Aside

A friend of mine shared a song, “Clear the Stage” with me today. It seems to go along with the post, “Do You Ever Want More?” so I added the song link at the end of the post.
Great song, and lyrics are awesome. Post is below.

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If God Exists, Why is There Suffering & Evil?

In Uganda poverty and suffering is rampant.  UN statistics place 50% of the nation below the UN poverty level.  One of the most asked questions is, “If God Povertyexists, why is there suffering and evil in the world?”  William Lane Craig was asked this question at the University of Iowa.  His response is quoted below.  I have read it again and again and hope you find it as insightful as I did.  I have emphasized in bold certain segments that were meaningful to me.

WL Craig’s answer:

“There are so many things one would like to say about this profound question (of evil and suffering). Let me just add a couple points. I think one of the reasons we tend to find the problem of suffering and evil in the world so intractable, is Sufferingbecause we just sort of naturally assume that if God exists, then His purpose in life for us must be human happiness in this life. That God’s purpose is to make us happy. And the suffering and the gratuitous pain in this life don’t seem to contribute to that end.”

“But you see on a Christian world and life view that assumption is false. The purpose of life is not human happiness as such, but rather the knowledge of God, which in the end will lead to ultimate human fulfillment and happiness. And there are many evils and sufferings in this life, which I think are utterly gratuitous with respect to producing human happiness, but which may not be gratuitous with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God either on the part of the sufferer or on the part of those around him.”

“And I strongly suspect that it may well be the case that only in a world involving a great deal of gratuitous natural and moral evil that the maximum number of people would come freely to a knowledge of God and His salvation.   And I say this not simply by faith, but really on the empirical basis of the demographics of the world today. If you read around the world where the Gospel is increasing and multiplying at its most rapid rates, there is almost a 1:1 correlation with countries where intense suffering is Moneyoccurring. And where the growth of the church is moribund, and the church is flabby and the growth rates are flat, is in the west where we are so comfortable and so content. But the countries like El Salvador, China, Ethiopia, countries in Africa – where the Gospel is growing at amazing rates – it is precisely in those countries where intense moral and natural suffering has occurred.”

“So I think that we constantly need to keep in mind that God’s purposes in life are much broader than what is merely conducive to our happiness. His ultimate purposes are to establish the Kingdom of God. And what we suffer should always be seen in light of that greater overarching purpose.”

“That leads me to a second comment that I want to make. That our suffering always needs to be seen, I believe, in light of the cross. Because God shows us in the cross that He is not a distant or grounded(?) Being or impersonal Creator who cooly sits by and watches us suffer. When people ask, when they go through intense suffering, ‘Where is God?’ then we ought to point them to the cross and say, ‘There is God.’ God is a God who enters into our world of suffering, and takes upon Himself the unimaginable suffering of bearing the penalty of the sins of the whole world, even though He was completely innocent. If anyone could complain of the problem of innocent suffering, it would have been Jesus of Nazareth. And though He was innocent, He took upon Himself the death penalty of sin that you and I deserved. And therefore seen in light of the cross the problem of evil takes on an entirely different perspective. j0435912When we see His suffering we now realize that the problem is not how God could justify Himself to us. The problem is how I, filled with wickedness and sin and morally guilty before God can be justified before Him. And I believe that when we look at the cross, we can say to ourselves as we go through times of suffering, ‘If God would go to that extent, if His love would carry Him to those depths for me, then surely out of my love for Him I can bear this burden that He has asked me to bear through this short life that I am enduring now.’ And I believe that this can give us the grace and strength to endure what God calls upon us to endure during this life.”

My comments:

In Uganda, too often, the “answer” to life’s problems becomes money.  But as we know in the States, money will not bring ultimate fulfillment or happiness.   Good grief, how shaky is the world’s financial system?  One hint of trouble, and the markets are negatively affected.  The world’s financial system seems to have the strength of iron, yet the fragility and frailty of clay.

Equip Uganda seeks to provide real answers and fulfillment in life by providing physical answers to life’s needs, as well as the ultimate spiritual answer to life, that of the Truth, found in no one else but Jesus Christ.  The answers are not quick and easy answers.  But they are answers that bring ultimate fulfilling satisfaction and contentment.

With God Raza & Daijon Succeed!

Two young men forced to the street. Challenged to respond and work. With God’s motivation and blessing, they succeed, learning responsibility, putting God first and other lessons.

Webster defines the word, “success” as, “an event that accomplishes its intended purpose.” How sweet it is when a person you’re relating with and teaching succeeds – accomplishing the intended purpose.

Raza and Daijon (not their real names) are two Karamojong brothers I met one particular Saturday outside of Masese III slum while Michelle was assisting in leading a community Bible study in Masese. Raza is 19 and Daijon is 18.

The Karamojong people are an ethnic group of what Wikipedia calls “agro-pastoral herders” who live in northeastern Uganda, occupying about one-tenth of the country. Articles on-line and Ugandans generally consider the K’jongs to

Karamojong Woman - no copyright found.

