Reflections on our life and lessons in uganda
Ok. I just want to give a warning that this blogpost is radical and extreme. There is a part of me that really doesn’t want to post this blog. But we will get into that a bit farther down.
We are discussing suffering this week in class, the theology of pain as it were. And the Lord spoke to my heart as we discussed our responses to suffering.(Here comes radical claim #1). If the suffering of others does not prompt us to action, we do not understand the cross of Christ. Even as I type that, my hand hesitates. Why? Because it is offensive and confronting. But I beg Christ to confront and offend my flesh, even when I hate it. And the ‘Murican in me HATES the idea that suffering is my problem.
But Jesus made suffering His problem. That is the point of the cross. He loved you, me, us enough to take our punishment, our suffering, and bleed and die for us. He made MY suffering HIS problem.
We were reading the interview between Lee Strobel and Dr. Templeton (a self-proclaimed agnostic who had previously been in the ministry) in the Case for Faith. Dr. Templeton had cited a picture of an African mother holding her dead infant as a result of drought, and said ‘all she needed was a little rain, so how could a loving God not give it?’ (that’s a paraphrase). He then goes on to describe his love for Jesus and His ‘care for the oppressed’ and His great morality. Now, Dr. Templeton would not say Jesus is God, but I do. But these two comments gripped my heart. All the woman needed to save her child was a little rain, this is true. But in a world filled with people claiming the name for Jesus, this woman’s child died for lack of water. Jesus made my suffering His problem, but I refuse to make this mother’s suffering mine. I think the number one argument I have heard against believing God runs along the same lines. ‘If God is loving, how can x, y, or z happen?’
Radical claim number two: Perhaps the world wouldn’t have such a problem with a loving God, if HIS church fought against the suffering of others. If we don’t weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), the world will never believe in a God who does. If the Church is truly the body of Christ, then how is it that we drudge along in apathy thanking God that the suffering around us is kept at bay by our affluence. Oh, how guilty I am of this! It is so easy to see suffering around me and hurriedly say ‘thanks for keeping me from that, God, thanks for blessing ME’ and move on. Or to quickly say ‘man, God, you should help them’. What?! Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So how do we love like Jesus loved? He gave all He had and died for us, to take our suffering. Isaiah 53:4, “Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” Did Jesus stand afar off, afraid to get dirty, and ‘feel for me’. No, He got in the muck, took my sorrow and gave me hope. He bore my griefs and carried my sorrows!
I have said things like this before and the response I usually get is ‘yea, but having things isn’t bad’ or ‘yea, but I give 10% to the church so the rest I can spend’ or ‘yea, but I gotta have something to give/leave my kids’ or ‘it isn’t wrong that I like my coffee, clothes, comfort, WHATEVER’. Radical claim number 3: Those statements are technically true, but not really. What if Jesus heart for you and me had been that? I would still be dead in my sins, damned to hell. Jesus’ heart toward me has never been ‘how much can I keep for myself?’ so why is this my heart so often? Why ISN’T my question ‘how much can I give for Jesus’? Luke 14:33, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” I won’t explain this verse away in my life any longer. Exodus 22:22-24, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword, your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” Isaiah 35:3-4, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who are fearful-hearted ‘Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Psalm 82:3, “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.” Matthew 10:38-39, “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 25:35,40, “For was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me a drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in… And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this; to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 2:15-16, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body what does it profit?”
Now I am not saying to sell all you have and give to the needy. But I feel strongly convicted in my own life and my love of comfort as I search Scripture. I truly believe that if I see the suffering of another and merely tell them Jesus loves them and move on, I am misrepresenting Jesus. Jesus felt compassion for the sick and lost, He healed and fed, He died to Himself. So my prayer is that God gives me the heart not to do as little as possible to be comfy and cozy, but to really cleanse me of myself and give me more of Him. I pray that God would teach me to depend on Him daily, rather than on my savings. That He would use me to show His love to others in the tangible, real gospel. But He will not if I am not willing. I will never see the miraculous provision of God if I am too busy providing for myself.
How can a loving God not do something about suffering? Radical claim number 4: He did do something. He sent His Son. His Son sent His Church, and we have been given the call to die to ourselves, and care for others. I am so thankful for the gift of repentance and that God is gracious. He not only calls us to this, but then gives us JOY AND DELIGHT in it. It is a leap of faith to take the suffering of others upon ourselves and make it our problem; but we serve the King who gives us His heart and His love for others.
If we are in a war then everyday is a battle, but where is the enemy?
Since I come from a background of solid Bible study and knowledge in the Word, I sometimes feel like this is an easy answer; the world, the flesh, and the devil. I’ve even taught it just like that before. We all know about our three fold enemy, the Bible is very clear on the matter, and anyone who can do just a little bit of Biblical exposition can come to the same conclusion.
