Tag Archives: gospel

Vehicular Theology

It happened once near my house in Uganda.  I was driving and saw a car with a bible verse on its vanity license plate.  It was a very nice car, a recent model Land Rover Discovery in a forest green color.  Beyond a nice and functional ride, this car also serves as a status symbol.  The license plate displayed “Eph 3 20” for all Uganda to see.

A typical Ugandan license plate is yellow with black letters stamped into it.  But it is not uncommon to see vanity plates in Uganda.  They are typically on nicer cars.  You can spot them because they have green letters instead of black ones.

The cost of these plates has been a mystery I have yet to fully untangle.  I have been told they cost $2,000 USD.  I have been told that they cost some considerable amount each month.  The only commonality is the fact that they are much more expensive than a typical license plate.

Poor theology cruises the streets

Poor theology cruises the streets

This particular plate had me upset.  It was common prosperity gospel (all too common in Uganda as with much of the world) stamped onto the owner’s car declaring God has blessed him with such a nice car.  To be clear, I take no issue with the niceness of the car or of putting bible verses on vanity plates.  I take issue with the false message this particular car displayed.

I saw this car and its plate the one time.  Then I saw it again and then a third time.  I had to get a picture.  But driving and being able to get a picture of a passing vehicle is not easy or recommended.  Then one day my dreams came true, it was parked in the same parking lot I was.  I whipped out my phone and snapped a picture.

Why do I take issue with this car?  Its message isn’t biblical.  Sure it has a bible verse on it but what it communicates distorts the teaching of that passage.

What does Ephesians 3:20 say?  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”  This vehicle communicates that this car is the owner’s because God can do far more abundantly than all he could ask or imagine.  But is this the point of the text?  Is his material wellbeing (i.e. prosperity) what the passage is discussing?

This passage is ascribing praise to God for the wonders of the salvation He provides in Christ.  The context tells us this.  In Ephesians 3:8, what is preached are the unsearchable riches of Christ.  It is Paul’s prayer in verses 16-19 of chapter 3 that his readers would understand just how amazing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.  Notice the ‘unsearchable’ and ‘surpassing knowledge’ aspect.  God’s work is so wonderful and far above human understanding and even expectation that prayer should be made to understand it.

Then in our verse Paul moves into praising God for doing things that are so amazing we dare not call them true save for the fact God has revealed them as true.  This salvation in Christ, forgiveness and freedom from sin, is amazing.  It is so wonderful.  Too often we take it for granted.  We pass by it.  But Paul here is pausing to praise God for providing redemption in Christ.  We need to stop and ponder the salvation God has brought.

To then apply this to something comparatively worthless as a nice car is too much.  As C.S. Lewis and John Piper have said, the car owner’s desires are not too big but too small – he is too easily satisfied.  It tremendously devalues what God has done.

So yes, I take issue with this car and its message.

Should we thank God for everything He gives us?  Yes.  From the wonder of salvation to the wonder bread, from being called a child of God to phones to call others.  But this is not the verse to do it.  The owner has taken something unsearchable and reduced it to something far less.

This vehicle highlights thinking that is far too common in Uganda and throughout the world.  That is the expectation of temporal and material blessings.  It is not God’s will that every believer should be rich.  God has promised to take care of material needs, not to make every Christian financially wealthy.  The testimony of Christ and His apostles is enough to show that.  What He has promised is eternal life to all who believe in Christ.  What He has promised is forgiveness, adoption, and the Holy Spirit to power our love of others.  Those are the things we should seek and expect from God.

We need to expect great things from God, greater and more beyond knowledge than a Land Rover Discovery.

 

Here is a video of something fun on the roads in Kampala:

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Is Genesis 3:15 the Best Verse in the Bible?

Some time ago I was speaking with another pastor and he said he was preaching on the best verse in the Bible.  Having just finished teaching a class on Genesis in Uganda I asked if it was Genesis 3:15.  That’s not what he had in mind but said that it was a good one.  Ranking Bible verses would prove a daunting and tricky task.  It really cannot be done.  However, if one did rank them I would submit Genesis 3:15 for consideration as the best.

