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.”