Karamojong Woman – no copyright found.

be uncivilized, primitive, obstinate and fierce as evidenced by their cattle rustling, primitive conditions, solving conflicts with force and perhaps even the long-standing tribal tradition of achieving manhood and marriage by the young male taking on his desired bride in a wrestling match. If he wins, he achieves manhood and the opportunity to enter into dowry negotiations with the female’s father. If he loses, it is said he marries a person outside the K’jong tribe.

Because of these traits, practices and other issues, there is a well-known Ugandan saying, which was uttered by the first president of Uganda in the 1960’s, which set the tone for how Ugandans view the K’jong. The saying goes like this, “We shall not wait for the Karamojong to develop.” Thus Ugandans separated and excluded or “cast out” these tribal peoples from the rest of Ugandan society. Even in Christian churches in Uganda, derogatory comments can be heard about K’jong.

These two brothers I met on a Saturday about seven months ago had traveled with their parents in 2000 to the big town of Jinja from northeastern Uganda, seeking to break out of village life and seeking an education and improved living. Eight years later, and little progress, the boys’ parents died of disease. Life was difficult, and at 13 and 12 years old the boys shifted to their grandmother’s care.

Education had been paid by the parents. Now education would be even more of a challenge. Public education for Ugandans is not cheap. The average income of a Ugandan is $500 per year. A school year consists of three terms, and the parents or children are expected to pay school fees of $80 – $150 per child per term, or $240 – $450 per child per year.

When I met Raza and Daijon around October of 2013 they had been out of school for a few years – no funds. They had completed the US equivalent of freshmen in high school.

On the Saturdays we were able to meet I spent some time with the brothers challenging them, asking about their faith and home life. They seemed spiritually connected to Jesus, at least for teenage boys.

Then at Christmas break the grandmother decided to return with the boys to the village in northern Uganda, basically to return for the remainder of her life. Raza and Daijon were taken to the village and then just before school started in Jinja they were sent back to stay with another family. After getting some assistance they started their sophomore year (Senior 2) in January of this year.

I started meeting again with these two once their first school term finished. The last day of April, I received a phone call from Daijon. I could tell something wasn’t right. He only asked me if I would be at Masese on Saturday. I assured him I would. The next night I got a phone call from Daijon telling me he and Raza had nowhere to stay. They had been “chased from the house where they were staying” and now were sleeping outside for the night. I sympathized with him and talked to my teammate, Jeremy who has worked in Masese for five years. He suggested since they were of age (18 is an adult in Uganda), they needed to come up with a plan to get off the street. Jeremy prayed with me that things would work out and that God would lead.

So early Saturday evening I took Jeremy’s advice and prayed with Raza and sunDaijon. Then asked them what their plan was as the sun was just starting to set on the horizon. Their plan was simple – for me to find them a place to stay. Although I did feel some responsibility, I was determined to take the more challenging road and put the problem back to them. So I asked them what they thought God wanted them to do.

The typical teenage response followed, shrugged shoulder and a “no idea” kind of look. So we started talking and I helped them walk through their options – some I had come up with prior to the conversation. At the end of the discussion, the options were not so encouraging. They either return to the village in the north (and I would pay their transport) or they start the task of working for a living, perhaps buying and re-selling food or other items here in Jinja. They did not want to return to the village.  So I gave each of them the equivalent of $4.00 US and told them I expected when I showed up the following Saturday that they will have added to the $4.00 (10,000 shillings), not just spent it. I illustrated what I was doing by explaining Jesus’ parable of the talents and how the workers were to bring back an increase.  They said they understood.  We also prayed that the woman who was housing them (who chased them away) would have her heart soften and let them back in. These two young men said she would not soften her heart, but I encouraged them to pray and seek God.

When I returned yesterday (Saturday), Raza showed up. Normally when he sees me he always smiles, and yesterday was no different. He’s the quiet one of the two. Daijon talks constantly. I asked how this past week went. He was happy to report that the lady let them back in!  This woman has no legal responsibility to these boys that I know. Plus these two young men are adults. This really surprised me, but then again, we had prayed about it.

Raza said he had taken his 10,000 shillings, went to Jinja and bought two small chickens for 5,000 shillings each. He returned to his community and sold them for 7,000 shillings each. He had 14,000 shillings in his pocket, which he showed me after I asked to see it.

The confidence on Raza’s face was clear. I was thrilled. I shared with Raza how to set aside the money he has for capital, use it to buy more chickens or other items he can sell and how to use his profits, including taking part of the profit and giving it to others in need, as God commands us to do.

We talked about schooling the remainder of the year and I asked Raza if it were possible would he want the funds for school to go toward his business or toward schooling. I fully expected him to say he would prefer the money for business, but he didn’t. He wants to complete his education and is concerned he will not finish it.

Michelle at a Jack Fruit tree.

