the natural.  He blessed them with physical protection over physical enemies.  He blessed them with physical food and resources.

The blessings of the Old Testament were conspicuously material and physical, although this by no means ruled out spiritual blessings for which the Psalmists also give praise.  However, the blessings of the New Testament are conspicuously spiritual, even if material blessings are not entirely ruled out.  God has not blessed the believer with all material blessings in the earthly places in Adam.  He has blessed the believer with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ.

The revelation of God in the New Testament differs fundamentally from that of the Old Testament.  Christ came to fulfil the law.  The spiritual kingdom now supersedes the physical kingdom.  In the New Testament, God blesses the church with spiritual abundance. (Eph 1:30)  These spiritual blessings are evident in the fruit of the Holy Spirit and not (as in the Old Testament) in the fruit of the vine.  And spiritual blessings far exceed in magnitude and significance the material and physical blessings that the gentiles seek.

In the Old Testament, God promised to raise Israel above other nations of the world by the bestowal of material blessings.  The Israelites were not born again.  Therefore they could not be expected to appreciate spiritual blessings. (1 Cor 2:14)  However, in the New Testament, God promises to elevate the believer above the world by the outpouring of spiritual blessings.  It is our inner spiritual overflow, rather than our outer material wealth, that now manifests God to the world.

In the Old Testament, the Promised Land is the physical land of Canaan.  In the New Testament, the Promised Land is Heaven.  In the Old Testament, the kingdom was a physical kingdom.  In the New Testament, the kingdom is a spiritual kingdom.  In the Old Testament, the temple of God was a physical temple in Jerusalem built with human hands.  In the New Testament, the temple of God is the believer who is wonderfully and fearfully made by God himself.  In the Old Testament, God promised the Israelites a world flowing with milk and honey.  In the New Testament, he promised the believer tribulation in this world. (Jn 16:33)  In the Old Testament, God promised the children of Israel victory over physical enemies and over physical armies.  In the New Testament, God promised us victory over spiritual foes.

As we accurately portray and proclaim Christ to the world, people will be drawn to him.  The believer is created in the image and likeness of God.  Christ is not only revealed to us: Christ is revealed in us.  Through us, the world gets an accurate picture of who God really is because it sees him in us.  The value and worth of God becomes publicly known, and in this way God is glorified. 

Jesus said: “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  The abundant life is not in silver and gold.  The kingdom of God is not in meat and drink, but in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.  When the beggar by the Beautiful Gate asked Peter for alms, Peter used a currency that the world does not have.  He refused to give him silver and gold, something he was used to receiving but which had made no fundamental difference to his life.  He had compassion on him and gave him Jesus.  He gave him the bread of healing.  This is one of those things that are in short supply in the world.  As a result, the world took notice, and thousands of souls were added to the church. (Acts 3:2-8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

GIVING WITHOUT RECEIVING

 

“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

(Acts 20:35)

My wife and I had gone that Sunday, like every other Sunday, to worship the Lord in the fellowship of other believers, but what ensued was pure and simply witchcraft in the church.  The Pastor was in a nasty mood.  The new church building was not progressing as fast as he had anticipated.  Apparently, the funds for it had dried up.  So the entire service was devoted to the harassment of the members of the congregation.  The Pastor left no one in doubt: “You have to give or else?”  Or else what, I wondered.  Pastors are very good at fabricating the “or else.”  For if the love of God cannot inspire you to give, then they believe that the wrath of God would do the trick.

Suddenly, on that particular occasion, the Pastor ordered the entire congregation to stand up.  Then he started by asking that those who could give the church a ridiculously high amount should raise up their hands.  Once they did so, he instructed the ushers to put down their names.  Then those whose names were written down were asked to sit down.  Then he raised another sum a little bit lower than the previous one, and went through the same exercise again.  By so doing, he was determined to extract a commitment from every member of the congregation by hook or crook.

We were not opposed to contributing to the Building Fund, but my wife and I were determined not to be arm-twisted.  We were also opposed to this process of having people publicly glory in how much they were contributing.  So we resolved that, no matter the shame, we would not make any public declaration of what we would contribute, but would remain standing.  The Pastor kept going one sum lower than the next and soon, he was down to ridiculously low amounts in the attempt to shame those who were still standing up.  But we kept on standing and refused to make any public commitments whatsoever.

Then he did something strange.  He asked an usher to give me a cordless microphone and then he asked: “Dr. Aribisala, maybe you can tell us how we are supposed to pay for the new building.”  The eyes of the entire church were upon me.  And I realised that many were even embarrassed for my sake.  But I refused to be intimidated.  So I answered him: “Pastor, I am not qualified to answer that question.  I think we should fast and pray and ask the Lord.”

In no other department has the church gone completely astray as on the issue of tithes and offerings.  Week in week out, the congregation is exhorted, harassed, cajoled, blackmailed, threatened and bewitched into giving more and more tithes and offerings.

All kinds of scriptures are distorted twisted and manipulated to get people to give more and more.  If you did not know better, you would think that the whole essence of the Christian walk is to pay tithes and give offerings.  The average Pastor preaches more about “Sowing and Reaping” and “Giving and Receiving” than any other message.  Christianity has become a moneymaking venture and churches have been converted into casinos.  If you give ten dollars to the church, the Pastor promises you that you will promptly receive one hundred dollars in return “pressed down, shaken together and running over.”    

In this regard, the favourite scripture of Pastors in the bible is Malachi 3:8-10.  It is used to cajole people to give on the grounds that those who withhold tithes and offerings are robbing God.  It is further maintained that they are cursed and that their resources are subject to the ravages of the devourer. Finally it is said that the windows of heaven are shut against them ensuring that they are denied of divine blessings.  Thereby, people are scared into giving large sums to the church.

I dare say, however, that Pastors and Evangelists continue to use this scripture to preach like this to believers because they have no understanding of kingdom dynamics.  To do so is to put old wine in new bottles.  When the Pharisees insisted that divorce was lawful because the Law of Moses sanctioned it, Jesus pointed out that it was because of the hardness of their hearts that Moses wrote the scripture.  But from the beginning it was not God’s intention. (Mt 19:8)  This same principle applies to Malachi and the question of tithes and offerings.

Malachi wrote about tithes and offerings because of the hardness of the heart of the Jews in his days.  They did not have a giving nature.  God gave them the Law of Moses because he knew that they would not do the right thing unless they were compelled to do so.  But instead of the Law of Moses God, has given the believer in Christ the “law of liberty.”  Therefore, Paul notes that:

            The law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. (1 Tim 1:9-10)

In spite of the law, the Jews were still not inclined to give.  Therefore God, through Malachi, called them robbers of God, and threatened them with curses, the devourer and the denial of blessings.

Since the law is not made for the righteous but for the unrighteous, the application of Malachi’s curses to believers today is insulting.  Once a man makes it a law that you must pay tithes and offerings, he has spoilt you for the gospel.  He has already determined that you are a lawbreaker, that you are hard-hearted and that you are not a believer.  He has concluded that it is not in your nature to give.  If you fulfill his law, you are agreeing with him that you are an unbeliever.  Therefore never give tithes or offerings because of any “legal” requirements.  The only basis for action that is acceptable in Christ is love.

            Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements.  It is the only law you need. (Rm 13:10 TLB)

How can you get a believer in Christ to do the right thing?  You don’t have to do anything at all because a true believer will always do the right thing.  A true believer will do the right thing because it is in his nature to do so.  Nobody has to compel him or threaten him.  Nobody needs to manipulate or bewitch him.  Doing the right thing is the fruit of his Spirit. 

            For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. (Eph 5:9)

When Samuel was explaining the dynamics of the kingdom of God to Saul, he told him that the Spirit of the Lord would come mightily upon him and he would start to prophecy like one of the prophets.  When that happened, Samuel told Saul to do whatever seemed best to him for God would guide him. (1 Sam 10:7)  Saul would not need for any man to teach him what to do: he would do it naturally.

It is this dynamic that John was referring to when he wrote that believers have received the Holy Spirit and therefore no longer needed anyone to teach them what is right, for the anointing teaches them all things:

            But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, in your hearts, so that you don’t need anyone to teach you what is right. For he teaches you all things, and he is the Truth, and no liar; and so, just as he has said, you must live in Christ, never to depart from him. (1 Jn 2:27)

           

This was the case of Abraham, the father of faith.  When Abraham gave a tithe (tenth) of all his spoils of war to Melchizedec, a priest of the Most High God, nobody told him to do so.  He did it of his own free will.  The pureness of Abraham’s heart naturally led to his godly decision to honour the Lord with his possessions and with the first fruits of the increase in his resources.

Believers should recognize that God is a God of free will.  The bible says that where the Spirit of God is there is liberty.  Jesus said to the Pharisees concerning divorce: “From the beginning it was not so.” (Mt 19:8)  So many things have been corrupted by practice and by the traditions of men.  From the beginning, people were not compelled or threatened to give.  Even in the Old Testament, God only welcomed offerings that are given willingly and not out of compulsion.  Thus, he instructed Moses:  

            “Take from among you an offering to the LORD. Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the LORD: gold, silver, and bronze.”                         (Exo 35:5)

            Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the LORD’S offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments. (Exo 35:21)

Indeed, in the construction and furnishing of the tabernacle, the people gave so willingly and so much that they had to be restrained from giving:

And they spoke to Moses, saying, “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the LORD commanded us to do.”  So Moses gave a commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.”  And the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done— indeed too much. (Exo 36:5-7)

Observe that the people gave willingly and that they gave exceedingly.  Indeed, the bible noted that they had to be restrained from giving.  That is the kind of giving that honours the Lord.  This principle of whole-hearted giving is amplified in the New Testament.  Paul notes that:

            If there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. (2 Cor 8:12)

Observe here that the offering is only accepted according to what you have. I am highlighting this because many Pastors ask members of the congregation to make pledges according to what they don’t have.  They tell them that they need to “stretch their faith.”  “If you have five hundred dollars pledge one thousand,” they encourage.  Then after they have extracted an unrealistic pledge from you, they slap another scripture on you that says it is a sin for you not to redeem your pledge.  

All such manipulation is contrary to New Testament teaching and it arises because not all men have faith.  Paul was careful to emphasise the kind of giving that is acceptable to God:

            Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.  But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:5-7)

This means that the whole concept of tithing is out of date.  If you limit your giving to a tithe (or a tenth) of your income, you may end up sowing sparingly and reaping sparingly.  Should you only plough a tenth of your field?  Should you only sow a tenth of your crops?  It is now up to you to decide.  It all depends on how much you want to reap.  My advice to you is that you should not limit yourself; otherwise you will limit God.  If you like, “tithe” fifty percent of your salary.  Is God worth it?  Is the kingdom worth it?  Decide for yourself between you and God and not between you and your Pastor.  How much you “tithe” is not, in any case, your Pastor’s business.

It also means that the believer who gives “of necessity” (because he feels compelled to do so) is giving a blemished sacrifice.  You don’t give because you are trying to avoid curses or because you are afraid of the devourer.  You give because you want to.  You give because you want to further kingdom business.  This means that you can decide to give this proportion of your income this month and another proportion next month.  The decision is entirely up to you.  Moreover, if you choose not to give, the heavens are not going to fall down on you.  If you choose not to give, God is not going to rain down curses on you.  If you choose not to give, the devourer is not going to be let loose on you.  If you choose not to give, the windows of heaven will not be shut against you.

Let no one deceive you.  A believer cannot be cursed.  You can only curse a believer who believes that he can be cursed.  This is because God’s spiritual law says that it shall be unto you according to your faith. (Mt 9:29)  Because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, make sure that your faith is in what the bible says.  No matter the threat of your Pastor, or of your favourite televangelist, a believer whom Jesus has redeemed from curses cannot be cursed by the curses of Malachi or anyone else.  The bible affirms that:

            Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.                                         (Gal 3:13-14)

You cannot curse someone that God has blessed.  Anybody who curses Abraham and his seed is cursed and anyone who blesses them is blessed.  There can be no enchantment against Jacob; neither can there be any divination against Israel. (Num 23:23)  Abraham is not the Father of the Jews that Malachi was cursing. (Jn 8:39)  According to Jesus, the devil was their father:

            “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (Jn 8:44)

The believer is blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Eph 1:3)  The gifts and the calling of God in his life can never be withdrawn. (Rm 11:29) Therefore, whether he gives tithes and offerings or not, he is blessed.  He is blessed, not because of anything that he does, but because of what Christ has done.

Malachi says:

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. (Mal 3:10)

But when will the windows of heaven be opened?  Would they only be opened after I pay my tithes?  Since you paid your tithe last month, have you received such a blessing that you did not have enough room to contain?  After you received this superlative blessing, did the windows close back until your next payment or did they remain open? 

The bible says that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.  The windows of heaven were opened with Christ when God blessed the believer with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.  The blessing of salvation is the only blessing that can fit what Malachi describes here.

Jesus said:

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Lk 6:38 KJV)

Note that God has already released the blessings in Christ.  The promises of God are all fulfilled in Christ.  That is why the blessings are now in the domain of men.  Therefore, God will cause men to give unto your bosom.  In which case, this dispensation is one in which men are required to sow into other men’s lives.  When you supply my needs, my God will cause others to supply your needs.

Paul says:

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Php 4:19)

How can one appropriate this scripture?  It does not say that my God shall supply all my need, as many erroneously suppose.  Neither does it say that your God shall supply all my need.  But it says that the God of Paul shall supply all the need of the Philippians.  But you may well ask why he would do so.  He would do so for the simple reason that they had done something for Paul.  If they did nothing for Paul, his God would not supply their needs.  The church needs to understand that God meets the needs of believers, even as they minister to the needs of others.

The New Testament principle is that giving is to be regular (“on the first day of the week”), systematic (“let each one of you lay something aside”) and proportionate (“storing up as he may prosper:”)

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: on the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. (1 Cor 16:1-2)

Moreover, according to the revelation of Jesus Christ, the man who gives receives far more blessings than the man who receives.  Here we see the pre-eminence of the spiritual in kingdom dynamics.  The man who gives loses materially but gains spiritually and is thereby more blessed.  But if you see blessing only in terms of the physical, your carnality will disqualify you from superior blessings.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way you should go.” (Isa 48:17)

Let God teach you to profit.  You only gain in the kingdom of God if you lose in the world.  According to kingdom dynamics, true gain is never physical: it is spiritual.  If you gain in the physical, you will lose in the spiritual.  If you gain in the spiritual, you will lose in the physical.  Therefore Jesus taught that we should:

“Do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. (Lk 6:35 emphasis added)

You hope for nothing in return and yet your reward will be great.  Clearly, Jesus is not talking about any return on investment in this world.  The true believer gives out of love, but in many churches, people are taught to give out of greed.  Giving has been reduced to a supernatural money-doubling exercise.  Every Sunday, the “prosperity gospel” is preached with great alacrity.  People are brought out to give outrageous testimonies as to how they gave this amount and got that amount, in order to whet the appetite of others who see devotion to God as a means of increasing their income.  And offering time becomes the only “blessing time.”

These are not the ways of the kingdom of God.  These are the ways of men.  Everything about the kingdom of God turns the ways of man on its head.  Normally beggars beg in order to receive a gift.  But have you ever seen a beggar who begs to give and not to receive?  That is what happens in the kingdom of God.  The believer is a peculiar person.  On earth, he is a stranger and a sojourner; therefore he acts in ways that confound unbelievers.

Take a good look, for example, at the MacedonianChurch.  Paul testified that they were begging to be allowed to give even more than they could afford in order to minister to the saints:

For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. (2 Cor 8:3-4)

And he noted that although they themselves were poor, their deep poverty abounded into the riches of their liberality. (2 Cor 8:2)

There is a wonderful kingdom dynamic here.  In the world, you know how rich a man is by what he has.  In the kingdom of God, you know how rich a man is by what how he gives.  A true believer just loves to give, for God so loved that he gave.

Moreover, a man who is rich in dollars has only dollars to give.  But the man who is rich in Christ has much more than dollars to give.  He does not just have abundant money; he has abundant life.  He is abundant in all things that pertain to life and godliness. (2 Cor 8:7)  He abounds in every good thing.  He abounds in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence and in love.  He is also abundant in grace.

If you are a believer and are not inclined to give, it can only be because you have yet to receive the abundant life.  He who has the abundant life knows that he can never run out, because God is his provision:

“For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’” (1 Ki 17:14)

The reason why God gave us the abundant life was so that we could give it away. (2 Cor 9:11)  He gave us much more than we required so that we could use it to minister to the saints.  The promise of God is that he will make his grace to abound towards us causing us to have sufficiency in all things, and to abound to every good work.  And the generosity of believers is expected to result in the abundance of thanksgiving not to man but to God.

People who have the abundant life of the kingdom of God have no difficulty in giving away the trappings of the abundant life here on earth.  They know that according to kingdom dynamics, if you hold on too long to what you have it will “grow worms.”  That was what happened to the manna in the wilderness.  When it was kept for more than a day, it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. (Exo 16:20)  God was using this to teach the Israelites one of the principles of his kingdom.  If you hold on too tightly to what you have been given, when you could have used it profitably to the glory of God and his kingdom, it would become unprofitable.  The will of God is that he that has much should have nothing left over, and that he that has little should not lack. (2 Cor 8:15)

If you don’t sow, you will not reap.  Therefore, be careful not to eat the seed with the fruit.  In the wisdom of God, the seed of a fruit is in the fruit itself. (Gen 1:11)  If you eat the fruit as well as the seed, you cannot replenish or multiply your stock.  If you eat some seeds, they are so big they might actually get stuck in your neck and choke you.  Many in the church are not fruitful because they are not aware that they eat their seed with the fruit.

But if you are rich in good works, if you give happily to those in need, and are inclined to share with others what you have, God will give you more and more seeds to sow and he will ensure that you reap bountiful harvests.  The Redeemer will provide you with so much more so that you can abound to every good work.  If you are faithful in little, God will entrust you with much.  But God does not entrust his people with much until they have been faithful with little. (Lk 16:11-13)

According to kingdom dynamics, the kind of blessing associated with receiving is actually very limited.  For instance, what happened to all the clothes and presents that you received when you were five years old?  When a man receives a gift, the gift is only good to him in this world.  Even the spiritual gifts administered to the church by the Holy Spirit are of limited value because they are inoperable in the world to come.  That is why Paul notes that:

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. (1 Cor 13:8)

Even when we receive healing of a major or longstanding disease, it is of limited value.  Everyone that Jesus healed died later.  When a paralytic was brought to Jesus, he asked him to be cheerful, not because he was going to heal him, but because he forgave him his sins. (Mt (9:1-2)  The forgiveness of sins makes this man an heir of salvation; whereas good health is bodily exercise; it profits little.

So when a man receives anything in this world, its value is limited to this dying world.  But when a man gives in this world, the giving will qualify him to receive not only in this world, but also in the world to come.  Therefore at its most fundamental, the kingdom principle of giving and receiving requires the believer to be liberal with his resources in order to lodge spiritual credits into a heavenly account. (Mt 6:19-21)

 

Jesus revealed that every charitable deed gets a reward. (Mt 6:2)  But the question is which reward do you want?  Do you want your portion in this world or do you want it in the world to come?  Do you want the earthly reward or do you want the heavenly kind? 

The earthly reward is never great.  Jesus never tells any man to leap for joy because of it.  It is blasé and déjà vu.  Eye has seen it, ear has heard it, and it has come into the minds of men. 

However, the heavenly reward is not the run of the mill kind.  It is a reward that is so great and fantastic that it is beyond the ability of man to imagine.   (1 Cor 2:9)  That is the reason why Jesus promises that when we receive it we shall rejoice and leap for joy. (Lk 6:23)  The bible describes the heavenly as “unspeakable.”  Some translations call it indescribable.  Paul says he heard in heaven “unspeakable words” that is not lawful for him to utter.  If he could utter them, how would he even describe them? 

Therefore Jesus says that the heavenly kingdom is worth forsaking everything on earth for: 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:44-46)

Have you found any treasure worth forsaking the world for?  If not, then you have yet to find the kingdom of God.  If all that the believer wants is here and now, then he can have no regard for the consolations of Christ.  Paul puts it even more starkly:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Cor 15:19)

That was the problem of the rich young ruler.  Jesus asked him to sell all that he had in order to have treasure in heaven.  But the man would not sacrifice the world for the treasure of heaven.  Therefore, he forfeited the grace of God.  He had the abundant life on earth; he was not interested in the abundant life in heaven.

Chapter 11

LIVING ON GOD’S PROMISES

 

We are saved by trusting. And trusting means looking forward to getting something we don’t yet have— for a man who already has something doesn’t need to hope and trust that he will get it.  But if we must keep trusting God for something that hasn’t happened yet, it teaches us to wait patiently and confidently.

(Romans 8:24-25 TLB)

The Lord asked me a loaded question.  All the questions that the Lord asks are loaded.  When he who is the Creator asks the created a question, you should not be in a hurry to answer.  He knows all things, so why should he ask me?  God asked Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?”  Ezekiel understood kingdom dynamics so he replied: “The bones can live if you want them to live, and they cannot live if you do not want them to.  It all depends on you.” 

Someone else, a Christian in particular, would have come up with five strategies or five keys for getting the bones to live.  He might have said:  “The bones would live if you preach the gospel to them.  They would live if you read the bible to them.  They would live if you make sure they go to bible school, go to church on Sundays and attend mid-week services.”  But Ezekiel said: “Lord, only you know if they would live or not.”  It is not of he who wills, nor of he who runs, but of God who shows mercy.  Therefore, if God asks you a question, do not be in a hurry to answer.  If God asks you a question, ask the Holy Spirit for the answer.

So the Lord asked me a question.  He said: “Femi, what would you prefer: a gift or a promise?”  The Lord used this question to teach me a kingdom dynamic that I want to bring to your attention here.  In the kingdom of God, a promise is more valuable than a gift.

Abraham, what would you prefer, to have a son or to have God?  Christian, what would you prefer to be rich or to have Christ?  Would you prefer to be rich in grace or to be rich in money?  Esau is down to earth.  “What is the value of my birthright?  Can I spend it when I go to the supermarket?  I would rather have something I can use now.  I would rather have something tangible and physical than something spiritual.”  Therefore Esau addressed the more pressing needs of his life.  He was hungry, so he sold his intangible birthright for a mess of pottage.  He was horny, so he despised his salvation to satisfy his lust.  He was angry, so he satisfied his flesh and ignored the Holy Spirit.

Abraham, who do you prefer: Ishmael or Isaac?  Ishmael is a gift: Isaac is a promise.  Can’t I have both?  Not on your life.  If you want Isaac, then you have to send Ishmael away.

Make a choice.  Do you want to gain the world or to gain Christ?  Can’t I have both?  Not on your life.  Remember Lot’s wife.  She wanted salvation but she also wanted Sodom and Gomorrah.  She ended up as a pillar of salt.  Remember the children of Israel in the wilderness.  They wanted the Promised Land, but also longed after Egypt.  Therefore all but two of them died in the wilderness.  Jesus warned:

“You cannot serve two masters: God and money. For you will hate one and love the other, or else the other way around.” (Mt 6:24 TLB)

Once Moses received the promise, he left Egypt.  Once he received the promise, he left the palace.  What kind of idiocy is this?  Why could he not remain in the palace until the time came for the fulfilment of the promise?

It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be treated as the grandson of the king, but chose to share ill-treatment with God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He thought that it was better to suffer for the promised Christ than to own all the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking forward to the great reward that God would give him. (Heb 11:24-26 TLB)

God himself was the desire of Moses and not even the promises of God.  Moses would not go to the Promised Land unless God went along with him:

And the Lord replied, “I myself will go with you and give you success.”  For Moses had said, “If you aren’t going with us, don’t let us move a step from this place.” (Exo 33:14-15 TLB)

Heaven is where God is.  That is why the kingdom of God is within you.  As Jesus pointed out:

“You won’t be able to say, ‘It has begun here in this place or there in that part of the country.’  For the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk 17:21 TLB)

Therefore heaven must be in your heart.  The great desire of David was simply to dwell in God’s presence.  David said:

The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfections and glory. (Ps 27:4 TLB)

This noble desire has been fulfilled in the life of the believer.  With the redemption your body is now the temple of the Holy Spirit.  You are now God’s house.  You are now God’s building. (1 Cor 3:16)  Therefore, you now dwell in the presence of the Lord all the days of your life.

David’s agenda was remarkably different from Peter’s.  Initially, Peter was following Jesus for what he could get.  When he heard that even a rich man could not enter the kingdom of God, Peter had a crisis of faith.  He decided to review his contract with Jesus:

Then Peter said to him, “We left everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?” (Mt 19:27 TLB)

Peter had his eye on some lands and houses and Jesus had seemed to him as a sure bet for those things.  Therefore, he could not understand the relevance of the cross in that equation.  But when he rejected the cross, he must have been surprised by the gravity of the rebuke he got from the Lord:

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt 16:23)

When Jesus rose from the dead, he made a point of telling Peter that he would also have to die for the gospel.  Peter did not appreciate why the Lord should single him out for such unenviable distinction.  He turned to John and asked Jesus: “What kind of death would he die?”  But Jesus simply told him to mind his business. (Jn 21:18-23) 

Peter’s dilemma is the dilemma of the Christian.  Can we forgo the present for the sake of the future?  Can we endure the hardships of the present in light of the certainty of the glories of the future?

Let me present it as a parable.  The Christian has just won the pools.  How much did he win?  He won one hundred million dollars.  Now he has two options.  God says: “You can take all the money now, or I can give it to you in the future.”  The Christian says: “Give it all to me now.”  God says: “I can give you a down-payment now, and give you the rest in the future.”  The Christian says: “Give it all to me now.”  God says: “I can give it all to you now, or I can give it to you little by little in the future.”  The Christian says: “Give it all to me now.”

Observe this disposition in the Prodigal Son.  He told his father: “I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die.” (Lk 15:12 TLB)  Once he received his share, he had no more need of his father.  He went as far away from the Father as possible.  Clearly, the inheritance was his objective and not the father.  But if he had not received his inheritance but only had hope of receiving it, he would certainly have remained with the father.

As believers, we are heirs of God.  But we cannot come into the inheritance without Christ?  The promises of God are not without Christ but in him:

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Cor 1:20)

And so God makes us promises, and then waits to see if we shall remain in him.

Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. (Isa 30:18)

Will we become fed up?  Will we get tired of waiting?  Or will we take advantage of the opportunity to get to know him by faith, even before seeing him face to face?  These are the choices that are now before us.  Eternal life is about spending eternity with God.  If we would rather not be in his presence on earth, why would we dwell in his presence forever in heaven?

Eternal life is a gift of God.  But that gift cannot be realized outside of the knowledge of God. (Jn 17:3)  Are we prepared to wait and get to know him?  If God could wait for you to give your life to Christ; surely you can wait for him even if it takes a lifetime.

The church is the betrothed bride of Christ.  We are engaged.  An engagement is a promise.  The main requirement of an engagement is faithfulness.

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. (Jam 5:7)

How do you wait for God?  You wait in prayer, telling him about whatever difficulty you are having.  You wait in faith and with expectancy.  You wait without fretting.  Abraham staggered not at the promise of God.  The promise is realized by the exercise of faith.  Faith keeps the promise alive until its realization.  That faith is a vital ingredient in our relationship with the invisible God.

What happens if the promises of a man are not fulfilled?  We are disappointed.  We might even become bitter.  But what about the promises of God?  They never disappoint because they are entered into by faith:

These men of faith I have mentioned died without ever receiving all that God had promised them; but they saw it all awaiting them on ahead and were glad, for they agreed that this earth was not their real home but that they were just strangers visiting down here. (Heb 11:13 TLB)

Why were these people not disappointed?  They discovered that the promise itself was more than enough.  The promise turned out to be even more substantial that what was promised.  The promise brought them to the Father.  The promise kept them with the Father.  And being with the Father is more than enough.

What was this great promise that so motivated Abraham that he left his kith and kin for a land unknown?

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Heb 11:8-10)

Where is the city that Abraham was looking for?  Was he looking for Canaan?  Was it New York City?  Is that city in heaven?

For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:14-16)

Abraham was looking for us: the new creation.  We are that city.  Our builder and maker is God.  We are the Zion of the Lord, a city not built with human hands.  The promise, on the other hand, is the Holy Spirit, which we have received as believers.

And because of what Christ did, all you others too, who heard the Good News about how to be saved, and trusted Christ, were marked as belonging to Christ by the Holy Spirit, who long ago had been promised to all of us Christians. (Eph 1:13 TLB)

Abraham was moved by the promise of the Holy Spirit.  With the Holy Spirit comes the fruit of the Spirit.  With the Holy Spirit comes the righteousness of God.  With the Holy Spirit comes a sinless life.  With the Holy Spirit comes a life of true whole-hearted worship.  If the promise of the Holy Spirit was sufficient to motivate Abraham, surely the reception of the Holy Spirit should be enough for us today.

“And if even sinful persons like yourselves give children what they need, don’t you realize that your heavenly Father will do at least as much, and give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for him?” (Lk 11:13 TLB)

Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father.  What did they receive in Jerusalem?  Did they come into houses and lands and positions and property?  Were they disappointed and disgusted when what arrived was the Holy Spirit?  Certainly not!  So how come the Holy Spirit is not enough for us today?  How come we are not complete in him?  How come we are incomplete without a job, without a husband, or without a car?

When Hannah refused to eat because she did not have a child, her husband Elkanah asked her: “Isn’t having me better than having ten sons?” (1 Sam 1:8)  Is having the Holy Spirit not better than having ten houses?  Is having the Holy Spirit not better than ten husbands?  Is having the Holy Spirit not better than being President of the United States of America?

It is better to hope in Jesus, than to receive from him in this lifetime.  Paul says that there are three things that endure: faith, hope and love.  Anything that increases your faith hope and love is worth its weight in gold.  These are things that are not only useful in this lifetime but also in that which is to come.  Therefore he counselled Timothy that:

Bodily exercise is all right, but spiritual exercise is much more important and is a tonic for all you do. So exercise yourself spiritually, and practice being a better Christian because that will help you not only now in this life, but in the next life too. (1 Tim 4:8 TLB)

Everyone who Jesus healed later died naturally.  Even those he raised from the dead grew old and died.  So what was the point of their healing or of their resurrection?  Was it merely to prolong their physical life?  If there was value in the prolongation of physical life, why did God cut down the length of human life from eight to nine hundred years to only one hundred and twenty years?

It is the promise that provides the foundation for a continuing relationship with God.  A gift provides no guarantee for a relationship.  But the promise is the confirmation that there is indeed a relationship.

“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (Jn 14:13-14)

What Jesus is telling us here is that we now have a relationship with the Father because of him.

What is the basis of a man’s life?  Jesus taught that it does not consist in the abundance of a man’s possessions.  Well then what does it consist in?  The basis of life is the word of God.  Moses told the church in the wilderness about the ways of God:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3 NIV)

A man must live on every word that comes out of the mouth of God.  Life is in the word.

Life is not in the things of the world.   A man must live on the word of God.  If God promises you a child, then live on that promise with or without the child.  If he promises you riches, live on that word.  His word is truth and his word is life.

Imagine this.  You are watching a thriller and they have captured the central character.  He is being tortured.  You are anxious for him.  Will he survive?  Will he die?  So you ask someone who has seen the movie before.  Or better still, you ask the movie producer.  He tells you that the man escapes at the end.  Now you settle down to watch the film.  You can now watch the movie without hypertension.  You do not only know the Genesis of the film, you now know the end by Revelation.

In all the travails and problems of the world, it is comforting that God has not left the believer in ignorance.  He has told us the end from the beginning:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11 TLB)

Therefore, magnify the promises in the word of God.  Live on those promises.  Reach out for them.  It is actually best that your reach should exceed your grasp.  Otherwise you will die spiritually from a life without motivation and challenges.  This is what Paul meant when he said:

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:12-14)

The promises of God have within them the enabling power to make man godly.  The bible affirms that:

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Pet 1:2-4 NIV)

The promises make room for the development of godly character.  Trials come to test the depth of our faith and of our love.  At the same time, faith purifies the heart.

The promise deliberately has inbuilt delay mechanisms.  In which case, the believer is sustained by the hope that the promise would be realized.  That hope is in he who made the promise: God.  That hope draws us closer to he who made the promise: God.  Our ability to sustain that hope against all possible odds becomes a great source of strength. (Isa 40:31)  In the process, we obtain the fruit of the promise, which include patience and perseverance:

For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isa 30:15)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

ABASING TO ABOUND

 

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:   I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

(Philippians 4:11-13)

In this scripture above, Paul reveals that he has learnt certain principles of kingdom dynamics.  He states that he has learnt to be content in whatever state he finds himself?  He has learnt both to be full and to be hungry.  And he has learnt both to abound and to suffer need.  In which University of Life did Paul learn this?  And under which Professor of Humanities did he study?

I have asked these questions rhetorically because I am aware that many Christians do not want to go to school.  Many Christians certainly don’t like the school of the Holy Spirit.  Those who are inclined to go to school would rather all their studies were theoretical.  They would rather not have any “Practicals” at all.  They want to get a degree in French but not know how to speak the language.  They want to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering but be completely unable to change the spark plugs of a car.  They are keen to recite scripture but it is clear that the word has not been made flesh in them.

Paul, on the other hand, was a master practitioner of the principles of kingdom dynamics.  He learnt a lot from the University of Hard Knocks.  He learnt a lot from the School of the Holy Spirit.  The bible says that God shall teach us all, for only those who have studied under the Father will come to the Son. (Jn 6:45)  But the problem here is that God is a completely different teacher from the average university lecturer.  When God gives homework to the believer student, they are very unpleasant to the flesh.  Paul reveals some of the peculiar ways that we, as students, are expected to please the Teacher: 

But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings. (2 Cor 6:4-5)

Faced with this kind of curriculum, many eminent students simply drop out of school.  The believer is expected to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  It is in so doing that he would discover to his surprise that there is a power of God within enabling him to be much more than himself.

Genuine faith in Christ makes the believer multi-dimensional and not uni-dimensional.  Some footballers can only play in one specific position.  But the best players can play in any position that the coach assigns to them.  Depending on the match, and on the particular strategy required, they can play anywhere; even as goalkeeper.  Similarly, in life some men can only be poor.  If they hit the jackpot, they would not be able to handle it.  Some can only be rich.  If they hit bad times, they will despair for life.  Some even commit suicide in the face of adversity. 

But the man who is created in Christ Jesus is of much sterner stuff.  He can face any situation in life.  He can play in any position.  He can be rich and he can be poor, without actually experiencing any change in status.  He can be abased and he can abound.

The redeemed man is a man of many contradictions, but in those contradictions lie the power of God.  When he is weak in himself he is nevertheless strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  He has been inoculated from the effects of adversity.  He knows the other side of death, which is life.  Indeed, he was killed before he was made alive.  He has experienced death so now he can live the abundant life, which is life without fear.  Unlike Adam and the old creation, he can be blind to his nakedness.

The redeemed is a man of many parts.  Although he lives in the body, he also lives in the Spirit.  Although he walks in the flesh, he also walks in the Spirit.  Unlike the natural man who is only soul and body, he is spirit, soul and body.  He is here on earth in the body, but at the same time is seated spiritually in the heavenly places in Christ.  For this reason, he has an insight into everything, and that bothers the man of the world who cannot understand him at all. (1 Cor 2:15-16)

Paul says: “Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”  This is an incredible feat of kingdom dynamics that can only be performed by the redeemed.  It establishes him pre-eminently as a man for all seasons, able to enjoy the abundant life without hindrance. 

It means that situations and circumstances don’t determine Paul’s welfare.  This has been determined once and for all by the perfected work of Jesus on the cross.  Therefore, when Paul is full, he is hungry at the same time.  When he is hungry, he is full at the same time.  When Paul abounds, he is needy simultaneously.  And when he is needy, he abounds.

This means that if Paul wins the pools and comes into millions of dollars, his standard of living would not change.  He would continue to live in the same house, eat the same food and drive the same car.  Everything would depend upon the instructions of the Lord.  He can be whatever God’s providence requires him to be.  If it requires him to abase, he would abase.  If it requires him to abound, he would abound.  Moreover, he would abase without grumbling, and he would abound without showing off.

Have you learnt yet to operate such a superlative dynamic of the kingdom as this?  Do you know that, as a believer, you should cry even while you are laughing?  Paul says that every time you laugh; leave a little room for sorrow.  Don’t laugh so much that you forget that some people are in pain, or that you forget that this is a world of pain.  Do you also know that, as a believer, you should be hungry even while you are full?  Paul says don’t eat too much.  Every time you eat leave a little room for hunger.  Remember that this is a world where many are starving.  Therefore it is virtuous not to be so full as to forget the hungry.

No condition is permanent in life.  God’s providence does not provide either a steady diet of prosperity or an indefinite dose of adversity.  Everything happens in seemingly haphazard fashion.  Therefore the School of the Holy Spirit makes sure that the redeemed man does not just know how to live in plenty; he must also know how to live in poverty.  Conversely, he must not just know poverty; he must also know plenty.

This kingdom dynamic means that when God is ready to give a man the godly version of the abundant life, he first impoverishes him.  For God, the way up is through the down escalator.

 

Let me illustrate this with the experience of the Israelites.  When God was taking them from poverty of Egypt to the abundance of the Promised Land, he first suffered them to hunger. Take another look at the promise:

“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” (Deut 8:7-9)

Now compare it to the process:

“So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut 8:3)

It is necessary to internalise this kingdom dynamic.  In Christ, only the last can become first.  Only the dead shall be made alive.  This is because the life that Jesus has come to give is different from the life that men are used to living.  Therefore, until you go for some time in the wilderness without food, you will find it difficult to believe that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  The abundant life is in the word and not in our surroundings.

It is the way of God to make poor before he makes rich, and to bring low before he lifts up. (1 Sam 2:7)  In order for you to fully appreciate riches, you have to understand poverty.  Otherwise, you might take riches for granted and abuse it.  Or if you are rich without being poor first, you might be inconsiderate of the poor out of lack of understanding.  In the kingdom of God, it is only a kinsman that redeems. Therefore the writer of Hebrews has this to say about Jesus:

And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God in dealing with the sins of the people.  For since he himself has now been through suffering and temptation, he knows what it is like when we suffer and are tempted, and he is wonderfully able to help us. (Heb 2:17-18 TLB)

Before God would bless the widow of Zarephath with an unending supply of food through the ministry of Elijah, she was required first to give the prophet the lionshare of her last meal. (1 Ki 17:13)  Before the Lord would double all the resources of Job, he had first to lose practically everything. (Job 42:10)  Before God would allow David to ascend to the throne as king, he had first to be on the run for his life for years from Saul.  This proved to be a wonderful training ground not only for dependence on God, but also in human resource management.  While on the run, David was able to put together an assemblage of the riff-raff and down-and-outs, turning them into mighty men of valour.

The boy with the five loaves and two fish had to relinquish them in order for Jesus to multiply them and use them to feed the multitude.  But the boy lost nothing because he and his family could easily have eaten more than what they initially contributed.  If you don’t give, you don’t receive.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.  Without faith it is difficult to give.

In the kingdom of God, the master is first required to be the servant before he can become a master. (Mt 20:25-28)  The only greatness known in the kingdom is that of humility and devotion in the service of others, as exemplified by Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. 

The process of abasing to abound is effectual for the perfecting of the saints.  The Holy Spirit schools the redeemed in the University of Life.  He takes him through the fire, so that he may know that he cannot be burnt.  He takes him through the waters so that he may know that he will not drown.  He is made to understand both life and death in order that neither can overwhelm or faze him.

Thus, Paul notes that some people are killed by death.  Others are killed by life.  Some are killed by the fear of the present: others by the fear of the future.  Some are killed by promotion: others by demotion.  But none of these things affects the redeemed.  In all these situations he is more than a conqueror. (Rm 8:35-39)

Adversity and persecution never separated Jesus from the love of the Father.  That is why the bible says: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Have you not ever wondered how the king of glory could have lived the life of a servant without having an identity crisis or a culture shock?  If you think it would be difficult for a man like Moses to adjust from a life in the palace to a life in the wilderness, just think what it must have been like for Jesus to come down from heaven to earth.  It takes a special kind of person to adjust to such overwhelming and dramatic transition.

Let the same mind be in you. 

Chapter 13

WINNING BY LOSING

 

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.   

(Philippians 3:7-8 KJV)

It is great to win.  It is also exciting to be on the winning side.  Winning is wonderful.  My brother Biodun taught me how to play Chess so that he would have somebody to beat.  In no time at all, I became tired of losing.  I had to sit down and study the game so that I could start beating him.

When I met my wife, Karen, she taught me how to play Gin Rummy.  Gin Rummy is a skilful card game and Karen was something of a specialist at it.  Apparently, she had been playing the game with her Father for years.  Every time I played against her she would win.  Very soon, I got tired of losing.  I said to myself: “this is not a very good foundation for a relationship.”  So I stopped playing Gin Rummy with Karen for some time.

But I went home and did an extensive research of the game.  Then after perfecting the game on my own, I challenged her to a game of Gin Rummy.  I surprised her because I won.  Very soon, Karen was no longer inclined to play against me in Gin Rummy.

What am I trying to tell you?  Like most people, I love to win.  I love to win in everything.  I even love to win an argument, which is why I read a lot and keep up to date on current affairs.  Now this is where the problem lies.  The Holy Spirit said to me: “Femi, you love to win don’t you?  But in order for you to walk with me, you have to learn to lose.  You have to accept defeat.  Are you prepared to do this?”

This is yet another facet of Kingdom Dynamics that needs to be understood.  In the kingdom of God, you win by losing. 

It is needful to appreciate that the believer is first and foremost a loser and not a winner.  If you are not prepared to lose, you cannot walk with Jesus.  It is true that the believer is a winner in the Lord Jesus Christ.  But being a winner in the Lord Jesus is completely different from being a winner in the world.  In order for you to be a winner in the Lord Jesus, you have to be a loser in the world.  In order for you to be a winner in the spirit, you have to be a loser in the flesh.  That is the glory of the cross of Jesus Christ, and that is the reason why many find Christ’s approach to life so unacceptable.  Jesus Christ is a stumbling stone.  He is a rock of offence because of the cross.  The cross requires you to lose and not to win.  But most people, including Christians, don’t like to lose.  The result is that they become enemies of the cross. (Php 3:18-19)

There is a wonderful Christian film made by the gospel singer Carman called “The Champion.”  The finale is a boxing match and by the end of the film, the audience is on its feet.  The good guy, a believer, knocks out the bad guy.  And when he lands the knockout punch and becomes the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, the Christian audience goes crazy with shouts of approval.

But the truth of the matter is that films like “The Champion” miss and undermine the fundamental message of Christianity, which is the cross.  The Champion appeals to the flesh.  The “baddie” is given a thorough beating.  But Christ does not excite the flesh.  Indeed, Christ does not appeal to the flesh.  If “The Champion” had wanted to be true to the gospel, Carman would have lost the championship fight.  And it would have been in losing it that he would have been victorious.  That is the glory of the cross.

The glory of the cross is heavenly and it is spiritual.  It is sown in dishonour.  It is sown in weakness.  It is sown in defeat. (1 Cor 15:42-44)  Today, many wear the cross as an ornament.  But it was originally an instrument of humiliation, shame and defeat.  Nobody would wear a cross in the days of Jesus.  It would have been synonymous today to wearing an electric chair as an ornament.

On the cross of Calvary, the greatest heavyweight boxing fight in the history of the world was over practically before it started.  Jesus was knocked out in the very first round.  He himself proclaimed his own defeat.  After he took the first few blows, he said: “It is finished.”  Then he died and they carried him out feet first.  They did not even rush him to the hospital.  They dumped him in the grave and buried him.

The thieves who were crucified with him put up a better fight.  They took much longer to die.  In fact, they had to break their bones in order to speed up their death.

Imagine this scenario. You have been training for months for a bout billed as the fight of the century, determined to write your name in gold.  One week to the fight, the Holy Spirit informs you that the man you are going to fight is actually no match for you.  On a good day, you would knock him out in the first minute of the first round.  Nevertheless, he tells you: “I want you to lose the fight.  Throughout the fight, I don’t want you to throw any punch that will harm him.  In the third round, he will land one punch and I want you to fall down and stay down.  The punch itself will not be that devastating.  Nevertheless, I want you to allow yourself to be counted out.”

Just think what would happen if you obey those instructions.  You would lose face.  All your boasting and bragging will come back to haunt you.  Would you be able to hold up your head again in your neighbourhood?  Would anybody have any regard for you again?  Would you not become another shame-faced Roberto Duran who walked out on an epic boxing match with Sugar Ray Leonard saying: “No more, no more,” and has never been able to live it down?

“Holy Spirit, can’t I lose through a decision?  Can’t you allow the fight to go the distance and then I lose on points?  Must it be through a humiliating knock out, and in the third round for that matter?”  “Yes,” the Holy Spirit insists, “it must be through a knock out in the third round.  Your victory is going to be entirely spiritual.  It is going to come from your exercise of self-control.  Your victory is going to be in the fact that this is a fight that you could so easily have won, but one that you chose to lose.  You are going to win this fight by losing it.”  Jesus said:

             

            “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (Jn 10:17-18)

What would you do in such a situation?  Can you “win by losing?”  Can you agree to be defeated?  Can you agree to lose a fight you are more than able to win?  Can you agree to a situation in which, thereafter, every one regards you as a loser but only God sees you as a winner?  How can a man of like passion with Elijah be a lamb in the ring of life?  How can one be a lamb in this world of go-getters?  How can a lamb make it in a world where the tough get going when the going gets tough?  How can the lamb even get on the bus where there is only one seat left for ten waiting passengers?  With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Now lets us go to the big fight itself.  From round one, your opponent starts taunting you.  As he hits you, he laughs at you, calling you a coward.  When he throws a punch, he asks:  “What are you going to do about that you bum?  I am here to teach you a lesson, chicken.”  He sticks out his tongue at you and baits you.”  As for the Holy Spirit, he simply watches the fight and says:  “Don’t worry.  Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

I can hear you plea bargaining:  “Father, please let vengeance be mine for just one round.  Please let me have a go at him for just one round.”  “No, not on your life,” the Holy Spirit insists.  “In round three, you must fall down to a sucker punch.”

What do you think?  Do you think you would be able to resist punching that man in the nose?  Would you be able to obey such humiliating instructions?  Would you be able to triumph over the flesh?  Listen again to the words of Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Mt 5:38-44)

Jesus is an antihero.  His gospel is about turning the other cheek.  Jesus failed to defend himself even though he could have done so.  He failed to prevent his death, even though it was entirely in his power to do so:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Isa 53:7)

Could you possibly do the same?  That is the challenge of the cross.  Have you ever watched a movie in which the chief protagonist was killed in the end?  It is not the stuff by which Hollywood blockbusters are made.

Who does not like the story of David killing Goliath with a sling and a stone?  Who is not impressed by the way the Wall of Jericho came tumbling down?  Who would not get excited about Elijah calling fire down from heaven and killing all the prophets of Baal?  But all that is Old Testament.  All that is old wine.  The New Testament proffers a completely different approach.  That approach is the way of the cross. 

The story of Jesus does not make an Arnold Schwarzenegger kind of movie.  At the end of this film, the great protagonist is not standing victorious.  He is hanging dead on a cross.  Okay, so he resurrected after three days.  Big deal.  How many people knew about it?  How many people did he reveal himself to?  Did I hear you say five hundred?  Just five hundred?  How can that be satisfactory?  That is why the Jews were able to pay the guards at the tomb to say that his disciples came to steal his body.

Would it not have been more appropriate for Jesus to have paid a visit to Pilate on his resurrection and said: “Remember me?”  The man might just have died of a heart attack.  How about having him knock on the door of the High Priest or visit some of those disbelieving Pharisees again and say: “Check it out.  Did you really think you could kill the Son of God?”  It would have been great to see them eating their words and begging for mercy.

But God’s ways are not our ways.  John the Baptist said: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29)  According to the wisdom of God, it is only the lamb that can take away the sin of the world.  Therefore recognise that the lamb is not only Jesus; the lamb must also be the believer.  Jesus said: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

The character of Jesus as a lamb is most remarkable precisely because he is God.  How can God be a lamb?  How could God have allowed himself to be slapped and kicked and abused and crucified without putting up any resistance?  Would the temptation not simply have been too much?  Can you imagine Jesus jumping down from the cross and saying: “Heavenly Father, just give me five minutes to show these ragamuffins who I really am.”  Not Jesus.  The devil was extremely provocative.  He said: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”  Jesus would have none of that.  The Pharisees came asking him to show them a sign from heaven.  Jesus refused to oblige.  They wanted to know where he got the authority to do the miracles he was doing and who gave him the authority.  Jesus refused to answer even that question.

You would not need to ask a man of the world for his credentials.  If you did not automatically recognise them he would stand up to you and ask you: “Do you know who I am?”  And then he would proceed to tell you in no uncertain terms that he is Professor this or General that.  And if he does not get the requisite respect from you, he might decide to show you his power.  When the people of Samaria refused to allow Jesus to pass through their town because he was going to Jerusalem, his disciples felt that it was time to show the Samaritans precisely who they were dealing with.  They asked Jesus: “Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven to consume them, just as Elijah did?” (Lk 9:54)  Jesus rebuked them and he told them that they did not know what manner of spirit they were of.

There are so many things that are unsatisfactory about Jesus’ approach.  He said he is the good shepherd but by the time he finished one sermon, his whole congregation left.  By the time he had finished another counselling session, the Chief Young Ruler left the church.  That man could have paid a lot of tithes.

When a woman poured a very expensive perfume on Jesus, Judas concluded that Jesus was not only condoning the waste of money, but that Jesus himself was a waste of time.  At this rate, he concluded, if he continued to follow Jesus, he might never ever build his own house.

Peter, in particular, had a problem with the idea of Jesus, the Messiah, being a Lamb of God.  “Be it far from you that you would have to die,” he protested the first time he heard about it, and this earned him a sharp rebuke.  But Peter would not be easily dissuaded.  He could not stand the idea of God washing his feet.  When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter was not going to surrender without putting up a fight.  He drew his sword and cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest.  Again, Jesus rebuked him and preached to him the gospel of the lamb.  He warned him that according to the dynamics of the kingdom of God, all who takes the sword will perish by the sword.

The believer is someone who has no confidence in the flesh.  The word of God says by strength no man will prevail.  As Paul points out, the weapons of warfare for the believer are not physical (carnal) but spiritual.  Nevertheless, they are mighty because behind them is the power of God. (2 Cor 10:4)

Peter did not understand kingdom dynamics.  He fought a lot of battles with his mouth.  He boasted that even if all of Jesus’ disciples deserted him, he alone would remain faithful.  For this reason, God’s providence allowed Peter to be tempted above his ability.  Therefore, he was the one disciple who denied Jesus three times on the trot. When it was time to engage in spiritual warfare in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter slept.  When the battle was over and they came to arrest Jesus, Peter came to fight.  He failed to recognise that the real battle is in the spiritual at the point of prayer, and that according to kingdom dynamics, the arm of flesh will always fail. (Jer 17:5)

Therefore, in the church today, the wisdom of man says: “Let’s re-package the whole gospel story.  If we sell Coke in this kind of bottle, people would not buy it.  Let’s look for a different and more attractive design.  Let us give Jesus a more urban and contemporary look.  Let us make the gospel more palatable to the flesh.  Let us even say that homosexuals can be Pastors.  If we don’t embellish the message with the enticing words of man’s wisdom; people will reject it again.”

 

But why stop there.  Why not go the whole hog?  Why not admit that God did a bad job with the plan of salvation.  Let us get some Hollywood screenwriters together, and come up with a better script.  Jesus should have waited until the 21st Century before manifesting in the flesh.  This is a far better age of mass communications.  This is the age of the GSM, the Internet, and the cable television.  As a matter of fact, the resurrection should have been televised.  It should have been carried live by satellite on CNN, BBC and SKY.  That way, every tongue would know and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But all this misses the vital principle of the crucifixion.  The victory of Jesus was entirely spiritual.  Jesus was defeated completely in the flesh, in order that he may be totally and exclusively triumphant in the spirit:

For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but                                                                                                         we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. (2 Cor 13:4)

Although they killed his body, they could not kill his Spirit.  Before his death, the Pharisees and the Jews only had to contend with Jesus.  After his crucifixion, they discovered to their cost that they now had so many people to contend with.  The bible states that Samson killed more Philistines in his death than he did in his life. (Judg 16:30)   Jesus did more damage to the enemy by dying than he did by living.  Because he agreed to die, the world is now full of believers.  Because he agreed to lose, of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.  

God only values the spiritual; he is not particularly concerned about satisfying the flesh.  If you follow God, you have to mortify the deeds of the flesh.  The bible notes that those that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rm 8:8)  Neither can flesh and blood inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 15:50)  Unless a man is born of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3)  And the true worshipper is only that man who worships God in spirit, for only if you worship God in the spirit will you worship him in truth. (Jn 4:24) 

So God did not bother about Pilate, or the High Priest or the Pharisees.  Jesus’ victory was only revealed to the select few who are chosen and are called.

Mohammed Ali was a wonderful boxer.  In my youth, he was my hero.  I recall my English teacher in Rome, Mr. Gaunt, asking us to write an essay on  “the man I admire the most.”  I wrote about Mohammed Ali.  He had just changed his name from Cassius Clay at the time.  Ali told people what round he was going to knock them out and then did it in style in that very round.  But now many of the people that Ali knocked out are not like Ali today.  Today, Ali cannot stand still without his hands shaking.  So I start to ask myself now: “Did Ali actually win those fights for which he was celebrated?”