The world is always working against us, it surrounds us with things that look so appealing, and most of them aren't even bad things. Sure, there is sin all around us and as Christians, we are in the world but not of it, and so we flee from sin by the power of Jesus and the grace of God. So what then do we do about the things that aren't sin of their own right? For example, video games on their own are not bad, and yet how many people have had their lives ruined because of addiction (making them an idol in their lives.) I’ve even had friends in the past who lost a job because they skipped work to play World of Warcraft. Even the good things of the world can be turned bad as soon as we allow them to turn us away from God; as soon as they go from being a hobby to being idolatry.
The devil seeks to see us tripped up, the sneakiest trick of the devil is not to get us to turn to him. He knows that man was created for relationship, that is for worship, and yet it's not a matter of worshipping either God or Satan. Not, satan’s trick is not to get us to worship him, but to get our eyes focused on anything besides God, and usually that means ourselves. We are all so prone to self-worship already, at least for me, all the enemy has to do is put something in front of me to be prideful about, and my eyes are on myself and not on God in no time at all.
And our flesh. I see my flesh really as a team mate to the other two enemies. When the world comes along with a temptation, it's my flesh that says, “Hey, what a great idea!” When the devil comes along with pride and arrogance for me, it's my flesh that says, “You know, I am pretty great!” My flesh seeks to go with the flow, it desires to not have any responsibility, and it lies and says that my actions will not have negative consequences.
So many times, I’ve taught about our three-fold enemy. I’ve taught that we are to keep our eyes open to ways of the world, the flesh and the devil in order to combat them in our lives. Now, I don’t want to take back that teaching, it is correct and there is power to be had in knowing our enemy, but at the end of the day, it is incomplete. You see, at the core of this teaching is bad news, bad news, and bad news, but the way that God reveals his word to us is not all bad news, yes there’s bad news, but the good news is better!
Here’s what God says about these enemies of ours. First in Hebrews 11:25 when looking at the faith of Moses we see that sin is pleasurable but only for a season, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” We find the lies of our enemies so attractive because (and God doesn’t lie to us, He says it plainly) it is pleasurable, but that will pass and when it does we will find ourselves and our families ravaged by sin’s deceitfulness.
Regarding the world, Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
Regarding the flesh, Paul writes, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:2-3.
Regarding the devil, we know from the prophecy at the fall, Gen 3:15, that satan’s head was crushed at the cross. But specifically we see his defeat in Revelation 20:7-10, “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations….and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
The world is overcome, the flesh is dead, and the devil is defeated. So where then is our enemy? I believe that as Christians today, we spend so much time fighting the wrong war; the war that is over. It’s like we are still playing a game of risk after the whole board has been won. We are already victorious! And God has given us the ability to believe in that victory and to walk in that victory, FAITH and OBEDIENCE!
If we are free from that fight, then we must ask why. Jesus last words before ascending to heaven give us the answer. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8. When we are not preoccupied with a battle that is already won, we are set free to be as we ought; set free to set others free. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
As some of you know, we went back to the village church outside of Kabubu today (the same one Jon preached at the other Sunday). A little girl, probably 3 or so, ended up on the bench next to me. She was dressed in a torn up, dirt stained skirt and a track jacket that was coming apart at every seam. She was clearly sick (as she continually used her skirt as a tissue). She hadn’t been bathed in a long time, and was covered in a layer of dirt from head to toe. She probably had a few critters living on her. And she was so adorable. She was also really sleepy. She was sitting next to me and I noticed she was swaying. She dozed off during the sermon and almost fell off the bench and into the concrete wall twice before I finally scooted her over near me.
She fell asleep on my arm and stayed there for about 10 minutes before my arm shook so badly that I couldn’t hold her up. So I scooped her onto my lap. She snuggled in and fell asleep (so sound asleep that she drooled on both of us). She stayed that way through all of service and the rest of the announcements and didn’t want to be put down when it was time for me to leave with the rest of the crew. But why tell you this story?
I tell this story because the Lord spoke to my heart in the moment where she nestled in to sleep in my arms. See, we get weird looks here a lot, because Jon and I love to hang out with the dirty kids, but culturally kids need to be clean to be held. I certainly got a few sidelong glances and giggles when I used my shirt to wipe drool off of the little one’s face. And I couldn’t care less because of the sweetness of that moment. I don’t say this to give myself accolades or make you think I am some great humanitarian. I say it because in that moment, Jesus said to me ‘that’s us’.
If the little one had been more awake she might have been to shy to sit close to Jon and I. She probably would have been very aware of the fact that she was ‘dirty’. But instead, she just trusted completely as I held her, and put herself fully in my arms to rest. I spend so much of my time so aware of the filth that covers me. The religion in my heart tells me that I need to clean myself up before I snuggle into the arms of Jesus. It’s such nonsense. Just like the last thought on my mind today was if that little girl was clean or not; Jesus doesn’t call us to get clean before we run to Him! He delights when we throw ourselves upon Him and just rest. He invites us to come to Him just as we are, filthy and gross and ashamed. And because of His blood, He doesn’t see those things. He DELIGHTS in having His children run into His arms to nestle in.
