Category Archives: Beliefs

As Evil Increases, What Is Our Response?

“And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”
– Jesus in Matt 24:12

One of Equip’s ministries is providing teaching and discipleship in Masese slum.  Michelle (my wife) participates in a women’s Bible study there each week.  Masese can be a difficult place in teaching and discipling people in the Gospel because so much lawlessness can exist in this community at times – abuse, drunkenness, rape, theft, prostitution, poverty, anger, selfishness, murder, etc.

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Bible Study Group

Masese

The Community of Masese Outside Jinja, Uganda

Outcast

Resting in the Shadows

The following story from 2 1/2 years ago illustrates the initial challenges our friends and fellow Equip teammates, Jeremy & Tamara Boone, had as they began work there.  This story is from their blog.   “I remember a man who came to Jinja from his distant home in Karimoja to stay with his sister.  He had advanced TB and was near to death.  The family didn’t want him to sleep in the house and basically refused to touch him.  As a result, he spent his days and nights laying lifelessly on a blanket in the shade of a tree.  He was unwashed and unable to eat or help himself to a latrine.  I got involved and told the family that there was free TB treatment available at the local government hospital.  I charged her, “If you will just get him to the hospital, I’ll make sure the doctors and nurses give him the treatment he needs”.   She agreed to the plan but because of the families negligence and his critical condition, I decided to return to their home the next day and make sure he had gone.  That night, I fell sick with Malaria.  It was 2 weeks before I returned.  The first thing I did was go to their home.  I found a freshly dug grave covered with stones behind their hut.  Neighbors came and told me that the sister had refused to take him to the hospital.  Instead, she stuck him in the chicken house so she didn’t have to watch him die.  Their home and the chicken house is directly across from the (local) church.  Everyone saw him dying.  No one acted. I was outraged and discouraged.” – used with permission from www.boonesinafrica.com.

Just to clarify, please understand part of the ministry in Jinja is to teach, disciple, and encourage the people to love and take care of their own, not just do it for them, although at times Equip does that as well.  There is a ministry, Amazima, now in Masese that checks at least twice a week on Masese community members.

Jesus said, “Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”

Notice carefully in that prophecy, there is encouragement – Jesus said the love of many (implying, not all) would have their love grow cold.  So in striking contrast to the “many,” the followers of Jesus (apparently the few) are to love.

It would seem that the clear answer to increased lawlessness is either more law or better implementation of the law.  But that is not the way to look at it.  Notice that the writer of Hebrews encourages us to be stirring up one another in love and good works, and so much more as we see the Day approaching (Heb 10:24).  This is my desire in this post, to stir us up as Christians to love and good works in the midst of increasing lawlessness.

This stirring one another can happen in various ways, but most effectively in the following two ways (I plan to post a third way later): 1) Go to the source, God’s heart; and 2) Resist the temptation to put law in place of love.

We are constantly hearing more and more about lawlessness and sin.  I had a lady write me a few months ago from the States who was so discouraged about the paths people are taking and the way the world is going.  It seems to be a losing battle and we can be negatively affected by the cold air of lawlessness.

The reality is, the truth is, as lawlessness increases, we cannot fight this battle on our own strength.  When we are weak, many will move into to a self-protective mode and demand more laws and security from our governments.  Others will cry for more obedience to God’s laws – those perfect, unmoving, secure and stabilizing decrees, which are God’s holy righteous standard.  This is not the right move.  The right move is to know God’s heart and spend time with Him each day.

Mother & Child

God’s Love for Us Is Deeper Than the Love a Nursing Mother Has For Her Child

God’s heart does not delight in the death of wicked sinners. Even the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel records God’s Spirit moving him to write, “I (God) have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek 33:11). Rather as illustrated graphically by the prophet Isaiah, when we think God has forsaken His people and forgotten us because of the abounding of lawlessness and evil, God tells Isaiah to tell His children, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold (an expression of surprise! Look, examine, what God is about to say is extremely important) I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16). He has taken us – sinners – and as a sculptor chisels the law into stone, our awesome God has chiseled our sins into the palms of His nail-scarred hands on the cross through the love of His Son, Jesus Christ.

If this is not enough God further reveals His heart to His people through the prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations as they suffer and lament their pain, affliction, and discipline, “Though He causes grief, yet will He show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies, for He does not afflict willingly.” The Hebrew for “willingly” means, “from the heart” (Lam 3:32-33). At God’s heart is not affliction and judgment, but compassion – the very fulfillment of the law found in Jesus Christ Himself compassionately living amongst sinners, serving and loving them.  God doesn’t do away with the law, but fulfills His perfect law with love.

This leads us to the second point:  resist the temptation to put law in place of love.  As I wrote above, the natural inclination is to fight lawlessness with more laws or better implementation of laws.  That does not work.  If God’s heart was His law, He never would have sent His Son Jesus!  He would have held to His law and let it condemn sinners.  God rescued sinners by sending His Son.

God gave the law, and then He gave us His very best – His Son – who fulfilled the law and took on our sins.  If we reject God’s gift of love, His very best and very own Son, Jesus Himself says the result is condemnation (John 3:16-21).

I am greatly concerned that as things in this world get more and more lawless and evil, that we Christians will start moving toward the form of worship of God through the law. That is, starting from the point of keeping the law in attempts to merit good is not love!  Rather it is selfishness and pride.  One must start from Jesus (God’s full expression of love) in order to fulfill the law – namely loving your neighbor and loving God.  Love through the power and person of Jesus Christ and His Spirit, that fulfills the law.  That’s why it’s important to spend time with God each day – to strengthen and grow from the source of Love.

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16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
21But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” – Jesus (John 3:16-21)

The answer to lawlessness and evil is not more law, not more morality, not more “spirituality.”  The answer is the love of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s law found in Him, the light, life and truth. His commandment is love.  He is love.  He is the source of our strength, not the law, not morality.  He will not fail us. When the Light comes into our hearts, change takes place and love eventually conquers all, beginning first with us.

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What Motivates You?