The man won the fight, but please what did he lose?  He won the fight but lost the battle.  He won the fight but lost his eye.  He won the fight but lost his faith.  He won the battle but lost the war.  Whenever you win in the flesh, count your losses in the spirit and name them one by one.

Therefore, the gospel of the lamb runs contrary to everything that we have learnt in the flesh.  The beatitudes do not speak to the natural man.  Indeed, they cannot appeal to the man who walks in the flesh.  The beatitudes are addressed to the spiritual man.

I have noticed that Christians simply ignore the gospel of the lamb on the grounds that it is not possible to expect people to behave like this.  And yet if you don’t accept the principles of the kingdom of God, it can only be because you do not belong in his kingdom.  You cannot come to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, for example, and insist on driving on the right hand side of the road.  You cannot go to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a suitcase full of Scotch whisky unless you are ready to be arrested at the airport.  By the same token, you cannot operate in the kingdom of God according to the principles of the kingdom of the world.

Jesus was despised and rejected by men.  He was wounded for transgressions that were not his.  He was bruised because of other people’s iniquities through no fault of his own.  He was beaten in order that others might have peace.  And through it all he did not complain.  Have you ever got into trouble for doing the right thing?  What are you supposed to do in such situations?  Should you stand up for your rights?  The gospel of the Lamb says: “Allow yourself to be cheated.”

For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but have

now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet 2:20-25)

What is the rationale or logic behind this kind of injunction, and why is it that Christians simply do not adhere to it?

The believer in Christ no longer has his own righteousness, but is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  Nothing that a man does by his own initiative can ever be the right thing to do.  This is because the best effort of man is completely repugnant to God.  Always remember that God’s ways are completely different from our ways.  Jesus pointed out that what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Lk 16:15)  Isaiah reveals that even our acts of righteousness are like filthy rags to him. (Isa 64:6)  Therefore by being a lamb, the believer is saying to God: “Not my will but yours be done.”

This means that the believer should set himself apart for the service of God.  He should relinquish all claims to himself.  He should be prepared to bear everything that God’s providence might bring his way.  He should be prepared to glorify God in whatever way God might command.  This is the nature of true faith in Christ.

Jesus was at pains to tell his disciples to expect tribulation and affliction:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)

Jesus said, in effect, that a Christian is required by the father to live in two worlds.  The one is to be physical: the other spiritual.  The one is to be in Christ: the other in the world.  The one is to be within: the other without.  The one is to be in the kingdom: the other is in the world.  The one is to be peaceful: the other full of conflict and turmoil.

Christians are not people who make it.  Christians are people who overcome the world.  Christians are people whose children die, and they remain steadfast.  They are people who have accidents and are paralysed, and they still testify to the love of God.  They are people whose houses are burnt down, whose families perish, whose businesses fail and they sing: “It is well, with my soul.”

The bible says:

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. (Rev 12:11)

They overcame him by Jesus shedding his blood.  It was the lamb that overcame the world and not the lion.  It is the God of peace (and not of war) who bruises Satan under our feet. (Rm 15:20)  Christ achieved victory over Satan by dying.  Speaking as a man, this is a strange kind of victory indeed.  The disciples of Christ also overcame him because they did not love their own lives unto the death.

How do you gain victory over lack?  You do so by making lack inconsequential.  In the world, to gain victory over lack is to come into riches.  For example, the riches can come by winning the lottery.  That is what we call “making it.”  But when a man “makes it,” he does not overcome poverty.  When he makes it, he simply becomes rich.  And if he becomes rich, he can just as easily become poor again.

But when a man overcomes poverty, he can never be poor again.  When he overcomes poverty, he does not have to be rich.  When he overcomes poverty, it means that poverty no longer has an effect on him.  He can be as poor as a church mouse, and yet he is as happy as a king.  That is why Paul says that in all these things we are more than conquerors. (Rm 8:37)  In all what things? 

In the midst of tribulation, suffering and adversity.  In the midst of these things we are not conquerors but are more than conquerors.  To be more than conquerors, you have to be different from a conqueror.  It means that although you lost, you actually won.  How can these things be?  You lost in the physical but won in the spirit.  He slapped you and you turned the other cheek.  Everybody laughed at you and called you a weakling.  But you “won” because you did not fight him.  You “won” because you refused to descend to his level.  You “won” because you recognized that the whole point of his attack was to bring you down spiritually.  He attacked you because he wanted you to sin.  He attacked you because he wanted to negate your faith.  But you “won” because you did not allow your faith to be negated.  Therefore you won in the spirit, but in the physical you lost.

What was the victory of Job?  The bible notes that in all his adversities, Job did not sin.  (Job 1:22)  When a man is determined not to sin, he is definitely going to lose in the flesh.  He would be slapped and he would turn the other cheek.  They would take his coat and he would give them his cloak as well.

We are more than conquerors although we are killed all day long.  We are more than conquerors because, in spite of everything, our faith is not destroyed.  Our love is not diminished.  Our hope is not lost.  We are more than conquerors because we are victorious over sin.  That is kingdom dynamics.

God is a redeemer.  But the redemptive prerequisite is that something should be lost.  If it is not lost then it will not be redeemed.  The redeemer turns loss into profit.  Indeed, the more you lose, the more you gain.  This kingdom dynamic informed the heroism of the people in God’s “Hall of Faith” who gained because they were not afraid to lose.

Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wondered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented- of whom the world was not worthy.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb 11:35-38)

What shall we say then?  God is looking for the “never-say-die.”  He is looking for that man who would agree to be hated of all men for the sake of the gospel.  He is looking for that man that can endure persecution for His name’s sake.  He is looking for that man who can praise God at midnight.  He is looking for that man that can be a fool for Christ.  He is looking for that man that can bear all things, and believe all things and hope all things and endure all things.  He is looking for that man who against hope will believe in hope.  He is looking for that man that is determined to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.   Therein is the glory of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

THE POWER OF FAILURE

 

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

(Hebrews 12:3)

The Pastor was preparing a bible study on “The Perfecting of the Saints,” and the Lord decided to instruct her visually in a dream.  He showed her a little child learning to walk but with great difficulty.  Every time he took a few steps, he fell down.  Then he got up and tried again, only to fall down again.  This happened again and again and again.  Suddenly the Lord spoke to the Pastor, still in the dream.  “That,” he said, “is perfection.”

Failure is written into the very fabric of the gospel.  When a man is determined to trust in God, he has to be ready to be a failure.  When a man is determined to receive from God, he has to be ready to suffer violence and to suffer rejection.  Even Jesus might call you a dog, but you must refuse to be discouraged.  The crowd might tell you to shut up, but you shout out the more.  You may fall asleep while reading your bible for the umpteenth time, but you simply get up and continue reading.  You may break your fast a million times; you simply continue where you left off.  You may fall and  backslide ten times.  But you get up, shake off the dust from your clothes and keep on walking.

If failure were a hindrance, a child would never walk.  Just think how many times a child tries to walk and falls down before he finally walks without falling.  What if he gives up after the thirtieth fall?  No.  Although he keeps falling down, his failures are simply signposts on the way to successful walking.  So remember this: failure is only a bus stop.  But don’t get down. Don’t even stop.  Good success is your sure destination.

There is never any iota of doubt in the mind of a child that he would eventually walk.  Failure is not an option.  Success is certain.  God always causes us to triumph in Christ.

 

The bible is a litany of failures.  It is a book about the failure of man and the success of God.  I looked through the “Hall of Faith” in the book of Hebrews and found a collection of failures.  Abraham was a liar and an adulterer.  Jacob was a supplanter and a cheat.  Moses was a murderer.  David was an adulterer and a murderer.  Peter was a coward and a loudmouth who denied Christ.  Paul was a murderer.  He was a Jewish “Taliban.”  All these men were failures but for the grace of God.

Jesus himself was a monumental failure.  In the popularity stakes, he soon became a joke.  If he had run for Mayor of Capernaum, he would have lost the election hands down.  People followed him for hamburgers and for miracles, but at the critical juncture, the ones shouting crucify him prevailed over the hosannas.  Forced to make a choice, the people chose a common criminal, a thief named Barrabas, instead of Jesus.  Without exception, all his disciples deserted him.  One of them, Judas, betrayed him.  One of his best friends, Peter, denied him not once or twice, but three times.

Elijah, on the other hand, was an exciting man.  Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and decreed: “Let it not rain for three years.”  And it did not rain.  When they sent some soldiers to arrest him, he said: “If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.”  And fire came down from heaven and consumed his would-be abductors. (2 Ki 1:10)  Here was a Clint Eastwood kind of gunslinger striding his generation like a colossus.

Elijah has become the prototype for the modern spiritual warfare in the church.  I have been to prayer meetings where people call down the fire of the Holy Ghost to consume their enemies: “All those who say I will not prosper, all those who say I will not pass my exams, all those who say I will not marry, Holy Ghost fire consume them.  Holy Ghost fire; destroy them.”

But Jesus did not have the spirit of Elijah.  And Jesus was oh so different from Elijah.  Jesus was a weakling in the flesh.  His was a gospel of turning the other cheek.  He failed to defend himself and he even failed to prevent his own death:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.  He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken.  And they made His grave with the wicked— but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. (Isa 53:7-9)

Just look at the kind of abuse he was subjected to.  Look at the kind of ridicule he endured.  They spat on him and beat him.  They slapped him and whipped him.  They laughed and jeered at him.  They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him.  They twisted a crown of thorns and put it on his head.  Passers-by blasphemed him, wagging their heads.  “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself,” they jeered.  “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Mt 27:40)  The chief priests and the scribes also mocked him saying: “He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let God deliver him now if he will have Him.” (Mt 27:42-43)

Alas, even God the Father, who had validated Jesus’ ministry throughout, now ditched him at the cross:

            And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt 27:46-50)

Nothing stinks like failure, and nothing attracts like success.  I put it to you that if you were to come into millions of dollars today, you would discover friends that you do not even know you have.  You may be ugly, old and decrepit, but Miss World would find you attractive.  But if you lose the money in a casino, or if a thief came and stole all the money, people would no longer want to know you.

How depressing it must be for a man to attend his own funeral and to listen to what his friends have to say about him.  Jesus listened in on his own epitaph and could not believe his ears.  They called him a failure.  They called him a pathetic figure.  Listen to the discussion that Jesus himself had with Cleopas on his resurrection, although he did not realise that it was Jesus he was talking to:

Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”  And He said to them, “What things?”  So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.” (Lk 24:18-21)

Jesus was very angry with Cleopas.  He was angry that Cleopas refused to believe the word of God.  He was angry that Cleopas refused to understand kingdom dynamics, which prescribes that Christ had to suffer in order to enter into his glory. (Lk 24:25-26)  Cleopas either did not understand the scriptures, or he denied the power of God.  His definition of success was worldly and sinful.  He defined success using the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life.  He was mindful of the ways of men and not of the ways of God.

Success in the world means nothing at all.  It is easy to be successful.  It is easy to come into wealth.  You can be promoted overnight.  You can go to the casino tonight and hit the jackpot.  You can be appointed as Governor of the Central Bank and corner some public funds.  Suddenly you are a success.  Suddenly you are celebrated the world over.  But the success that comes suddenly goes suddenly.  It never lasts.  It does not endure.

There are so many kingdoms.  Kingdoms come, kingdoms go.  But only one kingdom lasts forever.  God warned Joshua that:

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and thenyou will have good success.” (Josh 1:8)

By implication, there is good success, and there is bad success.  What man calls success, God calls bad success.

When Saul disobeyed God. Samuel told him that the kingdom had been taken away from him.  Nevertheless, he continued winning battles.  Take a look at this scripture:

And now, since he was securely in the saddle as king of Israel, Saul sent the Israeli army out in every direction against Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. And wherever he turned, he was successful.  He did great deeds and conquered the Amalekites and saved Israel from all those who had been their conquerors. (1 Sam 14:47-48 TLB)

Sometimes ungodly people win battles.  Victory is never guaranteed or limited to the godly.  God provides according to the mystery of his will.  God might have continued to give Saul successes in battle for other reasons apart from Saul.  Success is not a sign that God is involved.  Profit is not a sign that God is involved.  God does not determine success and profit as man does.  What Saul thought was a great victory over the Amalekites, God saw as a great defeat.  Success or failure is determined according to the will of God and according to his precepts.

God is not looking for successful people.  Success comes by grace. (Ps 75:6)  God can put any idiot anywhere.  He lets the sun shine and the rain fall on the good and on the evil.  Everyone knows that George Bush is not very intelligent, and yet he is President of the United States.  He did not even win the election in 2000.

God is not interested in a flash in the pan.  He does not like novices.  He is looking for survivors.  It is true that salvation is by grace, but only he who endures to the end shall be saved. (Mt 24:13)  God is not looking for starters; he is looking for finishers.  Since victory is certain, never give up.

Jesus told his disciples that they should always pray and not give up. (Lk 18:1)  He said they should ask and keep on asking.  They should seek and keep on seeking.  They should knock and keep on knocking.  They should run and not be weary.  They should walk and not faint.  The enemy can throw his best punch, but he should know that whatever happens you are still coming out for the next round.

According to kingdom dynamics, failure is the true foundation of enduring success.  A man who does not know and understand failure can never be truly successful.  Before a man can realise the good success of God, he has to know the failure of man.  Good success is built on resilience.  True winners are those who are “hardy perennials.”  They just don’t quit.  Look at the mighty confession of Job in the face of one of the most overwhelming setbacks ever recorded.  He said: “Even though God slays me, yet will I trust in him.”  (Job 13:15)  Job simply refuses to admit defeat with God at his side.  Indeed, the race is neither to the swift nor the battle to the strong.  Your schoolmates who did best in school are not necessarily the ones who are best positioned in life today.

The cross is a symbol of failure and defeat.  I speak as a man.  That is why the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel for failures.  The gospel is good news for those who have been defeated.  Through the gospel, the wretched of the earth discover to their pleasant shock and amazement that God is nevertheless on their side. 

The disciples were amazed.  You mean even a rich man cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  We thought God was on the side of the successful.  Who then can be saved?  Listen; listen; listen to Jesus.  Your faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Jesus came and brought a completely different revelation.  God is not on the side of the strong but of the weak.  God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.  Take another look at the scripture that Jesus used to inaugurate his ministry:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.  And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.” (Isa 61:1-4)

It is a ministry that identifies that God is looking for losers.  God is not a God of the successful.  God is a God of failures.  Failure can make or break a man.  Let it make you.  Before you can realise the God kind of success, you have to relinquish the human kind of success.  That means that before you can realise the God kind of success, you have to be a failure.  God is looking for losers; losers who refuse to accept defeat.  His injunction to Joshua is do not be dismayed.  Do not be discouraged. 

Recognise this: the strategy of the opposition is designed to make you give up.  It is designed to discourage you.  But don’t give up.  Don’t even think about throwing in the towel because you lost the last round.  You are in a war, not in a battle.  You may have lost some battles, but you need to realise that you are going to win the war.  Jesus has already won the war on your behalf. 

The message of the gospel is that there is redemption for failure and for failures.  Man is a failure by nature.  Adam failed.  We all failed.  All have failed and come short of the standards of God.  But glory be to God, we have a redeemer in Jesus Christ.  He specialises in redeeming failures.  He turns negatives into positives that we may be the image and likeness of God.  Therefore Job refused to know failure.  But he knew that his redeemer lives. (Job 19:25-27) 

When Peter fished all-night and caught nothing he became a candidate for divine assistance.  Jesus told him to fish again in the same place and he caught a multitude of fish.  Peter boasted that he would go all the way with Jesus.  But once Jesus was arrested, Peter became a turncoat.  He swore he did not even know him.  When Jesus rose from the dead, he made a special visit to Peter.  I can imagine what the import of that visit was:  “Peter, I know that you failed.  But now I want you to try again, this time with me.” 

Therefore the Peter who denied Jesus at the instance of a little girl would later stand before the Sanhedrin and refuse to be intimidated or silenced.  He insisted that he would rather obey God than men. (Acts 5:29)  God used this failed but redeemed believer so mightily that:

They brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:15)

When Jesus multiplied bread and fish to feed the multitude, he asked his disciples to gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost. (John 6:12)  I have maintained in Chapter 1 that the process of gathering up fragments is a kingdom dynamic par excellence.  Beloved, it is imperative that you gather up the fragments of your life, that nothing may be lost.  Our God is a God of purpose.  Therefore, recognise that every facet of your life is for a reason, including the adversities, the failures and the setbacks:

To overcome defeat, you have to be defeated.  To overcome death, Christ had to die.  To overcome sin, Christ had to come in the likeness of sinful flesh:

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh. (Rm 8:3)

To be inoculated from something, you have to contract a small dose of the disease.  The serpent of brass cured those who were bitten by the fiery serpents.

Yes, Jesus was a big failure.  They nailed him to the cross and he died.  But when they came back the third day the tomb was empty.  He failed in the flesh but triumphed in the spirit:  

His weak, human body died on the cross, but now he lives by the mighty power of God. We, too, are weak in our bodies, as he was, but now we live and are strong, as he is, and have all of God’s power to use in dealing with you. (2 Cor 13:4 TLB)

God’s plans and purposes are achieved even in the worst circumstances.  They are worked out even in the worst possible situations.  Judas’ dastardly betrayal of Jesus was part of God’s plan for man’s redemption.  The short-term effects or results of an action should not be confused with God’s ultimate objectives.  The reference point must in all circumstances be God himself and not the consequences of obeying him.  Results have no bearing on faith.  Faith has no bearing on results.  Faith means believing in God and not believing in results.  Faith is trusting God to fulfil his promises however and whenever.

            For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)                                                              

Chapter 15

THE WORK OF FAITH

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

(John 6:28-29)

Imagine for a minute that a man of God was walking down the road.  And there was a man in flowing white “agbada” running after him.  The man was running desperately; he was running madly.  But wait.  This was no ordinary man.  Who was the man running?  Could you believe it?  It was the Governor of a State.  You don’t mean it.  The Governor was running after the Prophet.  Running madly after him.  And when he finally got to him what did he do?  That was the incredible part.  When he got to him, he fell down on his knees and pleaded with him.  The Governor got down on his knees on the road in front of everybody?  Yes, he did.  What did he want?  He wanted something that only the Prophet could give him.

You have got it.  I am talking about the rich young ruler of Mark Chapter 10.  He is a representative Christian.  He is a wonderful child of God.  His heart is in the right place.  He is not slothful in business.  But he is fervent in the spirit, serving the Lord.

There is a need in his life and the need is great.  There is a need in his life, and the need is pressing.  So pressing, he forgets that he is a big man.  So pressing, he forgets that he is a rich man.  So pressing, he forgets that he is wearing a white lace “agbada” and that the street he is kneeling on is filthy.

I know you might have run after a bus before.  It was the first bus in a long while, and you just had to catch that one.  I know you may have run after a woman or man before.  She just had to be your girlfriend or he just had to be your boyfriend.  But have you ever had to run after Jesus?  Have you run after him and the quicker you ran; the faster he walked?  Have you ever run after the Lord until you were completely out of breath?  Have you ever run after the Lord, until you made a complete fool of yourself?  Have you ever run after the Lord, until you lost your dignity, lost your pride and lost your self-respect?  Have you ever run after the Lord until you became completely broken?  Have you ever run after the Lord, naked and not ashamed?

Christians can’t stand people who run after Jesus.  They are uncomfortable with them.  Theirs is too much.  They regard them as fanatics.  Never mind that Bartimaeus is blind.  “Is that why he should be crying like that?  Is he the only one who has a problem?  We all have problems you know.  My brother, take it easy.  It is not as big a deal as that.  After all, you are not the one who killed Jesus.  You are also not the only one going to heaven.  We are all heaven-bound.  Lord Jesus, please send this man away, for he is making a nuisance of himself.” 

Just think of that woman kneeling down and kissing Jesus’ feet.  She is washing his feet with her tears and wiping his feet with her hair for heavens sake.  Don’t you think that is a little much?  Could you really do that?  David’s wife, Michal, was completely disgusted with him: “My Lord, King David, do you think it is dignifying for the king of Israel, to be making such a fool of himself before every Jill and Harry in the street.  How idiotic you were in church today, crying and rolling on the ground.  Don’t you have any self-respect?  Were you not concerned about indecent exposure?”

And so the rich young ruler, the Governor of a State if you will, ran after Jesus like a mad man.  And when he finally caught up with him, he went down on his knees in the muddy street.  What did the man want?  Clearly, this rich man wanted something that money could not buy.  What was it?

The man did not ask Jesus for bread.  He did not ask for fish.  He did not ask for long life.  He did not even ask for greater riches.  He did not ask for the life of his enemies.  He was not looking for a wife, for a job, for accommodation or for promotion.  He was not looking for signs and wonders.  This man had one desire: he wanted to inherit eternal life.

How badly do you want eternal life?  Do you want it badly enough?  Is it as urgent as the payment of your rent?  Is it as critical as your school fees?  Is it as vital as the mortgage on your house?  The kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force.  Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.

Our representative Christian, the rich young ruler, wanted eternal life.  But, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  The man asked the wrong question, and his question exposed the true condition of his heart.  He asked: “What should I do to inherit eternal life?”  But the inheritance of eternal life is not in the doing but in the believing:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

He did not ask what should I believe that I might inherit eternal life.  He did not ask who should I love.  He did not ask who should I follow.  But he asked: “What should I do?”  He wanted to attain eternal life.  He wanted to accomplish eternal life.  He wanted to climb the Mountain Everest of eternal life.

And so Jesus prescribed to him the dead end of the law.  You know the commandments; how about trying to obey them?  Have you tried doing those things and succeeded?  Haven’t you, O great Christian, already discovered that you could not do what God required?

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rm 3:20)

And if you have discovered that all have sinned and come short of the requirements of God, why are you here asking for more things to do?  Have you done those ones that you already know about?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rm 10:4)

This man was a Christian; so he was not ignorant of the law.  And so he should have come to Christ in defeat.   He should have come saying: “Lord Jesus, I have tried my very best, but I have come short of the glory of God.  I have done all I have known to do, but to no avail.  I have tried not to get angry, but have lost my temper.  I have tried not to be covetous, but could not help but wish I were the one who bought the new car that my brother has.  I have tried to remain pure in heart, but could not help but look at a woman lustfully.  I need you to help me.  I need you to deliver me.”

Paul, the greatest apostle of all, knew that he could not help himself.  He made a public confession that continues to baffle pharisaic theologians:

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.  O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rm 7:21-24)

Paul cried to Jesus for deliverance, even as David and others did before him.  “Lord Jesus, what can you do for me?  How can you deliver me from this bondage of sin?”

The kingdom dynamic here is self-evident.  There is great danger in strength, for by strength shall no man prevail. (1 Sam 2:9)  The strengths of a man are infinitely more dangerous for him than his weaknesses.  A man’s weaknesses are liable to carry him to God while his strengths may deceive him into believing that he can do without God.  It is dangerous to be strong in one’s self.  The bible says we should be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (Eph 6:10)  Moreover, the strength of the Lord is made perfect in weakness.

In the kingdom of the world, when a child finally learns to ride a bicycle, he is likely to call out to his father: “Father come and see me ride without falling.  Come and see me ride without holding the handle bars.”  Not so in the kingdom of God.  In the kingdom of God, the child is likely to call to the Father:  “Father, come and see my weaknesses.  Come and see my inadequacies:”

For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isa 57:15)

The great physician has no ministry for those that are whole.  He has come for the poor, the meek, the broken hearted, the captives, the mourners and the sorrowful.

Take another look at David’s petition in Psalm 51.  David makes no promises to God.  Lord Jesus, he said, I am in need of a Saviour.  I need you to create in me a new heart.  I need you to renew a right spirit within me.  I need you to do something for me.  I am not going to make promises that I cannot keep.  I am not going to make resolutions that I cannot fulfil.  Unless you help me, I know for sure that I will sin again against you.

I can’t do anything unless you first do something Lord.  I can’t be anything Lord unless you make me that thing.  Quicken me, says the Psalmist, and then I will call upon your name. (Ps. 80:18)  Draw me, says the Shulamite, and I will run after you. (Song 1:4)  For, says Paul, it is God that works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Php 2:13)  I must be your workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.  For without you, I can do nothing.  Without you, I am done for.

Perhaps no other Psalm expresses this kingdom dynamic as forcefully as Psalm 119:

My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word.

I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes.

Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wondrous works.

My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word.

Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.

I have chosen the way of truth; your judgments I have laid before me.

I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame!

I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.

Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end.

Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart.

Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.

Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way.

Establish Your word to Your servant, who is devoted to fearing You.

Turn away my reproach which I dread, for Your judgments are good.

Behold, I long for Your precepts; revive me in Your righteousness.

Let Your mercies come also to me, O LORD— your salvation according to Your word.

So shall I have an answer for him who reproaches me, for I trust in Your word. (Ps 119:25-42.  Emphases added)

In everything, it is God who does the work.  It is the prerogative of God to do the work and the responsibility of man to believe that God has done and will do the work.

The rich young ruler is a seasoned Christian.  He goes to church every Sunday.  He does not miss mid-week services.  He comes to Lunch-Hour Fellowships.  He fasts twice a week.  He gives alms to the poor.  He reads his bible and prays every day.  He does not drink, and he does not smoke.  He does not run after women.  In short, he is very religious.  But unfortunately for him, being religious is not enough.

It is as it was in the days of Noah, when there were Oh so many “Christians.”  As it was in the days of Noah, when there were so many mighty men and women of God but, alas, they all perished in the Flood.  They lacked one thing: just one thing.  They failed to get into the ark.  Similarly, there are so many wonderful Christians today who lack just one thing.  It is only one thing, but it is the main thing.  It is only one thing but because of that one thing heaven is brass.  It is only one thing but because of that one thing prayers go unanswered.  It is only one thing but because of that one thing they always seem to fail at the edge of breakthrough.  Because of that one thing, their relationships fail.  Because of that one thing, the enemy always has the last laugh.  Yes, it is only one thing but that one thing is needful.  And although Martha you are a good and diligent Christian, working faithfully in the vineyard of the Lord, I want you to know that it is Mary who has chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.

Isaiah had spent his ministry proclaiming woe on different transgressors.  He pronounced woe on those who join house to house and add field to field. (Isa 5:8)  He pronounced woe on those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity and sin as if with a cart rope. (Isa 5:18)  He pronounced woe on those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness. (Isa 5:20)  He pronounced woe on men mighty at drinking wine. (Isa 5:22)  But in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, and he pronounced woe on himself:

So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isa 6:5)

Finally, Isaiah saw, not what was wrong with others, but what was wrong with him.

Jesus told the rich young ruler; “You know the commandments, how about obeying those first before asking about any other requirements?”  The man replied; “Oh, I have already obeyed those.  As a matter of fact, I mastered those from the age of seven.  I have been obeying them from my youth.  I gave my life to Christ twenty years ago.  I know the bible from Genesis to Revelation.”

And so Jesus answered this man’s request?  He gave him one simple task to perform:

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mk 10:21)

And suddenly, this wonderful Christian lost all interest in eternal life.

