Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More Travels East (and South)

Evening brushstrokes of our Creator God. (Seen in Grantville, PA.)

Blogging in recent months has become more difficult for me, as evidenced by the fewer posts written since June. At Many times, I have difficulty putting into words my experiences, thoughts, and emotions; like I can't rightly find the right narrative to adequately express what is happening around me and in me.

But, I am going to keep trying...and thanks for sticking with me as I stumble along. :)

About two weeks ago I returned from visiting my sister, Leah, who lives in south-central Pennsylvania. The visit included a 1900+mile road trip to Mississippi and back to visit the home office of my missions agency. The people I met and with whom I interacted were the highlights of the trip, aside, of course, from spending lots of quality time with my sis'. ;)

My beautiful sister Leah and I.

You know, for those in the family of God, the Body of Christ is so broad and rich!

Leah lives and works at Summit International School of Ministry, a small Bible college. I delighted in spending time with passionate young men and women who are dedicating two years to solely seeking the face of God. Two "formal" opportunities afforded me the chance to share about the work in Uganda and I loved the students' interest and probing questions. In chapel services and informal conversations, I witnessed a generation that is ready to take the world by storm for Jesus.

The group gathered for an evening session of "Missions Prayer"
at Summit International School of Ministry.

While these young people are essentially launching into lives and ministries for propelling the Gospel message worldwide, I also met up with fellow missionaries, including veterans of more than 30 and 50 years,who inspire me by their continued focus and energy toward God's calling. In their own words, one never really "retires" from service in God's kingdom.

In the home office of Global Outreach International in Tupelo, MS, I connected with dear people who tirelessly work to support, in a myriad of ways, more than 200 Global missionaries working in nearly 40 countries.

You have heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," well, might I say, it takes a vast and diverse team to support a single missionary - from handling financial support, overseeing newsletters, paying insurance and other bills, to rallying prayer support, and more.

Rory Tyer and Steadman Harrison, of Global's
leadership team. share at the missions conference.

The "Made for Mission Conference," put on by Global Outreach and Hope Church in Tupelo on the first Saturday in November, emphasized that each Christian is made for mission, not just those who for a time wear the label of "missionary."

Carolyn Jacobsen, missionary to Uganda,
challenged us to be aware of what
God is doing around us and in us.

Informative and diverse workshops broadened our thinking and ideas of what it looks to be intentionally missional every day - with our neighbors, others we meet in the course of life, and some we need to actively seek out, like immigrants and refugees.

As Leah and I traversed the many miles between Pennsylvania and Mississippi and back (driving through Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Ohio), we stayed over with two women whom I first met in Uganda. Both served, for different lengths of time in Africa, and now continue to faithfully shine their lights in the communities in which they find themselves. They blessed us with gracious hospitality and comfy beds - welcome relief after many hours of driving.

So fun to see friend Mindy in Ohio!

I am discovering faithfulness is not determined by where God has called you - New York versus Jinja, Uganda, or the rural versus the urban, but in what He has called you to - a continual abiding in the Savior and seeking channels through which to pour out His love and grace.

Some may question the strength and potency of today's American church, but the real test lies with the individual Christian. And, in recent weeks, I have been challenged and encouraged by brothers and sisters across the U.S. who are faithfully representing Christ and sharing His transformational message of redemption.

Christ is the Head of a unified body, but each part plays an important role that another cannot perform in the same way. Be faithful to the places and people to which He calls you and the Body of Christ will be enhanced and strengthened as you do so.

Summit on a beautiful fall day.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Going East

Eastern Oregon, near Pendleton.

For someone who lives in East Africa and has made multiple trips to various points along the East Coast of the United States, I hadn't actually traveled very far east in my own home state of Oregon. Until this weekend.

My parents and I just finished a four-day road trip of 1000+ miles over to Oxbow, Oregon, a small unincorporated town right on the Snake River and the border with Idaho.

How God connected me to Oxbow is a cool story. Jodie, who also grew up in Clatskanie, and with whom I was acquainted in my growing up years, reconnected with me on Facebook a couple of years ago. She became interested in the ministry in Uganda and presented information to her church, Oxbow Christian Fellowship. This year, this tiny church began supporting me on a monthly basis.

I was mystified, but also incredibly blessed to be taken up by this congregation, none of whom knew me, except Jodie, whom I had not seen in quite awhile. Immense gratitude and admittedly curiosity motivated me to visit Oxbow to meet this amazing group of generous Christians.