Michelle at a Jack Fruit tree on the Nile River.

Daijon did not make the meeting. He thought since it had rained earlier in the day I would not come. But I found today (Sunday) when I called Daijon that he had bought four jack fruit (see photo) for 10,000 shillings and sold each for 500 shillings profit, a gain of 2,000 shillings.

What an encouragement, not just to me, but to these two young men. Raza was beaming. We prayed a

Jack Fruit Inside

Jack Fruit Inside

prayer of thanksgiving to God and asked God to continue encouraging them. I hope this success will be an encouragement to them to work and not respond like so many do in the slum to feel defeated and oppressed. If you feel led by God to contribute to Raza and Daijon’s schooling for this year so they can finish their sophomore year, they will need 200,000 shillings (about $80 US) each for two terms (or $320 US total). You can send the money to Equip and earmark for Wise ministry funds. Thanks for your prayers for these guys.

———–

Update 5/17/2014:  I was able to talk to both Raza and Daijon this evening.  Raza bought more chickens and sold them, although he said the supplier raised the price by 1,000 shillings each, cutting into his profit.   I advised him on how to handle that.  Daijon made another 3,000 shillings this week selling jack fruit.  Raza was so happy.  He is really encouraged.  And I am, too.  Praise God!  Also, I have a letter from him I hope to scan and post in the near future.

Michelle Saves a Toddler From the Middle of a Busy Highway!

As mentioned in the previous blog, tragedy happens often here in Uganda.  Today as Michelle and I traveled to Jinja on a 4-lane highway with traffic going about 50 – 55 mph, a toddler was crossing the two lanes of traffic ahead of us – in the middle of the two lanes!!  I saw the kid first with both hands extended in the air to balance herself.  I started blowing the horn – no response.  Michelle asked, “Is that a baby in the road?”

This road is similar to the one from which Michelle rescued the toddler.  There is normally quite a bit of traffic on it.

This is the road from which Michelle rescued the toddler, although at a different location. There is normally quite a bit of traffic on it.

Our hearts were pounding!  Fear gripped us as I considered the gravity of situation and whether we would witness an horrific accident and a gruesome death.  Praise God no traffic was behind us.  As I stopped in the fast lane, Michelle unbuckled and jumped out of her seat even before I fully stopped, and  onto the highway, risking her own life.  I continuously glanced from the baby, to Michelle and to my rear view mirror, as Michelle swept the toddler off her feet and carried her to safety.  Now rescued, I could pull our vehicle off the road to safety.

My heart was pounding!  Michelle searched for the mother, who was at a nearby landscaping market, shopping and chatting with the owner, oblivious to the horrendous situation that could potentially have unfolded.  Praise God we were there.  A man on a boda (motorcycle) driving the wrong way on the road, began chastising the mother.  There’s irony there.

Praise God for His Grace Shown in Jesus Christ.

Praise God for His Grace Shown in Jesus Christ!!!

God’s grace covers our own daily neglect of our responsibilities.  We should be focused on our struggling spiritual life, but we are too often busy and involved in the day-to-day transactions of the world to even notice or take care.  Often God graciously swoops in through a kind act of mercy and covers us, rescuing us from the dangers of sin.

Michelle and I both came close to crying.  We have not experienced such a potential for disaster, and it stayed with us for miles down the road.  We just praise God for His grace and protection, allowing us to rescue a baby who might have been killed.

 

The Power of God is His Heart

The last few weeks I received invitations to speak at various churches in the area.  Today, I spoke at Samuel’s church, giving a message entitled, “The Power of God is His Heart” (Luke 7:11-17).  Samuel is the young man I have discipled for months.  This afternoon I created a small video of our visit – it’s not much, but hopefully will provide just a small taste of our visit.  Here’s the link:

Last week we visited Church on the Rock in Mfumbira.

On Saturday (March 29th) at Michelle’s Bible study in Masese, she was hit by a small rock while she was teaching.  The rock was thrown by some children and hit her in the chest.  It wasn’t bad, but she immediately recognized the influence of the enemy and rebuked the evil.  After the Bible study a lady asked Michelle to receive Jesus as her Savior.  Michelle prayed with her, and recognized what had happened – the resistance and influence of the enemy.

Sadly far greater tragedy happens in Uganda than being hit by a rock.  We hear of tragedies regularly here, far more often than we heard of tragedy in our community in the United States.  Some of these tragedies I only share generally, avoiding details on this public forum out of respect for the families.

Recently we’ve heard of the death of a father of some children our kids spent time with.  This man was killed after returning from work on his bicycle at night.  The children have no parents now.

We also learned of the tragic and despicable rape of 6-year old girl by a young adult male.  We visited the girl in the hospital and she was full of the Holy Spirit, smiling, singing songs about Jesus and asking to pray for others who were in the hospital.