I can be so quick to forget the deep love and joy that Jesus has in fellowship with me as a daughter of His. But when I obsess over the grime of my own sin, I miss the chance to just rest in Him. Matthew 11:28 is our invitation, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Notice it doesn’t say ‘clean up, get right, be perfect and come and I will make it hard,’ it just says come and He gives. I can’t earn Jesus’ love, but He offers it freely if I will but come to Him in faith. Then I can sleep soundly resting in His arms.
For the last week I have been reading a book that at least a few of you will surely be familiar with Jesus on Leadership by C. Gene Wilkes. This book, as you could probably guess focuses on Jesus teachings on the subject specifically from the gospels and primarily about servant leadership. I wanted to share just a little bit from what I’m learning and also share how it is affecting the way I look at some things right now. Now coming from a church that stands on God’s word alone, of course none of this will really be new, but maybe it’s just a new way to look at it, and I certainly plan on diving a little bit into what I’m processing through right now, specifically on how to know when you are a servant. I probably will be quoting some parts of the book throughout, and I sure plan on quoting some scripture of course.
We are all aware that the Bible calls us to a life of servanthood, so in light of that, what needs to change? How can my life look more like Jesus’ life? That’s a question that each one of us should be asking daily, even if we don’t sit down every morning and start our day off with it, it should be at the heart of every word we say and every choice we make.
Now Jesus answers our hearts in this question all throughout His life, but one of the best and most direct answers is in Mark 10:42-44 “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Now I could go through and expositionally break down these verses, but I know that you guys and gals who read our blog are Bible scholars too, you can break it apart for yourself. The thing to note is that the hearers at the time would have thought Jesus was nutso. Being the first and being the last cannot be the same thing, and has there ever been a slave who was “first” let alone a “slave of all”. Wilkes puts it this way, “Being a servant is not one of our natural goals.” I have to also add, “and it doesn’t make sense to our natural brains.” None-the-less, that’s the instruction we’ve been given and so we have to somehow make sense of it.
So here’s the part that made me have to stop and think for a while, and to be honest I’m not totally sure I have the answer yet. I think maybe that’s why I wanted to write about it; I suppose this is my way of thinking out loud. Wilkes writes, “Greatness among God’s people begins with service, and service implies labor without accolades.” That is indeed a high calling, and one that few if none of us can attain on our own. Here’s the part that I haven’t gotten yet. How can I both desire no accolade for my service and at the same time write a newsletter about teaching in church and fixing a widows mud house? Just to be brutally honest for a moment, this is a legitimate struggle for me here. I have both the desire and responsibility to send out newsletters and Facebook updates and the like letting folks in the states, specifically those investing prayers and money in the mission, know what is going out here. And yet, every time I write about something like that it is so difficult to get my heart out of two not good positions; the first- look at all this awesome stuff I’m doing…I’m so cool, the second - look at all this awesome stuff I’m doing, send me money; neither of those is the heart of a servant.
That second one is surprisingly pervasive in the missionary community here. I’ve even been encouraged to ask our supporters for more money by some of the long-time missionaries here. At one point we were having a conversation with some friends and it came up that Kristin’s mom is a nurse, and the first question was “Do they support you?” Now, of course, I am very thankful that they do support us, but I am SOOO much more thankful that they are our family. Likewise, it is more important to me to think of my friends as my friends and not my piggy bank, my church is my church and not my source of income, my pastor is my pastor and not the guy to suck up to when I need board approval for a big purchase…you get the idea. God has given me a desire to never turn over people and shake out their pockets, yet at the same time, missions requires support, and so it has quickly become one of the hardest things to balance, how does one raise support without either turning over my friends or patting myself on the back for the things we are doing here. To be honest, the answer is just prayerful consideration and a heart check every time I hit that post button on Facebook or send out a newsletter.
That’s just a glimpse into my heart right now, and I already wasn’t planning on this being as long as it already is, so here’s a little food for thought on servanthood then I’m done, I promise.
Wilkes says, “Marriage works when you come to the place where the other’s well-being is as important as your own.” Now I’m really enjoying this book, and I totally recommend it, but I wanted to share this one because it’s the one sentence that I’ve had to correct. The truth is ANY RELATIONSHIP works when you come to the place where the other’s well-being is MORE important than your own. Philippine 2:3 “count others more significant than yourselves.”
Jesus is the ultimate example, and He put it in words in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but not to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” I’ll finish with this thought from Wilkes, “Jesus served us in our misunderstanding, our selfishness and our weakness. He saw what we needed and helped us. He knew where we needed to be and took us there - with great love and respect for us…His entire life mission was to free others, not to gain position for Himself.”