The Wallowa Mountains stand guard over an eastern Oregon valley.

Driving the nearly 450 miles from Clatskanie to Oxbow allowed us to take in the incredible fall foliage of eye-popping reds and yellows, and the varied scenery of Oregon - from evergreen tree-encrusted hills to tall sheer rock walls, to snow-dusted mountains and rolling farms, to riverside towns, and communities nestled in barren hills. We were awed at God's creation, showcased in our beautiful state. This trip confirmed again to me how beautiful Oregon really is and how it is displayed in the state's amazing contrasts. (I admit, I am biased, but non-Oregonians also say it is a beautiful state.)

Can you see the towering canyon wall reflected in the river below?

Jodie and her family graciously allowed us to stay in their comfortable vacation home, near the small, but rushing Pine Creek and situated in a canyon, with towering hills behind and in front of us. Oxbow, just a mile away, is primarily populated by employees of Idaho Power and their families. Idaho Power owns a several dams on the Snake, including the two closest to Oxbow - Hell's Canyon and Oxbow dams.

The Howard family loves to explore and a 45-minute Saturday jaunt took us to nearby Hell's Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America at nearly 2.5 miles deep. Again, we were awed at the rugged beauty, and the canyon's immensity spoke to me of God's unmatched power. Only He could carve rock walls miles high into a beautiful river gorge.

Hell's Canyon - more beautiful than its name suggests.

Dad and Mom in front of the canyon. 

Hell's Canyon Dam

Later, we went off the beaten path to the ghost town of Cornucopia, an old mining town, which was a happening place in the late 1800s. At one time, Cornucopia had one of the six largest mines in the U.S., and it is believed there are still rich deposits of gold and silver and other minerals in the hills and mountains, waiting to be discovered. Anyone want to go mining? :)

An old building in Cornucopia.

The Cornucopia Jail.

Because of the warm welcome of the Oxbow people and the folks at the church, we immediately felt at home and the sharing on Sunday was made easier as I felt like I was speaking to a group I already knew, and thus was put at ease.

Me with Pastor Bill, wife Shelly, and little Nathaniel.

Oxbow Christian Fellowship

Looking over to Idaho. (Still amazing at the bigness of those rock walls.)

How God connects His people - those in a small, hidden town in Oregon to others on nearly forgotten islands in Lake Victoria - only He really knows and I still can't wrap my head around it. But, just as His incredible creation marveled us this weekend, His weaving of lives and stories to accomplish His greater purposes, puts me in awed reverence at His wonderful love and grace.

We serve a God who takes our breath away.

The stunning fall foliage.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Soul Appetite

I started a new habit awhile back. It's amazing how a simple choice can have widespread and welcome benefits.

One of the first things I do in the morning is drink approximately a glass full of water. I am not a morning person, so I usually wake up groggy. I used to think my body was shouting for coffee, but no, it needs, craves water. If you sleep 6-8 hours a night, likely you likely haven't had anything to drink in that time. And, even if you did, your body needs more.

Drinking water first thing helps clear my head and wake me up. And, it makes me want more water throughout the day. I am now daily drinking more water than I ever have and I feel better. It's easy to become dehydrated, and in this climate, it happens quickly.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to realize my body needs water, not coffee, first thing in the morning. I have also cut back on drinking sodas - what I thought my body "needed" is not true.

I often don't know what I really need as an individual on so many levels - physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally.

Earlier this year I read "Soul Keeping," by John Ortberg. In it, I learned that the soul, the most important part of you, is often the most ignored and neglected part. But, when our souls are healthy, the whole of us can be healthy, too. And, this can only happen when my soul is in sync with God.

"The soul is the aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in various dimensions of the self. The soul is the life center of human beings." (Dallas Willard, quoted in "Soul Keeping")

The soul has a big job - correlating and integrating our will, mind, and body. Each of these also seem to have their own will and desires that drive them. The will can vacillate between my human will and God's will for me. The mind has thoughts and feelings constantly flowing through it. The body is "filled with all kinds of appetites and all kinds of habits."1

For example, I may "will" to rise early to spend time in God's Word, but when the 6 a.m. alarm goes off, I don't not "feel" like crawling out of bed, instead focusing on tired thoughts and not yet wanting to face the day. My body doesn't help, especially if I haven't trained it in a habit of rising early and it greatly desires sleep. The soul, then, has a big challenge to make sure my will, mind, and body are on the right track and working in sync.