After a four-day hunt, a large one-ton crocodile was finally caught within walking distance of where we live.  The croc was estimated at more than eighty years old and had eaten four people (mostly fishermen) and maimed others.  You can see the story here:

Man-Eating Croc Captured

One of those maimed by the massive crocodile was a worker for a local missionary friend of ours.  After not showing up to work for some time, the maimed man’s neighbor later admitted to killing the maimed man to send his body parts to a local witch doctor.  This murder leaves two children without parents now.

Pain, suffering, poverty and oppression are a way of life in Uganda, maybe more so than other countries.  But in the midst of affliction, pain and suffering I am reminded of Lamentations 3:32-33 where the Holy Spirit inspires “the weeping prophet” who was watching the brutal collapse and captivity of his nation to write, “Though (the Lord) causes grief, yet He will show compassion, according to the multitude of His mercies.  For He does not afflict willingly (the Hebrew word there literally means, “from His heart.”)…”

Did you catch that?  The real, true God, from His heart is compassionate.  If you hear people talk about God’s judgment, they may very well be speaking truth.  Because God does judge sin justly, but patiently.  Patiently because at His heart is compassion, mercy and love.  If we don’t know God’s heart, then we really don’t know God, do we?  “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are renewed every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  Therefore I have hope in Him!  ” (Lam 3:22-24)  Knowing God’s mercy and love is not just recognizing a beautiful sunrise in the morning – that’s only knowing the Creator.  It’s a good start, but does that save anyone?  Do we know God as Savior in the midst of suffering, pain, oppression and poverty?  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”

If you don’t know God, Lamentations tells us we can know Him. “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him” (Lam 3:25).  Trust Jesus – He’s at the heart of God – compassionate, kind, merciful and full of grace and love.  If you have questions, please ask.  If you don’t get satisfying answers, pray and keep looking.  Personally, I looked for years, and the answers finally came.  While I was in the midst of that time, I wondered.  Keep your heart open and seek earnestly with a teachable attitude.  You will find the real and one, true God.  May we know His heart.

Feeling Weak? Go to the Source of Your Strength

The source (beginning) of the Nile River is just a few minutes from where we stay here outside Jinja.

I'm standing at Bujagali Falls on the Nile River, just a few miles north of the Nile's source, Lake Victoria.

Mark standing at Bujagali Falls on the Nile River, just a few miles north of the Nile’s source, Lake Victoria.

The Nile is a powerful river that flows more than 1,600 miles north from Uganda through Sudan and Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.  The river is deep, wide and long.

Anna Poindexter, a single young lady from Colorado mentioned at our home church gathering this afternoon how she was standing by the mighty Nile when the Spirit brought to her mind how God’s love is like the Nile – deep, wide, and long with a continuous, unending source.  She asked, “Where does that water come from?”

She’s right.  Paul writes to the Ephesians in 1:7-8 In (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence..”

Grace in and of itself is…well…gracious.  But notice the words, “riches” and “abound.”  When I think of riches I think back to my childhood when I read comic books, especially the unlimited supply of wealth like Scrooge McDuck (Donald Duck’s uncle) had in the rooms in his house and swimming pool.

The idea of riches comes from my childhood days when I read comic books.

The idea of riches comes from my childhood days when I read comic books. Used legally from Free ClipArt.

Remember those pictures?  The coins and money were literally piled in his pool like water and filled his rooms.  God is so rich and He wants to share His wealth!  His riches are not just shared with us, they abound – plenteous and copious amounts!

As I mentioned in the previous blog (below), Jesus is our source of strength.  So many times I want to err back to trusting in my obedience instead of trusting and resting in Jesus Christ, the very source of our strength.

The Nile water just keeps flowing continually – I saw it again today.  The source of our strength, like the Nile, is the riches of God’s grace, love and mercy found in His Son Jesus Christ!  How awesome is that?  It’s so awesome it gives a dead person LIFE that springs up eternally!

To Trust Obedience is to Fail, Bro.

The way to be eternally secure is to cleave to, trust, rely on and have faith in (believe in) Jesus Christ!  The way to be eternally insecure is to cleave to, trust in, rely on and have faith in anything else, even one’s obedience to God’s perfect law.  The latter will fail a person.  The first will secure a person.  His name, Jesus, means God is salvation.

When I trust in my obedience to God’s law I fail to see my own terrible lack and deficiency, my own disobedience.  I fail (come short of, be deficient in, cease to be furnished with, be cut off from the supply) in life by focusing on the idolatrous illusion of my own obedience to the detriment of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  When I trust in my obedience to God’s law I am blinded to the miserable, pitiful decay, lack and deficiency of my own need – the very reason Jesus died.  Therefore when I trust in my obedience to God’s law and commandments, my obedience is idolatrously exalted and the Source, the very Source of Life is relegated to an inferior position.