Why do I think so highly of this verse?  On the first reading, it is cryptic and usually glossed over.  That’s how I treated it until I learned better.  Gen 3:15 is a great verse because 1) the context brings great hope, 2) it is programmatic of the rest of the Bible, & 3) God makes a promise that we know has been fulfilled.

The ContextGenesis 315 [mobile-1262x1262]

In Genesis 1 & 2 God has created the world very good.  He has made Adam and Eve, male and female in His image.  God has given them food to eat and a garden to live in and the noble task of spreading the blessings of Eden to the rest of the world.  He dwells among them.  Life is good.

Yet Adam and Eve quickly throw it all away in order to be like God.  It only takes until chapter 3 where we read about their sin.  They were aware of God’s command not to eat of the forbidden fruit.  They were aware of the consequences should they disobey God and eat of the fruit.  Yet they were deceived by the serpent and ate anyways.

When God visits them in the garden He confronts their rebellion against Him.  He begins with the serpent and gives him a curse.  Then God moves on and tells Adam and Eve what curses come because of their sin.  It is important to note that God doesn’t curse them directly.  Rather the pain of giving birth is increased and the ground is cursed.

See we have already skipped over Gen 3:15.  It is here, in the midst of the curses, while cursing the serpent that we read: “I (God) will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Here God promises that he will start a war between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.  God is promising to deal with the sin Adam and Eve have just brought into the world.  It will be the battle, at the injury of the offspring, which will eliminate the serpent and his work.  It is hope in the midst of great trouble.  Here, in the middle of the curse, is the promise to make right what has gone wrong.  This is what we call grace.

It was hope for Adam and Eve and it is hope for us.  Though we sin and take for granted all God has given us, we know that there stands one who has dealt with our sin on the cross.  It is a message of grace for us.  Just like Adam and Eve, we need faith on the promised one, Jesus Christ.

The Program

If you have ever wondered what the Bible is all about, let Genesis 3:15 be the guide.  Humanity has sinned and God will deal with that sin through a chosen offspring.  The Old Testament (OT) looks forward to the work of the promised offspring.  The New Testament (NT) looks backward to the work of the promised offspring.

The search for the promised offspring begins in Genesis 4:1 when Eve has Cain and says, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”  The text is making it plain that she is looking for this promised one.  The search continues in Genesis 5:29 when Noah is born and his father, Lamech, says of him, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”

Neither one was the promised offspring.  But the search has begun.  Listen to Lamech’s words and how they point to the fact that the promised one will end the curse brought on by sin.  Jesus is that promised offspring.  But the whole OT looks forward to His coming.  Jesus says as much in Luke 24:27.

The NT looks backward to this promise and speaks of Jesus’ work in these terms.  Romans 16:20 and Hebrews 2:14-15 provide discussion of Jesus defeating the serpent.  Revelation 20:1-3, 10 also discusses the final fate of the serpent – that is Satan.  He is defeated by Jesus.

Simeon is one who got this through the power of the Holy Spirit.  In Luke 2 he sees Jesus as a baby and “took him up in his arms” and says he can depart in peace because “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.”  God’s salvation is in the form of the person Jesus Christ who which He first promised in Genesis 3:15.  The Gospel of Luke also points to this fact by giving the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam – and thus also Eve.

Theologians call Genesis 3:15 the protoeuangelion which simply means the first gospel.  This text is the gospel in seed form.  But it is the promise of good news for humanity through the suffering of the seed of the woman.  Redemption is promised through the act of the seed.  Far from the OT being ignorant of grace and Christ’s redemption, these topics appear here first and are clarified in the NT.

The program of the whole Bible is that one will come to deal with sin and the curse.  The OT looks forward to it and the NT looks back to it.  Today we look back to Jesus’ work and trust it alone as the hope for our sin and to deal with the problems brought on by the first sin as well as our own.  The cure for the curse is Christ’s work.  Period.  The cure is not man’s obedience (as is commonly thought & taught).

The Promise

We see by God’s promise, and its subsequent fulfillment in Christ, that nothing can stop God from bringing this about.  In the OT there are bad people, kings, and deeds.  There are world powers who oppress Isreal, unfaithful Israel who is exiled, and the destruction of the temple.  Even the good guys do some terrible things – like David and Bathsheba as just one example.  In the NT the religious leaders work against Jesus.  Even the disciples try to stop Jesus from accomplishing His mission.  However, nothing stops God from delivering on His promise.  Nothing.

Christ crushed the head of the serpent on the cross

Christ crushed the head of the serpent on the cross

At the end of the 3rd chapter of Genesis, we have a beautiful scene of God showing grace and mercy to Adam and Eve.  These are first fruits of the work to come.  They were naked and had no shame but because of their sin they realized their nakedness and were ashamed.  We might expect God to say they should deal with the mess they have made.  Yet he doesn’t do that.  Instead, he fashions a loincloth of animal skin to cover the nakedness and shame brought on by their own sin.

God is beginning to point to the work of Christ from the very beginning.  He is showing a tender love that meets people where they are.  He is dealing with sin and its effects in a real way but not in a permanent way.  God knows that loin cloths don’t save people.  They do cover nakedness and shame and point to Jesus who will remove shame permanently.

The specifics of the promise also point to the way in which the offspring will bring about redemption.  God says that the serpent will bruise the offspring’s (as we know now that is Christ) heel and that the offspring will bruise the serpent’s head.  So at great cost to himself – bruising of his heel, the offspring will achieve total victory over the serpent – bruising his head.  Christ fulfills this by dying on the cross to completely and totally save people from their sins.

In Matthew 1:21 we learn why Jesus’ name is Jesus.  It is because He will save His people from their sins.  He came to deal with sin and its effects.  When Adam and Eve sin, the first promise God makes is to deal with that sin through an offspring.  Sin is the fundamental problem in our world today.  Thus Jesus is the fundamental solution to that problem.  We won’t know the full and final effects of that until Jesus returns.  Now we have a wonderful foretaste.

That is why we endure in this life.  We know that the serpent is still around deceiving people.  The Bible tells his ultimate fate is defeat – Rev 20:1-3, 10.  But even now Jesus provides the forgiveness for sin and the power to overcome sin.  We look to him as the saints of old did and rest in Him for deliverance in this life and the next– Hebrews 12:1-3.  If we want hope, the only place to turn is God’s promise.

Conclusion

Genesis 3:15 is a theologically packed verse.  Its context, sin, provides the backdrop to the redemption Christ brings.  Its message helps read the Bible in the right light.  It teaches us that the redemption comes through Christ’s work and not though humanity’s obedience. Its promise is fulfilled and gives hope to endure.  Is it the best verse in the Bible?  I don’t know.  But it sure is a great one.

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This is Africa

We had just pulled out of my gate and were driving up the hill from my house when it happened. I live on a small residential road here in Uganda, complete with about 10 speed humps, with walled compounds towering on each side of the road but with a few open plots. We saw a small white car approaching in the opposite lane. We were the only two cars on the street. All of a sudden it darted in front of us turning right onto another road forming a T-junction just to our left. The driver basically drove through the wrong lane to get onto the road. For reference, if a car had been waiting to turn on that road he would have hit it. But if a car had been there he would have driven past us and made the turn into the proper lane.

This is the road going up from our house

This is the road going up from our house

I have seen this thing many times before but that didn’t stop me from questioning the driving skills of that other driver. Oh the frustration. My wife can attest at how many times I digress into foaming about the issues on the road. But please don’t, honey. That might be a bit embarrassing.

Note: I am sure my driving has caused many to question me.

It was a Ugandan friend, Mike, who was driving. I was riding with him so he could drop me at my destination on the way to his. Upon hearing my grumblings about the driver’s actions, he said, “This is Africa.”

It is not the first time I have heard that phrase uttered. I have heard it from Ugandans, Africans, and expatriates alike. Wanting to know his take on the phrase, I asked him what it meant. He explained that people in Uganda do whatever they want and have their own way of doing things.

It might analogous to a northerner being in Tennessee, asking for tea and getting sweat tea by default. The waiter might reply, “This is the South.” Or hearing “Hon” from someone and asking them why they call everyone that, they might reply, “This is Baltimore.” Or going to Chicago and ordering pizza and getting some cheese, tomato, and vegetable filled monstrosity and asking where your pizza is, you hear, “This is Chicago.”

However analogous to these situations, “This is Africa” is decidedly a negative comment. I have heard this phrase in reference to many things such as inefficient ways of doing things, bribes, a leader’s abuse of power, and traffic craziness (of course) among other things. It is a recognition that something might not be right or the best but “This is Africa” and that is just how it is. It is a phrase that denotes the presence of something bad but it not surprising to find it here because, “This is Africa.” The phrase even has an abbreviation: “TIA.”

Everyone seems to recognize something is amiss but nothing can be done about it because “This is Africa.” I do not like the phrase though. As true as it might seem at times, it conveys a defeatist attitude. So I avoid the phrase. But many don’t avoid it including a lot of Ugandans I know.

I want this slang to change. I want it to change meanings. I want Ugandans to say it often. However, I want it to be in response to positive things. No one says, “This is Africa” in response to a kind deed or loving response. But I want that to be the case.

This is Africa

This is Africa

This is not a blog about self-help or even Africa-help. It is a blog about gospel-help. The gospel is the only thing that can change the actions and attitudes of Africans. The good news of Jesus Christ changes lives and cultures.

There once was a rich theological heritage Africa. For example, Tertullian, who coined the phrase, ‘Trinity’, is from Africa. One of the biggest church leaders of all time, Augustine, was from Africa. Africa today needs a fresh dose of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The above issues mentioned such as traffic chaos, bribes, and abuse of power find their cure only in the gospel. Take abuse of power. You cannot give away power or be truly self-sacrificial with power if you don’t know Jesus, who having all the power in the universe sacrificed his own life for others. Bribes meet their end when people know Jesus who was generous and giving. Some traffic chaos will be lessened when people know Jesus who was obedient to the law and preached the law. These traits are respected in the West because of the large Christian influence for at least 1,500 years.

To be sure there are many wonderful things happening here. Just the other day I was driving and had to stop because of a one car jam. The small blue hatchback got its front right wheel stuck in a hole. A crowd had gathered to watch as about 10 or 15 guys helped to get the car out of the hole. Just as I was about to turn around and go another way, I saw the car lurch forward. They had gotten it out. This kind of thing, sadly, is not referred to as “This is Africa.”

My hope is that people see the gospel at work and the Spirit of God moving and they think it is supposed to happen because “This is Africa.” It might take some time, but my prayer is when people see sacrificial leadership, no bribes, or other gospel traits they will say, “This is Africa.”

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Running to Hope

Have you ever been in stop and go traffic without another car on the road? I now have. We were driving in the Kiryandongo refugee camp and Pastor James Bab would tell me to stop.

A small house in the  refugee camp

A small house in the refugee camp

He saw someone walking and he wanted to greet them. So a short drive was made longer, but also much more pleasant.

Three guys from our Mission to the World (MTW) team, Ben Church, Bert Williams, and I, went to visit the South Sudanese refugee camp in Uganda and the work Pastor James is doing there. We know Pastor James because he has studied at Westminster Theological College where MTW helps teach.

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab and the visiting contingent give a thumbs up on a wonderful visit

James Bab is a Presbyterian pastor who runs a school that trains pastors in South Sudan. I met him last December when He came to Uganda to attend the Westminster graduation of some fellow South Sudanese brothers. This encounter led to a meeting and an accepting of an invitation to preach at the church he planted in Kampala.

Fleeing From Fighting
Just before he was to return to South Sudan and his family, fighting broke out in South Sudan on December 15th. There were reports of a coup attempt against the president (some dispute this claim). Regardless of the precipitation of the fighting, it is clear that battle lines are now drawn along ethnic lines.

According to the stories told to us one ethnic group, the Dinkas (the tribe of the president of South Sudan), are seeking to kill another ethnic group, the Nuer. The people in Kiryandongo are mostly Nuer. They fear for their friends and family still in South Sudan and are trying to make the best of their new home.

Every day, more people come into the camp with more stories of the suffering and persecution of the Nuer. One of the most recent arrivals, Helen, got to share her story with us.