Too often though the needs and desires of my mind, will, and body are deafening compared to the quiet whispers of my soul for rest, for peace, for solitude. And because I am so used to giving in to my will, mind, and body and their whining and their tantrums, I give in.

My mind wants to watch a television show, but my soul does not need it.

My body craves sweets, caffeine and carbs, but those aren't good for my overall health.

My will demands for its own way, but rebels against God's life-giving commands.

And, when these three dominate, my soul is left shrinking and dying, ignored and neglected in a corner.

What happens when my soul is given what it needs - communion and union with God, peace, rest, solitude, freedom, blessing? It gains strength and courage to rightly corral the wily, rebellious parts of me into an integrated, whole person - able to relate well with God, with others, with the whole of creation.

What does your soul need? Or rather what is your soul craving? Have you, like me, given too much time and attention to the cravings and yearnings of our wayward wills, minds, and bodies?

Take time to pause, pray, and listen. Ask God care about the health and condition of your soul. Remember, it's the most important part of you.

1 Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Beautiful and Broken

A view from the top of Lingira Island, looking out over Lake Victoria.

My island home is a beautiful place. 

I know my (biased) opinion is shared by others since visitors also make the same observation.

Imagine a tropical island with diverse trees and flowers, profuse birds and interesting wildlife, puffy clouds liberally painted across an expansive canvas, cooling breezes blown off the vast lake, views of incredibly striking sunrises and sunsets - each one taking your breath away. Night skies are studded with precious age-old "gems" - seen more clearly above when away from city lights.

Lapping on the beaches, the lake water is an ever-present source of one of earth's greatest treasures - life-giving water.

There are no cars and motorcycles (except maybe one) and thus no artificial pollution and annoying traffic jams, unless you count the cows and goats loitering on the walking paths.

A rainbow and island huts.

The island villages seem quaint with their narrow meandering paths twisting between the crowded grass-thatched mud houses. Bright-eyed children with big smiles play here and there, creatively recycling discarded items for their playthings.

Many agree the island is a beautiful place.

But, like the rest of the world, the island is also marred and broken.

A forest of trees has been slowly reduced for more urgent needs like firewood or making charcoal to cook food to fill hungry stomachs. Poor planning means replanting has not taken place. And, without the plentiful trees, less rainfall means the island is drier than it used to be - and gardens, animals, and people suffer.

Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world and Africa's largest, is far from "fresh" or "clean." Human pollution has contributed to extremely high levels of e coli and other harmful bacteria. Wading and swimming risk exposure to sickness or disease-causing parasitic worms.

While the removal of the forests made way for more gardens, an on-going struggle exists between the farmers and the apparently richer and more powerful animal owners. Hungry cows and goats can easily decimate an acre of crops, which took a family days and weeks to cultivate. Local leaders' laxity and corruption stifle justice and fairness.

Health care is limited or non-existent on many of Buvuma's 52 islands. Simple, preventable sicknesses and injuries may go untreated, becoming gravely serious. At times the wide-eyed children display signs of malnutrition and worms, with their unnatural orangish-brown hair and swollen stomachs.

Adult supervision is limited as siblings only a few years older are left in charge of younger brothers and sisters, ensuring they are fed, taken to school, etc. Consequently, child predators or those seeking sexual satisfaction take advantage of loose moral codes, offering paltry payments in exchange for stealing virginity, introducing life-altering diseases, or causing unwanted pregnancies. Girls and young women are often seen as commodities in the villages.

As reflective of the greater culture, men dominant in the islands - taking the women they want as "wives," until another catches their eye. Domestic abuse and violence are more common than not.

Children of the islands.

Most children grow up in mixed and fractured families, with siblings of different mothers or fathers. Larger families are often parceled out, with kids put in the care of an aunt or grandparent, whoever is deemed more able to feed and care for their basic needs.

Selfishness, ignorance, poverty, disease, abuse, exploitation, injustice ...these comprise the underlying reality of the islands...

...of the world...

...of my heart...

...apart from the Gospel.

Every day I desperately need the Gospel of Jesus, to embrace the fact God loved me, though unworthy and deader than dead in my sins, and not seeking Him in my sin-blinding stupor.