To believe in (be habitually, routinely committed to) Jesus Christ is to trust (assured resting of the mind in the veracity, integrity, justice or other sound principle of another person; confidence; reliance) in Jesus Christ (i.e. God) for my salvation. One path to failure in salvation is to trust and believe my obedience to God’s perfect commands or commandments will save me.  My obedience will fail me because I am human.  The source of life is not obedience.  The source of my eternal life is none other than Jesus Christ, who judicially declares me justified, sanctified and to be glorified.

To be saved then starts with a simple belief in Jesus Christ (John 1:12) which over time will grow to a confident assurance (strong belief) and absolute resolved single-minded purpose and determination in Jesus Christ first and foremost, above everything else and to then obey out of thanksgiving for what God has done.  As we grow we learn to not just to obey because of His gifts or His blessings, but in all assaults and barrages of lies and deceit from the enemies, in all of physical life’s circumstances we grow in Him through good times, as well as terrible suffering.

To God be the glory – He is the source of our salvation!

Update (3-21-14):

John 11:5 (Amplified Bible) “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus [They were His dear friends, and He held them in loving esteem.]”

When I read this verse this morning, it occured to me, I don’t view Jesus in the same way as Martha, Mary (her sister) and Lazarus did.  That’s tragic.  Why is that?

As I thought and prayed about that, it occurred to me that I still struggle in my view of God.  I still see Him too often as a Being who is watching my every move to catch when I disobey so He can correct it.  Do we really think thoughts like mine were the thoughts of Martha, Mary & Lazarus toward Jesus?

It’s their relationship with Jesus that better proclaims the beauty of the Gospel – God coming into His creation to build a relationship with fallen sinners, even an intimate friendship.  Friends and even marriage partners don’t worry about obedience, it’s more about respect for one another.  They don’t fret about obedience because obedience is not the focus of the relationship.  It’s deeper than obedience, love and gratitude toward the other person are the focus.  The focus of obedience is on the self.

Now certainly disciplines, “ought to’s,” and even at times “commands” are part of love.  But aren’t commands and obedience more of a framework, rather than a way of life?  Doesn’t the question from Jesus, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments?” a question targeted more toward those who are immature or are children than a mature friend?

Obedience certainly is clearly addressed in the New Testament, but it seems to me (and I need more time to process this and would appreciate feedback here), that obedience issues in the New Testament relate more often to non-believers and to immature believers who need warning about going astray, using grace as a license, and taking God far too casually, etc.

Think of it:  “a friend of Jesus – one who is free.”  It’s a relationship concept that I trust we all desire to have with Jesus, instead of a slave relationship (which involves oppression, not freedom).  That friend relationship is not to mature to a trust in obedience, but should mature into a strong relationship of trust in Jesus, the One who died for us.  He’s the object of our desire, right?  Or is the object obedience?  I think Jesus is the object.  For “a slave (a person oppressed to obey and keep commandments, who points to his obedience as to whether he is worthy enough) does not abide in the house forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:35-36).  Free to be a child, a maturing believer, a dear friend and eventually an intimate spouse of the King – in His very house relating to and with Him.

Update From Week of March 2nd 2014

This past week started off with laughs and tears, and included hitting a motorcycle.

Last Sunday we stayed home due to sickness, but recovered rather quickly.  Samuel texted me last Sunday night asking what Romans 8:28 meant.  He has been through so much.  I responded with something like, “Wow, that’s a big topic, can we talk Monday at 10 am?”  He agreed and it was a fantastic time.  I fully expected and planned to do a lot of listening, but Samuel was hungry.  He was asking questions.

What’s so incredible is that for the past two to three months I have been going through studies and giving messages on suffering.  As I covered with him the Scriptures which I had been studying, he devoured them.  He highlighted them, asked questions, texted me later asking me to remind him of a reference for a particular one.  That part of the conversation ended with Shane and Shane’s, Though You Slay Me video.

Did you know many Ugandans can spend a lot of time in prayer and fasting?  It is the Christian culture here to spend Friday nights at church in all night prayer services.  Christians can pray or fast for hours beyond that.  We as Americans tend to look at all this spiritual “work” and point to little physical results – no house, little clothing, no vehicle, living in a third world country, not improving themselves to American standards – but we’re missing something.  I tell you the truth, I think suffering has enlightened him more to God than me or most American Christians I know.  He better understands suffering.  He doesn’t like it, but he better understands it.

So the time with Samuel included laughs and tears.  He said he was encouraged and sensed the Spirit.  For that I praise God.  I am now meeting with him regularly to see where God will open up a job.  Our next meeting is Wednesday.  We both would appreciate your prayers for him and a job, especially as a single dad.

Other highlights of this week included our worker Ruth getting glasses, the college ministry, Michelle’s Bible studies (she held three this week), lunch with Tommy and Sandra Boone (our Equip teammate’s parents who are visiting), looking to diagnose another noise on our vehicle, and yes, hitting a boda (motorcycle with a driver and passenger that pulled out in front of me from behind a taxi without looking).