Helen is Nuer and lived in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. As soon as the fighting broke out her home became its own refugee center. She had 15+ people in the house hiding. But soon even her home wasn’t safe. She had to flee and hide in another house. When the murderous soldiers came, they wanted to demolish that house with a tank like they had done several others. They were trying to eliminate the assets of Nuer as well as eliminate any hiding places. Fortunately, someone told them it was the house of another soldier’s in-laws. So they let it stand.

Eventually she was able to flee to the compound guarded by the UN in Juba. There are UN soldiers who protect those inside. Helen was relatively safe in the compound but many are suffering inside the compound. However, there is little food, water, shelter, medicine, and other necessities available. Some murderous soldiers on the outside of the camp climb a tower and shoot into the compound and sometimes hit people.

****Warning – some of the things in the next paragraph are terrible, graphic, and not for the faint of heart

Helen’s story is tragic. But she relayed the happenings of others to us as well. Some Nuer found by the murderous soldiers were made to do unimaginable things and had unimaginable things done to them. The soldiers raped many women and even gang raped some into a coma. In a sick and twisted perversion, some sons were forced to ‘know’ their mothers. Some women were made to eat the raw flesh of some who were already dead.

****Graphic content over

These stories still make me pause and regroup. They are unsettling. But it makes their requests of us all the more amazing. More on these requests below.

These events certainly show the depravity of mankind and depths that sin will take us. Never before had I heard stories like this so fresh and real. Never before have I realized just how much we need a Savior. We need a Savior who not only hates sin but provides salvation from it. We need Jesus.

In February, I went to Rwanda and took the opportunity to visit the Genocide Memorial there. The stories between the two events are strikingly similar. Just a few days ago people were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. I am afraid that in 20 years the same will be done for South Sudan if actions are not taken soon.

Inside the Camp
After stopping at the entrance to the camp to greet the camp director, we proceeded into the camp. There is one main road that is dirt. There are a few other roads that branch from it including smaller footpaths.

Food collection day in the camp.

Food collection day in the camp.

In mid-December 2013 there were 150 or so refugees in the camp. Less than 4 months later there are over 20,000. At first glance you might not realize this is a place that houses 20,000+ refugees. I was expecting something more densely populated. But granted, I have never been to one before. However, the drive down the road is pleasant with wonderful vistas of the mountains in the distance and greenery all around. There are huts and houses on occasion. They are rarely close to others. You can tell for sure if a house belong to a refugee because they will have tarp roofs or walls.

When refugees arrive at the camp they have to register. Then they are assigned a plot of land, given 5 poles and a tarp and bused to their new place of residence. The poles and tarp help build homes. Some refugees have opted to build mud brick homes as time and resources allow. They can also get a concrete slab and 4 logs given to them so a pit latrine can be constructed. Also there are days when food is delivered and they can go collect rice, beans, and various other food supplies.

Apart from tarp roofs and walls occasionally, the setting is very much like an African village. The scenery is quite pleasant. But the people are still in turmoil. They are grieving their family and country and they are trying to make a life in the camp.

Meeting with the Survivors

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Ben and Bert listen to James and company talk about the plans for the church and its building.

Pastor James first took us to see a building with only wood poles framing in place. They are working on constructing a church building. Currently they share meeting space with the local Catholic church.

We were then whisked over to that shared meeting space to have a gathering. The choir was present with their robes neatly adorned. They welcomed with a song in Nuer and followed that up with another. I didn’t understand a word but I certainly enjoyed it.

James introduced us to the people and shared a few words. Then the people gathered shared their stories with us. Helen was the first to go. The others verified her stories and told their own.

At the end I Have Decided was sung in Nuer and I sang in English. We then joined hands, Americans and Nuer, in prayer to our Heavenly Father. It was a sweet time of fellowship with a dark and heavy subject. Yet everyone there was worshipping God and giving Him glory.

The choir welcomes us with a song

The choir welcomes us with a song

It really is a testimony to me that they would have seen and experienced firsthand and still want to praise God. They have a real joy and peace that so many are longing for in this world. They have a lot to teach us, especially Westerners, on how to rejoice in suffering.