God saw us as beautiful, but very broken. His incredible love took action, sending His precious and holy Son Jesus into such a broken, sin-wracked world to a life of humility and humiliation. God sent Jesus to buy us back - to redeem us from slavery, from darkness, from sin, from death, from separation from our Heavenly Father.

The powerful, redemptive Gospel of Jesus is for my heart, for your heart, for your neighborhood, for my neighborhood. Yes, the world is very broken, deeply scarred by sin, but it is not beyond God's amazing redemption.

In the split second after the Fall, God enacted His redemption plan, relentlessly and passionately pursuing His image bearers - for thousands of years, even in this very moment and the next one. He has not given up, nor should we. At times, the situation of the islands (and the world is general) is overwhelming and discouraging, but God asks us to continue living and declaring the Good News, until He says "time's up."

And, until the time is up, we must embrace the God News, believe it, apply it, share it, declare it, shout it. We must live it and proclaim it every day, to every person, in every possible way.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Seeking a Homeland, Part 3

If this world is not our home, when and where is a Christian at “home”?

At what point do we attain the state of being settled and satisfied, feeling “at home”?

Is it only when we reach Heaven, our eternal destination? I sincerely don’t believe so.

In Part 1 of this series I urged us all to choose not to settle here, not to view this world as our permanent dwelling. In Part 2, we looked at God’s pursuit of being with man, and when man could no longer be with God, how God chose to be with man.

But being confined to a cloud or a Tabernacle and coming and going in and out of our world was not God’s ultimate aim.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-2, 14

At a predetermined time in history, Jesus, the Eternal Word, stepped into our world, donning human flesh, to dwell among us. The word “dwelt” here is akin to a baby inside its mother’s womb – it is inside the mother, not near, but fully within the womb. Jesus chose to be inside our world, among us, with us, as us.

Among the prophecies God gave Isaiah concerning Jesus and His coming was a very significant name – “Immanuel,” meaning “God is with us.”

If there was a message God kept repeating to mankind since the dawn of creation it was this – “I want to be with you. I want you to be with Me.” 

And He went to the greatest lengths to make this happen.

Jesus entered the world as we all do – as a baby.  He could have chosen any type of entrance; after all He is God and Creator. But, Jesus entered the world as each of us has – through the pain of childbirth, born as small, helpless, needy individuals, born under the law, born as weak flesh (Gal. 4:4).

“This intimates not only that he was really and truly man, but that he subjected himself to the miseries and calamities of the human nature. He was made flesh, the meanest part of man. Flesh bespeaks man weak, and he was crucified through weakness, 2 Cor. 13:4. Flesh bespeaks man mortal and dying (Ps. 78:39), and Christ was put to death in the flesh 1 Pet. 3:18. Nay, flesh bespeaks man tainted with sin (Gen. 6:3), and Christ, though he was perfectly holy and harmless, yet appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3), and was made sin for us, 2 Cor. 5:21.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)

Like each human has or will experience, he also died – not suddenly or unwillingly as us, but by laying down His own life. In His death, He broke and defeated what and who have kept us separated from God’s presence since the fall – sin and Satan.

He forever defeated these that prevent each of us from reaching “Home.” For all who receive Him, He made it possible to enter by “the new and living way” into God’s presence – freed and forgiven (Heb. 10:19-22).

“In the beginning God created the perfect home for your soul: a garden of perfection where He could be with you. That is all God has ever wanted. Because of our choices, we separated ourselves from God, but He relentlessly pursued us, offering us a way to return to Him and be with Him.

“Because we no longer live in that perfect garden, we sometimes forget that He is there, and we continue to live without Him.”1

Like Adam and Eve, we run away from “Home.” We try to hide. We attempt to cover our sin and our shame. Like the prodigal, we think we can find satisfaction and approval and wholeness elsewhere – in other people, other things, other pursuits.

But, God our Father, is persistent in His loving pursuit. He seeks, He finds, He welcomes us back – always with waiting, loving arms.

“That’s just how God works with us – He relentlessly pursues us because all He has ever wanted is to be with us. He reaches out to slaves, people in prison, and people like me doing silly, foolish things and says, ‘Welcome back.’”1

“Your soul will never find rest unless it finds its home. We find it in the simple daily discipline of asking ourselves, ‘Is God here in this moment?’ If He is not, He can be…God invites you to let your soul rest in Him.”1

1 Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Seeking a Homeland, Part 2

What the Old Testament Tabernacle may have looked like.