Both riders of the boda are fine.  Long story, but an accident with two tractor trailers in a ‘round-about caused traffic to go the wrong way in the ‘round-about.  We saw the accident, entered the ‘round-about the correct way, kept left, slowed down (all with absolutely nobody directing traffic) and the boda darted from behind the taxi without looking!  I was so mad at the guy, even blurted out a yell at him, “What are you doing?!!!”  [Wonderful missionary example].  Michelle screamed, then immediately cried.  Our vehicle lightly tagged the boda – enough to knock it over.  It slightly scratched the front passenger side (remember the driver sits in the car on the right) below the plastic of the bumper.  The passenger was able to jump off and land on his feet safely.  The boda driver couldn’t have been more than just a few years out of school and there’s no training for them.  Both riders walked away and seemed fine.  The driver was apologetic to me.  I bet he won’t dart out from behind a vehicle without looking any time soon.  Josh, who was in the back with Brittany, said a few minutes later his legs were still shaking from the ordeal.  Praise God it wasn’t anything more serious.  Your prayers are appreciated and important!

Finally, I spoke at Bugembe this morning.  I appreciate pastor Jabel and his wife, Janet, inviting us there so the church could pray for the girls before they leave for the States.  The church service went Bugembe Mark 2to 2:20 pm.  I spoke about 45 minutes.  We had the countries of Uganda, Canada, Austria, Switzerland and the US represented, along with a man from Tennessee who spoke, as well.  The church is also trying to raise $300 US to reinforce the wooden poles that termites are eating.  The church building is actually leaning and could collapse in the near future if something is not done.

At the service the girls received a word of knowledge / prophecy from the lady from Austria, who told them that fear was an issue, but encouraged them to believe that God has all things in control.  She gave a picture illustration of what she saw in the Spirit during the prayer time.  It was encouraging to hear and the Shofarword she gave the girls addressed the very issues we’ve been facing.  As a symbol of the victory that the girls have in Christ, she blew a shofar (Jewish ram’s horn – see photo, although her shofar was turned a bit and longer).  That was a first for us, but a nice picture of the reality of God’s promises.

 Monday is a trip to Kampala for Equip Uganda.  Another busy week coming up, but we love it!

Suffering & Pain

Lyrics to three of four songs about suffering are below.  The best of the four songs in my opinion is Though You Slay Me by Shane and Shane.  I have included a YouTube link with subtitles and brief thoughts about suffering.  Excellent video.  I hope these lyrics and video may bring a bit of purpose and/or meaning to suffering:

“I Will Not Be Moved” by Natalie Grant

“Cry Out to Jesus” by Third Day

“You Were There” by Avalon

and “Though You Slay Me” by Shane and Shane with a special message from John Piper.  The link to that video is here – it’s a comforting, hopeful message.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyUPz6_TciY

If one or more of these songs mean something to you, please consider purchasing at Amazon or another provider.  The cost is about the same as a cup of coffee and the impact you receive should be greater than a 3-hour jolt from caffeine.  Much love.

I Will Not Be Moved by Natalie Grant

I have been the wayward child
I have acted out
I have questioned Sovereignty
And had my share of doubt
And though sometimes my prayers feel like
They’re bouncing off the sky
The hand I hold won’t let me go
And is the reason why…

[Chorus:]
I will stumble
I will fall down
But I will not be moved
I will make mistakes
I will face heartache
But I will not be moved
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
I will not be moved

Bitterness has plagued my heart
Many times before
My life has been like broken glass
And I have kept the score
Of all my shattered dreams and though it seemed
That I was far too gone
My brokenness helped me to see
It’s grace I’m standing on

[Chorus]

And the chaos in my life
Has been a badge I’ve worn
Though I have been torn
I will not be moved

Cry Out to Jesus by Third Day

To everyone who’s lost someone they love Long before it was their time You feel like the days you had were not enough When you said goodbye

And to all of the people with burdens and pains Keepin’ you back from your life You believe that there’s nothing And there is no one who can make it right

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary And love for the broken hearts There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing He’ll meet you wherever you are

Cry out to Jesus Cry out to Jesus

For the marriage that’s struggling just to hang on Have lost all of their faith in love And they’ve done all they can to make it right again Still it’s not enough

For the ones who can’t break the addictions and chains You try to give up but you come back again Just remember that you’re not alone In your shame and your suffering

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary And love for the broken hearts There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing He’ll meet you wherever you are

Cry out to Jesus

When you’re lonely And it feels like the whole world is falling on you You just reach out You just cry out to Jesus

Cry to Jesus

To the widow who suffers from being alone Wipin’ the tears from her eyes For the children around the world without a home Say a prayer tonight

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary And love for the broken hearts There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing That meets you wherever you are

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary And love for the broken hearts There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing That meets you wherever you are

Cry out to Jesus Cry out to Jesus

Cry out to Jesus Cry out to Jesus

You Were There     by Avalon

I wonder how it must have felt
When David stood to face Goliath on a hill
I imagine that he shook with all his might
Until You took his hand, and held on tight