On Thanksgiving Day (Nov 28th) I posted a blog entitled, “Are We Seeing Prophetic Signs?” It is my desire that we, “…think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works,” especially “now that the day of (Jesus’) return is drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25 NLT). New King James states it, “as we see the Day approaching.”

Yesterday (Saturday morning, 15th) we got the news here of yet another school shooting in Colorado, even on the anniversary of Sandy Hook. Friday’s terrible event reminds me of the shocking and sobering Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in April 1999.

I remember that day very well. The Holy Spirit used that terrible event to impress upon me my responsibilities as Columbine Librarya father and husband. I remember where I was when I got the news. It was a Hospice of McDowell County volunteer appreciation banquet. The thought that crossed my mind was, “We are losing our children. What am I going to do?” As I prayed God used that evil event to more powerfully impact the life of my family and me than thirty years of men preaching the law to me.

Our daughters had just turned four and Joshua was only a few weeks old. It was that tragic event that caused the Holy Spirit to burden me and move me to commit my family to daily family devotions with our children. It’s something that has forever changed our lives.

Do we have it all together? Of course not. You all know us – sins, issues and problems. We have experienced marriage problems, sins and struggles just like other people.

Watch, pray and love Jesus and others. Change takes a commitment and discipline. Change may even see struggles and failure. We went through periods of time when we struggled through family devotions. But you know what? Our marriage has been like that too. Michelle and I have had some awesome times together, but there have been serious challenges when we have failed one another, sinned, struggled and felt like giving up.

It’s only the grace of Jesus Christ that has faithfully pulled us through. Some people think that is a trite answer. But it’s not. It’s the Gospel – Jesus has pulled us through when we’ve sinned, failed and wanted to quit. I never want to stop telling that truth. If Jesus is too simple to us, if He’s just not enough, if He’s not sufficient for our problems and failures, if He’s lacking or offensive, causes us to be ashamed, is too sweet, too syrupy, has to be enhanced or modified by something, a turn off, too common, too radical, only a good teacher, then He’s more than likely just another religious leader. That’s not the real Jesus.

sunThe real Jesus is life, grace and truth. He rescues failures and sinners. He is faithful, promising to never leave us or forsake us. He’s coming back and there’s still time to get to know Him even better. What do you think He wants you to do? Ask Him, listen and then use the gifts He has given you to love Him and love others.

What is the writer saying in Heb 10:24-25? I think he is saying: 1) we as followers of Jesus are watching, as Jesus exhorted His disciples to do in Luke 21:36; and 2) that it’s not us who is doing the exhorting, but the Spirit throughSpine of a Bible us. Of what eternal value would it be for us to try to motivate others? But God’s Spirit working through us places gifts amongst each of us so that we can be unified, grow to mature in Christ, glorify Jesus and avoid deceitful and destructive lies (Eph 4:11-13). Let’s love Jesus and use our gifts to love others.

Are We Seeing Prophetic Signs?

African Full Solar Eclipse November 3, 2013

African Full Solar Eclipse November 3, 2013

Four Blood Moons, Disasters, Major Weather Events, Comet ISON and Meteors, Economic Uncertainty, Fukushima Nuclear Waste disaster, Iran & Israel, Etc.

Today (Thursday, November 28th) marks the American holiday Thanksgiving, marks the second day of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah and the comet ISON’s hairpin loop around the sun.  Not sure if there’s any significance in those events other than the last two being rare.

Another rare occurrence (according to NASA) and much more significant in my opinion – four blood moons with a full solar eclipse in the middle – begins happening next year, for two years:

April 15th, 2014 Blood Moon on Passover (the time Jesus was killed)

October 8th, 2014 Blood Moon on Feast of Tabernacles

March 20th, 2015 Full Solar Eclipse Nisan 1 (beginning of Jewish calendar)

April 4th, 2015 Blood Moon on Passover

September 28th, 2015 Blood Moon on Feast of Tabernacles.

Feast of Tabernacles pictures Jesus’s millennial reign on the earth.  Blood moons are apparently very rare and may fulfill a prophecy quoted in the book of Joel and restated by Jesus in Matthew as signs prior to His return.  John Hagey (see YouTube videos) has written a book about these four blood moons and what happens when they occur.

As if all this weren’t enough, the end of the Blood Moons on September 2015 coincides within days of the end of a second seven-year time period since 9-11-2001.

According to CNN Money article (http://money.cnn.com/2008/09/29/markets/markets_newyork/), the first trading day after 9-11 on Monday, September 17th the stock market crashed by 684 points.  Seven years afterward, the stock market crashed on September 29th, 2008 by 777 points and the Great Recession started.  The number seven is God’s number of completion in the Bible.  That day (9-29-2008) was the Jewish holy day, the Feast of Trumpets (picturing the trumpet blast prior to Messiah’s coming see 1 Thess 4:16).  September 28th, 2015 ends the second seven-year time cycle.  Rabbi Jonathan Kahn (a Christian Messianic Jew from the Jewish priestly tribe of Aaron) has noted dramatic and interesting details about the events since 9-11-2001.  He lists nine (9) harbingers of God’s warning to America.  It’s more than I can include here.  Search his name and the word harbinger on the Internet or YouTube.

Now mix with these rare and unusual events the fact that the United States, Israel’s biggest supporter, is now negotiating nuclear peace terms with Iran.  This action is apparently disappointing to Saudi Arabia, upsetting to Israel and causing members of Congress from both parties to question the wisdom of these moves.  A few people have even drawn comparisons with Neville Chamberlain negotiating with Adolph Hitler prior to WWII.

Combine the peace treaty with these other concerning events: the fact that significant elements of three of the world’s largest religions are expecting the end of the age as we know it to happen soon (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity); earlier this month evangelist Billy Graham expressed concern over the direction of the United States in what may be his final message; increasing weather and natural disaster phenomena; economic uncertainty; large leaps in scientific breakthroughs; the Fukushima nuclear waste problem in Japan.  One would think people would seem to at least be interested in watching over the next couple years.  Or maybe not.

