Reflections on our life and lessons in uganda
Life and Death
Alright. We have gotten all settled in our home and life in Uganda again. I (Kristin) am learning a new way of cooking, and have become a consistent dishwasher/house cleaner (the ants are a good motivator to keep things clean!). I have struggled since I have fallen out of the habit of writing a weekly blog; they say use it or lose it and I have lost a fair bit of it. So I was praying that God would give me some sort of inspiration for what to write on.
Well this week in Terebinth’s class we finished the pentateuch as we went through Deuteronomy. It was a great week and we discussed so much of how the law reveals Christ. When we were in Deuteronomy 30 we were discussing what does life and good, evil and death mean in relation to the blessings and cursings from chapter 28. I started looking into the words and what they meant in Hebrew and was blown away. See, Deuteronomy 30:15 says, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. .” The word for life is chay and it means: green, flowing, lively, reviving, life. So the idea isn’t just being a living thing, it is life-giving. It is flowing forth with refreshing and greenness. Good is the word towb meaning: pleasant, excellent, happy, kind, ethical, right. So the one option is to be refreshing, excellent, pleasant, life-giving, kind and right. I picture the first image when I hear those words.
Death is the word maveth: death, dying, Death (personified), or state of death. This isn’t just to die, it is to be in a state of dying. The word for evil is the word ra` meaning: malignant, disagreeable, worst, sad, evil, hurtful, wicked. These words bring picture 2 to mind.
So we see here that what was set before Israel (and is set before us now) isn’t a checklist for religious living. It is a recipe for living the kind of life that flows forth goodness and brings life into every situation, or it is bringing death to infect the situations we are in. So how do we choose? “love the LORD your God” and to “walk in His ways, keep His commandments, His statues, and His judgements”. What does that look like? It looks like Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” By dying, Jesus gave us life; and by dying to ourselves we bring life into the situations, people and lives around us. By giving our heart soul and mind to Jesus, we become like Him and we begin to delight in loving our neighbors as He has loved us.
So my challenge this week is to bring life into the situations I’m walking into. Whether it is formal ministry, meeting someone at the market, or spending an evening with Jon.And the Lord showed me in one of the simplest ways what that can look like. See, I tend to get all lofty with ideas like “bring life to today” and it isn’t as hard as I want to make it.
Jon and I have a kitchen that is made for a folks a little smaller than we are. I have spilled or dropped something EVERY time I cook. Well the other night Jon was in the pantry helping me get stuff out for dinner and I heard a crash and the distinct sound of broken glass. (Note: I was already late on getting dinner started). I walked over to see a full, glass bottle of soy sauce shattered on the pantry floor. For a split second I wanted to get frustrated at the situation, at the bottle, at Jon, at the pantry. And then I started to laugh. Because in that split second the Lord showed me that by letting my flesh get upset I would just be bringing death and rottenness into that moment. But by letting it roll off and helping Jon clean it up with a smile, I was able to bring a little bit of life in where instead I could have fed anger and bitterness. We worked together to get it cleaned up and had a lovely evening together. So while I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn when it comes to bringing life to situations; God showed me that by making simple choices I am a blessing or a curse to those around me. I bring with me life or death into every conversation. And by putting my mind on Jesus and growing in my relationship with Him, I am enable to walk in life and light more often.
Where do we go and what do we say…
This blog post might be a little longer than my normal, this is some of the things that are on my mind in regards to being a missionary now that we are back on the mission field. If somethings are disjointed or scatter-brained, I apologize ahead of time…
Where do we go and what do we say when we get there? Isn’t that the question that so many great missional minds have been trying to answer for ages. For most of us who like to think of ourselves as scholars of God’s word, we might start off with the great commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20. And I think that is a great place to start. It gives us an idea God’s heart for the world, and it gives us some general information of what we to do with the gospel message, but we really don’t have specifics; sure make disciples, baptize, and teach, but where and how?
In Acts 1:8, right before Jesus ascends into heaven, He leaves His disciples with some instruction. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” We know from this statement that not only is the church supposed to go to all the earth, but that we have the power, the authority, to do so.
In Acts 10, Peter has a monologue and contained within it are some seriously thought provoking statements. I wanted to share with you just a small number of ideas that, in the end, will hopefully lead to a logical conclusion…maybe not…we’ll see. I encourage you to get your Bible and read Acts 10:34-43 as I will only be making mention of a few key verses.
Acts 10:34-35 “So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
This statement is itself an excellent basis for missions…why? Because God shows no partiality. So what does that mean, that God doesn’t care which quarterback starts or which candidate wins? Now that’s a silly interpretation of it. But it does mean that if Clinton or Trump were to fear God and act upright toward Him, He would save them. From a missional perspective it means that I am not more special than a Ugandan because I was born in America. It means that God cares no less for a starving child in a third world country than He does for you. And it means that He does not hold back His saving blood from anyone who would repent. His salvation is available to everyone everywhere. “in EVERY NATION ANYONE who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” That statement should bring out a missional mindset in every believer, a desire to see people everywhere turning to Jesus.
Here’s one of those scatter-brained thoughts I promised. Our conversation every day reflects what our thought equity is spent on, and our thoughts reflect the things that are most important to us. Does your day revolve more around your candidate than your Lord? There is a root cause…
The same idea from Acts about partiality is reflected in James 2. “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” He goes on to talk about treating people better who are dressed better and treating those who are dressed poorly like they are not deserving. At the end of the statement he calls it making “distinctions among yourselves” and he calls them “judges with evil intent”. It’s even the same thing Jesus spoke against in Revelation 2:6 when he commends the church in Ephesus, “you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
This is an idea that has permeated itself into the culture of Uganda. As white people we are often looked up to as having all the answers, knowing how to run a successful business, being the best Bible teachers, whatever it might be. We are generally treated as some sort of royalty when we are traveling around. There have been times when a white person shows up to a church and is asked to teach the service right there on the spot, without the Pastor even knowing who the person is. And as a result of treating people from other cultures so well, there is often a tendency for Ugandan’s to look down on themselves and to see themselves as less than other people.
Among other circles, there has been a tendency to over-correct this problem and now there is a sentiment that if you are not Ugandan you shouldn’t be doing any work here, that any outside influence is bad influence. We have received the worst of both ideologies in a short amount of time. We have at times felt like people most welcome in a foreign place, and at other times been told that our help was not asked for and not welcome. (Of course there are plenty of exceptions to every rule, I can only speak from my experience.)
This is something we work hard to combat from a cultural standpoint when we are speaking with friends and colleagues here in UG. What’s funny to me is that my first inclination, to lift up Ugandan’s and their culture to the place that America is is an entirely wrong way to approach the issue. The fix is to take a humbling look at myself and my culture in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. I am no better than you are, neither of us is worthy of the gifts that God has given us, but He has given it anyway. There is no way for me to be something outside of the blood of Jesus and the same goes for you. The only thing good in either of us is Jesus.
One final thought on these verses before moving on, in Acts 10:35 he says, “anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” …that’s not really the gospel, right?… that’s not really good news. Because when is the last time that I actually feared God and did what was right ? (and I certainly don’t the perfect track record required.)
(again you can read the whole section on your own because I am skipping to the end)
Acts 10:43, “To him all prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
I am so thankful that this is how it ends and not the other way. The other way means I am not good enough, this way means Jesus is. What’s interesting is that you need both parts to effectively see the gospel for what it is. I am not good enough and Jesus is. It’s why in Genesis 3, God took Adam and Eve’s garments of leaves and gave them new garments of animal skins, an act that required the shedding of blood, a sacrifice. I am so thankful that it is Jesus blood that makes us acceptable before God; that I hold the responsibility of repentance and not of my own salvation.
So my question at the beginning was where do we go and what do we say. I have to answer that question by stealing Peter’s words…everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name. We must go to everyone, and the message we carry should be ‘you are not good enough and neither am I, but Jesus is.’ So often we have seen American missions or humanitarian workers with the message ‘you are not good enough, but I am.’ I believe to really impact the culture in which we are reaching, we must drop the prideful savior mentality, inject some humility into the way we reach people, and instead of having an attitude to fix we need to carry an attitude to love.
Jesus commandment to us in John 13:34 is perfectly summed up in us when we can humbly accept this reality. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” We don’t show Jesus love by trying to fix, or even by teaching. The only way to combat our own pervasive savior mentality, to love like Jesus loved us, is by dying to ourselves.