‘Cause You were there, You were there
In the midst of danger’s snare
You were there, You were there always
You were there when the hardest fight
Seemed so out of reach
Oh, You were there, You were always there
You were always there

So there he stood upon that hill
Abraham with knife in hand was poised to kill
But God in all his sovereignty had bigger plans
And just in time, You brought a lamb

‘Cause You were there,
You were there
In the midst of the unclear
You were there, you were there always
You were there when obedience
Seemed to not make sense
You were there, You were always there
You were always there

So haven’t I learned that my ways
Aren’t as high as Yours are
And You alone keep the universe
From crumbling into dust
You are God and though we would
Not have understood You
There You were

Hanging blameless on a cross
You would rather die than leave us in the dark
Every moment, every planned coincidence
Just all makes sense
With Your last breath

You were there, You were there
During history’s darkest hour
You were there, You were there always
You were the Victor and the King
You were the power in David’s swing
You were the calm in Abraham
You are the God who understands
You are the strength when we have none
You are the living, Holy one
You were, You are and You will always be
the Risen Lamb of God

You were, You are and You will always be
The Risen Lamb of God

Is There Any Purpose or Meaning to Suffering?

Before starting this blog, please note that this blog will probably offer little or no sufficient answers to a person who is currently suffering. Having experienced my own oppression, discouragement and suffering, rarely did people attempting to provide answers seem to help. Yet I think it important in times of lucidness to find meaning in suffering since people have difficulty doing so.  Even some agnostics or atheists have used suffering to question God’s existence. In reality and truth, suffering reveals glimpses of a God who has a purpose and a God who cares.

Did you realize or consider that pain and suffering are clearly acceptable at times, and at other times pain and suffering are not? Why the difference? Philip SufferingYancey in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts? quotes philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “It is not so much the suffering as the senselessness of it that is unendurable.”

Yancey then notes the different views of suffering and pain by using a couple examples, NFL football player Merlin Olsen who continued playing football on a bum knee through pain and fluid retention. His persistence and willingness to endure pain and suffering is remarkable. As the fluid buildup got so thick, medical personnel had to almost drive the needle in with a hammer. Olsen was quoted as saying, “Damn it, get the needle in there, and get that stuff out.” His words are a stark glimpse into Olsen’s willingness to endure pain in order to fulfill his desire to play football.

Yancey then contrasts birthing a child with passing a kidney stone – a similar level of pain. A woman experiences the excruciating pain of child birth because there is meaning and purpose, and then may desire to have more children. Yet, there is no desire to have additional kidney stones.

The difference is in purpose and meaning. This is no small issue.

The senselessness of Nazi Germany is often referenced by some as evidence that given the brutality and scope of the suffering, God must not exist. Some ask, “Where was God during that terrible tragedy?” Yet Yancey notes that some Jews (Frankl, Bettelheim, Wiesel) and others found meaning and fared better overall than those who did not find meaning amongst the suffering.

When pain has a positive result or outcome, we might possibly accept it better, but more importantly it gives us meaning. There’s purpose. There’s hope! To lose hope causes a person to want to quit; to despair. Despair is a painful emotion in itself. So, as humans we try to cope. In order to avoid despair, tragedy, hurts, problems, etc., one alternative is to indulge in the present, “the now” with its pleasures and entertainment. Like pain medication or drugs, indulging in the present only temporarily relieves pain and numbs the senses. But like the drug user who desires an escape, while imbibing in the drug, the drug user cares not that the high is only temporary. All that matters to the user is the “here and now.” More importantly the high postpones / defers the critical need to address underlying problems and issues the druggie has.Drugs

I believe America (and the world at large) is utilizing the drugs of pleasure, entertainment, sports, materialism and other riches to avoid the realities of and purpose of life. Rich America is not the only place. This numbing happens here in the slums of Africa, too. Sex, alcohol, drugs, pleasure, entertainment, money, material items, etc. are all desired in order to avoid and/or escape the reality of severe underlying problems – the day-to-day issues of lack of good health, lack of proper food, lack of happiness; and the larger issues which result from a broken relationship with our Creator, such as lack of answers, lack of peace and contentment, along with ultimately despair and lack of hope.

Ironically and amazingly it seems one of the challenges in an increasingly wealthy society is that meaning and purpose fade as life becomes easier, more pleasurable and materialistically driven.

Knowing this, God has provided wise counsel for those who are relatively well and are not suffering very much. Rather than stay busy with life and work, He counsels His people to care for those who are suffering: outcasts, orphans, the sick, fatherless, prisoners and the poor. Spend time with a disabled child or in a slum in Africa – be quiet, that is “shut up” talking, visit and listen, perhaps for weeks. Attend funerals, not parties. Does God work through those who suffer? Does God speak quietly and provide answers through those who suffer? I believe He does slowly, and I see Him working.