The law means that we must do something for God: but grace means that God has done something for us.  And yet Christians become even more determined to do things for God, placing them back under the dead end of the law.

Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. (Isa 30:18)

God will wait until we admit defeat.  He will wait until we reach the point of utter despair in ourselves and finally give up.  It is only then that we can see the manifestation of his power from within.  It is because of our trying that we fail.  Therefore be still and know that God is God.  As long as we insist on doing it by ourselves God is not inclined to intervene on our behalf.

We know that we are justified entirely by the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  That work is finished.  We can neither add to it nor subtract from it.  However, we would like to believe sanctification is a function of our own determination and discipline.  But there can be no deliverance through self-effort.  In everything, Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega.  It is God who works in you.

True faith only blossoms when we reach the end of ourselves.  Only then can we put all our trust in the Lord.  A lady told me of a dream that she had.  She found herself standing on the roof of a tall skyscraper.  On the street beneath was Jesus, with arms outstretched.  He called out to her to jump, assuring her that he would catch her.  I asked her what she did.  She told me that she refused to jump, afraid that if she did she would be killed.

We have to come quickly to the recognition that our individual ability and initiative for God are impertinent.  God never asks us to do anything that we can do.  But he enables us to live a life we could never live, and to do a work that we could never do.  With man the works of God are impossible, but with God all things are possible.

Moses was rich in spirit.  He perceived that he was destined to lead his people to freedom.  So he took the initiative.  He killed an Egyptian and buried him in the sand.  By the next day, he discovered that the Israelites did not appreciate him.  They questioned his authority, and some had even revealed his act to the Egyptians.  Moses had to run for his life.  For the next forty years, he was in the wilderness.  God emptied him of himself, and of his sense of his ability.  When God finally called him to lead the Israelites to freedom, Moses asked: “Who am I that I should lead the people out?”  That was a sign that he was finally ready.  Moses no longer believed in Moses.  All that was necessary was for him to believe in God.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  If you are going through a period of discouragement, it might be because there is a time of personal enlargement ahead.

My conversion was so dramatic that I became convinced that I had to be a full-time preacher of the gospel.  I told all my colleagues at work that I was resigning.  God had called me to serious work, and this work deserved my full attention.  Then the Holy Spirit spoke to me.  He said: “Femi, did I ask you to resign from your work?”  I said I thought that that was what he required of me.  He said: “Don’t assume my instructions, listen to them and heed them.”  I was rather disappointed at this turnaround.  And some of the people to whom I had boasted that I was resigning wondered why the pressing work of the Lord was no longer so pressing after all. 

Some years later, the Lord said to me: “Femi, I want you to resign from your job now and face the preaching of the gospel with undivided attention.”  And then something strange happened.  I discovered that I did not want to resign.  I started to struggle in my flesh.  And then I wondered what all the boasting about my preparedness to resign a few years back had been about.  Had I been serious then, or was I just fooling myself?

When I had wanted to resign on my own initiative, there was so much glory in it for me.  It would have celebrated my new-found faith.  But some years down the road, I could see no glory whatsoever.  All I was confronted with were the harsh realities.  Where would I live?  I was living in accommodation provided by the government in the most expensive part of Lagos, for a ridiculously low rent.  How would I pay my rent?  Every month I had a fixed salary.  How would I manage on my own?  I did resign, but it was not easy.  I was able to do so only because the Lord helped and encouraged me. 

I put it to you that there are many areas in your life where you cannot help yourself.  Admit it, you need help.  You cannot stop lusting.  You cannot stop fighting.  You can make all the resolutions that you want.  You can be as determined as you like.  But no matter what the leopard does, he cannot change his spots.

I saw a man drowning and he was shouting for help.  People got on his case and told him to shut up.  Do you think he shut up?  Sleep told him to shut up.  His stomach told him to shut up.  Forget about drowning for a minute, let’s deal with the issue of food first.  Do you think he obliged?  A television programme told him to shut up.  Forget about drowning, I want to be entertained.  Do you think he agreed?  Certainly not!  If he agreed, he knew he would be dead.

Are you poor and needy?  Then you need to shout for help.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is only for the poor and the needy.  If you are really poor you need to cry out for help.  But if like Esau you have enough then you can keep quiet.  Let me tell you something.  I have come to recognise that I need help.  I need help desperately.  I need the Lord passionately.  I need help to breathe.  I need help to stand.  I need help to walk.  I need help to run.  I need help to get a job, to get married, to get accommodation, to buy a car, to pass my exams and to run my business.  I need help to cross the road, to wake up in the morning, to go to work and to come back home at night. 

I need help because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.  I need help to be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove in the midst of wolves.  I need help because the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened up against me.  I need help because all my bones are out of joint.  My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd.  My tongue cleaves to my jaws.  I need help because dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me. 

But I want to tell you something else as well.  I don’t want your help.  Jesus did not even say beware of the devil.  He said beware of men. (Mt 10:17)  I don’t want the help of a man; I want the help of Jesus.  Only Jesus can help me.  Only Jesus can hide me in the secret of his presence from the pride of man.  Only Jesus can keep me secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.  Only Jesus can protect me from the terror by night, from the arrow that flies by day, from the pestilence that walks in darkness and from the destruction that wastes at noonday.

It is the precious Holy Spirit who helps us in all our infirmities.  It is he who helps us to read the bible.  It is he who helps us to read the bible without falling asleep.  It is he who helps us to read the bible without eating and drinking at the same time.  It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray.  It is he who helps us to pray without falling asleep.  It is he who helps us to pray without “buying and selling” at the same time.  It is he who helps us to fast.   It is he who is at work in us enabling us to be who God wants us to be.

 

Do you know that you can do it?  Do you know that you can pray for five hours without falling asleep?  Do you know that you can go to a night vigil and not sleep halfway through it?  Do you know that you can fast without food and water for three days?  Do you know that you can read the bible for five hours non-stop and enjoy doing so?  Do you know that you can wake up every night at exactly 3 a.m. on the dot to pray?  Do you know that you can interpret tongues?  Do you know that you can have the gift of the word of knowledge and of the word of wisdom?  Do you know that you can do all things through Christ?

Listen to me.  This is simple kingdom dynamics.  If Jesus can make a blind man see; if he can make a lame man rise up, take up his bed and walk; if he can make Lazarus come out of the grave after being dead and buried for four days; what is it that Jesus cannot make you do?  What is it that Jesus cannot enable you to do?  Jesus is the creator.  He made all things and without him was not any thing made that was made. (Jn 1:3)  Therefore, he can make you to be exactly who you are meant to be.  He can make you to fulfil your destiny.  He can make you to overcome your shortcomings.  He can make you to rise up and walk.

You may well ask what you need to do.  What did Blind Bartimaeus have to do?  He asked Jesus for help.  Why did blind Bartimaeus recover his eyesight?  Was he healed because he was a good man?  No.  Was he healed because he read his bible?  No.  Was he healed because he was a Christian? No.  He was healed because he asked Jesus for help.  He believed and therefore he asked for help.

Jesus said that except we are converted and become as little children, we would not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:3)  A baby gets everything that it needs done for it.  How does he do it?  He believes that Mummy is the good shepherd.  He believes therefore he speaks.  He believes therefore he shouts.  He believes therefore he cries out for help.

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (Jam 5:16)  No fancy prayers required.  No highfalutin introduction.  No preface of “omniscient, omnipresent, omni-wonderful God.”  Just a heartfelt cry for help.  A man who is drowning does not try to cry for help in Queens English.  He does not need to cry for help with the appropriate phonetics.  He just cries out.

God is the breasted one.  He has so much milk but his children are not coming to him to drink:

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37-38)

But there is no indication that anyone either understood or came to him to drink.

 

The believer is God’s workmanship.  If he does badly, it can only be because he is operating beneath his divinely given ability.  That means that if he does badly he is to blame.  But if he does well he is not to be praised, because it is not in him.  It is in Christ.  Your ability to do and be anything is of God:

For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Rm 11:36)

When Pharaoh had a dream that baffled him, they told him of this man called Joseph who was adept at interpreting dreams.  But when they brought Joseph to Pharaoh, Joseph quickly pointed out that it was not in him to interpret dreams, but that it was in God.  He told him: “It is God who shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”

In the first creation (or in the first Adam) God placed human ability in man. (Exo 31:1-6; 1 Ki 7:13-14)  The problem with this approach was that after some time man assumed that it was of him and not of God.  He came to believe that this wisdom and this craftsmanship was the result of something he did or achieved, and then pride came in.  But the redemption protects and shields the believer from pride.  “Where is boasting then?” asks Paul.  It is excluded.  By what law?  By the law of faith. (Rm 3:27)

The tragedy of Solomon is the tragedy of fallen man.  God gave Solomon wisdom such as he had never given to any man before him, and such as he has never given to any man since.  But Solomon’s wisdom did not really profit him.  In spite of his wisdom, Solomon opened a laboratory of excess.  He had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  All the wisdom of Solomon led him to apostasy.  All the strength of Samson became putty in the hands of Delilah.

How does God protect the new creation from pride?  In the new dispensation of grace, God has given gifts to men but he does not entrust them to men.  God entrusts all things to Christ.  For it pleased the father that in him, and in him alone, should all fullness dwell.  The new programming is that Christ is made all things unto us:

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God— and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30-31)

So, if any man wants wisdom now he cannot find it in himself but in Christ.

If any man wants wisdom, let him ask of God.  And Jesus has promised:

“Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (Jn 14:13-14)

Observe the kingdom dynamic.  We shall ask, but Christ will do it.

What is your reaction whenever you discover that you have returned to your old habit of sin or lust once again?  Are you distraught?  Do you make new resolutions and become even more determined to resist temptation?  Or do you wallow in self-recrimination, even as you hope to return to the straight and narrow path of righteousness?

If so, in all likelihood, your cry and dismay is coming from your flesh, and not from your spirit.  Your flesh is upset because you set yourself a standard that you could not achieve.  If you had succeeded, you would have been pleased with yourself and not with Christ.  But because you failed, you are disappointed with yourself and your flesh is asking for another opportunity to redeem itself.  But God can never be pleased with anything that is achieved in the flesh.  God is only pleased with what is achieved in the spirit and in Christ.

The law has one fundamental purpose- to frustrate us to death.  It is supposed to make us knock our head on the wall until we cry out to God for help.  So if we are still crying and trying, it can only be because we have not yet concluded that the flesh is powerless to help us.  When we finally accept the cross, we would no longer berate ourselves.  We would have come to terms with the fact that we cannot help ourselves.  We would simply worship the Lord and fellowship with him, confident that he will accomplish the work in us.  The promise of the bible is that if we walk in the spirit, we shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (Gal 5:16)

The flesh produces nothing but dead works.  You have fished all night and caught nothing.  Now let the Lord take over and give you directions.  Only David could kill Goliath, and there is no way he could have done it using the armour of Saul, which is a type of the flesh.

When Jesus told the rich young ruler to go and sell all that he had, he should have said: “Lord you got me there.  I thought I could do all things, but clearly, I cannot bring myself to do that one.  Can you help me to do it?  Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.  Lord, I would like to inherit eternal life, but I don’t want to lose my life.  Can you help me?”  This kingdom dynamic is as simple as ABC.  James says:

You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. (Jam 4:2)

Everything is there for the asking.  “Lord, I would like to inherit eternal life, but I can’t bring myself to stop reading pornographic magazines.  Can you help me?  Lord, I would like to inherit eternal life, but I cannot resist sleeping with my girlfriend.  Can you help me?  Lord, I would like to inherit eternal life, but I have leprosy.  Can you help me?”  If you ask for help, you will receive help.

But the rich young ruler wanted something that he could do for Jesus, and not something that Jesus could do for him.  He wanted something of works, so that he could boast, even as he did concerning the commandments.  Therefore he walked away and lost all interest in eternal life.

He claimed that he had kept all the commandment of God from his youth.  God said his people perished for lack of knowledge. (Hos 4:6)  The young ruler was speaking in ignorance.  He thought he had been keeping all the commandments but he had actually kept none.  All the commandments are encapsulated under one: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your might and your neighbour as yourself.  But this great “Christian” loved his possessions more than he loved the Lord his God.  Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Lord God Jehovah had no place to lay his head in the heart and mind of this great “Christian.”  There was no room for Jesus in the inn of his heart.  Every room was occupied by his great earthly possessions.

What about you?  If Jesus were to evaluate your life and say one thing you lack, what would that one thing be?  What is the one thing that you lack?  What is the one thing that you have overlooked?  What is that one thing that is weighing you down?  Is there any thing that holds you back from being fully committed to Christ?

The bible observes that:

Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. (2 Ki 5:1)

Naaman was a great and a honourable man.  He was a rich man and was highly exalted in society.  He was the commander in chief of the armed forces of Syria.  He was a military hero and a mighty man of valour.  He was decorated with national honours for his military prowess.  The people looked up to him as a saviour.  But one thing was missing.  Naaman was a leper and that one thing overshadowed every other thing.

Every man has some “but” or the other in his character.  Some blemish, some stain, some wrinkle.  Some fly in his ointment.  Some damp in his joy.  Some cramp in his style.  It is a little fox, but it spoils the whole vine.

Naaman was known not as Naaman the honourable, or as Naaman the mighty man of valour, but as Naaman the leper.  Bartimaeus might have been a handsome man.  He might have been intelligent.  He might have had unusual insight.  But who cares?  He was blind.  Nobody called him intelligent Bartimaeus, or handsome Bartimaeus.  He was blind Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus, one thing you lack, and that one thing is what it is all about.  That one thing is the devil’s weapon.  One thing you lack and that one thing is the little leaven that leavens the whole lump.  It is the little yeast that ferments the whole bread.

It is necessary periodically for us to go before the Lord for a spiritual check up.  Go to him and say: “Lord, I have fished all night and have caught nothing.  What is it that I am doing wrong?  What is it that I lack?  Lord, I have fasted and I have prayed.  But what is it that I lack?”  Believe me, they are there by the lorry load.  We need to know what they are, not because we can do anything about them, but in order to bear fruits of repentance and to bring them under the blood of Jesus for cleansing.  We need to know in order to pray for deliverance by he who can save to the uttermost.  We need to look continually into the perfect law of liberty and stand corrected.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

“Holy Spirit, please tell me those things that I lack now, so you can help me make amends.  Please tell me now, while there is still time.  Please tell me now so that as I walk in your light, the blood of Jesus will cleanse me from all sin.  Please Daddy tell me now, so that there is no impairment in my fellowship with you.  So that you can take me from faith to faith, and from glory to glory.”

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps 139:23-24 KJV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

REDEMPTIVE INJUSTICE

 

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:19-21)

Let us call a spade a spade.  This scripture is absolutely ridiculous.  Whoever came up with this scripture must be from heaven.  He probably has no understanding of what it is like to live here on earth.  How can I bless someone who persecutes me?  Why should I bless him?  Why should I allow someone to get away with murder?  When O.J. Simpson was declared not guilty in one of those landmark trials in the United States, the family of his dead wife burst into tears.  When the trial of the accused killers of the Nigerian Attorney General, Bola Ige, collapsed, his family was quick to express their disgust at the injustice of his death and the assumed collusion of the government.

Can you imagine the Americans capturing Bin Laden and then they bring him to church in order to bless him?  Can you imagine them blessing Saddam Hussein now that they have caught him?  Imagine a situation in which some religious fanatics attack a man’s house and burn it to the ground.  In the process, they kill his wife, and his three children and destroy all his property.  And then during the burial ceremony, a Pastor reads the scripture above.  “Give place to wrath.”  “Leave the matter to God.”  So the attackers of the man’s family go scot-free.  And to add insult to injury, the man who died ultimately meets his attackers in heaven.  They have all become heirs of salvation.  I ask you, is this fair?

What kind of discussion do you think David would have had with Uriah in heaven?  How do you think Uriah would feel meeting in heaven of all places the man who slept with his wife, got her pregnant, and had him killed to cover his tracks?

 “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  But does the Lord really repay?  Can the Lord give a man true satisfaction?  You have been used and abused; you have been spitefully treated and you take the matter to the Lord.  What type of satisfaction are you likely to get?

The Lord would preach the gospel to you.  He would tell you to forgive and forget.  And if you don’t, the Lord himself would deliver you, the aggrieved person, to tormentors who will torment you until you forgive the offender. (Mt 18:34)

But what about the offender, what would the Lord do to him?  How would the Lord take vengeance on him?  The Lord might simply ask someone to go and preach the gospel to him as well.  Is that acceptable?

Of all people to ask to go and preach to Nineveh, God chose Jonah.  The Assyrians had oppressed the Jews for a long time.  Now God decided to send a Jew to them, not to destroy them, but to preach the gospel of repentance and salvation.  Jonah would have none of it.  He took a boat and headed instead for Tarshish, the exact opposite direction from Nineveh.  God would have none of that but decided to take him to Nineveh against his will by a “submarine.”  God arranged it for Jonah’s shipmates to throw him into the sea and then had him swallowed by a whale.  The whale just happened to dock at Nineveh harbour, where it vomited passenger Jonah.  Jonah did not need persuading after that; he had no choice but to preach salvation to his enemies.  His preaching was so powerful and so impressive that everybody in Nineveh repented and God’s judgement on Nineveh was revoked.

Take a look at the bible’s description of Jonah’s reaction to this elaborate divine conspiracy:

            But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.  So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.  Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”  Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”            (Jon 4:1-4)

Why should Jonah not be angry?  In spite of all the crimes of the people of Nineveh, they received a free pardon.  God is totally unfair.  You simply can’t get retributive justice from a God who is gracious and loving and whose mercies endure forever.

But is there not something strange about being upset with God because he is gracious and forgiving?  Is this not like the case of those Pharisees who persecuted Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath?  Since we are really telling it like it is, let us pull no punches here.  Do you know the greatest injustice of all?  The greatest injustice of all is that you yourself should be the heir of salvation.  The greatest injustice of all is that you should be saved.  The greatest injustice of all is that you, of all people, should be heaven-bound. 

You, who were a crook, a liar and a cheat.  You were a fornicator and an adulterer.  You were an idol worshipper.  You were a drunkard and a drug addict.  You were proud, vain and riddled with deceitful lusts.  Why in heavens name should God forgive someone like you?  It is absolutely unfair that you should go to heaven.  In the name of justice, you should go to hell and fry there.  And it is absolutely unfair that Jesus, who never sinned and never told a lie, never answered back when insulted, had to die on your behalf.

So let’s call a spade a spade.  If we are going to insist on justice, let there be justice for all.  Since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, justice without mercy means that all of us would end up in hell.  Therefore, I would rather have a merciful God than a God of judgement.  Even if this means that I have to spend eternity in heaven with Sani Abacha or Mobutu Sese Seko, so be it.  Heavenly Father, let your mercy rejoice against your judgement in my case.

What is the meaning of the singular act of God’s magnanimity, which found profound expression in the salvation of Jesus Christ?

Yes, life is so unfair.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Some die young; some live to a ripe old age.  Some are handicapped; others are bed-ridden with sickness.  Some are handsome; some are ugly.  Some are smart; some are stupid.  Some are fast; some are slow.  Some are successful; some are failures.  But life is unfair because what we call life is not what God intended.  What we call life is precisely what Jesus has come to redeem us from.  He has come to redeem us from a life of injustice, a life of sickness, a life of sin, a life of death, a life of misery and failure and affliction and calamity. 

Life is unfair, but death is fair.  The poor die and the rich also die.  Moreover, when the rich die they lose all their wealth.  When the poor die they lose all their poverty.  When the sick die they lose their sickness.  When the disadvantaged die they lose all their disadvantages, and the advantaged lose all their advantages.  Every valley is exalted and every mountain is made low.  The crooked places are made straight and the rough places made smooth.  And then the glory of the Lord is revealed.  Therefore, the fairness of God is revealed, not in life, but in death.

The believer is a dead man living a resurrected life.  Paul expressed the quintessential Christian life:

            “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

No matter what you go through, a believer can no longer talk of injustice.  Injustice does not exist in the language spoken in the kingdom of God.  Neither can a believer insist on vengeance.  To do so is to be in danger of revoking his free pardon.  You can no longer make a case about somebody’s injustice to you and expect satisfaction from retributive justice.  Should you insist on satisfaction, God will also insist on satisfaction.  A Christian who insists on retributive justice is someone who has simply yet to understand the nature of the free pardon that he has received from God.  “Freely you have received; freely give.”  Therefore, since you have received pardon, pardon freely.

Let me ask you something.  Has God ever taken your side in a quarrel before?  Not likely.  When two people quarrel both are in the wrong.  You are only right if you don’t quarrel.  A man can never be justified in the sight of God as a result of something he does or does not do.  If he could, then he would have saved himself and it would not have been necessary to depend on Jesus to save him.  It is only what Jesus does that justifies: 

            “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Gal 2:16)

Paul says even when the conscience of a man is clear; it does not mean that he is right. (1 Cor 4:4)  It is only God who justifies the believer.  He does not justify himself.  Let me put it graphically: don’t be your own lawyer and don’t hire a lawyer to present your case before God.  You already have a lawyer: Jesus Christ. 

If you make your own case, it means you no longer need the services of Jesus.  Without lawyer Jesus, you are automatically guilty.  With lawyer Jesus, you can never lose the case.

Many Christians are still trying to get God to be on their side.  They want God to take their side in a quarrel.  They want God to take their side against their enemies.  But please answer me this: “Are you saved?”  Then you are already justified.  God has already taken your side.  Had it not been for the Lord who is on our side, we would be hell-bound.  Some of us, including “yours truly,” would be in hell already.  Therefore relax; God is on your side.  Even though you are going through the fire, God is on your side.  Even though you are going through the water, God is on your side.  Even though you are going through persecution and affliction, God is on your side.  Yes, even though you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God is on your side.  And if God be for you, who can be against you?

Today, the devil cannot make a case against you to God as he did against Job.  All that was before the cross.  Since it is now clear from the beginning that the judge is on your side, then making a case against you would be simply idiotic.  The jury is rigged.  There may be twelve men on the jury, but lo and behold, they are all members of your family.  The judge himself just happens to be your father.

The President has chosen a man to be Minister in his cabinet.  Then someone makes a case against him that he is not qualified for the job.  But the judge and the jury in the case is the same President who chose the Minister and thereby declared that the man was qualified in the first place.  In effect, whoever makes a case against the Minister is wasting his time.  He can never win because the same man who elects is the man who justifies.  The only thing that can happen is that the accuser might succeed in making the President his enemy.  So understand that whomever God elects is justified, and whomever he justifies will be glorified.  The whole process is rigged.

David understood this kingdom dynamic.  Given the opportunity twice, he refused to kill Saul, a man who was after his life.  When Shimei cursed him while he was fleeing from Jerusalem during Absalom’s coup d’etat, David refused to take vengeance.  He noted in the Psalms that his enemies hated him without a cause.  Nevertheless, he sought peace and pursued it according to the principles of the kingdom of God.  He even went so far as to restore that which he did not take away. (Ps 69:4)  Can you tolerate that kind of injustice?  That is the requirement of the kingdom of God.

Since the believer is already justified in Christ, he no longer has to fight for his rights.  The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace. (Exo 14:14)  Take a look at Jehoshaphat’s address to his troops when the combined armies of three enemy nations attacked Judah:

           

            “‘You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.” (2 Chr 20:17)

Because the Lord is the believer’s justifier, he sometimes allows himself to be cheated. (1 Cor 6:7)  Peter, who initially did not understand this kingdom dynamic, soon became its most eloquent advocate after going through the tutelage of the Holy Spirit.  He asks:

            For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously. (1 Pet 2:20-23)

For this reason, Paul also writes that a believer should present his body as a living sacrifice unto God. (Rm 12:1)  He notes that for the sake of Christ a believer allows himself to be “killed” (abused) all the day long and to be accounted even as sheep for the slaughter.  When a man presents something as a sacrifice, he releases all claims or rights to it.  He leaves it to be used solely for God’s glory and honour.

Moreover, the revelation of God is that man is not the enemy of man.  The enemy of man is the devil and his cohorts: 

            For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

The devil simply uses ignorant men to do his bidding.  And these men are slaves of sin.  They have no choice.  They cannot help themselves but do the devil’s bidding.

Since the devil is a spirit, the weapons of our warfare cannot be carnal.  We must use spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles.  Therefore, fight the good fight of faith and not the bad fight of the flesh.  When it was time to fight the spiritual battle through prayer in the garden if Gethsemane, Peter preferred to sleep.  But when the battle was over and they came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and came to fight the bad fight of the flesh. 

Are you born again?  Then, you were flesh and blood, but you are now in the spirit.  As a spirit, you now have a life that cannot be lost and that cannot be killed.  As a spirit, no weapon that is fashioned against you will ever be able to prosper.  As a spirit, you have life and you now have it more abundantly.  Therefore, nothing that anybody can do to you can affect you in any fundamental way anymore.  Yes, in this world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer even in your tribulation because, although Jesus has not changed the world, he has overcome it.

In the process, he has shown that the world is completely irrelevant in the great scheme of things.  Therefore, it no longer matters what happens to you in the world.  What matters is what happens to you in the spirit.  And in the spirit, you are already seated with Christ at the right hand of God in heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named.

Jesus’ victory was a spiritual victory.  The victory of the believer is a spiritual victory.  The believer should know that everything about the spiritual is superior to the flesh.  The flesh is always defeated because, no matter what, the flesh tends to death.  The bible effectively undermines all the confidence that the believer previously had in the flesh.  It shows conclusively that:

            “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. (1 Pet 1:24-25)

The spiritual, on the other hand, is always victorious no matter what because it tends to life.  That is why Paul says:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rm 12:20-21)

That is the nature and character of spiritual victories.  Spiritual victories don’t satisfy the flesh, but they are more fundamental and more devastating that physical victories.  They go to the very heart of a matter.  The attack is meant to provoke you and to elicit a reaction from you.  But you seek the moral high ground.

Take a look at this scripture:

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.  For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. (Php 1:27-30)

Paul says that when a Christian is persecuted and he remains constant it is prime evidence that he knows that his persecutor cannot get away with it.  It is eloquent testimony of his conviction that his redeemer is alive.

I remember vividly a situation in which a woman called Mrs. Rega stood in front of me and wrongfully rained curses and abuses on me.  God gave me the grace to simply look at her and say nothing.  After a while Mrs. Rega burst into tears.  Why was she crying?  My silence had heaped coals of fire on her head.  She wanted me to descend to her level, but when I refused to do so she became miserable.