The Requests
After the stories were shared two requests were made. Several people stood to reiterate the requests and to share more about them. What they wanted was money to help get more people out of Juba and into Uganda. Specifically they want to get the widows, orphans, and sick out so they can come to the camp to receive some of the things not found in the UN compound there in Juba.

Funding to finish construction on the church building was the second request. They want to finish construction on a space for the Presbyterians to have a place to worship and offer space to the community. The current meeting space is also used by the Catholics and they use the space the majority of the time. Even the Catholics there were wanted this. It seemed to make sense.

Putting these two requests together remind me of God’s command in the book of Exodus. There, the Pharaoh is told by the Lord to let His people go so that they may go worship Him. That is what these dear brothers and sisters in Christ want. They want their people to be freed from the violence in Juba to come and worship God in Uganda. These refugees are being faithful in the midst of suffering. Praise God for their message and their testimony to God’s mercy and goodness. They are running to hope. The only hope found in Jesus Christ.

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

Thumbs up to praising the Lord!

A family's compound in the camp.

A family’s compound in the camp.

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

We give a thumbs to up an encouraging meeting

Note the tarp covering of the house

Note the tarp covering of the house

The space where we met with the refugees.

The space where we met with the refugees.

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I’m a Regular Comedian (in Uganda)

I love to laugh. I love to make others laugh. I am no Jerry Seinfeld but I do enjoy just trying. Just ask my wife Brooke. She has to put up with my silly antics. But usually I prefer people laugh with me instead of at me.

Here in Uganda I seem to make people laugh a lot. I feel like Jerry Seinfeld when I go out into public. At least I imagine him telling jokes left and right and everyone falls down laughing. He would be like a drive by joke teller leaving a wake of laughter wherever he goes. I mean doesn’t he enter a 7-11, drop a joke or show his fusilli Jerry, and walk out with his big gulp to the sound of laughter?

Why fusilli? Because Jerry is silly.

Why fusilli? Because Jerry is silly.

So the fact that I make Ugandans laugh is a good thing. I think. I hope. But every time a Ugandan laughs it isn’t at a funny joke or quip. It is just when I speak. It is when I greet someone, order a soda, or generally open my mouth.

Just the other day I walked up to a shop keeper and asked for a Mountain Dew. She put her head in her arms and was laughing so hard. This is the kind of reaction I want from my wife when I tell jokes. Even a sympathy laugh will go a long way. But this is not the kind of reaction I want when I order a soda from a stranger.

So what’s the deal with me being funny? It’s not because I have spinach in my teeth. I don’t eat spinach, so I am sure. It’s not my jokes, because I am not telling any. And besides I am not Jerry Seinfeld who must ooze comedy and even his serious things are funny.

All I am doing is speaking Luganda. I try to greet, and order, and speak in the main language here in Kampala. While ordering in Luganda, I have yet had anyone tell me, “No soda for you. Come back one year.” But I do imagine I am butchering the language. Steaks, chops, ground meat, and other various cuts of the language are left lying around when I am done. But this can’t explain it all. People are genuinely surprised to hear a mzungu (white person) speak their language. I am genuinely surprised that they are surprised.

Me and my comedy instructor...I mean language instructor.

Me and my comedy instructor…I mean language instructor.

All of this laughter is actually encouraging because it means they are not used to foreigners speaking their language. This means that if I can even speak a little of the language then it will give me a unique opportunity to proclaim the gospel. I can take being laughed at for the sake of Christ.

I will remain an unintentional comedian here in Uganda because I will continue to speak (that is try not to butcher) Luganda. As a matter of fact, I challenge Jerry Seinfeld to a comedy duel on the streets of Kampala. I could give him a run for his money. Oh, who am I kidding; he just says something and then yada yada yada you are laughing uncontrollably. But at least I have some insight into how Seinfeld lives.

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How to Love a Murderer

Just how powerful is the gospel of Jesus Christ? I know a textbook answer but I must admit I doubt it frequently in the real world. Several weeks ago I was floored by its work in one woman’s life.

It all started from here.

It all started from here.

Luwero is a small town in Uganda about 64 km outside of Kampala (that’s about 40 miles for people like me). It is the home of Luwero Presbyterian Church where we spent some time. My teammate Ben Church and I were invited to go out into the community with some of their members to do some evangelizing.