Some (both Christian and non-Christian) dismiss such phenomena, linking these occurrences to other failed speculations such as:  the transition from 1999 to 2000; the end of the Mayan calendar or other end-of-the-world warnings (a list is provided by Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events; As an aside, one might consider including Jonah’s “failed” prophecy on this list.  Jonah predicted the megacity Nineveh would fall in 40 days, and God spared that wicked city when they repented – fascinating story).  Others see these events as religious lunacy.  Still others believe phenomena such as these have been happening for centuries and millennia and will continue.

Hagey’s blood moons, Kahn’s harbingers, extraordinary leaps in science, economic instability, the lunacy of building nuclear facilities in earthquake zones, the power of the Internet and the Middle East tensions have me watching for sure.  Things are just too volatile to continue “as is” for decades.  Similarly before Jesus actually arrived on the scene as a baby years ago, people were highly anticipating a great event.  We’ll see what happens.

Whether these are true prophetic events heralding the soon-coming return of Jesus Christ remains to be seen.  Surely from the list of failed prophecies, it causes one to at least be a bit skeptical and others probably a bit more interested or anxious.  But know this truth from the closest friend of Jesus who was Jesus’ only follower of the eleven to avoid being murdered, the great apostle and prophet John, “…the essence (the fundamental nature or quality) of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.” Rev 19:10 Prophecy and prophetic events should point us to Jesus and cause us to evaluate our lives in how we are loving our neighbors and loving God.  Are we sober minded or are we spiritually asleep?  Are we about the business of Jesus?

How many times have you heard Christians say, “We don’t know when Jesus is coming back because He comes as a thief in the night”?

That statement, I believe, is only partially true.  Read carefully.  Get the context – see 1 Thess 5:2.  Paul says Christians know “perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”  Then he gives some signs to watch for.  Now notice verse 4 – “you brethren are not of the darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.”  So yes, we know the day of the Lord will come as a thief, but no, we should not be taken by surprise like the rest of the world.

Jesus returns as a thief in the night to those who are of the night – those who are drunk and sleeping!  I believe it is high time to sober up and be busy about the work of Jesus.

What is that work?  Jesus tells us.  His work is Kingdom work – making disciples, preaching the Gospel, loving others.  But notice what He tells His disciples in the context of His return in Luke 21:34-36 (NLT):

34“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware,

35like a trap. (In other words, for some people it is possible it will not catch them unaware, they will know and expect it, although it comes upon everyone.)  For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth.

36Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Those who are Christ’s should “watch and pray” as NKJV translates it.  We are to be about the business of Jesus.  The world will be drunk on material things, on pleasures, on cares of life, on riches and on sin – all these are “deceptive desires leading to a lifestyle without discipline resulting in the dizzy hangovers of drunkenness” as one Bible dictionary describes it.  These are careless, negligent, and extravagant lifestyles resulting in lack of discipline and control.

More pointedly, will American Christians be overspending tomorrow (on black Friday) in a lifestyle of charging things and going into debt?  Are we overeating without disciplined restraint today?  Are we lying in front of the television or computer entertaining ourselves without restraint?  Is life just one big joke?  Are our children, sports and work driving our lives to the detriment of our relationship with Jesus?  These things ought not be!

But rather than just point out possible prophetic signs and be quite critical of people’s selfish behavior, what can Christians do to prepare for Jesus’ return?  The first and foremost proactive step is don’t get discouraged or give up.  Rather, Jesus says drop the things that weight us down!  Draw strength from Him.  Jesus wants to empower His people with strength.  Are we having our quiet times and listening to Him in His Word?  Are we daily praying, memorizing, reading God’s Word, developing a healthy relationship with Jesus?  The time seems to be drawing much closer.  All of us seek a closer relationship with Him.

Next, watch faithfully!  Watch what?  Watch our disciplines or our bad habits.  Again, spend time with Jesus.  Start a Bible study or family devotions.  Get a spiritual mentor to hold you to the disciplines.  A missionary friend of mine wants to memorize a small book of the Bible.  He recently asked me to hold him to it, and he’s holding me responsible for a disciplined commitment I have made.  Join us in starting something disciplined, whatever it is.  It’s a great adventure.  If my friend makes it, great!  If not, he has at least started, and memorized something. Then after your relationship with Jesus, watch events soberly, faithfully, and prayerfully.

Pray!  Pray for what?  Pray for opportunities to shine the light of Jesus and truth, for opportunities to witness, opportunities to use our spiritual gifts.  Pray for world leaders and governments.  Pray for the body of Christ – those who are strong and those who are weak.  Pray for salvation for friends and families.  Prayer for some of us, especially when we are tired, leads to sleep.  That’s discouraging if we let it discourage us.  But it challenges us to pray more often during the day.  Pray that you will be counted worthy to escape the horrors coming on this earth.

Brothers and sisters, we are of the day and light!  Many of you pray for us!  Thank you so very much.  It has made such a positive impact and I have shared some of these stories here in our blog.

Finally, brothers and sisters, I will close with Paul’s exhortation in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Do not despise prophecies.  That can be easy to do, especially given all the failed ones.  Rather than despising or getting discouraged, test all things. Hold fast to what is good – who is pointing to the real Jesus, not some false idea.  And finally abstain from every kind of evil.”  Isn’t that awesome?

Take these possible prophetic signs, and test them by watching and praying.  Evaluate our lives.  Seek out and find Jesus – He is good and all prophecy should point to Him.  Cease and desist from evil.  Regardless of what happens, love Jesus and love others.  Later blogs on this site have other proactive steps to take, like stirring one another up to love and good works.  It’s high time to be about His business!

The Pretender and the Genuine

There are two kinds of duty: 1) Duty of the unbeliever; and 2) Duty of the believer.  This can be illustrated by asking the question, “Why does the church goer attend worship service?”

Is it out of duty because it is good that the individual needs such encouragement and correction to be a good citizen of the great land of America?  This motivation being the protective establishment of a system of government created to provide a shield and defense of freedoms to despicable, greedy, corrupt and morally reprehensible citizens and people who naturally seek power and wealth to the detriment of themselves and society.