In retrospect I should have titled this series, “Seeking a Home,” not “Seeking a Homeland.”

I’ve slowly realized “home” can't be limited to a place, and it is not a “what,” it is a “Who.”

Let me back up a bit. The first post in this series can be found here. In essence, I wrote that as Christians we are pilgrims, passing through this life.

Abraham was given a new homeland but still chose to live as a nomad in it. Why? Because he sought a better city, “whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

Beloved, as those chosen and loved by God, we are not to “settle” here in this world, on this earth. We have a much better, greater city, an eternal home, to look forward to, to set our sights on.

In the Bible we are described as strangers, exiles, foreigners, pilgrims, and stewards on this earth – all titles denoting we are not yet permanent residents, we have not yet reached “home.” So, when will we?

Can I be at “home” even before I pass through those heavenly gates?

Yes, I believe we can to a certain extent. Because home is not a what, home is a Who. Home has taken on flesh and is living and breathing.

From the beginning, God wanted His people to be at home with Him. He placed Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden – a physical space where they could enjoy intimate, unbroken fellowship with their Creator.

Expulsion from the garden residence came when Adam and Eve disbelieved and disobeyed God. The consequence was death – spiritual death – being cutting off from the Giver of their physical and spiritual life. 

From that moment, man experienced separation from the Divine, and the beginning of the search for its restoration.

Starting with Noah in Genesis 6 we see God calling people out – out of the sin-corrupted world and back to Himself. He continued the call with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and later the nation of Israel.  

You see, the newly-created world described in the beginning was good, in fact, it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But then sin corrupted and marred the creation, man’s home. If man was to again enjoy intimacy with God, “home” could not be limited to a place, a piece of land on earth.

In Exodus 25 while the people are still in the wilderness, headed to the Promised Land, God gives them instructions for building a tabernacle.

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.” (Exodus 25:8)

The word “dwell” in this verse means to “abide,” “to settle down,” inferring God’s abiding presence, not a coming and a going.

Excuse me? Did you catch that? God, the Almighty, the Holy One, Creator of Heaven and Earth, asked for His people to make Him a temporary tent, a “sanctuary,” – so He could dwell among them?

When it was impossible for man to dwell with Him, God chose to dwell among men.

He had called His chosen people out of the world. And now He would choose to settle with them.

To think God desires to dwell among us, in the midst of an evil, corrupt, crooked, evil world – a Holy God settling among an unholy people. Doesn’t that just boggle your mind?

Why would He choose this? Why not remain in Heaven, in purity, in unblemished goodness and holiness? It’s one thing to walk with man in the perfect and “very good” garden, but why settle in the sin-ridden slums of earth?

Because God was not content with a distant, sin-affected relationship. Instead, He would bridge the gap between us and Himself at all costs.

“There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it (the tabernacle) shall be sanctified by My glory…I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exodus 29:43, 45-46)

(As a side note: You’ve heard of the “shekinah glory”? “Shekinah” is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “to settle, inhabit, or dwell.” God’s very glory was defined as a glory of abiding and dwelling.)

Though God dwelt among His people, not everyone was permitted to enter the sanctuary. Only those set apart as priests unto God could go there, and only the High Priest into the Holy of Holies. After elaborate purification rituals, they represented the people before God, for a time, until the unveiling of the new covenant, mediated by a perfect High Priest.

Man has ever been in pursuit of “home” – a place of satisfaction, fulfillment, and belonging. But just think, all along God has sought to make His home with us

To be continued…

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Seeking a Homeland, Part 1

“By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…”

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

“If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:9a, 10, 13-16

I have tasted what it’s like to be a “foreigner” and a “stranger.” You would think after six years of living in Uganda, I would feel more at “home.”

Many aspects have become comfortably familiar – like how to get around by boat and motorcycle, the delicious local foods which I find myself craving, the nearly ever-present sunny days, how I now naturally adjust my American “accent” to be more understandable to the nationals, how I love the lively African worship, being accustomed to not understanding most of what is being said around me, taking cold bucket baths, and more.

But in me there’s an ache for home.

“Home” has been redefined for me. Most of us know it as the "familiar," a sense of where we belong, a place we're always welcome to, where we instinctively know the habitual patterns of life, and carry out activities without thinking. 

I love my American “home,” mostly because of the dear people there whom I love and miss so much. But, truthfully, I will never again be completely at “home” there. I have changed. And, what was familiar and normal there has become…different and less familiar. (I first wrote about this topic back in 2014.)

Yet, my longing to belong, to sense welcome, to know I fit somewhere is still there.

Hebrews 11 says Abraham was called to a place he didn’t know and he obeyed and went. He lived in tents, suggesting he wasn't a permanent citizen in the new place, though he was called to the land of his inheritance. If God had told me, “I want you to go to a strange new land and it will belong to you.” I would say, “Wow, let me pack all of my belongings ‘cause God has given me new digs!”

But Abraham lived in the land of promise…in a tent. What?! God essentially told him – “This land belongs to you and to your children and children’s children.” Yet, he chose to live in a fabric house? Why didn’t he put down roots?

Here in Uganda, people live in mud houses and huts, but when they decide to use brick and concrete, we say they are putting up a “permanent” home. In a sense, the mud structures are temporary – they don’t last forever. They break down, the mud needs replacing, or the termites eat the wood framing.
But when someone wants to stake a claim and basically say “I am here to stay” they put money and time and effort into what will last, building with strong materials.

So, why didn’t Abraham do this?

Because he looked forward to another city – an eternal, God-designed, God-constructed one - one that was to be forever.

God’s people Israel knew what it was to be exiles, pilgrims, foreigners and strangers. From the time of Abraham they sought their own place, their own place of belonging. They had that place until famine caused Jacob and his family to move to Egypt. After a time, their “home” became very unfriendly and “slaves” became their new job titles. After 400 years of serving someone else in a foreign land, God delivered them in the Exodus.

But when hard times came in transit, the people complained, “Let’s go back to Egypt. At least we know what’s there. This ‘home’ God is taking us to – we’ve never seen it. How do we know we’ll make it?”

God patiently put up with these stubborn people and eventually took them into their long-awaited home, the “Promised Land.” He even ousted the nations who had taken up residence in the Israelites’ absence.

In years to come God’s discipline meant His people would be taken captive by an enemy nation – forcefully carried into a strange, unwelcome land. And then the people would long to return “home.” Being returned to the motherland was the ultimate joy and blessing.

But was the “Promised Land” really where God intended His people to be at “home”?

As I’ve studied this idea of “exile,” I realize there’s too much for one post, so I will continue it.

Before I close, though, let me ask, “How do you view yourself in this world - as a pilgrim or a permanent resident?” 

How we view our stay on Earth and the implications of our perspective are very important.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Should I Pray for Peace?

It’s an election year.

In America, but also in…



Cape Verde





Equatorial Guinea







The Gambia

And, in Uganda

Every five years, Ugandans vote for their president, members of parliament, and many other lower-level posts. Voting for the president occurs this Thursday, Feb. 18, and begins a several-week election process, ending mid-March.

While I have been keeping an eye on American politics, my interest is more keenly on what’s happening outside my own “front door.”

Truthfully, many Ugandans are tense and uneasy. The race is much closer than in past years and President Museveni, in office since 1987, has a higher likelihood of being replaced this time around. What is making us uneasy is what may occur after the voting – when people of any candidate are not happy with the results. And, the “losers” may not willingly or easily concede.

Yesterday, tear gas was released in the capital city of Kampala. One of the top presidential candidates defied a traffic re-routing order, was arrested, and later released. Last week, five people died in the Jinja area reportedly when the overloaded campaign truck they were riding in failed to navigate a corner and overturned. In addition to the deaths, many were injured.

So, we have been praying months and weeks for peace and safety and protection for Uganda and its people.

Yet, “peace” may not be what God wills for Uganda. By “peace” I mean how we mortals normally define it – as no interruption of our comfort and security.

Often what God wants goes directly against “easy and comfortable” for us, though it's for our greater good. Within sight of the cross, Jesus sought relief from the incredible and agonizing burden ahead, but He chose the Father’s will above His own physical well being. And, when we read the closing chapters of the greater world story God is telling, the unfolding of the end is anything but “peaceful.”

As Christians and citizens of the heavenly kingdom, we should desire God’s will above our own security, over the protection of those around us, more than provision of our physical needs.

We can do that because God’s already taken care of those matters. He hasn’t lost His grip on us or on the world. He remains as He always has been – King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

My ultimate security is not in who becomes president in Uganda or in America or in any other country. My “peace” should not depend on if my status quo life continues uninterrupted.