The very first day Ben and I arrived late to meet the others. But it would turn out to be perfect timing for the Lord to work. We met Shadrach and Gladys there and prayed before setting out. We first came to an Anglican woman’s home and spoke with her and found out she already believed in Jesus. Praise the Lord.

Next we went not 100 yards behind her house where four Ugandan men were doing some construction. They were working on a small brick building with a roof but no doors or windows and a dirt floor. Among the four men was a guy wearing a kofia, a brimless hat worn especially by Muslims here. He was leaning up against a wall overseeing the other three men. One of the other men was inside plastering a wall and the other two were outside mixing the cement with shovels and bringing it into the plasterer.

We went up to them and began talking with them. Ugandans are especially friendly and love visitors. If you show up at dinner time then you will be given a seat at the table and given first dibs on the food already prepared. Also it can take hours to go a short walk because it is custom to greet and talk with those you know and see on your way. Americans can be more task oriented but Ugandans love to visit.

When we arrived, Shadrach did most of the introduction. He then had Ben talk to them about the good news of Jesus. He gave a timely illustration about how God is building the world and using various pieces to do it. The pieces have rebelled and need help and forgiveness. Jesus is the only one who can offer this. Then I followed that up with something similar using his building illustration.

After some time the plaster mixers moved inside to further help the other guy and it was just the kofia wearer outside. It turns out he is a Muslim and his name is Medi. It wasn’t long until Gladys and Shadrach were speaking to him in Luganda even though he spoke English. I think it was because it was easier for them. Ben and I stood there silently praying because we had no idea what they were saying.

Ben and I went out evangelizing and saw God work powerfully.

Ben and I went out evangelizing and saw God work powerfully.

Ben and I had to leave so we had to interrupt them. As we were concluding, Medi said through interpretation that we had spoken a “good word” to him about Jesus. He wanted to know more and we gladly discussed talking with him again. The other three men also wanted to hear more and Shadrach and Gladys also discussed another meeting with them.

It wasn’t until we got back to the car that Ben and I realized just how powerful the gospel had been in that encounter. It turns out Gladys knows Medi. You see, Medi is the man who murdered her son 7 years ago. Medi is the one responsible for taking her beloved son from her. My jaw hit the floor when I heard this. I had no idea they knew each other yet alone the current situation of the relationship from our time talking with him.

Her son was 26 years old and fell sick for two hours and died. Medi had bewitched her son. Here in Uganda, when something unexpected like this happens it is often blamed on the spirits or bewitching. I asked another Ugandan about the situation and he said it was definitely a bewitching.

If you are a Westerner reading this then you probably have a very skeptical view of this interpretation of events. If you are an African reading this then you probably believe it was a bewitching. Regardless of the position you hold, what you cannot deny is that Gladys believes Medi is responsible for the death of her son. This is the important fact here. She believes he murdered her son. And Medi apparently feels he did too.

After her son died, that night Medi fled his home. Since then whenever he is about to walk past Gladys on the road, he runs away to avoid her. His wife and daughter have both come to Gladys to express remorse for him bewitching and killing her son. It seems both parties believe that Medi killed Galdys’ son.

I was eager to find out more and hear what Gladys said to Medi. There are many options for how this could go. Did she curse him or utter vicious words or tell her how much she hates him? No. What she said demonstrates the gospel so very well.

She told him, “I forgive you.”

Gladys knows gospel forgiveness

Gladys knows gospel forgiveness


Those are three little words that take gospel power to say to the man who killed your son. I shudder to think what I would say in that situation. No wonder Medi said we had good words. The grace Gladys showed him had power.

That is the gospel power I need in my life. That is the power I need to love my family yet alone my enemies. I need that gospel power every day. It is on offer through the grace of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection are the means to that power.

Gladys demonstrates well one of my favorite verses Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While Medi is the murderer of her son, she chose to forgive. She can only do that because the truth of Romans 5:8 has found its home in her.

Pray for Medi. I am sad to say that we did not get to meet again with him. I am not sure if Shadrach or Gladys were able to meet with him. But I pray he would believe in Jesus and know His forgiveness and power. Also pray you and I would know the power of the gospel in our lives every day.