Or is it out of duty because I (eternally dependent upon the Spirit) am crucifying the flesh, mortifying the deeds of my old man full of evil and vile desires, that I by means of grace, therein proving through test and trial, pain and suffering that God has gifted eternal life and He will by His promise grant me by His gracious generosity on that Day the fulfillment and euphoric completion of His divine gift secured in His Son, worked out by His Spirit?

The duty of the first and former being completed by devout men and women, ignorant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, having only a distant, formal, cold and incompatible public knowledge of the power of God similar to the vile devils, and thereby being spiritually dead do pile up future agony upon themselves when on that Day they come to realize their work of religion fails the test of a mighty, awesome, perfect and holy God who has patiently endured their arrogance, and in that patience has actually blessed them with many common graces that He has poured generously and lavishly upon His creation, which they have rudely, arrogantly and selfishly consumed.

The duty of the latter being the yielding and submitting of the believer to picking up the painful cross of Jesus Christ, resulting in the mortification of the deeds of the vile body by the all-powerful, artistic moving of the Creator and Savior God of the universe.

So do we then, the second, condemn the first?  No, not at all.  But rather we share the Good News of God’s great grace, that they too may believe not in themselves, but laying down their lives they take up the real and genuine power of the One who makes all things possible, even the salvation of filthy sinners by a holy and just God.

13For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14

Thoughts written while reading “The Mortification of Sin” by John Owen (Chapter 1).

Driving & Walking By Faith

Driving here in Uganda takes faith, especially at night.  Below are most of the reasons I do not like driving here at night:

Much more difficult to see the road in front of you here in Uganda, more people drive with their bright lights on, some drive with little or no headlights or tail lights, numerous people are walking alongside the road and even one or two in the middle of the road, motorcycles are driving the wrong way on the road, bicycles driven at night with no reflectors or lights, vehicles stopped dead in the road with no warning.

In order to be safe we reduce evening activities away from home as much as possible.  This week however the last two of the three nights we have driven home two or three hours after dark.  As we left early tonight from our afternoon Bible study in order to make it home before dark, I told four or five men with whom I was chatting, “I don’t have enough faith to drive on the roads at night.”

Yet, it seems my faith is constantly being challenged.  The previous Sunday night we pulled out from Jinja at dark (later than I like and to my humiliation) with no headlights working on our vehicle, only parking lights.  We are grateful to God He got us home safely.  I found out the following Monday rats had chewed the headlight wire in two – only the headlights, thank you, Lord.

Tonight I was determined to get my family home safely before dark.  Sunset is always at 7 pm here at the equator.  So we left our Bible study meeting at 6:40 pm.  As we drive home I comment to Michelle how much easier it is to drive when I can see.  We make it safely home just a few minutes after the sun has dipped just below the horizon.  As we pull through our front gate, Michelle suddenly remembers that she was supposed to tell me to pick up one of our workers while we were in town.  She feels terrible.  My heart sank, then frustration rose.  I could see the test of faith in front of me.

I drove back into town (about 15 minutes one way) frustrated.  About two or three miles into the drive, I finally realized I had to give it over and let it go.  It was so obvious, faith is a lesson God is teaching me.

Without telling Michelle, I actually increased my speed a bit, though very difficult to see.  “If this is a test, I’ll be bold,” I thought.  “Insanely bold.”  We finally picked up our worker and arrived safely home.  As I recount the trip as I write this, I initially remember no significant incidents.  Then I was reminded of what happened on this trip to and from town – we hit a bat (love those animals, they eat mosquitos) with the vehicle, while passing a tractor trailer we almost hit a bicyclist and finally in our center turning lane a single headlight (motorcycle or boda boda) going the wrong way is driving toward us in our path.  I stay boldly committed to my lane and flick my headlights to bright – everyone else does.  The motorcycle swerves quickly out of the way while he passes a bicyclist pushing his bicycle loaded with sugar cane – yes in the center turning lane, coming right toward me too and at night.  Oddly enough I am not recognizing this as strange or significant any more.

Earlier in the week I conversed on Facebook with an atheist / agnostic friend of mine from college.  I also sought to minister to a Ugandan friend who was forced to move from his home and who lost his job.

The conversation with the college friend was nice – not angry, not seeking to put one another down – just sparring over faith and belief in God.

Like most atheists and agnostics I know and have conversed with, tragedy with suffering, along with few, if any satisfying religious answers, have all caused my friend to critically question Christianity, religion and God. I don’t have any problem at all with questioning things critically.  Too many religionists and Christians don’t ask the difficult questions.  But by week’s end the messaging finally drew to a respectful close.

I’m not sure if my friend admits that he walks by faith every day – faith in himself, in others, in farmers, in grocery stores, in what he eats, in rain, in sunshine, in the economy, in what he sees, etc. etc.  I assume he does.

The Ugandan friend of mine who lost his job and his home had a difficult week.  Tonight as I sat down to write, he called.  I just hung up the phone with him.  He told me he needed to talk tonight.  His walk right now is a walk of faith – he told me he went to the Bible for strength.  He asked that I read Psm 91.  “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him will I trust.” Psm 91:2  His faith is in God.  Tragedy has struck his life, too, with the senseless murder of his father and eventual death of his mother from the same attack.  But his response is different: faith in God that honestly, probably wavers at times.  But faith in the reality of God’s help, nonetheless.

Faith is interesting.  We all live by faith every day.  The question is, in what or who do we really trust?  I dare say most of us (myself included) trust in ourselves way too often.  We all certainly prefer seeing, but when the night of tragedy, difficulty or suffering strikes (and it will) will we let the light of Jesus boldly shine in our lives and will we trust in Him?

When I Don’t Desire God

This past week was a bit of a dramatic roller coaster ride for Michelle and me – terrible conflict at the beginning of the week, but a wonderful breakthrough on Friday.

Terrible – adj; “adapted or likely to excite dread; formidable; anticipation of things mostly unfavorable.”   The kind of terrible that after it happens, you think, “Did I just say that?” and “S/he is so mean.”  The kind of terrible that causes you to want to give up.  And yes, we did say those things.  And yes, that’s what is down in our hearts.  Ugly. Sinful. Putrid.

Yet the breakthrough was the breakthrough I’ve desired for years – about 5 or 6 years to be more exact.

Since arriving in Uganda I have recognized a sense of contentment in being here in Uganda, but the joy has been elusive.  Do you know joy?  Joy is different from fun.  Fun is self-centered, even with friends or family.  Fun is traveling, seeing new sites, eating at restaurants, attending a professional ball game, going on a cruise, buying a boat, buying a car, going fishing.  The vast majority of the time, that’s all fun.  When fun is finished (especially when its lots of fun) there can be discouragement.  Fun is fun, but it’s so artificial.  It’s a façade, a front, a disguise.

Joy is deeper.  Joy is real because it’s of God.  Yet I cannot seem to get a handle on it.  I seem to be doing ministry in Uganda out of duty, obedience, call, and obligation.  If fun is fun, then ministry should be hard, right?  Not quite.  There’s this desire for depth, for reaching the reality of joy.  The “fire” is not like it should be.  There’s still a strong desire to go deeper.  Serving is good, but I cannot understand why I can’t reach this point, this depth, this plateau of motivation by joy, and motivation by love.

So a few weeks ago I ran across this book by John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy.  It caught my attention immediately and I’ve been slowly reading it.

So after this past week with all the arguing and wondering about where these marital arguments from years past are coming from, and feeling absolutely empty, I read in Piper’s book the phrase “means of grace.”  That caught my attention.

About three years ago at youth camp I was introduced to that phrase, “means of grace” by JR Vassar.  I studied it for days afterward.  It was so eye-opening.  Vassar contrasted grace empowered living to the vastly different concept of self-empowered improvement.  Don’t miss it – grace empowered living (radical transforming power – Christian) against do-it-yourself-empowered improvement (world).  Huge difference.  This sermon was so impactful at that youth camp; I sobbed for 10 minutes afterwards and met JR Vassar backstage to talk to him.  If this topic interests you and you’re tired of trying over and over again and still failing, after you finish this blog, check out this link: http://www.apostlesnyc.com/mediafiles/sermons.xml.  At the website scroll down about ¾ of the way to the message on July 4, 2010 entitled, Grace Empowered Change.  If this subject is intriguing, I think you will appreciate the message.

What I missed or forgot in that sermon was brought brilliantly back to light by the Gospel in John Piper’s book.  Piper describes “means of grace” when he writes, “There are things we must do in the battle for joy.  But if joy is a gift, it can never be earned.  So legalism that tries to earn things from God is excluded.  Not only that, but knowing that joy is ultimately a gift, and not a mere human achievement, also protects us from elevating technique and willpower too highly.  Our strategies must be humble and dependent, followed by ‘May the LORD do what seems good to him’ (2 Sam 10:12). Our strategies to fight for joy are simply means of God’s grace.  And means of grace are always modest.”

Piper continues, “The Bible illustrates the modesty of means in numerous ways.”  Piper then gives the following references:

Prov 21:31 (“The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But deliverance is of the Lord”);

Psm 127:1 (“Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.”);

Prov 19:21 (“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand”).

The point being that we don’t earn a specified expected return on our investment with God.  Rather the means of grace relates to God’s gifts.  God decides if He will give a gift.  If so, how much of a gift and the size and the proportion.  Piper continues, “…joy is a gift from God…we will not trust in means, but in God.” Piper, John; When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, (Kindle Version, 17%, Chap 4, Joy in God Is a Gift From God) Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. 2004.

Then it all clicked!  I’ll explain what happened in my next post.

Jesus Was No Sabbatarian

Luke 6:1-11 For purposes of this blog, a Sabbatarian is defined as a person who obstinately holds to the 7th day Sabbath command so much as to define who a true Christian is.  Jesus was no Sabbatarian.

In my experience as I have watched xCG’s they always have within their organizational walls those people who watch carefully to see who is breaking the Sabbath.  The Sabbath in Jesus’ time was the core religious belief, the identifying sign.  For the Pharisees the Sabbath was a complex set of rules.  Those extra Biblical laws they created resulted in the Sabbath becoming the worst day of the week.  In the Bible the 4th commandment, the Sabbath, was simple:  Keep it holy by no work.  That’s it. Simple.

The 4th commandment is silent about attending worship service.  Does that not imply 7th day worship service was a tradition or ceremonial?  And does that not imply worship should be a 7-day-a-week practice?  There is no command in the 10 commandments to go to synagogue or church on the 7th day, although that was certainly done by Jesus, and it was commanded in Leviticus 23.  Paul went to synagogue until Acts 18:6 when the Jews opposed him and blasphemed.  Paul shakes his garments and he says, “Your blood be upon your own heads…from now on I will go to the Gentiles.”  From this point forward Luke no longer records the Christian leaders going to synagogue on the 7th day Sabbath.

One thing that bugged me when I was in Worldwide Church of God (WCG) was that I knew I was a Christian because I went to church on the 7th day.  The 4th commandment is rest, not church attendance.  Yet my ticket to salvation was 7th day church attendance and rest.  That was my security.  That was my salvation – my obedience.  The other six days, I needed to live a moral life and be a good person.

Now read carefully, after Jesus heals another man on the Sabbath in John 5, Jesus says in John 5:39 to the Jews who sought to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life.”  Stop right there.  I thought my security for eternal life was in Sabbath observance – that identified me as a child of God similar to how the Jews thought their eternal life was in the Scripture.  What does Jesus say?  And these (the Scripture) are they which testify of Me.”  The purpose of Scripture and Sabbath is pointing to the reality, the One who possesses and gives eternal life.  The purpose of the Scripture and Sabbath is to point to Jesus.  When we elevate either to eternal life security, we fail and miss the fulfillment; the Savior and the relationship with Him.

Jesus comes along, and He doesn’t just crush the extra-Biblical laws the Pharisees created, He uncovers their deceit by actually fulfilling the shadow of 7th day Sabbath observance and presents Himself as the reality and fulfillment of the shadow – the Lord of the Sabbath who says, “Come to Me all who labor and I will give you rest.”  This was prophesied in Isaiah 30:15.  You want true rest?  “Follow Me,” Jesus says.  Then your salvation will be a delight.  “The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.”  “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:37, 47)

But Sabbatarians ask, doesn’t following Jesus require observance of the 7th day Sabbath? Herein lies the crux of the issue:  if you didn’t keep the 7th day Sabbath, you were not a true follower of God.  In the new covenant there is no problem resting or worshipping on the 7th day Sabbath.  If the Holy Spirit leads you to do that, you should obey the lead.  The problem exists in denying the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ in the lives of other people whose lives and work evidence fruits of repentance.  That problem was the same problem the Pharisees had – they could not, would not, let Jesus work in their hearts and minds because they myopically limited the very work of God.  They stubbornly and obstinately refused the work and life of Jesus Christ.  They held to their 7th day framework.  Jesus said, “you will know false teachers by their fruits.”  To deny Jesus and the Holy Spirit working in lives of sinners outside the 7th day observance, that is borderline blasphemy.  It is denying the work of God through Jesus.  It is the same sin the Pharisees had.

The Pharisees missed both the Savior (God) and God healing the man with the withered hand!  They overlooked God and the miraculous healing.  Why?  In order to differentiate and reject Jesus from themselves and their religion.  They denied the work of God in Jesus in order to protect themselves, their positions and their religion.  They had control and they were not about to humble themselves and lose it for God’s glory.  After all they were God’s people.  They followed Moses.  They were children of Abraham.  Yet, Jesus came and messed all that up and they would kill Him because they hated what He brought – God’s fulfillment.  They didn’t need Jesus’ salvation, theirs was secure in their religious framework, heritage, obedience and Scriptures as opposed to being secure in Christ.

What about you?  Have you missed the healing today – I’m referring to the spiritual healing of sinners outside the walls of 7th day Sabbath observance?  Is it because you refuse to acknowledge that Jesus heals spiritually outside of the 7th day religious framework?  Sinners lives are being dramatically changed.  If you deny Jesus works outside of 7th day observance, it’s not a simple mistake.  You are denying the very work of God Himself to draw people to Himself.  That’s dangerous ground.  The Pharisees did the very same thing – denying that God would even work in a sinners life.  Those sinners never measured up.  The Jews  could not answer the healings, but in turn they refused to believe Jesus’ work and miracles in other peoples lives so as to stubbornly hold to their history, heritage and framework.

Think about it.  When the early church received news of the salvation of Gentiles, the true believers rejoiced.  The problem came from those hypocrites and Pharisees who wanted to burden the new converts with requirements of circumcision, Moses laws, eating clean meats, and 7th day Sabbath observance (Acts 15).  Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was made for man to point man to the true salvation rest found in its Maker, Jesus.  Jesus is the true, pinnacle fulfillment of the 7th day.  It’s Jesus who calls the shots on the Sabbath, not religious leaders or churches.  It’s Jesus who decides who is saved and He secures sinners.  Did He not say, “I will lose nothing” (John 6:39) and “neither shall anyone snatch them from My hand” (John 10:28)?

Don’t miss the symbolism in Luke 6:6-11.  This man’s right hand was withered, probably from paralysis.  The right hand represents the strength of a man, work.  It was withered.  The Pharisees watched carefully to see if Jesus would heal this man on the Sabbath.  They knew He could heal.  Was the paralysis healed on the Sabbath so the man could do Kingdom work?  It’s an interesting thought, but the text reveals Jesus did this healing defiantly, right in front of them as a witness and testimony of who He is.  The result was rage!  It got them mad enough to kill Him!

xCG’s always have within their walls those people who watch carefully to see who is breaking the Sabbath.  Why?  They don’t want to lose that identifying sign.  That sign is their security, while Jesus is minimized; secondary.  They cannot and some will not, see Jesus as their salvational security.  They essentially don’t trust Him.  “If I mess up, make a mistake, God is so harsh He may kick me out,” they reason.

Isn’t that the idea of the man who received one talent, who did nothing with it because he knew Jesus to be a hard man?  Matthew 25:26 Jesus says of this man, “you wicked and lazy servant.”  This man didn’t work, he physically rested.  His hand of work you might say was withered because he was paralyzed with fear of God as opposed to joy; obstinately holding to what Jesus had given him, hiding the gift and ultimately denying the Lord and Savior, the true Jesus.

Piper

Desiring God above His Gifts

Turn to Jesus, our true rest.  Leave your salvation in His capable hands.  He will cause you to rest, but also do His work.  If you are convicted by the Holy Spirit to observe the 7th day rest and gathering for worship, do so.  Just do not commit divisions, disunity and borderline blasphemy by rejecting the work of God amongst other Christians who follow Jesus within the Body and have fruits of righteousness and lives that glorify God.  This is what true atonement means – being at one with God because of what Jesus has done for us.  Jesus will never disappoint.  If Jesus were to ask you, “Why are you saved?” and you answer, “Because of my obedience,” you’ve got the cart before the horse and you’re resting in failure, for He is the power to repent, love and obey.
Some of the thoughts and ideas from this blog and it’s title come from John MacArthur’s sermon on this piece, as well as my own research and experience.  See http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/42-70/

From Samuel: “How to Keep Your Faith in Time of Tragedy”

Regular blog readers here know about Samuel (see May 2013 Archives for the full story).  Samuel is a young pastor in Jinja who lost both his parents this past summer.  His mom and dad were brutally attacked during a break-in of their home back in May.  His father died that night and his mother lived for about two months and then she died.

I meet with Samuel weekly.  He does most of the talking when we meet.  Though hurt, his faith and confidence have been strong through these last few months.  I asked if he would be willing to write out his thoughts about how to keep faith in time of tragedy.  I will type his notes as he wrote them to me.  Here’s Samuel:

Why I lost my Dad in a murder by our own relatives inside the house at night on Saturday, May 11th 2013.  It was a horrible thing I have ever heard, and it was unbelievable at that time.  As I started to panic a lot but as soon as possible I realize my weakness by that time, then I rush with no words, kneeling down, and I ask God, please this is not normal God you know, but I need your strength and comfort.

But still there’s a lot of panic, and I started to speak of God’s attributes – e.g. God’s all powerful, all knowing, all wisdom, is Almighty God is loving, etc. and I started to gain my strength and sense by letting the Scripture speak to me more than my feeling – e.g. Psalm 139:1-6; 91:1; etc. which is the hardest thing to do at that moment.  But I have to accept the Scripture to tell me what to do, not my feeling.

And there I found my self encouraged and continue to stand on the ground still loving God and thanking God for all had happened.

So I had to overcome the fear, worry and the feeling of tragedy by seeing God through it, that nothing happens by mistake without God’s knowing.  Romans 8:27-30.

A month after my mother was also badly hurt in the night of the murder of my Dad, she also died and I had see my self standing on open ground of no one along side me.  Both have gone, who I had loved them so much because the truth is ever since I was born now 28 years of age my dad has never beaten me once [Note from Mark: parents beating, caning and even burning or cutting children as punishment is too common in Uganda].  And they were part of my life every day I live.

Really I have loved them to see the fruit of their labor on me but God in his plan did not allow what seem right in his sight to be done, for he is God, and in my mother’s death accepted God’s will to be done, but letting him be first in everything good or bad (Colossians 1:18).  Never won’t I allowed to be threaten by any storm (Psalm 23).  God is God.  I will trust him.

What encourages me is that my parents died Christians (born again) and they will continue living in Christ and one day God’s will shall I see them again.  Life is not [about] flesh that has died and rotten by our soul and spirit that no man has power over them except the author, our Lord God (Genesis 2:7).

So I overcome or deal with the tragedy of losing my two parents by:

– accepting God in all situations;

– letting God control every step;

– allowing God’s word to speak to me by telling me what to do in every situation, not feelings;

– running before the throne of God of mercy and love for comfort and encouragement, wisdom and victory over every situation.

The devil will use your weakness to put you down but God will use your weakness to lift you up in Grace and Mercy.  Be wise in time of any tragedy by having God’s mind (scriptures) for the devil is so close to you at that moment of tragedy (temptation, test), but remember the good LORD will never leave the situation beyond your strength (1 John 1:10).

Nothing shall obstruct me from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39).

Glory be God our Father in Jesus.

Samuel’s faith strengthens my faith in the Lord, and I trust his faith strengthened your faith as well.  God’s word supports us.  Thanks for reading.

Try Answering This Question…

Try something and see what you think.  This won’t take but a minute to do.  Get a Penpen, pencil or open Word on your computer.  Then ask yourself the following question, “Am I a good person?”  Answer honestly.  If you want to know what you really think, take a moment right now before reading further and write down your answer before continuing.  I’ll give you time.  Be sure to get it in writing so you can see how you responded later.

This week Michelle, Alexis and I went into Jinja town for some groceries.  As we pulled up, a charming young boy, about 8 years old, approached the vehicle and handed us a sheet of paper telling us about his background and requesting money for his elementary school fees – here in Uganda it’s up to the students to pay for their fees on their own, rather than the government taxing the adults’ paychecks.

As the young boy and I were standing under a small palm tree on Main Street outside the grocery store, I questioned him about his fees.  We were interrupted by an older male teen, whom I did not recognize.  This teen Henry (not his real name) knew me.  Months ago when we first arrived in Jinja, I had invited him to church, and given him my phone number.

About three weeks prior to this meeting on the street, Henry had started callingcell phone and texting me about medical and school fees.  He continued this almost on a daily basis, sometimes 4 or 5 times.  I could not remember his appearance and physical features, but he sure remembered me.

I must admit I was a bit irritated that he had called our phone for requests for money instead of visiting our church.

Henry greeted me with a very large and pleasant smile, which changed my irritation to a more receptive greeting.  This guy was a young, handsome kid and he proudly wanted to show me his recent report card – 19 out of a possible 20 points!  I acknowledged his good work and asked him what type career he was going to pursue.  He liked computer technology.

Henry quickly got to the point, asking again about me covering his school fees.  Instead, I desired to get to know more about him, and returned back to the topic of our original meeting a few months ago.

“Henry, are you a Christian?” I asked.

He smiled and assured me he is.  I then thought about asking him a probing question to determine where his faith rested.

“I want to ask a question,” I stated.

Henry seemed puzzled, but was willing to go along.

Suffice it to say his answer to the question failed.  His answer was like most people’s answer to the question when asked.  Henry gave many reasons for why He was a Christian, yet he failed miserably at the crucially most important answer.

I still gave him the benefit of the doubt, but wanted to explore further.  With his permission I then held God’s lawLaw up to him as a mirror.  “Have you ever lied, Henry?” I asked.

“Oh, no.  I never have!” came the surprising response.  I was quite astonished.

“You have never lied?” I continued.

“I have not,” Henry assured me.

“Not even when you were a boy?” I asked.  This guy is 17 years old.

He would not admit to lying.  “I think you are lying now,” I said, laughingly.  He chuckled a bit, but assured me again he has never lied.  Wow, not many people are that bold.

“OK, have you ever stolen anything?” I asked.

Henry thought for a few seconds.

“I did steal one time,” he replied.

“Only once?”

“Yes,” he insisted.

“Ok, what does that make you?  If you steal, even once in your life, what does that make you?  What do we call people who steal?”

I could tell Henry began to realize what my question implied.

“A thief,” he quietly and sheepishly admitted.

“Ok, have you ever disobeyed your parents?” I asked.

A few seconds pause and then, “Yes,” was the reply.

“What do we call a person who disobeys?”

Henry had a little more difficulty with this answer.  After a bit of time I tried to help him.  “Would you call that person a rebel?” I asked.

Again, he sheepishly answered in the affirmative.

“Henry,” I said, “you have just admitted to being a rebellious thief.”  In reality he is a rebellious, lying thief, but he honestly could not see that.

