Category Archives: Lifestyle Changes

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.

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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.

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

Crazy Obsessed With Jesus Christ

One of my biggest challenges as a person who thinks critically about things and ponders things is the love of Christ coming from the heart.  It’s crazy.  Did you know the word crazy is defined as, “characterized by weakness or feebleness, decrepit, broken, falling to decay, shaky; unsafe” (Webster’s 1913 dictionary – I love that dictionary because Webster used the Bible to define terms and saw his writing of the dictionary as a ministry)? Crazy!  Isn’t that you and I?  That’s us!!!

Love is a challenge to me because it doesn’t come naturally.  Selfishness comes naturally.  As Jesus has revealed more of Himself to me and more of His desires I think I understand love more, but it still fails to make logical sense.  For example, why would a holy and righteous God (who has absolutely nothing to do with sin) become sin so that I can have a deep, intimate relationship with a  holy, righteous God?  He imputes righteousness.  Love poured out to weak, feeble, decrepit, broken people is absolutely illogical, especially when it’s love from the true source of love, the very essence of love – Jesus Christ.  The power and strength of the universe loves the weak!  Simply illogical.

However, there’s something in me that connects when I see crazy stuff people do who love Jesus.  It’s like they’re obsessed with Him.red rose on wood floow - black and white

Here are some behaviors people have when they are obsessed with Jesus (borrowed from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love):

  •  “A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the best thing he can do is be faithful to his Savior in every aspect of his life, continually saying “Thank You!” to God.  An obsessed person knows there can never be intimacy if he is always trying to pay God back or work hard enough to be worthy.  He revels in his role as child and friend of God.”

I mean really, do you not want more of that – to revel (to feast in a riotous manner) with God?  Do you not desire that intimacy?

  • “A person who is obsessed is characterized by committed, settled, passionate love for God, above and before every other thing and every other being.”

This is beyond rigid rule and law-keeping!  This is love!

  • “A person who is obsessed with Jesus knows that the sin of pride is always a battle.  Obsessed people know that you can never be ‘humble enough,’ and so they seek to make themselves less known      and Christ more known (Matt. 5:16).”

OK, this is sobering!  Except where Jesus is exalted – AWESOME!

  • “People who are obsessed are raw with God; they do not attempt to mask the ugliness of their sins or their failures.  Obsessed people don’t put it on for God; He is their safe place, where they can be at peace.”

    Rope Bondage

    Imprisoned and bound by sin and addiction.

So raw, I’m ashamed of what I’ve shared with Him.  But He’s BIG ENOUGH.

  •  “A person who is obsessed with Jesus is more concerned with his or her character than comfort.  Obsessed people know that true joy doesn’t depend on circumstances or environment; it is a gift that must be chosen and cultivated, a gift that ultimately comes from God (James 1:2-4).”

Not here yet.  Work in progress, waiting on Him.

  • “People who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else.  Obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom coming to this earth than their own      lives being shielded from pain or distress.”

Really, really, really not here yet.  Long way off.  Pain hurts.

  •  “People who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly, without censure.  Obsessed people love those who hate them and who can never love them back.”

Man, this is getting harder!

  •  “People who are obsessed with God have an intimate relationship with Him.  They are nourished by God’s Word throughout the day because they know that forty minutes on Sunday is not enough to sustain them for a whole week, especially when they will encounter so many distractions and alternative messages.”
  •  “People who are obsessed with Jesus live lives that connect them with the poor in some way or another.  Obsessed people believe that Jesus talked about money and the poor so often because it was really important to Him (I John 2:4-6, Matt. 16:24-26).”
  • Obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo.  A person who is obsessed with Jesus will do things that don’t always make sense in  terms of success or wealth on this earth.  As Martin Luther put it,      ‘There are two days on my calendar: this day and that day’ (Luke 14:25-35, Matt. 7:13-23; 8:18-22; Rev. 3:1-6).”
  •  “People who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden.  Obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving His people (Matt. 13:44; John 15:8).”
  • “People who are obsessed with God are known as givers, not takers.  Obsessed people genuinely think that others matter as much as they do, and they are particularly aware of those who are poor around the world. (James 2:14-26).”
  • “A person who is obsessed thinks about heaven frequently.  Obsessed people orient their lives around eternity; they are not fixed only on what is here in front of them.”
Rope Snapping

Bondage snapped by Jesus!

The apostle Paul prays for the Ephesians, “that you may know what is the hope of His calling” (Eph 1:18).  I think if we better understood and God more intimately revealed that the hope of His calling is confident expectation in the reality of His effectual (quickening, inward and invincible) call (from AW Pink), we would by His grace and power snap all cords of bondage that binds us, shrug off every weight of sin that ensnares us and run with joy – freely, crazy fast and determinately – toward the very One who saves us (Heb 12:2); a people obsessed with a goal; a people obsessed with a Person; a people obsessed with deep, unfailing, unconditional love.  It’s all about Him and He wants you and I to know we have eternal life now!  God gave us an entire epistle to tell us that (1 John 5:13).  Crazy!

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.

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!