Therefore, don’t ever grumble or complain again. (Php 2:14)  How can the true heir of salvation complain?  It is a contradiction in terms.  What have you to complain about?  God has given you eternal life.  He has given you Jesus Christ.  He has given you the Holy Spirit.  So what else is there to complain about?  Paul asks rhetorically:

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rm 8:32)

The believer who complains about life has yet to receive life.  Alternatively, the believer who complains about life despises the life that he has received.  That is why the bible tells the heirs of salvation that it is the will of God in Christ Jesus that we are to give thanks in everything. (1 Thes 5:18)  Whatever it is that you find to complain about after you are saved, substitute that thing for your salvation.  For what shall it profit a man if his problem is solved, or if his needs are met, or if his desires are fulfilled, but in the end he loses his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mk 8:36-37)

The believer who complains about life is that Esau, who failed to appreciate the privilege of being a firstborn and despised his birthright.  As far as Esau was concerned, the satisfaction of his hunger was more important than any bogus birthright that he might have.  Therefore, he traded it for a plate of pounded yam from Jacob his brother.  When he finally came to appreciate its value, he found to his cost that it was too late.  And no amount of tears that he shed could reverse the situation.

The most despicable people in the universe are demons.  They have been sentenced to eternal poverty by an irrevocable decree.  Their own judgement has been without mercy.  But the believer has been sentenced to eternal riches.  So why should a believer who owns all things allow poverty-stricken demons to tempt and provoke him with their poverty?  If you are wise, only Jesus can “tempt” you.  Hell is resistible; heaven is irresistible.  It is now far easier for the Christian to be a saint than to be a sinner.  And it is infinitely more costly to be a sinner, for the wages of sin is death.  The yoke of Christ is easy because it is operated not by force but by love.  The burden is light because it is eminently suited to the soul.  The man in Christ is the workmanship of God, now thoroughly furnished unto every good work.

Therefore, the word of God says: “Work out your own salvation.” (Php 2:12)  Work out what God has already worked in through Christ.  God has not only given you the disposition and the desire to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets you, but he also given you the ability to do so.  Sin no longer has dominion over you.

Everything is now within the framework of your choice.  You can say yes to righteousness and you can say no to sin.  It is now up to you.  You can now do all things through Christ, who is the strength of your life. (Php 4:13)  David said because the Lord is on his side he would not be moved.  That is kingdom dynamics.  Because the Lord is on the side of the believer, he can stand and withstand every scheme of the enemy.  Because the Lord is on your side, you can bless when you are cursed.  Because the Lord is on your side, you don’t need to fight anybody anymore.  Because the Lord is on your side, you can enter into his rest.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rm 8:38-39)

Chapter 17

JUSTIFICATION OF THE UNGODLY

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

(Romans 4:4-5)

The Managing Director had a liking for Fred, to the great annoyance of Joe his main rival for promotion.  Joe was convinced that Fred was really no better at the job than him.  He tried his level best to impress the boss, but to no avail.  So he decided on a new strategy.  He would set a trap for Fred, confident that he would slip up sooner or later.  He did not have to wait for long.  Fred fell into the trap hook, line and sinker.  Joe quickly and gleefully brought the matter to the attention of the boss.  The dye was cast.  He knew that Fred would be given the sack.

But he was in for a surprise.  The boss tried Fred under the perfect law of liberty, found him guilty and convicted him.  But then he also tried Joe for tripping up Fred.  He tried him under the law the Law of Moses, also found him guilty and convicted him.  But why try them under different laws?  The Law of Moses is a law of judgement.  Because Joe showed no mercy to Fred in tripping him up and reporting him, he could receive no mercy.  Therefore Joe is given the sack.  Jesus said: 

            “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”                 (Mt 18:7)

              

But the law of liberty is a law of mercy.  It does not lead to condemnation but to exoneration.  Therefore Fred was sentenced to mercy, whereby he was not only absolved from the offence, it was ensured that he would not be able to commit another offence in the future.  Since he was thereby now deemed to be a model worker, he was promoted.  In Fred’s case, mercy triumphed over judgement.

For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. (Php 3:1)  These are not the ways of man; these are the ways of God.  These are kingdom dynamics.

Once, the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus.  They wanted to know whether he would contradict the Law of Moses, which states that the adulterous should be stoned to death.  There was no question that the woman was guilty.  She was caught red-handed, in the very act.  Neither did she argue or attempt to defend herself.  To all intents and purposes, she pleaded “guilty as charged.”  And yet, Jesus did not allow her to be condemned.  Instead he challenged her accusers: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”  And the bible records a dramatic turnaround:

Those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.  When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (Jn 8:9-11)

The case of the woman caught in adultery deserves close scrutiny not least because it was a major threat to the ministry of Jesus.  It was an attack launched from the pit of hell.  Had Jesus condemned the woman, his earthly ministry would have ended.  Had he condemned the woman, he would have had to, by the same token, condemn all men.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Rm 3:23)  That would have short-circuited the whole plan of salvation.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (Jn 3:17)  Instead of being the Saviour of the world, Jesus would have become another accuser of the brethren.

Beloved, understand this kingdom dynamic.  “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lam 3:22 KJV)  Because of the plan of salvation, God is not only just; he is also the justifier of all who believe in Jesus Christ.  This means that God is paradoxically not a God of the righteous.  God is a God of the sinner.  As Jesus was at pains to point out to the self-righteous Pharisees:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mk 2:17)

As a matter of fact, in the dynamics of the kingdom of God, the competition is not between sin and judgment, but between sin and grace.  The bible reveals that: 

The law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. (Rm 5:20)

The more the sin: the more the grace of God.  Moreover, the redemptive power of grace has given us much more than sin ever took away.  Thank God Adam sinned, for while sin robbed us of silver: grace gave us gold.  While sin killed the body of the flesh: grace gave us the body of the Spirit.  While sin consigned us to dust: grace lifted us up in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Be careful therefore that you do not forfeit the grace of God.  Jesus told the story of the contrite publican whom the self-righteous Pharisee despised at the hour of prayer in the temple:

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18:14)

Once you judge a man, you have arrogated yourself to be God.  Once you judge a man, you cease to be justified.  Since there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, then it naturally follows that those who are in Christ should not condemn others.  It makes no difference if you are right; know it would be wrong.  Once you judge a man, you are casting stones which automatically qualifies you for condemnation in the court of God:

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  (Jam 2:13)

Therefore know that every time you criticise someone you are condemning yourself.  Every time you tell John what is wrong with Mary, you are actually telling him how terrible you are.  It makes no difference if John agrees with you concerning Mary’s shortcomings.  He might even add to your eloquent list of her bad points.  John might agree with you because he is a man.  Indeed, if he agrees with you, it simply confirms that he is also an evil person like you.  Man will often justify the righteous.  But God never does.  God only justifies sinners.

There is an amusing part in the bible where Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead.  So he tells the people to roll away the tombstone.  But Martha, Lazarus’ loving sister, objected because Lazarus had been dead for four days and would already be stinking.  “So please Jesus, don’t embarrass us.  There will be a terrible odour.”  I have often wondered about Martha’s qualms.  Would she have preferred not to be embarrassed than to have her brother raised from the dead?  God does not mind the odour: it is the proud and the self-righteous who are finicky. 

Now here is the challenge.  How can one possibly relate to others without judging them?  If we don’t judge them audibly, how can we desist from judging them in our hearts?  Is it possible for you to talk to me without checking out my grey hairs?  Can you talk to me without noticing my baldhead?  If a man has terrible body odour, can you talk to him or hold hands and pray with him without finding the smell to be disgusting?  How can you relate to people without noticing their faults?  If you can notice their qualities, then surely you can also notice their faults.  Moreover, can you notice their faults without being judgemental?

Is knowledge not power?  Are we not supposed to act on the knowledge that we have acquired?  Well then what should you do if you know for a fact that your best friend is out to steal your husband?  What pre-emptive moves should you take if you know for a fact that your right hand man is trying to unseat you as Managing Director of the company?  What should you do if you know that someone in your inner circle is actually a traitor?

Should you not try as much as possible to get him fired at the slightest opportunity?  Should you not stab him in the back quickly before he stabs you?  Should you not break off all interaction with him?  Should you not confront him immediately and make sure that he understands that you know exactly what he is up to and that you are not going to take things lying down?

Let us look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  Jesus contradicted every prescription of commonsense.  He knew that Peter would betray him and yet continued to walk closely with him.  He knew that Judas was a thief, and yet he kept him as his treasurer.  He knew that we were sinners, and yet he died for us.  And now the bible says to us: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Php 2:5)

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rm 5:6-8)

A very good friend of mine, Sandra Chikan, once gave an instructive testimony.  She said that she normally gives money to beggars on a certain road.  They are mostly little children who come asking for money and she gives them freely.  But one day, she noticed that the child to whom she gave the money took it to a group of elderly women who were standing somewhere in the distance, chatting and laughing at her.  So she discovered that the whole begging process was one big rip off.  Those women had schooled the little children in the art of getting money out of the unsuspecting by playing on their emotions.  As a result, she decided from that day forward that she would no longer give them any money.

For some time thereafter, whenever she passed by the same place she refused to give any money to the begging children.  But then the Holy Spirit continued to work on her heart and soon she relented and started to give them money again.  She gave them money in spite of the fact that she knew they were playing a game.  But this time she started praying for the women that God would open their eyes to see that what they were doing was ungodly.  What does this change of attitude mean?  By continuing to give them money, was the Holy Spirit not making Sandra to encourage sin?

God forbid.  God wants to take us to a place where we see men as they really are and yet are not in any way cynical about them.  He wants us to see men exactly as they are and yet have nothing negative or judgmental to say about them.  This can only come as we realize, like Paul did, that we too are who we are only by the grace of God. (1 Cor 15:10)  Since all believers were sinners saved by grace, the bible cautions that we should henceforth see no man after the flesh.  At its most fundamental, we are not better than anyone else.  Neither do we have the solution to any problem.  All we have is Christ and Christ is available to all and in all. (Col 3:11) 

Sometimes we need reminding that we have no monopoly over Christ and that not only the members of our church are going to heaven.  Therefore, nothing that any man does should surprise us.  No sin that any man commits should make us indignant.  The bible counsels that:

            If a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong. (Gal 6:1 TLB)

Listen to me: there is no sin that you cannot commit.  Some say: “I know that I can be seduced by a woman, but I could never murder a man.”  Don’t speak too loudly otherwise God might allow you to be tempted above your ability to resist.  Do you think that David ever regarded himself as a murderer?  Yet, he ended up by killing Uriah.  The wisdom of God says that when we try to cover up sin, we end up by adding sin to sin. (Isa 30:1)  Therefore, a little bit of “harmless” royal hanky-panky with Bathsheba graduated David into a full-blown first-degree murderer.

Will the real David please stand up?  Is he the man who was so godly and so God-centered that he was privileged to listen to a private conversation between God the Father and God the Son?

            The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”                                                     (Ps 110:1)

Or is he the man who seduced another man’s wife, got her pregnant, had her husband killed to cover his tracks and promptly brought her into his harem?

The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  One year after he had done the deed, David’s conscience was void of offence.  When Nathan told him the parable of a rich man who took the lamb of a poor man, David was furious.  “The man who did such a thing deserves to die,” he declared, only to discover to his cost that he was indeed the man in question.  It is only the grace of God that prevents us from surprising ourselves.  That is why Jesus asks that we pray that God should keep us out of temptation and deliver us from evil.

Let me tell you something that happened to me a while back.  I went to apply for a visa in the American Embassy in Lagos.  Applying for an American visa in Lagos is a major expedition.  To make sure you are attended to, sometimes you have to get there as early as five o’clock in the morning.  And then you might have to wait on the queue until midday.  On that particular occasion, I had waited several hours on the queue before I discovered that, in my hurry to get there on time, I had forgotten to bring the money to pay for the visa.  There was nothing else I could do but go back home and come back the next day.  But as I was about to leave, the Holy Spirit told me to remain on the queue.  He said: “Femi, when you get into the Embassy, ask the person you sit next to in the waiting room to give you the money.  He will give it to you.”

It was then up to me whether to continue waiting on the queue, in the expectation that someone I never knew would give me the money to pay for my visa, or to cut my losses, go back home and come back the next day.  The bible says that the just shall live by faith.  Therefore, after a bit of a struggle, I decided to obey the Lord’s strange instructions and stay on the line. 

When I finally went inside, something confusing happened.  Immediately I sat down, the person next to whom I sat got up and walked away.  I started wondering whether that had scuttled the Lord’s plans.  The Lord himself said nothing again to me after his first instructions, and I got the distinct impression that I was being closely watched in the spirit to see exactly what I would do.  Since there was now an empty seat between the next person and me, I decided to move to the next seat on the queue.

Now came the hard part.  I had to ask the gentleman seating next to me to give me the money to pay for my visa.  What would he think?  Would he believe me if I told him that I forgot to bring the money?  Would he think I was trying to finesse him out of some money?  I started to rehearse in my mind exactly what to tell him, and suddenly something dawned on me.  It was all a set up.  I had been set up.  In the twinkling of an eye, by the masterful stroke of providence, God had turned me into a beggar.

As a student of kingdom dynamics learning at the feet of Jesus, I give freely.  But I have never liked the intrusion of beggars.  In Lagos, they always seem to be a nuisance and can be so persistent.  I was often suspicious of people who asked others for money, and would rather give without being asked.  And here was I, in the American Embassy, forced to ask a man I had never met before to give me some money.  Moreover, I would have to ask him not for some small change, but for money to pay for a visa.

When I finally summed up the courage, I began to “read” my prepared speech.  “Please excuse me sir, I don’t want you to think that I am trying to pull a fast one.  But I was in such a hurry to leave the house this morning to get here that I forgot to bring any money for the visa.”  The man did not allow me to finish my speech.  He said: “That’s all right, I will give you the money.”  I was convinced that he did not hear what I was trying to tell him so I started all over again.  “What I am trying to say is that I was really in such a hurry to…”  The man interrupted me again.  “I heard you the first time,” he said.  “I said I would give you the money.  You may not know this but I know who you are.  Are you not Dr. Aribisala?  Did you not use to work with Professor Bolaji Akinyemi at the Ministry of External Affairs?”

I was completely bowled over by this astounding display of God’s providence.  The man not only paid for my visa, he told me that he worked in the Administrative Section of Marina Bank.  He said they were looking for qualified staff in his department.  Could I recommend someone and send him to him to be interviewed?  He gave me his complimentary card.

What God taught me here is that I am what I am by his grace.  I now know that I could just as easily have been a beggar.  He also taught me that there is nothing wrong in itself with being a beggar:

            For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  (Gal 6:15-16)

So the next time you see a beggar, know that there you go but for the grace of God.  And if you are a beggar, know that you are one by the grace of God.  Jeremiah says that it is not in a man’s power to map his life or to direct his course.  Everything about a man is by the grace of God. (Jer 10:23)

I am sure that some time in the past you have regarded the actions of someone with incredulity, if not great indignation.  “How could he behave like that?”  Let us say, for example, that you were driving down the road and you saw a man peeing by the roadside.  Suddenly, you found that you became disgusted with him.  Does he not have any sense of decency at all?  But has it ever occurred to you that under certain circumstances you would do the same?  Let me “reassure” you that should God withdraw his grace you would shit by the roadside.

I once went to Alaba, a big electronics market in Lagos, and suddenly discovered that I was pressed to go to the toilet.  And it was the kind of being pressed whereby you simply know that if you don’t find a toilet within the next few minutes, you would simply do it on the road.  Please remember that Lagos is not London, so there are no toilets down the road.  As a matter of fact, in Alaba, there is not one single public toilet.  None that I know of, in any case.  What would you have done in such a situation?

I started running from shop to shop, asking if they had a toilet and begging to be able to use one.  What if God withdraws his grace in such a circumstance?  The time would come when you simply are not able to hold it in again.  At that point, it does not matter where you are.  It does not matter who is looking on.  What happens then to all your sophistication, pride and sense of decency?  Believe me, they would all be thrown overboard in a heartbeat.  All of a sudden, you would discover what God has been trying to tell you all along.  You are no better, and are probably even worse, than the man you despised who was peeing by the roadside.  The word of God says:

            Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else.  Each of us must bear some faults and burdens of his own. For none of us is perfect! (Gal 6:4-5 TLB)

It is instructive that the one man who was so convinced that he would never deny Jesus was the only one who did it not once but three times.  Peter disparaged the other disciples.  He told Jesus that he alone among them all was faithful.  He said: “If everyone else deserts you, I won’t.” (Mt 26:33).  So doing, he forfeited the grace of God.  God allowed him to be tempted above his ability, and revealed to him that he was worse than his peers.  On his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter a pointed question.  “Do you love me more than these other ones?” (Jn 21:15)  This time, Peter could not answer in relation to the others.  He could tell the Lord that he loved him.  But he could no longer boast that he loved him more than everybody, or even anybody, else. 

My son’s headmaster wrote to me to inform me that he did not think he would do very well in his GCSE exams.  He told me that at UppinghamSchool they have a policy that if the student does not obtain a certain minimum level of very high grades; he would not be allowed to proceed to the sixth form.  Judging by Femi’s results in his mock exams, the headmaster was convinced that he would not meet the requisite grades, and therefore felt it necessary to warn me beforehand.

I was very upset about this and gave my son a lot of talking to during his vacation.  But after he took his exams and was back home waiting for the results, something strange happened.  God visited me in a dream and showed me his results, subject-by-subject and grade-by-grade.  And he passed the exams with flying colours.  The next day at the dinner table, I announced to my family that I had seen Femi’s results.  They thought initially that the results had arrived.  But I told them that it was God who had revealed them to me.  Then I gave them the details.  Everyone was astounded.  Six weeks later, Femi’s results were finally released.  Guess what?  They were exactly as the Lord had shown them to me.

Now this is why I am telling you this.  I know that my son might not like to hear this; but I am still convinced that he did not do well in those exams.  God did it.  I also believe that it was for this very reason that the Lord showed me his results before they came out.  He showed them for his own glory and not for the glory of Femi.  The Lord was saying to me: “See what I, the Lord, accomplished in my son.”

God is in the business of taking responsibility for man’s inadequacies.  The bible reminds the believer that one of the reasons the Holy Spirit is given is to help our infirmities. (Rm 8:26)  It was Adam and Eve who sinned, but God took the responsibility and provided a covering for them.  In Psalm 51, David assured God that if he did not help him he would sin again.  He said Father, unless you create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me, I will not be able to stand in your righteousness.  David’s heartfelt prayer was completely answered in Christ, who took the responsibility for our sins.

Jesus trusted no man.  You could not humour him and you could not flatter him. (Jn 2:23-24)  He knew that the same men who were shouting hosanna to him would soon be saying “crucify him.”  And yet he was not cynical, neither did he show any trace of bitterness about men.  The reason for this was that he put all his trust in God.  And he knew that the power of God was more than able to transform the vilest sinner into a saint. (2 Cor 5:17)

Though he is divine, Jesus was at pains to validate our humanity by making allowances for human weaknesses.  And nowhere was this more eloquently stated than in his testimony about a man whose calling was to testify about Jesus himself: John the Baptist. 

Herod imprisoned John for daring to preach that it was unrighteous for him to marry his brother’s wife.  John waited in prison expecting that the Messiah, whose calling was to “open prison doors to those that are bound,” would soon come to save him from Herod.  But somehow, Jesus did not seem to be particularly bothered by John’s imprisonment in the sense that he did nothing to secure his release.  In confinement, despondency and despair came upon John, and it started to affect his faith.  Soon John seemed to forget that, by his own testimony, the Lamb of God was not sent to save from Herod, but to save from sin.  Therefore he sent his disciples to Jesus and asked: “Are you really the Messiah or shall we look for another?”

Jesus sent word back to John the Baptist re-affirming his credentials.  But then rather than lament John’s backslidden faith, Jesus extolled his virtues:

            ‘As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments?  Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.  But what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’  Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Mt 11:7-14)

It is very easy for the righteous to identify the sinner.  They are all around us: in our neighbourhoods, in our schools, in our workplace, even in the church.  They sleep around, they smoke pot, they fight, they curse, they cheat, they lie, and they have no time for God and for things of God.  We often look at them and shake our heads.  We talk about them with that confident knowledge that they are appointed for damnation.  We pity them because we are convinced that they are hell-bound.

But this perspective is contrary to the wisdom of God.  It is contrary to God’s prophetic utterance.  As Paul acknowledged:

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. (1 Tim 1:15)

Since Christ came into the world to save sinners, then sinners are not doomed to damnation.  Thanks to Jesus, sinners are not automatically hell-bound.  Sinners are to be envied, because God has made a provision for them.  The bible shows that God does not have a problem with sinners as much as he does with the self-righteous.  Jesus came on earth with a strange assignment: to make sure that as many people as possible realised that they were sinners in order that as many people as possible may become saints:

            And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”  Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’  Therefore your sin remains. (Jn 9:39-41)

When I first read the story about Jesus’ meeting with the rich young ruler, I was so upset that Jesus drove this earnest kingdom seeker away.  I thought: “Why did the Lord not run after him, saying: ‘Come on, I was only joking.  You really don’t have to give up everything now.  I can work with you until you have the strength to do so.’”  But later, I discovered that Jesus’ response showed how much he wanted the man to inherit eternal life.  The bible says that Jesus looked at him and loved him:

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mk 10:21)

He loved him, and then he gave him a task that he knew he could not fulfil.  What kind of love is that?  I call it the God kind of love.  Jesus was determined that the rich young ruler should become a sinner, for only then could he inherit eternal life.  Listen carefully.  The man did not know that he was a sinner.  But only sinners inherit eternal life.  Therefore Jesus gave him an examination that he knew he would fail, in order to convince him that he was a sinner in need of a Saviour.

Take another look at God’s case against David when he killed Uriah and married Bathsheba, his wife.  God told him through the mouth of David:

“I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more!” (2 Sam 12:8)

God told David that he gave him so much by grace.  And even if David had felt that what he gave him was insufficient, all he had to do was to ask.  He would have given him so the much more.  But can I tell you a kingdom dynamic in the life of David?  Because of God’s overwhelming love for David, it was necessary for David to transgress.  In order for David to obtain fully the promised kingdom of God, he had to receive the forgiveness of sin.  That is the irony of the whole matter.  Out of everything that God had given to David, nothing compares to the blessing that comes as a result of the forgiveness of sin.

That is the reason why David wrote Psalm 32.  David did not say blessed is the man who is given his master’s house and his master’s wives.  He did not say blessed is the man who is made ruler over the house of Israel and Judah.  But David says:

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Ps 32:1-2)

Had the chief young ruler cried out to Jesus for help and admitted that he could not do what Jesus required, he would have admitted that he was a sinner.  Had he done so, Jesus would have said in characteristic fashion: “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.”  “Be of good cheer, you are healed of your infirmity.”

Therefore, I say to you as you read this book.  Be of God cheer.  To the extent that you recognise that you are a sinner, God has made adequate provision for your justification:

Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. (Rm 8:33-34)

Rest assured.   The Lord is more than able to make the ungodly righteous.  It is not of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.    God is at work in you for his righteousness is not of works but from faith to faith.  He will surely work his righteousness in you.  This is the word of he whose promises are yea and amen in Christ Jesus:

            And I will give you a new heart— I will give you new         and right desires— and put a new spirit within you. I will take out your stony hearts of sin and give you new hearts of love.  And I will put my Spirit within you so that you will obey my laws and do whatever I command.  And you shall live in Israel, the land which I gave your fathers long ago.  And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.  I will cleanse away your sins. (Eze 36:26-29 TLB)

Chapter 18

 

THE GLORY OF INFIRMITIES

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

(2 Corinthians 12:9 KJV)

Jesus told the parable of a Prodigal Son who became tired of waiting for his rich father to die.  One day, he summed up courage, confronted his father and asked him to give him, without further delay, whatever inheritance was his.  The father complied without argument and divided his property between his two sons and himself.  Immediately thereafter, the son packed all his belongings and went as far away from the father as possible.  He then proceeded to squander all his inheritance in riotous and reckless living.  Soon afterward, he was reduced to penury and was constrained to work as a menial servant under the most degrading of circumstances.  Then, broken busted and disgusted with himself, he resolved to go back home, realising that even his father’s servants were now better off than him.  When he arrived back home, he started to plea-bargain with his father that since, in all fairness, he could no longer be treated as a son, he might at least be treated as a servant.

But the Father gave the Prodigal Son the surprise of his life.  Instead of driving him out or subjecting him to a stern lecture, the Father received him back home in glory.  He asked that the best robe be put on him.  He put a ring on his finger and new shoes on his feet.  Then to top it all, he killed the fatted calf, reserved for a special occasion, and threw a party for him.

The pleasant surprise of the younger errant son was matched by the disgust of the older faithful son.  The latter came back home to discover that a party was in full swing for the Prodigal Son.  He just could not believe it.  After all that his brother had done, he still came back to receive this kind of lavish reception.  And yet, he who had remained faithful had never been given the privilege of such largesse.  He refused to be part of the festivities and stayed pointedly outside sulking.  The Father came and pleaded with him.  But the older son could not understand the basis of such blatant discrimination and favouritism.  “Why have you never thrown this kind of party for me who has remained loyal to you and now you are throwing it for this ingrate?” he demanded.  The father appealed to him:

“Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Lk 15:31-32)

The story of the Prodigal Son is so original and instructive; it requires careful scrutiny.  As David would say, the ways of the Father in the story are not the ways of a man.  They are the ways of God.  They are kingdom dynamics par excellence.  Here is one of those gems of scripture that tell you that a man did not write the bible.  Once I understood the story of the Prodigal Son, I reached the obvious conclusion: whoever came up with this story does not merely know God.  Whoever told this story is God.  Why does God behave like this and what does this kind of behaviour tell us about him?

The story of the prodigal son makes a big impression on me not least because it is the story of my life.  I know that every believer is the Prodigal Son who finally came back home to God.  But I was not only the Prodigal Son, I was also the uncharitable older son who despised the glorious reception given to the backslidden younger son.

Children are the glory of the family.  Moreover, there is the glory of the first-born and the glory of the last-born.  The glory of the first-born is in being given pre-eminence in all things.  He gets the best and the biggest portions.  He gets to wait up when all the others have to go to bed.  He can go out without being chaperoned.  He can come back home late.  He has to be treated with great respect by the other children.

The glory of the last-born, on the other hand, is that he gets all the attention.  He is the newest arrival, so he is going to be indulged.  What he wants, he gets and he gets it when he wants it.  When he cries, the parents pay attention and he knows it.  As the last born, he is likely to be preferred over all the other children.  He is also more likely to be spoilt than all the others.

I was the last-born in a family of five children.  I was the last-born but I did not get all the attention.  I was the last-born, yet my brother who was two years older than me got all the attention.  He did because he was sickly.  At a very early age he was diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia.  So I soon discovered to my great annoyance that the glory of being sick exceeded the glory of being the last-born.

There were times when I wished that I were the one who was sickly.  There were times when I wished that I would fall sick, just to teach my parents a lesson.  I wished that I would have a terrible disease so that they would get really worried and upset.  I wished that I would get terribly sick so that they would appreciate me.  I wished that I would fall down and die, so that they would regret all the time that they had failed to give me the attention I craved.

But I did not die.  It was my brother who died.  At the age of fourteen, Kola died.  After he died, my parents’ attention shifted to me.  But I was no longer interested.  I rebuffed every entreaty.  Like the uncharitable brother of the Prodigal Son, I refused to join a party in which I was clearly second best.  Some years after Kola’s death, I viciously brought my mother to tears when I reminded her of her discrimination in the past.  I thrust the dagger in and said, in effect: “It serves you right that he is gone.  But now that he is gone please don’t think for one minute that you can fall back on me.”  

Let me be the lawyer for the older son for a minute.  Okay, so Daddy implied that he could have thrown a party if he had wanted to.  But there would nevertheless have been a difference between a party thrown at his own initiative and one that Daddy throws for him.  For example, he could not have thrown a party for himself and had the audacity to kill the fatted calf.  The only way he could have had the kind of party thrown for the younger son was if his father were to throw it for him.  But then here is the kingdom dynamic.  The only way that the father would have thrown that kind of party for him is if he had been a prodigal son:

“I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Lk 15:7)

But why?  Why should the Father so clearly prefer the prodigal to the faithful son?  There are so many reasons why, but I only want to highlight one particular one here.  The Father favours the Prodigal Son because his waywardness and repentance provide the basis for the revelation of the depth of the Father’s love for his son.  It is clear from the apprehension of the son in deciding to come back home that he never knew that his father loved him to such an extent as to forgive him so completely and so unreservedly.  Whatever knowledge he previously had of his father, he had no idea that he was so merciful and full of compassion.  These peculiar qualities are to the glory of God the Father.

Let me expatiate further on the peculiar glory of God by special reference to another intriguing biblical episode: the death of Lazarus.  When Lazarus fell sick, his sisters quickly sent word to Jesus to come and heal him.  But rather than come immediately, Jesus delayed.  Finally, he said to his disciples: “Lazarus is dead and I am glad.”  Take another look at that enigmatic passage in the bible:

Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (Jn 11:14-15)

Lazarus is dead but Jesus is glad that he is dead.  I thought Jesus loved Lazarus.  Yes he did, as John testified emphatically.  But it was precisely because of the extent of his love for Lazarus that Jesus wanted him to die. 

When God decided to be good to Lazarus, he allowed him to fall sick and to die.  Natural men wonder about this kind of goodness.  Why would God allow the man he loves to fall sick?  Could Jesus not have prevented Lazarus from dying?  If he loved Lazarus so much, why did he delay before coming at his hour of need?  But the reason why Jesus allowed Lazarus to fall sick and die was so that he could be good to him to a degree that Lazarus could not have imagined before. 

Jesus was determined to reveal to Lazarus that he would not only be good to him in life, he would also continue to be good to him in death.  Through his resurrection, Jesus said eloquently to Lazarus that his natural life was far too short for the goodness that he had laid up for him, but that he would need eternity to express it fully.  “Therefore, be confident that with long life will I satisfy you, and show you my salvation.”

If Lazarus did not die, his knowledge of Jesus would have been limited.  If he did not die, he would not have known that Jesus is not just a healer, but that he is also the resurrection and the life.  If he did not die, Lazarus would not have seen that glory of God.  And neither would his sisters.

Now, the word of God is a living word, and we believers are living stones that are being built up as a spiritual house.  So let us put the death and resurrection of Lazarus in the contemporary setting.  Jesus wants to give you the abundant life, so he allows you to fall sick.  Jesus wants to give you the abundant life, so he allows your business to fail.  Or he allows your marriage to break up.  Or he allows you to lose your job.

Within the context of the collapse of your life, the Lord now says to you: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die; yet he shall live.  Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)  If you believe, then like Lazarus, he raises your business from the dead, or he heals your marriage, or gives you a better job.

The believer should know that according to the dynamics of the kingdom of God, God creates good out of evil.  He does not create good out of good.  At the dawn of creation, darkness was upon the face of the deep and then God said: “let there be light.”  And there was light.  God creates success out of failures.  He creates life out of death.  He creates wealth out of poverty.  Everything about the kingdom of God is worked out in contradictions.  If there were no failures there would be no successes.  Indeed the failure of some is responsible for the success of others.  If there were no evil, there would be no good. If there were no darkness there would be no light.  If there were no poverty, there would be no wealth.

Note that the life that Lazarus leads after his resurrection is the abundant life.  This life of resurrected Lazarus must be fundamentally different from (and qualitatively better than) the life that he lived before he died.  If an armed robber comes to threaten the resurrected Lazarus with a gun, he would not be bothered because he now knows that he has a life that cannot be lost.  Or more appropriately, he has a life that can be redeemed.  So he can say to the armed robber: “Go ahead and make my day.  You can take my life if you want to, but I know the Lord will give it back to me.”  And remember, the redemptive process, or the redemptive cycle, will always give you back more or better than you lost.

I am called to a healing ministry.  The Lord has used me to raise the dead back to life.  I have prayed for people and the Lord has changed their blood type.  I have laid hands on the sick and they have recovered.  But one day, the Lord said to me: “Femi, I am going to take you to the point where every time you see sickness, you will be glad.”  I needed some time to process this curious information as usual.  And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The Lord was telling me that every time I see sickness, I should expect to see healing.  Healing is the glory of God.  Therefore, every time I see sickness the promise of God is that I would see the glory of God.

Jesus’ gladness at the death of Lazarus is therefore an important kingdom dynamic.  The Lord is glad when we are afflicted because he is going to be glorified in that affliction and it is going to turn out for our benefit.  When Jesus was told that Lazarus was sick, he quickly pointed out that:

“This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (Jn 11:4)

Therefore, how does the Lord feel when the business of a child of God does not prosper?  He is glad.  How does the Lord feel when a child of God is sick?  He is glad. 

God is the God of the sick.  Jesus is the Great Physician.  As he was at pains to explain to the Pharisees, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Mt 9:12)  Therefore, if you are not sick, you are of no interest to the doctor.  The glory of the doctor is in the healing of the sick.  If there is no sickness, the doctor cannot be glorified.  Therefore the believer should not be overwhelmed by sickness.  He should recognise that the glory of God comes from the infirmities of man.  The glory of God is the glory of infirmities.

When Paul came to understand this wonderful kingdom dynamic, he came up with a new resolution.  He said:

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

Far from being a hindrance, God overruled the intentions of Satan and converted the thorn in Paul’s flesh to an instrument for the realisation of godly virtue- humility.  The paradox here was that spiritual Paul was praying earnestly for the removal of what was for his benefit.  Thereby, God shows that even the best among us don’t know what to pray for: 

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rm 8:26-27 KJV)

As troubles are sent to bring us down on our knees in prayer, so they often remain to keep us in God’s presence.  The prayer of faith for the removal of some calamity might not be answered.  Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane was not answered.  So also the prayer of faith for some apparently needful provision might be denied.  But if it is denied, it is denied in love.  It might appear to us that the removal of an affliction is necessary.  But its removal might be attended by grave danger to our spiritual welfare.  The affliction itself might be temporal but the Christian virtue imparted in its wake might be of permanent or even eternal value.

When a parent prays with great earnestness even for the life of a child, he does not know whether the life might ultimately occasion more grief than the death.  Would it not have been better for Hezekiah to die when the Lord told him he would, instead of praying for fifteen more years?  In those fifteen more years, he transgressed and for judgement the prophet was sent to tell him that all his fortune would be carried to Babylon.  In those fifteen more years, he gave birth to Manasseh, one of the worst kings ever in the history of Judah. 

Can we really tell what is best for us?  Can you tell whether the car you seek would not be the death of you?  Can you tell whether the job you desire would not cause you to lose your salvation? Can you tell whether if you live just one day longer, you would not end up in hell, but that if you die today, you would end up in heaven?

You are sick and so you consult an experienced doctor.  The doctor examines you and prescribes that your legs and arms must be amputated in order to save your life.  He says:

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Mt 5:30)

Is he just being mean to you?  Would you be right to conclude that he is a quack doctor?  After all how can amputation possibly be the solution?  How can he prescribe amputation when you are not even married yet?  How can he prescribe amputation when you are only twenty years old?  Why does he prescribe amputation when for your friend in similar circumstances he only prescribed some drugs?

God is the “Doctor Strangelove” who often prescribes very strange cures.  And it is only in his peculiar type of cures that he is glorified. God told the people of Judah, for example, that only those who willingly surrendered to Babylonian captivity would be saved. (Jer 27:11-13)  But anyone who resisted captivity would die by the sword or by famine or by pestilence. 

Here then by the peculiar logic of divinity, captivity became advantageous.  In the wisdom of God, there was profit in it.  The Lord ultimately takes captivity captive and even puts it to work in favour of the believer:

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18)

By healing those who Satan had bound in sickness, Jesus effectively asserted the supremacy of the kingdom of God over the power of darkness:

            Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.       (Mt 12:29 KJV)

Therefore, healing is a sign that Jesus is the Saviour (Messiah).  When John the Baptist had a crisis of faith in Herod’s prison and sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus whether he was really the Messiah, Jesus validated his status by reference to his healing ministry:

“Go back to John and tell him about the miracles you’ve seen me do— the blind people I’ve healed, and the lame people now walking without help, and the cured lepers, and the deaf who hear, and the dead raised to life; and tell him about my preaching the Good News to the poor.  Then give him this message, ‘Blessed are those who don’t doubt me.’” (Mt 11:4-6 TLB)

But the only way we can accept the Lord’s outlandish prescriptions (such as captivity) is if we trust him totally and unreservedly.  Job declared that even if God decides to kill him he would nevertheless trust in him. (Job 13:15)  Nothing less than such superlative faith is good enough for our walk with God.

Have you ever been at a church service in which someone came to give a testimony that went something like this?  “I want to give glory to God because I have not been sick for even a single day in the last twenty years.”  What exactly does that mean?  It means that I want you to know how wonderful a believer I am.  It means that I want you to feel ungodly every time you feel sick.  I want you to know that, as for me, I have so much faith that I don’t even fall sick. 

But not falling sick does not and cannot make a man to be a great believer.  What validates a man’s faith is falling sick and getting healed.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus went about healing all who were sick?  I am sure you know that there were so many things that Jesus did not do.  For example, he did not address the problem of unemployment or of poverty.  He did not deal with corruption.  Neither did he deal with the issue of Jewish emancipation from Roman oppression.  However, he went about healing the sick.  The singular message of the gospel states:

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38)

Why did Jesus emphasize the healing of sicknesses and diseases?  Why did he commission his disciples with the power to heal the sick?  Why did he make the healing of the sick one of the key signs of discipleship?  “And these signs shall follow those who believe, …they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mk 16:17-18)

By healing the sick, Jesus demonstrated that he had the power to do the most significant miracle of all: the forgiveness of sins.  For it is the forgiveness of sins that brings salvation.  Thus, when a paralysed man was brought to Jesus, instead of addressing his sickness, Jesus addressed his sin and told him his sins were forgiven.  To his astonished audience, Jesus asked:

“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?  “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”— then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” (Mt 9:5-6)

The logic here is that it is relatively easy for a charlatan to claim to be the Saviour.  There is really no way to put him to the test.  He would simply proclaim the forgiveness of sins and none would be wiser whether they were forgiven or not.  Therefore, in order to prove that he has the power to do what is easy to say but improvable; Jesus did what was impossible but demonstrable.  He told a paralysed man to rise up, take up his bed and walk.  And the man did so.  He told a dead man to come out of the grave, and the man obeyed him.  He touched a leper, and the man was made whole. He opened the eye of a man who had been blind from birth.  He commanded that the tongue of a dumb man be loosed, and the man started to speak.

What shall we say to these things?  It becomes clear that the God who works all things together for good has determined to work even sickness together for good.  According to kingdom dynamics, sickness is no longer unto death but unto the glory of God.  As a matter of fact sickness, which is to the glory of the devil, has been checkmated by healing, which is to the glory of God.  For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 Jn 3:8)

Therein lies the kingdom dynamic.  God is not the God who makes sure you do not fall sick.  But God is the God who heals.  As God told the Israelites in the wilderness:

“If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.” (Exo 15:26)

The glory is not in not getting sick.  The glory is in falling sick and getting well.

In biblical times, it was not long before everyone recognised Jesus as the healer.  The miracles were simply too prolific and extraordinary.  But they did not want to accept him as the Saviour.  Today the issue is somewhat reversed.  Many claim that Jesus is the Saviour but they do not seem to recognise that if he is the Saviour, he must also be the healer.  For the bible declares that it is the same Lord who forgives your iniquities who heals your diseases. (Ps 103:3)  Some say he was a healer and that the time of healing is past.  But the bible affirms that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Heb 13:8)  The name Jehovah does not mean “I was,” but “I AM.”

“For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” (Mal 3:6)

Indeed, if you cannot believe that Jesus can heal you, how can you believe that he can save you?  If you cannot believe that he can do the easier but more demonstrable thing, which is to heal, how can you believe that he can do the more difficult but less demonstrable thing, which is to save?

Therefore I ask you: “Are you saved?”  If the answer is yes, then I say: “Prove it.”  The bible says that:

“You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works.  Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hands in glove.” (Jam 2:18 THE MESSAGE) 

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes. (Rm 1:16)  So one of the ways that you can show that Jesus is your Saviour is by using the same faith with which you believed him for salvation to believe him for healing.  If you get well, then he is your Saviour.  But if Jesus cannot heal you, then he cannot save you.

Moreover, if you believe that the Lord raised up Jesus from the dead, then it logically follows that you should believe that the same Lord can raise up the sick?  Surely, he that can raise up the dead must also be able to raise up the sick?  Indeed, Abraham’s celebrated righteousness came from his belief that God is able to raise up the dead.  The bible affirms that:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. (Heb 11:17-19)

Therefore, James invites the church to pray for the sick, in the confidence that:

The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (Jam 5:15)

 

Which is easier: stay well or to fall sick?  It is easier to stay well than it is to fall sick.  Being well does not require any faith whatsoever.  But being sick requires faith in order to get well.  Therefore God is a God of the sick and not of the well because without faith it is impossible to please him. 

 “I have not been sick for even one single day in the last twenty years.”  Bully for you.  All you are doing is glorifying in your flesh and the glory of the flesh is like the glory of the grass.  It withers and it fades. (Isa 40:8)  You may not have been sick in twenty years, but have you slept in the last ten days?  Have you eaten in the last twenty?  Are you sure that you have not aged at all in the last ten years?  Some people are such wonderful Christians that they are not going to die physically.  Their faith is so strong that they are going to continue living in the flesh forever. 

That is pure balderdash.  Jesus never redeemed the flesh.  God condemned sin in the flesh.  Jesus died in the flesh.  Therefore, there can be no glory whatsoever in the flesh.  Christianity is never expressed through the flesh but through the spirit.  Therefore a true believer would never express any confidence in the flesh.

For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Php 3:3)

Many so-called testimonies simply glorify the flesh.  They are fundamentally ungodly in spite of their sugar-coating of religiosity.  “I want to give glory to God that I got first-class honours in my exams.”  How does your getting first class honours give glory to God.  Your failing your exams is more likely to give glory to God than your getting first class.  The only way that your getting first class is going to give glory to God is if you failed the exam first and then got first class.  For the glory of God to be in it, there must first be the infirmity of man.  Therefore, the dynamics of the kingdom of God requires that the first shall be last before it can then be first. (Mk 10:31)  If the first is the first, then the glory is that of the man.  But if the last is the first, then the glory is God’s.

Similarly, many so-called testimonies simply express the pride of life, which is objectionable to God.  “God blessed me with a brand new Lexus.”  That is not a testimony to the glory of God.  The Lexus is a pride of life.  But if you say that you did not have a car for so many years.  You had to catch the bus or bum a ride.  Finally, God made a way and you bought a Lexus; that is to the glory of God.  For every testimony, there must first be an infirmity, for the glory of God is the glory of infirmities.

Observe that everyone Jesus healed was sick first.  Jesus never healed anyone who was not sick.  In order for them to experience the healing of Jesus, they had to be sick first.  God points out that he created the believer for his glory. (Isa 43:7)  In which case if your testimony is that Jesus never healed you, that is to your glory and not to the glory of Jesus.  I would rather Jesus healed me than that he did not.  Jesus is a healer of people who fall sick.  He is not a healer of people who are well.  Therefore, there is glory of God in healing: there is no glory in being well unless you had first been sick.

Furthermore, God is the redeemer.  The redemptive process is laden with its own kingdom dynamic.  There is more glory for Christ in the redemption than in the prevention.  There is also more benefit for man in the redemption than in the prevention.  If God only prevents, then we might conclude that he is not greater than the problem or the danger.  “Lord Jesus,” they said, “if you had been here Lazarus would not have died.”  In effect, death is greater than Jesus.  Their understanding was that as long as death did not raise its head, Jesus had the power to intervene.  But as soon as death occurs, the matter is deemed to be beyond Jesus.  But Jesus would have us know that with God nothing shall be impossible.

Therefore, although God is the deliverer, out of his passion for his glory he often decides to be the redeemer.  Although God is the healer, he might choose to be the resurrection.  The problem is that we always want to limit God to the last revelation that we have of him.  But he is all that and a bag of chips.  The bible reveals that he is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. (Eph 3:20)

How much of our so-called faith is actually motivated by fear?  Many people pursue “powerful” faith out of fear.  They are afraid to be sick.  They are afraid of diseases.  Fear can be a powerful motivator.  But fear is not of God.  The bible points out that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tm 1:7)  A believer must master his fears; he must never allow his fears to master him.  If God only saves from the problem, we might still remain hostage to the problem.  If he only prevents, we would not grow in faith.  However, if he redeems, our faith is tried, tested and perfected.  And God himself is glorified.

How might God heal a man of the fear of sickness?  He allows him to fall sick.  Thus, Job admitted that the thing he greatly feared came upon him and that which he dreaded happened to him. (Job 3:25)  If you are sick with cancer and God heals you, you will no longer be afraid of cancer.  If God can heal you of cancer, know for sure that he can heal you of sin and of sinful habits.  Therefore, the Lord often saves out of the problem and not from the problem.

Moreover, our redemption provides a powerful evangelical tool.  It brings unbelievers into the knowledge of God.  When God saved the three Hebrew children in the burning fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed himself as the first convert:

“Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”  Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon. (Dan 3:29-30)

The believer is not called to a quiet life.  It is not often quiet in the war front.  The believer’s life is a life of storms and battles.  The believer’s life is worked out in contradictions.  There will always be storms and battles without.  But there should be calm and peace within.

He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38)

Does God not care?  The reason why you are in this storm is so that God can show you how much he cares.  You are in this storm so that you can know that because of his love for you, you never have to be afraid of storms again.

Chapter 19

THE BLESSING OF TROUBLE

 

The Lord is fully aware of how limited and futile the thoughts of mankind are, so he helps us by punishing us.

(Psalm 94:11-12 TLB)

I was at a mid-week service in our church and I was ministering.  For some reason there were more people in attendance on that particular day than usual.  Suddenly, I noticed that a lady, Mrs. Bola Osanyinjobi, was fidgety.  She seemed uncomfortable with something or with someone.  After a while, she got up and rushed out.  I thought no more about it and continued with the service.  But soon someone came in, spoke to some people, and three women, including my wife, rushed out.  The service continued but some thirty minutes or more later, someone came in again.  This time, she walked to me and interrupted the service.  “We seem to have a crisis on our hands,” she said.  “Mrs. Osanyinjobi had an asthma attack.  We’ve done all we could to help her.  I am afraid the woman is dead.”

Dead?  I could not believe it.  Of all places, somebody came to church and died in the middle of a service?  What kind of embarrassment was this?  The whole church practically moved to the room where she was.  There I met the three ladies who apparently had spent the last thirty minutes trying to revive her and were now resigned to the inevitable.  I knelt down beside this woman’s lifeless body and started to pray.  “Father, she will not die but live to declare the works of the Lord in the land of the living.  You are the Lord that healeth.  You took our infirmities and carried away our sicknesses.  By your stripes we are healed.  You are the Sun of righteousness.  Arise with healing in your wings.  You are the balm of Gilead.  Healing is the children’s bread.  Satan, the Lord rebukes you..”

I went on and on and on, praying the word.  After a while, I became exhausted.  I did not know what else to say or to pray.  I did not know what other scriptures to recite.  I was young in ministry, and could not believe this kind of crisis.  So I stopped praying and cried to the Lord in my heart.  “Father,” I cried, “I don’t even know what to pray any more.  I don’t know what more scriptures to claim.”  And then something happened.  Something magical.  Something glorious.  The Lord spoke.  I heard him as clear as a bell.  “Femi,” he said, “pray in tongues.”

That solved the problem.  Suddenly I calmed down.  I was not alone.  The Lord was there with me.  So I started praying in tongues.  I prayed and prayed and prayed.  And just as suddenly, something happened again.  Out of the blue.  Out of nowhere.  Mrs. Osanyinjobi sneezed.  Then she opened her eyes and sat up.  Then I helped her to stand up.  And everybody went absolutely crazy with joy.  We went back with her to the service with dancing and singing and shouting and clapping.  Mrs. Osanyinjobi herself just sat down calmly in a corner.  But the Lord said to me: “Ask her to dance.”  So I asked Mrs. Osanyinjobi to join in the dance.  And to the amazement of all, there was this woman, who had been given up for dead, dancing with everybody else as though nothing whatsoever had happened.

That day, I discovered the nature and character of the ministry that the Lord had given to me.  That day, I saw the power of God in a completely different dimension.  And from that day, I would never be the same again as a minister of God.  The Lord had used a crisis to promote me.  The next time I was confronted with a similar incident, and I was, I knew the Lord was able.  And I got the same result. That is kingdom dynamics.

The beauty of kingdom dynamics is that it confounds all natural expectations.  Samson said: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” (Judg 14:14)  What was intended to kill him became a source of nourishment for him.  What was designed to impede you will simply become your stepping-stone.  The enemy threw a spear at Attila and missed.  That spear became his instrument of war.  They gave him poison to drink, but the poison healed his disease.  They shot a bullet into his breast, but in the attempt to remove the bullet they detected the early stages of cancer and cured him.    

Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him as a slave to Egypt:

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen 50:20)

Had they not sold him, he would not have become Prime Minister, and he would not have become the instrument of their salvation from famine. 

Have you prayed that kind of prayer before?  “Father let something bad happen to him, that good may come out of it.”  Yes, we pray it for others but hardly ever for ourselves.  The good of God only comes after something bad happens.  God does not make the good out of the good.  He makes the good out of the bad.  As a matter of fact, God often has an interest in something becoming very bad in order that it might be very good. (Rm 5:20)

The believer should know that according to kingdom dynamics, God creates success out of failures.  He creates life out of death.  He creates wealth out of poverty.  Remember that everything about the kingdom of God is worked out in contradictions.  Thus, the Psalmist says: 

Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it. (Ps 141:5)

God brings joy out of sadness.  When a man in the world is sad, it is because something bad has happened to him.  But when a believer is sad, it is because something good is going to happen to him.  Godly sorrow comes not to make men miserable but to wipe away all tears from their eyes.  While God does not cause or approve of sin or evil, he limits, restrains and overrules it for good.

Not one but three enemy nations attacked Judah.  What had they done to deserve such calamity?  But the combined attack had in it the providential hand of God.  The Lord wanted to convert the riches of others to the people of Judah, and he determined that their inheritance should not come from one or two but from three fearsome enemy nations.  After he had caused those nations to accumulate great spoils by conquest, he then allowed them to attack Judah.  But Judah did not have to fight; all that Judah had to do was praise God.  The Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir to fight among themselves, and they ended up by destroying each other.

Just take another look at this comeuppance and give God the glory:

When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. (2 Chr 20:25)

This three-pronged attack on Judah became an instrument of the Lord’s enrichment.  When the three armies attacked, imagine a man complaining that God had forsaken Judah, not knowing that God had overruled the attack and converted it to their gain. 

Trials and tribulations also help us to develop godly character.  We are never the same after we go through them.  They move us into greater reliance and dependence on God.  In the process, we lose those things in us that are not the planting of the Lord.

Take for example the case of the three Hebrew boys: Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego.  These boys were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship the golden image that king Nebuchadnezzar had set up.  But contrary to all natural expectations, the fire did not kill them.  Even their coats were not burnt.  But the fire removed the chains with which they were tied.

This is how the story was reported in Daniel:

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”  “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Dan 3:24-25 Emphases added)

Something is always lost in the fire.  With gold, it is dross.  With man it is fear and bondage.

I own some video shops in Lagos.  The biggest and most profitable of all the shops was the one in Victoria Island, and I was always petrified about the computer breaking down.  One day, I got a call that the system had indeed broken down, so I hurried down there to see what I could do.  I tried all the different “fixes” prescribed by the program manual, but to no avail.  But after some time, somebody put on a children’s video and, instead of looking for other ways to solve the problem at hand, I just stood there watching the film.  Suddenly, my attention was drawn to precisely what I was watching.  There was a man dancing around with a bunch of kids, and the song they were singing went something like this:

                        “Don’t worry, about a thing,

                        Everything is gonna be all right.

                        I say don’t worry, about a thing,

                        Everything is gonna be all right”

Then they ended the song with this telling line:

                        “This is my message to you oh oh.”

I got the message all right.  I told my staff to continue with manual rentals.  “God,” I declared, “has solved the problem.”  While they looked at me incredulously, I waltzed out of the shop and went home.  The next morning, I woke up singing the same song: “Don’t worry about a thing.  Everything is gonna be all right.”  I walked into my study and opened a drawer.  In it was written on a piece of paper a command in my own handwriting.  It said something like “del VRJR.dat.”  The Lord said to me: “Go and type that into your system in the shop and re-index your files.”  When I did it, the problem was solved.

This happened again a second time just like the first time.  There was another problem with the program in the Victoria Island shop.  Immediately I got there, somebody mysteriously put on the same video telling me not to worry about a thing.  And in no time, the wisdom of God came to solve the problem.

Nevertheless, I remained apprehensive about the breakdown of the Victoria Island system in particular.  Whenever anybody phoned or came to see me from the shop, I would brace myself for bad news.  Then one day, another bad news came.  They had switched on the system and the entire data was missing.  I went there and did all I could, but to no avail.  I waited for someone to put on the miracle video, but no one did.  I went home and waited for the Lord.  I did not hear from him.  After two days, the Lord spoke to me.  “Femi,” he said, “I am not going to recover this data for you.  The data is lost.  You are going to have to start all over again by re-entering all the tapes and all the customers.”  So I asked the Lord: “Would you help me to do that?”  “I am glad you asked me,” he said.  “Yes, I will help you.”

The Lord gave me the wisdom whereby I re-entered all the data in the shop with a team of seven people within two days.  I imported data from other shops, gave them identifiable prefixes, and used them as the foundation for entering over ten thousand tapes.  I operated at a level of wisdom that I knew was not my own.  In two days, the system was up and running.  The Lord provided the wisdom by which we were able to recover the late charges with lost data.  From that day forward, I have never been anxious again about the possibility of system breakdown in my Victoria Island shop.  Much later, the Lord gave me the wisdom simply to instal a back-up system.