Henry was a bit taken aback.  So he naturally sought to justify his position, providing excuses.  We talked about this, but it only got worse.  He even (from his own mouth) claimed he was “not in the same category” as sinners.

My heart sank.  I had been giving the guy the benefit of the doubt about his faith in Jesus Christ.  But he clearly set himself apart from drunkards, drug addicts and other filthy type sinners.  He was not in that category he boasted.  Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, he was better than they were.  In fact Henry revealed to me his reasoning for this conclusion.  One of the reasons being, “I pray twice a day.”

In interest of time I won’t go into detail about the remainder of the discussion.  Bottom line, he could not see his need for a Savior.  I longed for him to recognize his eternal need, but he just could not see it.

As the rich young ruler, Henry walked away sorrowful.  He didn’t have great possessions, but Henry had an imposing idol that blinded him to the reality of his spiritual poverty.  His obedience sufficed in his eyes.

John MacArthur asks, “You want to cut the heart out of the church’s Gospel message?  Just convince the (listeners) that people are good.”  Most people think they are good, especially church going people.  James Boice quoted a Gallup poll revealing 75% of evangelicals believe man is basically good.

Try this yourself and see what responses you get from others, “Are you a good person?”

Now after reading the above story, how does your answer stack up?  In my experience most will somewhat sheepishly admit at first to making mistakes or doing wrong (almost never have I had someone use the word “sin”), but most will quickly follow up by saying something to the effect that overall their good outweighs their bad or they do their best.  The more arrogant ones will boast of their goodness.  Those who have difficulty with confidence or are down on themselves often will answer something to the effect, “I’m terrible” or “I’m really bad.”  And if the question is asked by someone else in a verbal conversation or chat the vast majority are so ashamed of Jesus they won’t even mention His name in response to a question about goodness.

Although some may generally refer to their belief in God in their answer, the apostle James warns about that, “You believe in God?  You do well, the demons believe, and they tremble.”

This answer is no small matter.  Not once in the conversation did Henry turn to Jesus.  Not once did he claim his need for a Savior.  In fact, the opposite happened.  As spiritually destitute as we all are, Henry’s pride got in the way.  He greatly erred by assuming he was in with God, based squarely on his goodness and probably somewhat his errant belief that God will somehow overlook his sin if he (Henry) means well.

My purpose here is not to condemn Henry.  If God saves Henry by His grace, then I am a blundering fool.  Thus let God be praised and me be a fool.  However, Jesus said, you will know a tree by its fruit; and from the heart, the mouth speaks.  My purpose is to use this real life example to point out how we can easily think we are resting in Jesus, when in reality we are ignorantly resting in our commandment keeping, obedience or good works.  No doubt those things are extremely important.  The Bible clearly testifies of the obedience of the saints, but true followers of Jesus are not ashamed of Him, nor are they resting in their works, obedience or commandment keeping.  They are resting in none other than their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pride is a deceitful enemy.  It thoroughly permeates our being.  We get focused on so many peripheral issues.  We all have pride, but are we truly trusting and resting in Jesus Christ for our salvation?  Or are we trusting and resting in something else?  Anything else, even religious commandment keeping, is an idol.

If you believe or feel like you’ve failed and can’t make it, that’s the awesome Good News:  Jesus saves sinners.  The power of our salvation is not “doing” or “obeying.”  BibleThe power of our salvation is Jesus Christ, who causes us to obey and do from the heart.  Rest in Him.  Abide in Him.  Trust in Him.  Repent of your pride.  Accept Him into your life.  The result will be the power of salvation showing forth repentance, obedience, commandment keeping from the heart, and good works that glorify and honor God through our Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory forever and ever.

“The effort of liberal and borderline modernists to woo men to God by presenting the soft side of religion is an unqualified evil because it ignores the very reason for our alienation from God in the first place. Until a man has gotten into trouble with his heart he is not likely to get out of trouble with God.”

The Fear of God, AW Tozer

What Does Jinja Remind You Of?

The city of Jinja rests at one of the northern points of Lake Victoria.  We can see the lake in the distance from the house we rent.

The city was founded in 1906 and has a current population of at least 80,000 at night. It is estimated that the population during the day more than doubles, some official estimates are as high as over 200,000. It is Uganda’s second largest city.  Sources vary on the average income in Jinja between $100 – $500 US dollars per year.  Per year, not per day or month.

IMG_6023

Bujagali Falls on the Nile River, to the North of where Ripon Falls used to be. Ripon Falls is now covered by water due to a dam being created on the Nile in 1954. Jesus said if we believe in Him, out of our hearts would flow rivers of Living Water, which He said was symbolic of the Holy Spirit.

Jinja is the “Source of the Nile” – the place where the Nile River begins flowing from Lake Victoria towards Egypt.

Years ago large rivers like the Nile separated people groups, formed some protection from enemies, but also hindered trade and forming of relationships. But here in the Jinja area near the source of the Nile, large rocks created a pathway across the large river near Ripon Falls.

IMG_6003

The Nile River north of Jinja. This photo is taken looking to the south toward Jinja and Lake Victoria. The lake being just over the mountain in the background.

Because of this rocky path the place was named Jinja, a word which comes from the two tribes, Baganda and Basoga, on either side of the Nile. In both tribal languages the name “Jinja” means “rock.”

This history of the Jinja area has deep spiritual symbolism. In a number of places in the Bible God and Jesus are referred to as a rock and the rock of our salvation (Deut 32:15; 2 Sam 22:47; Psm 95:1; Matt 7:24; etc.).  In the New Testament Jesus also said of Himself, “I am the way” (John 14:6) or path.  Our sin separates us from God and the only way or path to an initial and ongoing relationship with God is the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “No man comes to the Father, except by me.” (John 14:6).

Additionally, Jesus said He was the source of eternal life and the Holy Spirit (John 4:11-14 and 7:38), metaphorically illustrated in the Bible as (rivers) of living water.

Living in Jinja reminds us of the insurmountable and impossible task of trying to overcome the oppression of poverty and sin, but more importantly Jinja reminds us of the true answer to life’s problems, the refreshing source of living water, the Rock of our Salvation, Jesus Christ.