I do desire for protection and no loss of life, but ultimately I yearn for God’s peace – the kind that doesn’t necessarily dispel the storm, but rides it out with me.

My peaceful confidence is in the overarching sovereignty of God.

“He (Daniel) said, ‘Praise the name of God forever and ever, for He has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; He removes kings and sets up other kings.’” Daniel 2:20-21 (NLT)

“No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt themselves. It is God who judges: He brings one down, He exalts another.” Psalm 75:6-7 (NIV)

“The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; He guides it wherever he pleases.” Proverbs 21:1 (NLT)

Yes, I will pray for peace, but for God’s peace and for His will to be done in Uganda, in America, and on earth as it is heaven.

“’Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’” John 14:27 (NIV)

“’I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’” John 16:33 (NIV)

Note: Country elections list from

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Delighting in Hesed

It runs, pursues after you.

You hide, it seeks, and finds you.

If you go to the highest heights or lowest depths, it is there.

You may give up, but it never, ever, ever gives up on you.

You may lose your grip, but it does not lose its grip on you.

There is no end or limit to it.

Why? Because it is Hesed.

This Valentine’s Day my thoughts are entwined around “Hesed.”

Hesed has filled my mind and heart until I am nearly bursting with delight.

Now, before you think I am in a “relationship” or have a boyfriend who happens to be named “Hesed,” let me explain.

Truthfully, I am rejoicing and delighting in God’s covenant love, known in the Hebrew language as “hesed.”

Just recently introduced to this incredible word, I continue discovering its many facets.

Translators have struggled to find the right English word to fit its broad and deep meaning1. They’ve tried “steadfast love,” “faithful love,” “everlasting love,” “kindness,” “mercy,” etc. But many readily admit these words don’t quite cut it.

As I’ve been learning, this is God’s “covenant love,” the love that doesn’t let go, will never lose its grip on you, that is loyal beyond loyal, is abundant, “great in extent,” everlasting, good, and it keeps showing up no matter where you go or what you get yourself into. It is the love that goes to all heights and depths to seek out, rescue and restore God’s chosen ones. It never gives up, never runs out, never dries up.

Hesed, pronounced “kheh'•sed,” is used 248 times in the Old Testament – the first instance in Genesis and the last in Zechariah, and in 239 verses in between.2  More than half of these are found in the Psalms.

At times, hesed is used in interpersonal relationships when one person requests kindness and mercy, like when Joseph asked for hesed (kindness) of the cupbearer so he could be delivered from prison.
But, I think hesed takes on its fullest and deepest meaning when God uses it to describe Himself.

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love (hesed) for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Exodus 34:6-7a

“In Psalm 136, the central message of the entire psalm is the truth that God’s mercy, lovingkindness, or steadfast love (hesed) endures forever. Hesed is mentioned in every one of the twenty-six verses in Psalm 136. God’s steadfast love endures forever because God’s covenant relationship with his people endures forever. Hesed is often associated in the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because that covenant is without end and hesed is a ‘lovingkindness’ that endures forever.”3

This morning I taught from Micah 6:6-8. The familiar verse 8 clearly relays God’s expectation of His covenant people – “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” To my pleasant surprise, the word “kindness” is the Hebrew word “hesed.”

God asks us to show hesed to others – the same hesed He lavishly, freely and unreservedly bestows on us.

At the end of Micah, the prophet delights in God’s hesed love. The people of God have not yet repented or turned from their sins, but Micah is confident God will not forget them or retract His gracious love.   

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever because He delights in steadfast love (hesed). He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love (hesed) to Abraham, as You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.” Micah 7:18-20

Hesed, God’s covenant love, is shown not only in the Old Testament.

“In the New Testament, God went one step further. Hesed took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. Hesed became not just a concept for us to grasp about God’s heart toward us, but had arms and legs and was born in Bethlehem. In Christ, hesed was no longer a what, it became a WHO. He showed us the ultimate hesed when he walked the lonely road to Calvary and stood in our place.”4

I feel as if I just met “hesed” and am still learning its width and breadth and depth.

Today, I rejoice in my Valentine, my Jesus, who faithfully shows me “hesed.”

Note: This post was partially inspired by a recent series of blog posts over at Velvet Ashes, focusing on “hesed.”