Do you get the point I am trying to make here?  The Lord used the adversity of system failure to teach me about relying on him.  He used the reality of system failure to cure me of the fear of system failure.  In spite of earlier assurances not to worry about a thing, I continued to worry.  So the Lord allowed the system to fail instead of teaching me how to safeguard it from failure.  When it failed, I discovered that there is life after system failure.  I discovered that system failure is not the end of a video shop.  Therefore, I stopped being afraid of system failure.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Rm 8:15)

How would we be able to boast about God if we do not go through trials and tribulations and come out triumphant?  How many people do you think Shadrach Meschach and Abednego spoke to about God’s deliverance from the fiery burning furnace?  How many people do you think Daniel spoke to about God’s deliverance from the mouth of the lions?  Why do you think the whole of Nineveh listened to the preaching of a foreign prophet called Jonah and everyone repented?  They listened because Jonah had a testimony.  When God preserves a man for three days in the belly of a great fish, you listen to what he has to say.

The bible records that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, people were making pilgrimages to Bethany, not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus as well.  Lazarus himself had become a sign and a wonder.  But Lazarus only got that distinction because he died and was raised from the dead.  He became so important in kingdom affairs that the Pharisees decided that they would have to kill him as well and not only Jesus.  This was because more people believed in Christ because of Lazarus’ testimony. (Jn 12:9-11)

Jesus said to his disciples: “You shall be witnesses unto me, not only in Jerusalem, but in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  In which case, it is the will of God to give you a testimony.  God is determined to make you a sign and a wonder in your generation.  Isaiah said:

Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells in MountZion. (Isa 8:18)

But in order for you to be a sign and a wonder, God needs to bless you with trouble.  Indeed, when the believer suffers for Jesus, it is for the healing and salvation of somebody else.  God uses our suffering as a means of blessing for others.  The bible reveals that he:

Comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.  Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.  And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. (2 Cor 1:4-7)

So if we really love the brethren, we would not be averse to the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.

God does not just want us to read the bible.  God wants us to experience the bible.  God is determined to give us a testimony.  If the bible were to be written today, would you be in it?  Do you want to know the Lord and the power of his resurrection?  Then be prepared to be a Lazarus.  You have to be killed and then rise from the dead.  They have to write you off and then hear about your promotion.  Like Joseph, they have to throw you down a well, sell you off as a slave, send you to prison and you still emerge as Prime Minister.

God is in the business of trying our hearts and our faith.  He sends trials to prove and improve our faith.  He is determined to add more fibre to it. (2 Pet 1:5-8)  Our faith is so precious to God that he refuses to shield it from those trials that strengthen it.  Worldly ease is the enemy of faith.  The bible pronounces woe on those who are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1)

Faith without trials is worthless.  Faith without works is dead.  It is like having money that cannot be spent.  Faith prospers in the middle of adversity.  God allowed Paul and Silas to suffer affliction in the pathway of duty.  They beat them black and blue and put their feet in stocks.  But all this was merely the preface for a great move of God.  A mighty earthquake shook the prison to its foundations.  It flung open all the doors and loosed all the chains.  But most significant of all, it shook the foundations of the faith of the jailer, who quickly gave his life to Christ.

Know this child of God, the fire only refines it does not destroy.  We are brought through the fire; we are not left in it. (Isa 43:2)  If we were wise, we would rather welcome its refining process than decline it.  Our prayer should be that our alloy should be taken from us, rather than that we should be withdrawn from the crucible.

Faith must be exercised and there is no better place for the exercise of faith than in tribulation.  Without the ordeal of the trial of faith there are some things that we simply would not believe.  Some levels of faith are frightening because they make us to confront God face to face.  But many would rather relate to God in abstraction.  God is someone who only comes into existence when we have a need.  Thus, Peter said to Jesus after catching a multitude of fish: “Depart from me.”  Peter was saying: “I can’t handle this.  I cannot handle the reality of God.  If God is really real, then I am really in trouble.”

Moreover, there are some things that seem to be beyond our ability to comprehend.  We can believe that Jesus can cure headaches.  Yes, indeed, he can cure malaria.  But can he grow back an amputated leg?  Can he open the eyes of a man who is blind from birth?  Can he actually raise a man who is dead and buried back to life again?

For this reason, God uses trouble to bless us.  God deliberately put Abraham through the agony of faith.  He deliberately put Abraham through a terrible ordeal by asking him to sacrifice his beloved son.  Even the manner by which God gave the instruction to Abraham was designed to leave him with no room for manoeuvre:

And He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen 22:2)

God could have said simply: “Take Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering.”  But no, he said take your son.  Then he rubbed in the gravity of it by reminding him: “Your only son.”  In case Abraham might conveniently decide that God was talking about another son, perhaps Ishmael, God added: “Your only son Isaac.”  Then he decided to rub salt in the wound by saying: “Isaac, whom you love.”  It is your son, your “only son,” the one who gives you so much joy (Isaac means laughter), the very one that you love so much; “that is the one that I want you to kill and set on fire for my sake.”

Because Abraham was prepared to do this, God confirmed the blessing by the work of faith, which he had earlier granted by grace:

Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Gen 22:15-18)

In this manner, God sets before us “impossible” tasks in order to see how we would approach them.  He takes us through some paces where we would be constrained to make a choice.  The choices might not necessarily be between good and evil.  They might be between faith and reason.  He would not choose for us but would require us to choose for ourselves.  One choice would envisage trouble and problems.  Itwould require us to put our faithand trust entirely and completely in the Lord.  Another choice would require us to exercise very little faith.  God wants to know whether we would choose faith or not.  Would we choose to trust in him?  Would we bet on God?  He wants to know?  Even though trusting in him would challenge our faith.

Trials and tribulations, afflictions and adversities are all designed to bring us into closer knowledge of God.  Therefore, the Psalmist acknowledged with the benefit of hindsight:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. (Ps 119:71)

One of the best things that ever happened to me was that I was shot by armed robbers.  It was in the middle of the attack that I heard from the Lord for the very first time in my life.  And that attack laid the foundation for my present walk with God.  I talk about it more fulsomely in my next book on Kingdom Dynamics.  Suffice to say here that I have blessed God and thanked him again and again for that armed robbery attack.

One day, I was on my knees in prayer and was thanking the Lord, yet again, for that wonderful deliverance so many years ago and for healing me miraculously from the bullet wounds.  Suddenly, the Lord said to me: “Femi, I allowed you to be shot because I wanted you to see yourself using crutches.”  When I heard that, it literally blew my mind.  I promptly terminated the prayer.  I got up and told the Lord that I needed time to process what he had just told me.  Let me tell you what I have been able to deduce from it.

The Lord told me, in effect, that I had been using crutches all my life, but did not know it.  Therefore, he decided that the only way I would see my spiritual crutches was if he brought them out into the physical.  By allowing me to be shot by armed robbers, with my left leg encased in a plaster, I was now able to see my crutches.  But the question was this: “Can a man with a broken leg walk without crutches?”  My answer was “No, ” but the Lord’s answer was “Yes.”  The Lord said to me: “The man with a broken leg can walk by relying on me.”  Therefore, the Lord had told me one morning in my bedroom when the plaster was still on my leg: “Femi, put down your crutches and walk.”

I obeyed but realised that I could hardly walk.  I was literally hobbling along on one and a half legs in my bedroom.  But I realise now that God used that process to teach me how to walk by resting on him.  It was not easy.  It took me some time.  At one stage, I graduated from two to one crutch.  But one day, I went to a prayer meeting, and the lady who was leading the prayer seized my remaining crutch.  She told me that the Lord said that I did not have any more use for it.

Therefore I can say to you like the Psalmist: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might know the Lord.”  What does it take to know God?  To know God, we have to suffer.  Nothing brings about the perfecting of the saints like suffering:

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Heb 2:10)

How can I know that God is a healer unless I fall sick?  How can I know that he is the “great provider” if I am not broke?  How can I know if he is my deliverer if I never had a crisis in my life?  God said to Moses:

And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. (Exo 6:3 KJV)

Therefore it is imperative that we know him by his name Jehovah.  We need to know that he is Jehovah the comforter, Jehovah the redeemer or Jehovah the provider.  The fulsome knowledge of God comes through suffering. 

In 2002, I was having a shower and I felt an unusual lump in my groin.  Just as soon as I detected this, the Lord spoke to me.  He said: “Femi, it is a hernia.  Go and see a doctor.”  My wife has a book entitled “Every Woman’s Health” by June Jackson Christmas.  When I consulted the book to find out what a hernia is, I saw a picture depicting my very condition: a woman with a small lump in her groin.  I was very excited that the Lord himself had revealed this to me.  But then I could not understand why he would then tell me to go and see a doctor.  Why could he not just heal me?

This became one big trial of faith while I argued with the Lord that rather than consult a doctor, he should just heal me.  I also felt that there was something wrong with someone like me who is called to a Healing Ministry having to go to the hospital.  I am ashamed to say that it took me months to obey the simple instruction that I should go to see a doctor.  When I finally went, the doctor worsened matters by informing me that the hernia would have to be surgically corrected.  That way, I thought cynically, everybody would know that I had not only been sick, but had been hospitalised.

When I finally went for the operation, my wife, Karen, told me later on that she was very angry with me.  She thought: “How could he be sick?  How dare he be sick?  But Femi is never sick, so what is he on about?”  She was angry, in effect, about my humanity.  But a man is a man is a man is a man.  A man can fall sick.  If you expose your chest to the air conditioning, I don’t care how spiritual you are, you are likely to catch a cold.  Jesus might not have fallen sick at any time during his lifetime.  However, he went one step further; he died.  Therefore, even if for no other reason, the knowledge that we are human should provide us with ample incentive to rely and depend on God for everything.  Thereby is God glorified.

After I left the hospital, the Lord told me to read a scripture:

            God blesses those who are kind to the poor. He helps them out of their troubles.  He protects them and keeps them alive; he publicly honors them and destroys the power of their enemies.  He nurses them when they are sick and soothes their pains and worries.      (Ps 41:1-3 TLB)

Then the Lord said to me: “Femi, you know me as a doctor.  But I also wanted you to know me as a nurse.”  That is the glory of God.

Many of us only want to know God as the worker of miracles.  But sometimes he chooses to heal.  The bible differentiates between the working of miracles and the gifts of healing.  Miracles are instantaneous: but healing is a process.  Therefore, healing is more conducive to the establishment of a relationship with the nurse.  You discover that his loving-kindness is better than life.  You realize that he is the God of all comforts who comforts us in all our afflictions.  You then know that we do not have a High Priest who cannot be touched by the feeling of our infirmities, but that when we are afflicted, the Lord is afflicted as well.

If I understand that the purpose of life is to know God, then whatever it takes to know him must be acceptable to me.  If I accept the objective of the salvation of my soul, then I must accept whatever it takes, in the wisdom of God, to get my soul to be saved. 

Jesus is the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father, except through him.  That way is the way of tribulation and affliction.  As Paul preached everywhere he went: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)  Many Christians try to use prayer to renegotiate this will of God.  God has determined that the kingdom must be entered into through many tribulations.  But many are saying: “Father, let your will not be done in my case.”  “Father, make an exception of me.”  But God is not a respecter of persons.

Jesus himself does not promise the Christian a rose garden in this world.  Jesus was at pains to tell his disciples to expect tribulation and affliction:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)

Be of good cheer?  Yes, be of good cheer.  You are now immune to tribulation.   The believer has to live in two worlds simultaneously.  The one is physical: the other spiritual.  The one is in Christ: the other in the world.  The one is to within: the other without.  The one is in the kingdom: the other is in the world.  The one is peaceful: the other full of conflict and turmoil.  Therefore, although the Messiah is the “Prince of Peace,” his peace cannot be the peace of the world.  Jesus confirmed this when he said to his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)

God cannot proclaim peace to people who remain his enemies.  That is why he has given to us the gospel of peace.  That is why he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.

Beloved, the people of God perish for lack of knowledge.  Jesus does not give the peace of the world.  Peace can be dangerous.  Even more than that, peace can be deadly.  When a man feels at peace, when there is actually no peace, then he is being set up for a fall.  When a man feels at peace when danger is all around him, then he is going to be surprised.  He is going to be caught unawares:

For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. (1 Thes 5:2-3)

Imagine a man living in a war zone and being at peace.  Imagine him walking about nonchalantly while bullets are flying all around and bombs are exploding now and again.  Similarly, there are people today who are “at peace” in the world.  They are at peace because they have no financial problems.  They are at peace because they are “in power.”  They are at peace because they are in good health.  They are at peace because they have first-class security.  They are at peace because armed robbers would not dare to attack them.  Unfortunately, they are not at peace with God and that means that their peace is illusory.

The Psalmist talks about such men and warns that the Christian should not be confused by their “serenity.” (Ps 73:2-7)  He concludes that they are being set up.  No matter how it might seem, God maintains that there can be no peace for the wicked. (Isa 48:22)  A true believer is never at peace in the world.  He is only at peace in Christ.

Indeed, when things are going too well for the believer then something is wrong.  When things are going well, the Christian needs to check himself.  The Christian life is a battle 24/7.  Anybody who wants a quiet life should not join the Lord’s army.  Even if the Lord gives you a victory, be careful not to spend too long celebrating it.  The devil is an experienced loser.  Once he loses one battle he quickly starts another one.  He is a “Terminator” who just never quits.  He is a loser that just never gives up.

Bad things actually bring out the best in the believer.  This means that your enemies are not your adversaries.  A man’s enemies are his allies.  They are members of his household.  Therefore, love your enemies and appreciate them for they are designed to bring out the best in you.  When somebody gives you a hard time, respond to the challenge by working out your true selves, your God-created selves.  The things of God, the things that glorify him, the things that pertain to his will, are often at variance with our pleasure, our wealth and our reputation.

The true believer is not moved whatever the situation or the circumstance because he has inside information.  He knows things that others do not know.  He glories in tribulation knowingly.  He recognises that it is for his good:

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rm 5:3-4)

Why do some people wake up in the morning and run for miles while others are nicely tucked up in their beds?  Why do some spend every day being punched in the face and the body when others avoid fights and any form of stress or hardship?  Why do some spend hours exercising and pumping iron?  These activities are not pleasant, neither are they convenient.  They exact a price and are not easy on the flesh.  Yet people are pleased to do them because of what they produce.  People glory in them because they know what to expect as a result.

To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. (1 Cor 9:25 TLB)

Anything that takes us closer to God, anything that drives us to our knees before him is a blessing.  Trouble is a specialist at doing that.  When we do not realise this, we start to confuse absence of problems with blessings.  Absence of problems might be a curse.  The man who lives a life of ease and therefore feels no need for God is at the end most miserable. 

Jesus leaves the believer in no doubt as to precisely what to expect:

And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” (Lk 9:21-22)

It is the predicament of the son of man to suffer many things.  The son of man lives in a fallen world.  That means there will be suffering.  The son of man will be rejected and will die, but the power of resurrection is in him.  The son of man will be glorified in death.

It takes nine months for a pregnant woman to give birth to a baby.  If it took only one week, men would become contemptuous of it.  Nothing about a pregnancy is easy.  It is not convenient.  There is the morning sickness.  There is the vomiting.  There is the bloated feeling.  There are the terrible labour pains.  And then there is the agony of childbirth.  And yet, everything about pregnancy and childbirth is natural to a woman.  A woman is fitted to it.  A woman is suited to it.  Many cry and agonise over being barren.  In effect, many pray for years for the privilege of going through the “ordeal” of pregnancy and childbirth.  They do this knowingly.  Knowing what?  Knowing that joy comes in the morning.  Knowing that at the end of the process, a child would come into the world. (Jn 16:20-22)

The Lord has given us inside information about the last days:

“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.” (Mt 24:6-8)

The beginning of sorrows?  The Revised Standard Version of the Bible gives a more precise translation.  It says it is the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mt 24:8 RSV)  It is of the utmost importance to understand this process because only he who endures to the end shall be saved. (Mt 24:13)

Armed robbers broke into a man’s house.  They gathered together all his “valuables.”  Then they came upstairs and cornered him in his bedroom.  He knew they would have to kill him since he could identify them.  So he made just one request.  He asked to be allowed to say his last prayer.  His assailants were amused and they told him to go ahead but make it brief.  The man went down on his knees.  “Father,” he cried silently, “I need you to deliver me.  Don’t let me die like this.”  He had barely started the prayer when sirens were heard.  The robbers panicked and made a dash for it, leaving behind everything they had gathered.

The man discovered that the sirens had nothing to do with his predicament.  But there was a fire two buildings away from his house, and the fire brigade had been alerted.  The sirens simply came from the fire brigade on the way to the burning building.  But his deliverance was much more than he had presumed.  In the haste to make a get-away, one of the robbers dropped his wallet.  Inside were ten thousand dollars in clean one hundred dollar bills.  “That,” said the Holy Spirit, “is your disturbance allowance.” 

Chapter 20

 

AMAZING GRACE

 

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

          (Hebrews 2:9)

The boy wanted to get a new pair of shoes.  Mummy told him to ask Daddy for the money. So he approached his Father cagily.  “Daddy, I need a new pair of shoes,” he said.  “Could you please give me the money to get them?”  Moments later, he came back to see his Mother.  “How much did he give you?” she asked him.  “Daddy did not give me any money,” he replied frowning.  “What did he say?” the Mother wanted to know.  “Instead of money, he gave me grace.”  “Grace?  What the dickens is that?”  “He gave me the grace to do without a new pair of shoes.”

If the truth were told, many Christians don’t like the grace of God.  The bible says that Jesus died by the grace of God.  That would suggest that grace could be deadly.  Indeed, the grace of God gets people killed.  “By the grace of God, the man died in a motor accident at the age of thirty.”  What kind of grace is that?  It is the kind that God dispenses.  The bible reveals that in order to bless Josiah for being repentant, God decided to kill him by his grace.  Take a look at this fascinating scripture in which God sent word to Josiah that he would be blessed by premature death:

“Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the LORD.  “Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.” (2 Ki 22:19-20)

As a result, by the grace of God, blessed Josiah died at the tender age of thirty-nine years.  Did God fulfil the number of Josiah’s days?  Of course he did.  Did John the Baptist die before his time?  Of course he did not.  He fought the good fight.  He proclaimed the Messiah.  He finished his course, and God called him home.  Yes, he called him home by allowing him to be beheaded by Herod.  That is the grace of God.

The grace of God often deals us what would appear to be a bad hand in the poker game of life.  It means that while God saves some in life, he saves others in death.  For example, the centurion’s servant was saved in life: whereas Lazarus was saved in death. It also means that God delivers not only from death but also from life.  Isaiah says:

The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness. (Isa 57:1-2)

Kingdom dynamics means that God often shows complete disregard for human distinctions.  The grace of God promotes the unqualified.  It makes the first to be last and the last to be first.  It makes the wise to be foolish and the foolish to be wise.  The grace of God puts the treasures of the kingdom in earthen vessels.  It ensures that it is out of the mouths of babes and sucklings that God ordains strength.  Therefore we don’t like the grace of God because it is irrational, illogical, unpredictable and gratuitous. 

To say the least, the grace of God is baffling.  Many would have none of it.  Many a time we pray unwittingly in our heart of hearts: “Whatever you do, heavenly Father, don’t give me any grace.”  Indeed, what God calls grace man often finds to be disgraceful.  And so, even though we are saved by grace, many would rather that works saved others.  And many continue their Christian walk as if grace were a dead letter.  Thereby, they frustrate the grace of God.  Thereby, some even fall from grace.

 

The bible says the reward is not of debt but of grace.  Hallelujah.  Would you like to get wages from God?  When a man gets wages from God he goes to hell.  Should God ever give you what you deserve then know for sure that you are hell bound.  But when God decides to employ a man and not pay him a salary, it means that God has determined to be gracious to him.  It means that the man is appointed for heaven.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rm 6:23)

How can one be glad about the grace of God?  You can only be if you understand kingdom dynamics.  How many people would like to be shot by armed robbers?  How many would like to be in a ghastly car accident?  How many would like to fail their exams?  And yet all these things simply make us candidates for the grace of God.  By the grace of God, armed robbers shot me, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  That is the grace of God.  Because armed robbers attacked me and Jesus rescued me, I gave my life to Christ and became appointed for heaven.  That is the grace of God.  Because armed robbers shot me, I was miraculously healed of my bullet wounds by the Great Physician.  That is the grace of God.  Nobody ever removed the bullet from my body.  And so today I can stand and preach to people that this Jesus is indeed a healer.  That is the grace of God.

Imagine this scenario.  What if Jesus went to Lazarus and asked him:  “Would you like to know that I am the resurrection and the life?”  Lazarus answered him: “Lord Jesus, what would it entail?”  Jesus said: “It means that you would fall sick of an ailment and after a while you would die.  Then I would raise you from the dead.  What do you think?  Shall we go through that process so that you may know that I am the resurrection and the life?”  I am sure that Lazarus would have replied: “No Lord, we don’t have to go through that process.  I believe that you are the resurrection and the life.” 

But could Lazarus really have believed?  Would he have been expressing faith or fear?  Would he not simply have been afraid of dying?  Would you rather believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life than know that he is the resurrection and the life?  The bible says that faith is foundational.  Faith is elementary. (Heb 6:1)  That means that faith itself is not enough.  Therefore, add to your faith. Add to your faith virtue and to virtue knowledge. (2 Pet 1:5)  Don’t just believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; know that he is.  Paul says: “I know whom I have believed.”  Therefore, “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” ( 2 Pet 3:18).

For this reason, the Lord does not ask us if we would like to suffer affliction in order to grow in the knowledge of him.  He simply puts us in the wringer and expects us to ask for the grace to bear it.  Thus, the grace of God requires a man to take pleasure in the things we have learnt to hate in the world.  It taught Paul to take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions and in distresses.  The world has taught us that these things are bad and are to be avoided at all costs.  But the world is a lousy teacher.  There is nothing bad about these things.  It all depends how we regard them.

God has already given us his firm assurances beforehand.  In Jeremiah he says:

I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

In Isaiah, he goes further:

No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is from Me,” says the LORD. (Isa 54:17)

This means that suffering can only give a man flesh wounds; it cannot kill him.  No man ever died because he suffered.  Lazarus suffered and lived.  The rich man lived in pleasure and died.  It is sin that kills and not suffering.  And yet we are taught in the world to love and enjoy sin, and to hate and avoid suffering. 

Paul warned Timothy that in the last days perilous times would come, not because men would suffer, but because they would be lovers of money and lovers of pleasure.  Sin is the real enemy of the soul, not suffering.  Sickness does not kill: it is sin that kills.  Jesus said:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28)

The battle of sin is the battle for the soul.  It is the battle where, if we are not careful, Satan might prevail over us.  But suffering, and shame and distress and peril and nakedness and sword provide no triumphs to Satan, “for in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Rm 8:37)

 

Forced to choose between sin and suffering, most of us would gladly choose sin.  But Jesus taught that certain sufferings are instruments of blessing:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:10-12)

The value of grace therefore is that it addresses the real danger.  And the real danger is sin and not suffering.  Paul says with every confidence:

The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. (2 Tim 4:18)

Now that is grace.  God says his grace is sufficient for us.  That assurance is enough.  Jesus did not go to the cross that we might not suffer.  He went to the cross that we might be cleansed from all sin.

The bible warns that only he who endures to the end shall be saved.  Therefore, the grace of God ensures that we are patient in tribulation and that we don’t give up on salvation at the eleventh hour.  Jesus told Peter that Satan had determined to sift him like wheat, but that he had already provided the grace to ensure that his faith would not fail.  Abimelech, the King of Gerar, took Sarah into his harem.  When God revealed to him in a dream that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, Abimelech protested that he did not know she was married.  Abraham had said that Sarah was his sister.  And God said to him:

“Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.” (Gen 20:6)

Therefore, the grace of God offers the real protection.  It even prevents a man from sinning.  What does it profit a man, if he never suffers, never goes through tribulation, never has to endure affliction, and at the end of it all he goes to hell?  What does it matter how much the car costs as long as you have sufficient money to buy it?  What does it matter how much we suffer as long as we have the grace to endure it?

The grace of God enables a man to stand against the vicissitudes of life.  It upholds a man in the face of adversity.  Paul says:

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Php 4:12-13)

That is the grace of God.

The grace of God ensured that Jesus was able and inclined to endure poverty: 

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)

Jesus, who lived for eternity in the glory of heaven, agreed to live in miserable poverty-stricken earth for 33 years.  Although Christ was defeated in the flesh and was crucified, the mighty power of God worked in the Spirit to raise him from the dead.  Therefore, by the grace of God Christ was crucified.  Why was he crucified?  He was crucified that he might be raised from the dead.

Many people had malaria and died, but you caught malaria and were healed.  That is the grace of God.  Many people travel inter-city and die in accidents but you did not have an accident.  That is the grace of God.  Many people go through life without undergoing bereavement, but you lost your parents when you were only a teenager.  That is the grace of God.  We need to get to a place where we see every thing that happens in the canvas of our lives as evidence of the abundant grace of God.  This is because God works everything together for good.  Therefore, by the grace of God, nothing that happens to the believer can ever be bad in the final analysis.  The Lord stands ever ready to redeem, to restore and to repair.

A member of our church, Buwa Nko Tariah, was travelling not from Jerusalem to Jericho, but from Port Harcourt to Lagos.  So he committed the trip into the hands of God.  Nevertheless, on the way armed robbers waylaid his bus.  They stripped all the passengers bare of their belongings.  When he got to Lagos, Buwa complained to God: “I asked you to protect me, but you did not.  I committed the trip into your hands, and yet we were attacked.”  Buwa said the Holy Spirit’s answer shut him up quickly.  He said: “You asked me for protection to get to Lagos from Port Harcourt.  Are you not in Lagos now?”  The message is as clear as a whistle.  The grace of God does not mean that you will not be attacked.  The grace of God means that the attacks will ultimately amount to nothing.  Without the grace of God, Buwa might have been killed on the way to Lagos.

The lesson of the gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to reconcile us to poverty and affliction, as it is to arm us against temptations to worldliness and sensuality.  Jesus pronounced woe on those who laugh now.  There is nothing to laugh about in this world.  Don’t be deceived by your new car, there is no pride in this life.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing to be proud about in the world.  Jesus himself was a man of sorrows in the world.  He only rejoiced in the spirit. (Lk 10:21)  And he has warned us that this world is a world of tribulations.  Therefore, the grace of God becomes essential.  Grace offers the real blessing.  That is why God did not set up a throne of material and physical blessings.  But he set up a throne of grace.  And he invites us to come boldly in order to receive.  You might pray for a car and may or may not get one.  You might pray for a house and may or may not get one.  But nobody ever asks for grace without receiving it.  God stands ever ready to give more and more grace. (Jam 4:6)

There is actually no virtue in pleasure, but there is great virtue in pain.  Pleasure does not have a sobering effect on the mind.  Solomon, the wise man, observed that:

Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.  Yes, a wise man thinks much of death, while the fool thinks only of having a good time now. (Eccl 7:3-4 TLB)

If you are a lover of pleasure, how can you expect to enter the kingdom of God?  The bible says the person who lives in pleasure is dead while alive. (1 Tim 5:6)  Jesus also points out that the self-indulgent cannot have a part in God’s kingdom:

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Mt. 11:12)

But lovers of pleasure don’t like any stress.  Lovers of pleasure will not join the Lord’s army.  Lovers of pleasure don’t endure hardness as a true soldier of Jesus Christ.  Lovers of pleasure cannot build their house on the rock because the rock is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  Therefore, lovers of pleasure cannot survive the storms of life.  All they want to do is to eat drink and be merry.

They don’t have time to prevail in prayer.  They don’t have the stomach to groan in the spirit.  They cannot fast and pray.  They cannot stand in the gap.  They always have something better to do than to engage in seemingly intangible spiritual pursuits.  And they are always going somewhere except to heaven.

A man was telling some of his dinner party friends about a peculiar experience he had in Africa.  He was walking along a bush path when suddenly a lion came out.  He described the lion as big and ferocious.  He gave a graphic description of its eyes.  He told them about the claws of the lion.  He told them about how the lion growled at him.  One of his guests became rather impatient.  “That’s all well and good.  But tell us,” he snapped. “Did the lion kill you?”

The fact of the matter is that, no matter how ferocious, the lion cannot kill the believer, whose life is hid in Christ in God.

But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isa 43:1-2)

I know you have been in the waters.  But did you drown?  Yes, you have passed through the fire.  But were you burnt?  What real loss have you ever sustained in all your troubles?  This is why the grace of God should make us most glad indeed.  David said emphatically:

I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread. (Ps 37:25)

David should know.  He and his men came back home to Ziklag to find that it had been burnt down and that their wives and children had been taken away captive.  The people wept and wept and wept.  When something like this happens, we are quick to see what the enemy has done or is doing.  But a child of God should always be on the look out for the grace of God.  If a man is born again, he can see the kingdom of God.  If anguish or sorrow blinds your spiritual eyesight or insight, go to the throne of grace in prayer and ask for grace and more grace.  Ask for the grace to see what God is doing.  The enemy might be at work, but believe me God is far more resourceful than the devil.  For God is our king of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. (Ps 74:12)

Therefore, rather than cry and mourn, David encouraged himself in the Lord.  Then the grace of God that works salvation appeared to him, telling him to pursue the enemy, assuring him that he would overtake them, and that he would recover everything.  David not only recovered all, he got back more than he lost.  He got what is called “the spoils of David.”  The problem in the end was how to divide the spoils, with some insisting that those that did not follow them into battle should not be included, but with David insisting that there was more than enough to go round to everyone.

Why would God allow a man to go through adversity?  Because God is gracious.  Why would God allow his beloved to go through affliction?  Because he would be gracious unto him.  Grace is not simply denominated in the currency of giving.  It is further denominated in the currency of denial.  Because of the grace of God, I did not get what I asked for.  I was convinced that if I did not get what I wanted, or if I did not get what I thought I required, I would die.  But the grace of God showed me that I did not need what I thought I required.  I did not get what I required, and yet I did not die.  I did not pass the exam and yet I got the job.  How did you get the job?  By the grace of God.

According to kingdom dynamics, grace is also denominated in chastisement.  Therefore, the Psalmist admitted to God that: 

“The punishment you gave me was the best thing that could have happened to me, for it taught me to pay attention to your laws. They are more valuable to me than millions in silver and gold!” (Ps 119:71 TLB) 

Indeed, the grace of God is often in the very affliction that we go through.  For Shadrach Meschach and Abednego, the grace of God was in the fire and not out of it. 

The grace of God appeared to all men in Christ because Jesus, the good shepherd, came in search of the lost sheep.  The lost sheep would never have been able to find the shepherd.  Sometimes, the grace of God becomes manifest in the life of the sheep because the good shepherd ensures that things became really bad for the sheep.  Therefore the sheep cries out for deliverance.  Situations and circumstances went from bad to worse by the grace of God, therefore the Prodigal Son resolved to go back home.  But the Prodigal Son would never have gone back home if God, in his providence, had not conspired to make things bad for him.

Look at this wonderful scripture on this kingdom dynamic:

So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel.  And the LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen.  Therefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon.  Now when he was in affliction, he implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chr 33:9-13)

Manasseh would not have known that the Lord was God had the Lord not ensured that he suffered affliction.  That is the grace of God.

Before I gave my life to Christ, I had my own particular view of God.  I created my own God in my own image, and refused to accept the biblical view of him.  One of the attributes of my God was that you did not need to pray to him.  I reasoned that since God is God, he must know whatever I wanted without my needing to ask him.  So I never prayed.  But I was very lavish in thanksgiving.

Then something strange happened in my office.  A big conspiracy was hatched by my Director-General to get rid of me.  I was served a letter giving me forty-eight hours to respond as to why disciplinary measures should not be taken against me for “gross incompetence.”  Without waiting for my response, I was also informed that the Appointments and Promotions Committee of my Research Institute (A&P) had been convened to meet within two weeks to deliberate exclusively on my case.

My first reaction was to ignore the letter as nonsensical.  The Director-General himself used to be my junior.  He got the job by political appointment because I rejected it.  But he now felt threatened by my presence.  Two of my colleagues in the Institute, Joy Ogwu and Margaret Vogt, came to see me.  They told me that the whole thing was an elaborate plot, and that the decision had already been taken to terminate my appointment.  The idea was just to go through the motions, so as to provide the legal cover. Once the A&P met, I would be sacked.  So I asked them what I could do under the circumstances.  They told me there was nothing that I could do, but that they would pray for me.  I told them it was all right for them to pray.  But as for me, I was going to seek legal redress. 

I consulted a high-powered lawyer.  I told him that I would like to take an “interlocutory injunction” against the A&P.  “They must not be allowed to meet,” I insisted.  The lawyer told me that no judge in Nigeria could prevent them from meeting.  He said: “Every step that is being taken by the Institute is legal and procedural.  They are giving you the opportunity to refute the case against you in writing.  They are also giving you an opportunity to present your case in person.  And even if they decide against you, you have a right of appeal.”  I told the lawyer: “But I have inside information that it is all a plot.  They have already decided to get me fired.”  The lawyer said to me: “Dr. Aribisala, if they fire you, then we will take them to court.  And I can assure you that we will win.”  I protested: “But I would have been fired?”  The lawyer insisted that that was the way the legal process worked.

I concluded that the legal system could not help me.  So I decided to contact the Foreign Minister.  When I went to see him, I was told that he was indisposed.  When I phoned him, he pretended and said I got a wrong number.  When I pressed redial on the phone, somebody else answered and told me that he was not in.  Everywhere I turned to for help, I met the same brick wall.

Then one day, a friend of mine, Mrs. Yetunde Ogunseye came to see me.  She told me that the Lord had sent her to me.  She said: “The Lord said that he understands that you do not pray.  But he says I should tell you to pray on this occasion and see what happens.”  I asked her if that was all, and she said yes.  I said: “No problem, I will pray.”  So I did.  A few days later another friend, Michel Vogt, came to see me.  He said the Lord told him to tell me that when I go before the A&P, I should say a short prayer before entering the room and then leave the rest to him.  Again, I had no problem with that requirement.  I told him: “If that is what it takes, I will do so.”

However, I was not relying exclusively on the prayers.  I prepared a huge dossier for each member of the seven-man A&P.  I spent a fortune photocopying articles, chapters of books etc.  When the day of my inquisition arrived, I went in with a suitcase.  Before I went into the room, I did remember to say a short prayer.  Then I went in carrying my suitcase.  One of the Committee members asked me jokingly if I was travelling.  I was not in the mood for jokes.  I came there to fight.  I gave each member of the Committee my carefully prepared dossier.

The Chairman asked me if I knew every member of the Committee.  I did not know one of them, so he introduced him to me.  Then he said: “Dr. Aribisala.  You have no case to answer before this Committee.  Is there anything you would like to tell us?”  I could not believe my ears.  The Director-General, the chief conspirator, quickly sent me a note scribbled on a torn sheet of paper.  It said: “Femi, you don’t have to say anything.  Everything is all right.”  He was now afraid that I would launch an attack against him.

I was not really bothered with him.  My mind was elsewhere.  I said nothing and was excused to leave.  When I got back to my office, I sat down and burst into tears.  My friends who were waiting in my office to hear the outcome were convinced that I had been sacked.  But I was crying for a completely different reason.  I was weeping because I got no satisfaction from the case.  I was weeping because I had been completely irrelevant to the victory.

The entire incident was clearly one big conspiracy.  But the big conspirator was not the Director-General.  The big conspirator was the Holy Spirit who was determined to teach me about the grace of God and the need to pray.  Everything was contrived.  God made sure all the doors were closed to me.  He made sure none of the Committee members bothered with my dossier.  He made sure that I said practically nothing in my defence.  Had I done so, I would have convinced myself that it was the brilliance of my defence, or the excellence of my eloquence that did the trick.  As it was, I could only attribute my victory to two simple heartfelt prayers asking God for help.  I have not stopped praying since that day.  And I have not stopped relying on the sufficiency of God’s grace.   

Chapter 21

 

WRITTEN IDENTITY

Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.”

(Luke 18:31)

 

 

Have you just bought a new cell phone and are wondering how to operate it?  It is written.  Simply check the manual.  Have you just bought a new television and you want to set the channels?  It is written.  Do you want to set up a new business and you want to know how to go about registering it?  It is written.  Are you a new creation in Christ and you don’t know what being a new creation means?  It is written.  Are you now a citizen of the kingdom of God but you don’t yet know the values and principles of your new kingdom?  It is written.  Where is it written?  It is written in the bible: the word of God.

How would you introduce yourself?  How do you see yourself?  What is your identity?  The truth of the matter is that many people don’t even know who they are.  Some men see themselves as women.  Some women see themselves as men.  Some thieves call themselves Robin Hood and believe that they are honest.  Some murderers like the Pharisees think they are righteous.  Some identify themselves by their jobs and say that they are carpenters or bricklayers or doctors.  Curiously though the Lord observes that:

“The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not consider.” (Isa 1:3)

That is why Jesus was made manifest in the flesh so that we may know exactly who we are.

One day Jesus sprang this question on his disciples: “Who do men say that I am?”  His disciples replied:  “They say you are John the Baptist.  They say you are Jeremiah.  They say you are Elijah.  They say you are the prophet.”  Then Jesus asked them: “What about you my disciples.  Who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16)

Why did nobody say that Jesus was a carpenter?  Why did nobody think that Jesus was Socrates?  The reason is simple; Socrates is not in the bible.  Where were they all looking for the identity of Jesus?  They were all looking for his identity in the bible.  Everybody that they thought was Jesus happened to be in the bible.

The same is true for you.  Your true identity is in the word of God.  Your new identity is in Christ.  Jesus is the word of God.  Your new identity must be in the bible.  What is it that is written about you in the bible?

Listen to this parable.  Some people came to my office to see me.  They told the security detail: “Please, we are looking for Dr. Femi Aribisala.”  So they were brought to my office.  They came inside and shook hands with me.  Then they said they had a question to ask me.  I told them to go ahead.  Then they asked: “Please, who are you?”  I replied: “What do you mean who am I?  Who did you tell the security that you were looking for?”

They said: “Are you Dr. Femi Aribisala?”  “Yes,” I replied, “I am Dr. Femi Aribisala.”  So they said: “Dr. Aribisala we have come to ask you who you are?  Are you Paul, the Apostle?”

            Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  And he answered, “No.”  Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?”  He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (Jn 1:19-23)

The identity of John the Baptist was in the word of God.  John the Baptist identified himself within the framework of the scriptures.

What about you?  Who are you?  Are you Pilate?  Are you Judas?  Are you Ahab or are you Jezebel?  Have you yet determined who you are in the word of God?  Have you seen yourself yet in the book of life?

            For if a person just listens and doesn’t obey, he is like a man looking at his face in a mirror; as soon as he walks away, he can’t see himself anymore or remember what he looks like. (Jam 1:23-24 TLB) 

Jesus said:

            “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (Jn 5:39)

Search the scriptures.  If you are redeemed, they must surely testify about you.  God did not leave you out.  If somebody asks you who you are you must be able to tell him: It is written.  It is written.  In the volume of the book, it is written about me.  Go home, sit down, open the bible and start reading from Genesis to Revelation.  It is absolutely imperative to find out what is written about you.

Jesus is the root and the offspring of David.  David is the shadow of the substance of Jesus.  John the Baptist said he is the voice.  John the beloved said Jesus is the word.  So who are you?  The bible says:

            Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (1 Jn 4:17)

What does this mean?  It means that the believer is the image and the likeness of Jesus.  I am the photograph.  I am the photocopy.  I am the carbon copy.  I am the Ambassador of Christ.  I am the minister of Christ.  Christ and I are one.  Everything about my life is already written in the bible.  There is something already written about every situation that I am going to face and about every circumstance that I am going to encounter.

Beloved, you are working to a script.  You are created for God’s glory.  Your own part in “His Story” is to bring glory to God.  Your part is not to sin.  Your part is not to fail.  Your part is not to quit.  Your part is not to be defeated.  Your part is to bring glory to God.

The American Ambassador to Nigeria was being driven along the road in Lagos.  Suddenly, there arose an altercation between his driver and another driver.  There was a scraping of metal; a loud screech and the two cars came to a halt.  The Ambassador jumped out of the car, went to the other car and dragged the driver out kicking and screaming.  There was an exchange of blows.  Soon, the Ambassador and the offending driver were on the ground having a full-blown wrestling match.  A crowd gathered.  “What kind of Ambassador is this?” somebody wandered aloud.

Do you believe this story?  Do you think it really happened?  I know you don’t believe it.  Yes, you are right not to believe it because, frankly, I made it all up.  But tell me, why didn’t you believe it?  You did not believe me because you know that the last thing that an American Ambassador would be caught doing is to be fighting a local driver on the road, and end up rolling in the ditch with him.

But what if I were to tell you that it was not the American Ambassador that I meant?  What if I were to tell you that it was an Ambassador of Christ?  Would you believe me?  In all probability, you would have believed.  I am sure you have seen a Christ Ambassador having a good old scrap before.  But which one is greater, to be an American Ambassador or to be an Ambassador of Christ?  The problem is that most Ambassadors of Christ don’t seem to know what their status entails.  Most Ambassadors of Christ don’t know what is written about Christ Ambassadors.

In the volume of the book it is written that the believer is the son of God.

            Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

(1 Jn 3:1-2)

The son of a lion is a lion.  What does it mean to be a son of God?  The son of God is a god.  He is the heir of the Father.  He is the heir of God.  He is a joint-heir with Jesus.

In the flesh, blood or DNA defines a son.  In one of his most famous songs, Michael Jackson said: “Billie Jean is not my son.”  The mother said: “Billie Jean is your son.”  How can the matter be settled?  Do a blood or DNA test.  If the test confirms it, then Billie Jean is Michael Jackson’s son.  Billie Jean is his son whether he is good-looking or not.  Once there is blood or DNA confirmation, Billie Jean is his son whether he is smart or stupid.  Billie Jean is his son whether he is handicapped or able-bodied.  In the flesh, “sonship” is defined and determined by blood or DNA.

However, in the spirit, a son is defined by obedience.  God said of Jesus: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  Why is Jesus the Father’s beloved son?  Jesus is his beloved son because he is well pleased with him.  Why is the Father well pleased with Jesus?  He is well pleased with him because Jesus delights to do the Father’s will:

            “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (Jn 8:29)

The spiritual son is a child of obedience.  Once he stops doing the will of the Father, he ceases to be a son.  Once he goes into disobedience he loses his sonship.  If there is no blood or DNA confirmation, Billie Jean is not the son of Michael Jackson.  If there is no obedience of the Father, Billie Jean is not the son of God.  You may recall that when Jesus first met Peter instantaneously he gave him a new name and a new identity.  “You are Simon, son of Jonah.  You shall be called Peter, son of God.”

Adam was a son of God. (Lk 3:38)  But a spiritual son is validated by obedience.  So a tree of the knowledge of good and evil is placed in the middle of the garden, and he is specifically instructed not to eat of the fruit.  If he believes and obeys the word of God, then he is confirmed as a spiritual son.  If he does not, he becomes a servant.  But Adam disobeyed and could no longer operate as a son.  Adam became a servant of sin.

But Jesus’ spiritual sonship was guaranteed by his obedience:

            Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (Heb 5:8)

God is a God of purpose.  Jesus was a man of purpose.  He knew where he came from, but more importantly, he knew where he was going.  Thus it is written about me, he was always fond of saying.  Therefore he set about doing everything that was written about him.  He set about being everything that was written about him: 

            Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” (Lk 24:44)

You cannot confuse a man who knows where he is going.  You cannot mislead a man who knows where he is going.  You have to know where you are going.  In order to know where you are going, search the scriptures.  It is written.

Paul understood clearly this kingdom dynamic:

            For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:3-4)

Everything about your life must be according to the scriptures.  Nothing can take place contrary to the scriptures.  Nothing should take place contrary to the scriptures.  The beauty of this is that the scriptures are available to us.  They are not hidden.  They are no longer veiled.  We now have the spirit of God so we can understand them.  Therefore, you don’t need to go to the Voodoo man anymore.  You don’t need to read horoscopes any more.  Search the scriptures.  All that you need to know about life is there.  All you need to know about the future is there.

I was ministering at a night vigil at Pentecostal Assembly in Lagos.  I stood in front of a man in the first row, and the Lord told me that he was covered from head to toe with “juju,” the African original of the voodoo.  The Lord said: “Give the man the microphone, and ask him to tell the congregation what he has done and where he has been.”  The man admitted that he had certain problems and anxieties, and had consulted a native doctor for protection.  He had taken him through certain rituals, and had “covered” him with “juju.”  The Lord told me to use my hands to literally remove the man’s invisible juju protection, and to warn him severely never to return again to the “juju” man:

“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.  For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you.” (Deut 18:10-12)

All you need is what is written.  Life is in the word of God.  If it is written then it is not your own will.  If it is written, then it is “father let your will be done.”  Reject any and everything that is contrary to the will of God for your life.  For you to have your own plan for your life is to invite the devil to also have a plan for your life.  But if only the plan of the Father for your life can be fulfilled, then the devil has no say in your life.  He can do nothing without the permission of God.  And already you know God’s thoughts towards you:

            For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)

When we are selective hearers and doers of the word, all sorts of things create spiritual crises in our lives.  Even things that should be the source of profound spiritual joy become disturbing to us because we have no understanding of their true significance:

            For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Rm 15:4)

But we are often sad and sorrowful because our faith is so weak that we are unable to receive the comfort being offered to us in the word of God.  In the process, we develop immunities to the healing and transforming power of God.

 

In doing the will of God, John the Baptist ended up in Herod’s jail.  While he was there, despair set in, especially because Jesus did not seem inclined to do anything to effect his release.  John then sent to him, asking: “Are you really the Messiah, or should we ask for another.”  Jesus asked John the Baptist to use the Bible and not his own expectations as the supreme terms of reference.  “Are the things that I am doing what the Bible says the Messiah would do?  If they are then I must be the Messiah.”

The very source of the despair of the disciples on the way to Emmaus should have been the source of their joy.  They were despairing because Jesus had been crucified.  They were despairing because Jesus had died for their sins.  They were despairing because their sins were forgiven them.  They were despairing because they either did not know, or chose not to believe what the prophets had written about the Messiah in the Holy Scriptures.  In short, the sufferings of Christ were actually proof of his messianic status.  Christ could not have been a saviour if he had not been a sufferer.

Christians are often sad and sorrowful, even when they have cause to rejoice.  If only we would be more conversant with scripture, and more in tune with the dynamics of the kingdom of God, we would not be subject to as many perplexities as we often are.  The afflictions that often overwhelm are actually proof that we are indeed sons of God.

Cleopas and his companion were selective in their belief of the scriptures.  They believed the promises about the Messiah’s glory.  But they could not accept the prophecies about his suffering.  Jesus opened the scriptures to them.  When he did that they saw the Messiah in the word, but they failed to see the Messiah in person.  They failed to see the Messiah in the world.  Jesus was very irritated with the faith of these disciples:

            Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Lk 24:25)

Unbelievers call believers fools for believing.  Jesus calls believers fools for not believing.  Fools are really people who are slow of heart to believe.  Observe that Christ does not chide them for not believing the women and the angels.  But he chided them for not believing the prophets.  In short, he chided them for not believing the word of God.

Everything in life is as it is written in the word of God.  Nothing that happened to Jesus ever came as a surprise to him because everything happened to him as it is written.  Jesus was so committed to what is written in the bible that he encouraged Judas to betray him because that act, as painful as it would be, would fulfil the word of God.  But many Christians do not like what is written.  Or they do not agree with what is written.  Or, in some cases, they wish that the word of God would not come to pass, at least as far as it concerns them.  In this world, we are so used to making exceptions to the rule that we hope that God would also make exceptions of us in his kingdom and as a token of his love.

Is it possible that you might be going through some spiritual crisis right now?  Can you identify the basis of it?  What answer does the word of God provide?  Alternatively, why is it that the gospel does not seem to provide a satisfactory answer to your problem?  Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to establish that they were still living by faith:

            Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.  For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. (1 Thes 3:1-4)

When a man truly believes in God, it becomes impossible for his heart to be troubled.  What is there to worry about when you know that there is only one God and that he will work everything together for good in the end?  We only worry when we have a problem with the will of God.  We only worry, when we are convinced that the will of God is against our interests.  Then we either wrestle with God in prayer, or we fight him in our hearts, determined to frustrate his will.

In this regard, Herod is a representative Christian.  He was a Jew and surprisingly, he was not an atheist.  When the Wise Men appeared looking for the newborn king of the Jews, Herod gathered together the chief priests and the scribes to enquire precisely where the Messiah was to be born.  He was told that it was in Bethlehem, according to what is written in the bible.  Herod did not say that it was all poppycock.  He believed what was written but then determined that the will of God should not be done.  He ordered his soldiers to kill all the male children in Bethlehem of two years or less, convinced that he could frustrate or abort the will of God.

Jonah was a prophet of God.  He was a believer.  But one day, the will of God was revealed to Jonah.  God desired that the people of Nineveh should be saved.  Jonah would have none of it.  He prayed: “Father let your will not be done.”

Jonah even went a bit further. He did not just disobey God; he became determined that the will of God should not be done.  He did not simply refuse to go to Nineveh.  He decided to go in precisely the opposite direction.  So he took a ship that was headed for Tarshish.

Many of the perplexities, difficulties, problems and sorrows of a believer are those that he himself causes.  When he gets bogged down by these it is because he is not relying on the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.  We are not called to walk in the light of our conscience.  We are specifically enjoined not to lean on our own understanding.  We are to walk in the light as God is in the light.  When we do anything from reason or from a sense of duty we can always back it up by argument.  But when we do anything by obedience to the Lord, there is no argument possible.  That is why a saint is easily ridiculed.  When a Christian walks in obedience to God, he is often a fool for Christ.

James says to the believer:

            My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (Jam 1:2-4)

But because we do not know what the word of God says, or because we do not believe what it says, we despair when we fall into divers temptations.  Some even jump to the conclusion that God does not love them any more.

But when the disciples of Jesus were arrested by members of the Council and flogged for preaching Jesus Christ, the bible reported that they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:41)

Why this kind of strange reaction?  Jesus had told them on the Sermon on the Mount that:

            “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11-12)

The disciples rejoiced because the word of God tells them to do so.  We also should rejoice in similar circumstances because the law, the prophets and the epistles tell us to do so.   Thus James says:

            “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.  Indeed we count them blessed who endure.  You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord— that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” (Jam 5:10-11)

For every temptation Jesus had an answer: “it is written.”  You cannot resist the devil unless you know what is written.  Eve was deceived because she did not know what is written.  The devil told her God does not want you to be like God.  But it is written: “you are Gods and all of you are children of the most high.”  It is written:

            His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue. (2 Pet 1:3)

The devil told Eve that if she ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil she would surely not die.  But it is written: “the soul who sins shall die.” (Eze 18:4)  Poor Adam and Eve, they did not have the bible.  But the word of God exists and has always existed and will always exist.  (Jesus, remember is the word of God.)  Realising that Jesus knew what was written, the devil then tried to distort what was written by saying to him:

            “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’” (Mt 4:6)

But Jesus knew that the letter kills but the spirit gives life.  And so he had an answer ready: “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Mt 4:7)

God does not want us to be ignorant; therefore he tells us vital things beforehand. (Mt 24:25/Jn 16:4)  In this life, some people are going to die, some are going to fail, some are going to be broke, some are going to be divorced, and some are going to be raped. What about you?  What is going to happen to you?

The only things that are going to happen to the believer are things written in the book of life.  Some will die, but you will not.  This is because it is written: “whoever lives and believes in Jesus Christ shall never die.” (Jn 11:26)  The names of those who will die are written in the book of death.  But the believer’s name is written in the book of life.  It is written in the book of the abundant life:

            God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thes 5:9)

Only the purpose that is purposed by God will take place in your life.  How do you know the purpose that is purposed?  It is written.  Theophilus, (lover of God) your life is following a script written by the most High.  You are pre-destined to glory.

Catch the revelation.  God does everything by the book.  God does everything by the word.  Who is the word?  Jesus.  In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.  All things were made by him and without him was not made anything that was made. 

All things were made by the word.  God made everything by the book.  That is why God fulfils every promise by the word.  God fulfils every promise by the book.  Every promise of God is fulfilled in Christ. (2 Cor 1:20)

Now observe this carefully.  King Ahaseurus could not sleep.  What does a king do when he cannot sleep?  When a king cannot sleep he reads the bible.  Who is a king?  A king, of course, is the believer.  So King Ahaseurus says: “bring me the book.”  “Bring me the book of the records of the chronicles.”

King Ahaseurus is a King in the Old Testament.  He is the shadow of the substance of the King of Kings, King Jesus.  King Ahaseurus says: “Bring me the book of the records of the chronicles.”  King Jesus says: “bring me the book of life.”  And what does he find in the book?  It is written about you: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

            So Haman came in, and the king asked him, “What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought in his heart, “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?”  And Haman answered the king, “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head.  Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor.  Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’” (Esth 6:6-9)

That is your portion, in the name of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

WATCH OUT

For the next instalment in this series

 

 

KINGDOM DYNAMICS:

DOCTOR STRANGELOVE

 

BACK COVER

“God, in his foolishness, became flesh.  God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became a baby, crawled on the ground, sucked a woman’s breast, and learnt to walk and to talk.  God, in his foolishness grew in wisdom and in stature.  And God, in his foolishness, was hated despised and vilified.  He died a shameful death on the cross as a man, but in his divinity, he rose from the dead with power.” 

 

Dr. Femi Aribisala is the Senior Pastor of Healing Wings, Chapel of Faith; a small church in a little corner of Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.  He is also the Superintendent of Christian Video Network, an audio-visual evangelical ministry in the service of the churches. 

He is married to Dr. (Mrs.) Karen King-Aribisala, a renowned author who is also Professor of English at the University of Lagos.  They have a son: Femi Kevin.

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