Reflections on our life and lessons in uganda
Our goal for blogs, as you probably know, is to post one every week. We want to keep everyone who supports us and invests in God’s mission in Uganda knowing what is going on over here on our side of the globe. Last week we failed to do that; so we apologize. It was probably one of our busiest weeks and weekends since we’ve been here in Gulu. If you look for our newletter in the next few weeks, you will get to see a snippit of what I mean. But, none the less, we’re sorry to neglect sending out a blog.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! It’s not a widely celebrated holiday here in Uganda, but we get to celebrate in style. Our team mates Kent and Becca Nolley have their parents visiting here in Gulu, so we will get to join in with their family celebration and football watching via the internet. With Thanksgiving coming up, a holiday that is generally marked by excess, this might be a very poorly timed topic, or quite appropriate. But anyway, it’s what I’ve been thinking about since last months class, so I think I can share it anyway.
Last month we finished our study of the Pentateuch and as we finished Deuteronomy a few things struck me as themes that you see again as you move forward in scripture. Without getting too bogged down in details hard to convey in blog format, lets think about Israel’s forty years in the wilderness.
The three main temptations that plagued Israel in the wilderness and beyond were 1) hunger, 2) the temptation to serve the other gods (the gods of the nation’s) and 3)the temptation to tempt God. Throughout this time in history, Israel succombed to these temptations by complaining through their hunger, consistently looking back to their time of slavery to Egypt, by serving the gods of the nations around them, and by bringing God to wrath with their lack of obedience.
Interestingly these are the same three temptations that Jesus experienced in Matthew 4, during His 40 days in the wilderness. This is why it is so important that we see Jesus answering Satan’s temptations with passages from the law (Deuteronomy 6 and 8). Jesus used the same tools that Israel had to get through the same temptations that Israel experienced but failed in.
During this time in the wilderness God provided through miraculous means three things specifically for the nation, even after they were fearfully disobedient. Matthew 6:31 says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” In the wilderness, the three things that we see specifically God provides miraculously is manna (what we shall eat) water (what we shall drink) and sandals and clothes that didn’t wear out, Deu 29:5 (what we shall wear).
I think we could look at any of these three examples to make this next point, but manna makes it the strongest.
First off, unrelated but fun, manna comes from two hebrew root words ‘Ma’ which is a thing or what and ‘Na’ which denotes a question. In Exodus 16:15 “When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’” and the name stuck. Manna means ‘what is it’.
So God’s instructions for the manna was that they were to gather each morning enough for their families for that day and no more, except on the sixth day when they would gather for the sabbath as well. So everyday they only got exactly what they needed. It didn’t matter whether it was a poor widow who could barely carry what she needed or a huge guy who could put barrels of the stuff on his back at a time, they could only take what they needed. This was a clear picture for Israel that not only was it God who sustained them, but they literally COULD NOT provide for themselves. Everyday morning when they went out to gather their food for the day, they were reminded that God was the only reason they were alive. They couldn’t take the glory from God because they wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for Him. (Taking the glory from God is a huge theme through scripture that starts all the way back in Genesis 11 when people built a giant tower and put their name on the side of it…reminds me of someone.) The manna then was a picture of God’s Word and it was literally their ‘daily bread.’
This time in the wilderness was what God used to show Israel their need for humility in light of the glory of God. In Deuteronomy 8:2-3 we see humility as a major theme of Israel’s time in the wilderness and that everything they went through was to bring them to humility before God. excerpt “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna”.
The manna was to feed Israel for sure, but God could have done that in any number of ways. He used manna because it showed Israel that they needed God every single day. Remember that manna is an old testament picture of God’s word. So we need to hear from God every single day. I hope that we never come to the place where our response to God is the same as Israel’s in Numbers 21:5 “we loathe this worthless food.” What a sad picture that provides of the state of Israel, but how often do we mimic the same attitude in our prayer and Bible study lives.
So finally with that foundation laid, we come to the point that I set out to make: the danger of abundance. Deuteronomy 6:10-12 reads, “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you - with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant - and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord”
Israel had made quite a journey to get to this point, from the Exodus out of Egypt, then encountering God on Mt. Sinai, losing 3,000 men because of idol worship, staying out of the land because of fear and being sent into the wilderness for 40 years, the last of the old generation dying out, and now Moses is conveying the ‘second law’ (thats what the word Deuteronomy means) to the new generation before they will go into the promised land under the command of Joshua. All of this history to look back on and Moses’ message for them is to be careful not to let your flesh become so satisfied that you forget God.
One question that I think is often voiced in the church is, “what is wrong with having nice things?” The answer is that if you don’t forget God then nothing, if your things cause you to forget God even for a second than everything. I hope not to cause offense, but I would like to say this simply, What’s wrong with getting a cup of starbucks sometimes? If every morning you go a get a cup of coffee on your way to work but constantly neglect the needs of the poor and hurting around you, then you drink a cupful of sin.
Isaiah 58:6-7 says, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into you house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh.” As soon as you are able to reach the point of going without yourself in order to give to someone who needs what you have, you tap into the very heart of God.
If you have read this far into this long blog post then one of three things is true, you either have a really big heart for missions, a really big heart for us, or you are one of those people that reads for a while then has to go back and re-read because your eyes see the worlds but your brain is doing something else. In the first two cases, I think it is appropriate to commission you with a mission this coming holiday season. Why not fast? I don’t mean not eating on Thanksgiving, by all means eat. But, find a way to take something you have that someone else needs, and find a way to get it to them. Sacrificing for someone else is the only definition of love. Even if it’s just giving that coffee money to someone who needs a meal, God did it for you, go and do it for someone else.
Jon taught at church Sunday. I always enjoy getting to hear him teach. After he had finished, Pastor Fred got up and was thanking Jon for teaching etc. He said something that is said every week in church by him or another pastor. “I have picked my part.” This always sort of confused me until yesterday when he went on to say, “For me, my part is when he talked about using our words to encourage and strengthen like Silas. You pick your part.” Each week a pastor will stand up in front of the church and say “I have picked my part”. And I was really impacted by that this week as I reflected on it.
We have been studying in James and the sermon on the mount this week for Terebinth. The Lord has been revealing that to walk in a way pleasing to Him is to walk in humility, mercy and to love every single person around us. Judgement and partiality are huge themes in both of these areas of Scripture. But so often they are areas we justify in our lives.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have been sitting in a service either thinking ‘oh I wish so and so was here to get this’ or ‘hope YOU’RE paying attention, so and so’. But I have to be intentional about “picking my part”. Our sinful heart naturally want to judge others, to feel superior to others, to be more righteous than others. But we are to love God and love others. Jesus said to love others as He loved us. That means loving them, bearing their burdens, caring for them and bringing truth into their lives. But I can’t help pick the log out of someone’s eye if my eye is logged up. But when I am willing to pick my part when I hear teaching from the Word, my logs get smaller and easier to remove. But if all I can think about is how much everyone else needs that, my log just knocks people in the face.
So I want to encourage you today, as many of us file into church to hear the Bible taught, pick your part. For me, my part, is that I need to always be looking for my part to pick.
Below is a giraffe I saw on Saturday :) (unrelated, but cool!)