What about those folks who suffer to the point that there is no satisfactory answer, purpose or fulfillment. For example, the issue of totally disabled children (IQ’s of 30-40) or senile adults (with Alzheimer’s) who lie in bed day in and day out. Yancey asks the question, what could possibly be meaningful to these people who suffer? Yancey provides an example of an East German doctor who cared for severely mentally disabled children. For years the doctor could not answer that question, until a survey of new trainees mentioned the fulfillment and rewards the trainees experienced of helping others. The children (and their disability) gave the trainees meaning, purpose, fulfillment, compassion, appreciation for life, a different perspective, more tolerance, patience, less complaining, a renewed looked at their own problems, an appreciation for what love can do for people. It gave purpose while the child received necessary care and love.

NOTE: One should not, in my opinion, surmise from the above example that God allows or creates mentally disabled children or causes / allows adults to develop Alzheimer’s for the sole purpose of other people’s own learning and advancement alone. This kind of logic seems myopic and can be quite cruel and calloused. Rather, these terrible conditions exist in a fallen world. It is the responsibility of the world’s inhabitants to respond in care and love, and a result could very well be an insight to life’s broader questions.

Love in a society is paramount.  It should be elevated to the highest standard.  Yet our society is promoting selfishness and self-absorption, similar to drug addicts.  In February 1995 Mother Teresa stated at the National Prayer Breakfast the following reality:  “By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.”

What messages are we sending our young people – to commit violence and murder in order to live happy lives?

Finally, Yancey also briefly references the existentialist, Sartre’s play, No Exit Drug Paraphenaliaabout three people (two men and a woman), who after death are locked into a room together for eternity. One of the three characters in the play, Garcin, concludes, “Hell is other people.” At the end of the play (after much analysis, attempted sexual acts and attempted murder) the play closes ironically like an addicted drug user – rather than freely escaping the room of hell (which they could have done), the three characters at the close of the curtain agree, “let’s continue on.”

I ask, “For what real and lasting purpose should the three in the play continue on? Other than for purely selfish reasons?” And isn’t that the point? True hell is selfishness. Watch the lives of a drug user who will do anything to get him/herself a temporary high.

Lack of meaning. Lack of purpose. People are not hell, unless the world is all about me. People are not hell until they refuse to satisfy my needs and my pleasures. At that point people start irritating the hell which resides in each of us.

Then again, maybe people are hell, broken in pieces. And God’s purpose might just be to rescue us from ourselves by entering hell in the person of Jesus Christ and saving those who trust, believe and rely on Him. As He saves us, He whispers simple answers to life: “I am your hope, your Outcastfulfillment, your purpose.  As I have rescued you in your sin as a pleasure- seeking drug addict, follow in My steps and focus on those hell-filled sinners, especially the broken and humble of society. In that path of life you will catch a glimpse of who I (God) am while discovering love, mercy, satisfaction, meaning, fulfillment and purpose in life.”

Lover or Prostitute?

Tragedy and more tragedy – within one week two children (one five weeks old and the other one year old) have died in separate car accidents – one here in Uganda and the other in front of our home church, Grace Community in Marion. This comes on the heels of the senseless beating our two church leaders here in Uganda received at the hands of military police.  Please continue praying for Andrew and Daniel.  Daniel is suffering from strong abdominal pain and is going to have it checked out.  Additionally a friend emailed prayer requests to our family from Grace red rose on wood floow - black and whiteCommunity and there are a number of things going on there – people hurting.

A friend in the States also shared with me the WLOS FB page about the missionary couple here in Uganda.  At that site I just read a post from a lady who had read the story about the accident and death of the missionary child.  She writes, “It’s events like these that make me question God.  Makes absolutely NO sense.”

For the Christian these events call us to faith, to love, to prayer and into a fellowship with Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:10).  The truth of that passage makes things all too often no easier, and honestly this post is not the encouraging sweetness a suffering person needs to read or hear.  In fact, I honestly hope anyone suffering stops now and doesn’t read it.  This post is meant to be medicine, usually bitter, for fellow hardened addicts who have difficulty understanding a benevolent, loving God in the wake of such tragedies.

Recently I have run across suffering again and again and again.  Uganda is more accepting of suffering and death.  America generally has more difficulty with suffering and death.  I think part of the difficulty we have as Americans is due to how we view God.  It shocks us when tragedy happens.   Ugandans on the other hand see it as a way of life.

A college (and Facebook) friend of mine, Robert Gnage posted this link to an article that has me thinking about how I as an American view God and how I think God should view me.  I’m ashamed to say, it’s all too often as a prostitute instead of an unconditional lover.

I admire those who are unconditional in their love to God and others, whose faith is so strong, who love so deeply and who minister so compassionately.  The article asks a very good question.  Here’s the article link (it took me a few days to be able to access it because the bandwidth at the site had been exceeded).  It seems to be working now:

http://viralchrist.com/spiritual-growth/love/1559-qlover-or-prostitute-the-question-that-changed-my-life

In His joy,
Mark