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Wasting Time on the Gospel

Cow on a Boda

On my second Saturday in Uganda, I was going to ride the boda-boda (or simply boda) into Kampala to do some shopping.  Bodas are motorcycles that gives a person (or a person & a TV, a person & a chicken, or up to 5 people) a ride to the destination of choice.  They work like a lot like taxis. 

Being unfamiliar with how to get around, a Ugandan friend was coming to meet me and help me navigate the system.  We were going to meet at the boda stand and ride one into town.  Getting there first, I had some time to waste.  So I sat down on a bench with some Ugandans.  I immediately tried the two phrases I knew in Luganda.  Laughter ensued.  My Lugandan was not polished.  Well, it still isn’t but now I have more phrases that are unpolished.

Fortunately, the guy closest to me spoke English and so we chatted.  He asked me how long I had been in Uganda and if I liked Uganda.  I told him that I love Uganda and have only been here for one week. 

As we talked he inquired as to why I was in Uganda. Now I could give the extended version but time and language barriers prevented this.  So I told him I was there to proclaim the gospel.  It was at this point I volunteered that the good news about Christ coming to die for our sins and offer forgiveness to those who would believe in Him was worth sharing. 

That was it. We eventually got to introductions and I found out his name was Sula (this is my best guess at spelling what I heard).  I asked him where he went to church. Turns out that Sula is Muslim.  I thought I was talking to a Christian all along.  But my quick and inserted mention of Christ and His victory switched from teaching/encouraging to evangelism in my mind. 

I had prayed for opportunities to share the gospel in my time leading up to coming to Uganda.  I expected sermons or intentional times of outreach to be those opportunities.  But God is much more savvy than me.  He provided an opportunity in an unlikely way.  Here I was with time to waste.  Turns out the Lord can turn my wasted time into invested time.  Pray the Lord would convert Sula.  Also pray that He would enable me to continue to be bold in investing time in the gospel.

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Am I Forgiven?

Am I Forgiven - HymnalsI arrived late. I opened the door to the chapel at Covenant Seminary and discovered the place was packed. The worship service was already underway. I took my place standing in the back with several others. Just as soon as I had found my place, the worship leader said it was time for silent confession. I dutifully bowed my head and tried to think of sins I needed to confess. No glaring or heinous sin came to mind so I confessed other sins I could remember. Guilt came over me like no other. It felt dirtier than if I had played with pigs in their slop. I was glad when the leader stopped the time of confession. What came next I had never seen in a worship service before. Quoting from Romans 8:1, he said, “Now hear the assurance of your pardon: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’” A wave of relief and freedom rolled over me. The dirtiness I had felt was washed away with the wonderful news of God’s proclamation over me.

This is what a worship service is supposed to do. It is to bring you into a real and fresh encounter with the living God. Ever since this service I have come to love liturgy and especially the assurance of pardon. However, I rarely find the assurance of pardon in a worship service that includes a time of confession. When it is absent, I quote to myself some passage that assures me of his pardon.

There is a general gospel flow that has been in the liturgy of churches from the early church until now. The worship begins with high praise of our holy God. Being in the presence of His holiness we find ourselves insufficient and sinful. Therefore, we confess our sins. But this is not the last word as God speaks in the service and assures us of our pardon we have in Christ. The service then moves into the wonderful redemption we have in Christ and concludes with our going out into the world in the power of Christ. These elements can be in form of songs, passages of scripture, the sermon, or pronouncements from the pastor and/or worship leader.

Not all worship services highlight these aspects. Not all do have or should have a confession of sin. However, when there is a confession of sin there should follow an assurance of pardon. I might add a personal preference that it be a clear assurance of pardon. Commonly the assurance comes in the form of a congregational song. Am I Forgiven - I am forgivenBut these often come with no introduction or hint that they are serving as the assurance of pardon.

So my plea to those who plan worship services it to include a clear assurance of pardon. It is a rich and wonderful thing God uses to speak to His people the certainty of their forgiveness in Christ. It never gets old hearing God tell me that my sins are washed away and that I am forgiven.

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