Tag Archives: grace

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:

Feel free to share:

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.

Feel free to share:

The ‘Tute Top 7

Tomorrow we graduate. Yesu Yebazibwe! For the past 5 months Brooke and I have been studying at the New Hope Institute of Childcare and Family. It is mostly referred to as the Institute. Being lazier than most, I shortened it to the ‘Tute. So this is how I refer to it.

WE survived!!! And have the t-shirts to prove it!

WE survived!!! And have the t-shirts to prove it!


The ‘Tute is a 20 week training in biblical worldview and how to care well for children, especially orphans. We are in class from 8:30am – 1:00pm with 15 others including 11 Africans. It has been an amazing journey and transition into our time in Uganda. I have learned a lot and wanted to share some things impressed upon me here (Brooke has learned a lot too).

1. Yesu Yebazibwe!
Roughly translated, this phrase means, “Praise Jesus!” or sometimes “Praise the Lord!” Sitting in class and getting to know some Ugandans and friends as well as brothers and sisters in Christ has been a huge blessing. Hearing their questions and concerns and heart is a real source of encouragement. So I have learned a lot from my Ugandan brothers and sisters. They have also aided me in learning some Luganda so I can keep up with phrases like this one. I hope to learn even more.

2. It’s ALL for God’s glory
It really struck me when Ezekiel 36:22 was read in class. The fact that God was going to act to restore Israel not for their sake but for His sake was amazing. Most of my prayers are about things happening for my sake. I had to repent and ask God’s forgiveness for being so selfish. It really is all about Him from beginning to end. I am privileged that He uses me at all to bring glory to His name.

3. Kids need parents
This one is obvious. Or is it? We had to leave our kids behind for 4 hours every week day. This was hard on them and hard on us, especially Brooke. Brooke has had the privilege and opportunity to stay with the kids their whole lives. I love that she loves to do this. So when we had to leave them behind each day it was hard. It took some time for them to adjust but they did. And then they adjusted to 2 sets of rules. One set for us and one set for Gertrude, the lady that stayed with them. We had to learn how to deal with this new dynamic. The not so obvious part of this is that many kids grow up in orphanages without parents. We toured some orphanages as part of the class and got to see the differences between an orphanage model and a family style model (if orphanage models interest you then click here). Kids do better when in families and with parents, either biological or adoptive. Thus New Hope’s motto verse is Psalm 68:5-6 where it says, “God settles the solitary in a home.”

4. The heart of the matter
One of the books we read for this class was Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. It is a wonderful book and has transformed how we discipline and correct our children. The book’s main premise is that we must look beyond behavior to heart issues. It helped me quickly see better into my children’s hearts and see things I didn’t want to see. Then, just as quickly, I started seeing into my own heart and seeing things I didn’t want to see. I have learned not to focus on externals as much but instead to focus on the heart which is something Jesus was quick to do as well (e.g. Matthew 12:34).

5. Worldview is key
We might say a worldview is the set of glasses through which you see the things around you. It affects so much. When our glasses are the wrong color or dirty then we will not see things correctly. It is much like a near or far sighted person who needs glasses to help her to see properly. This class has helped me be able to see through African glasses and thus to confront with the gospel where needed. It has also enabled me to better see the prescription of glasses my culture wears and the need for a biblical worldview to correct.

I am thankful for having been through the 'Tute.

I am thankful for having been through the ‘Tute.

6. Grace is needed here
When correcting Sarah some weeks ago, she said that God did not love here when she disobeyed. We have diligently worked to correct this notion. But it is the type of notion prevalent here. I have noticed several Ugandans and even some pastors talk about doing enough for God to like us. They might even say we are saved by grace. After that there seems to be a works based acceptance with God. We cannot ever earn his favor. Grace is God’s favor despite demerit. By the very nature we don’t deserve it and can never do enough. This is why I love 1 John 4:19. The verse does not say God loves us because we first loved Him. No we love because He first loved us. The order is not reversible. This is easily forgotten by all and severely lacking here.

7. The journey has just begun
I might be done with the ‘Tute but God is not done with me. I have seen my sin clearly, especially pride. Here is not the only place that needs grace. I need it. Badly. I used to think missionaries were super spiritual people who super holy. Being a missionary I now know differently. But God is bigger than my failures and can cover them and even use them for His purposes.

Yesu Yebazibwe!

Feel free to share:

How Sweet the Sound

Amazing Grace

When I was in 7th grade I was asked my favorite song for a class project.  While some were saying “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice I was saying “Amazing Grace.” Now mind you I wasn’t very spiritually inclined. After hearing others’ answers I wanted mine to be “Ice Ice Baby.”

Now that I am more spiritually inclined, “Amazing Grace” is still my favorite hymn and song.  It is simply beautiful.  The music, lyrics, and memories all move me.  I want the song played at my funeral.  But please play the John Newton old school version.  I do not care for free chains or other choruses added into it.  I can handle them but I want the plain jane version.  It was the plain version that was played as my bride walked down the aisle on our wedding day.  Needless to say this song has some significance for me.

Why are we discussing my favorite song?  Today was my first Sunday in Uganda and we spent it at Zana Community Presbyterian Church in Kampala.  Believe it or not, the first song of the worship service today was “Amazing Grace.”  About a verse in and I look at Brooke and she has teared up.  I was moved by this.  It was God’s reminder of His amazing grace. 

Looking back on all that transpired in order for us to get to Uganda shows God’s grace at work.  Raising support – God’s grace; Having our second child – God’s grace; Getting ordained – God’s grace; Having needs met after quitting job – God’s grace; getting to Uganda with all our bags – God’s grace.  His grace has sustained us and enabled us to take this bold step for Him. 

I know God’s grace has gotten me thus far.  Now my flesh wants to take over and do the rest from here.  But this would be disastrous. Perhaps the song itself is a good reminder for me:

“T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.”

I need God’s grace every second of every day.  It is free and available.  It flows like a sprinkler on a desert lawn.  I often reject it and try my own way.  It takes His grace to overcome my rejection.  I am thankful He gives His amazing grace to unamazing people like me.  And I am so glad He took spoke this gentle reminder to me today that the amazing grace that has gotten me here will be the same thing that will carry me on. 

Feel free to share: