Monday, September 28, 2009

In, But Not Of

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. " (John 3:16)

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. " (1st John 2:15)

How can we learn to live in this world,  to love it as God does, but not the "things of this world"?
How can we learn to live here--and be very much involved here--but not be 'defined' by the 'stuff' of this world?
Can we live in a materialistic world without becoming materialistic?

All of these questions have been bumping around my brain since my trip to Africa. As I shared in church yesterday, the people in Uganda and Kenya have very little. They are living day-to-day off the land, some are trying to make a living selling things harvested, while others have gone to the city in search of a more prosperous life, only to find that it doesn't pan out.

They look to America...and the American proof of God's blessing. Specifically, they assume  that we must be loved by God and pleasing to Him BECAUSE we are blessed, materially and financially.

They think that, if they could just figure out what we've done to be blessed, they and thier churches would be better off.

Strictly from a 'this world' mindset, they're probably right--thier infrastructure, thier government, their laws, their organization (or the lack thereof), if addressed like America's would probably go a long way toward improvement of life.

...but from a Spiritual standpoint, I'm not too sure they'd be better off.

They are amazing in their all out abandonment to God in worship, their grace and optimism IN SPITE of their poverty. They see God as very real, very present, very important and very concerned about their lives now. Their connection with Him is close, intimate (with some exceptions, of course).

I wonder: If they started to prosper like we have, would it remain so?

Prosperity brings it's own set of difficulties and temptations.
We become TOO enamored with the 'stuff' of this world, and it distracts us from our love of God and the things He loves.

"Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. " (1st John 2:16, the Message)

So what are WE supposed to do? Are we supposed to sell everything we have? Is poverty somehow more 'spiritual' than wealth?

No...that would be too simplistic and easy, and it would lead to legalism and self-righteousness.

Instead, we must simply try to keep our focus on loving the Lord, with all our heart, soul, mind, and loving others as we love ourselves. We can do so with material goods, but we must never trust material goods to give us peace, or choose material blessings over the blessings of God.

This seems to leave a certain amount of 'tension' in this issue. It would be easier if someone would just tell us to do one or the other--go for poverty, or go for riches. Jesus seemed to lean that way when He told the 'rich young ruler' to "go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then come and follow me" (Mark 10:21). This man went away sad, because he loved the things of this world more than he loved Jesus. This was not Jesus' words to everyone who had wealth...He simply knew this man's heart, and exactly where he needed to be challenged.

What are WE to do with this? How can we live in this world without being distracted so much by material wealth that we forget that HE is to be first?

We have to live with the tension...we have to allow His Holy Spirit to examine us. We have to start asking, when making a purchase or deciding how to spend the money He allows us to have, "Lord, what do you want me to do with this"?

It may be that He gives you the freedom to go ahead, without condemnation, and make that may be that He moves you to choose to do something else with the either case, it's the practice of putting Him in His rightful place--#1--that is important.

Today, start asking Him to help you think think about the wealth you've been given as a tool to be of service to Him. Submit your 'stuff' to Him...learn to love the world, but not the things in this world.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What "Sticks"?

O.k., so I survived. We arrived safely home yesterday (albeit a little late). Soon we'll be sleeping on Michigan time again (I hope) and eating a US diet..., is that all there is? Are we supposed to just "slip back" into "Normal", and go on with life in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA, 2009 as if nothing's changed?

I don't think so.

Some of the things I've seen, heard, smelled...many of the people I've talked to and learned from (Ask me to show you the "African Handshake") should impact me...and I hope WILL impact me...forever.

What "sticks"?

Psalm 139:23-24 says:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

As I let God examine my heart and teach me to remember the things He wants me to, I think there are at least 4 lessons that should "Stick":

*How to live in a materialistic society without being materialistic.
*How to live in such a way as to impact the world for the good.
*How to allow God to teach and mold us, on a continual basis.
*How to listen to, hear, and follow the Holy Spirit.

Each one of these things has implications for me, personally, for my family, and for my church, KCC.

Over the next several days, I hope to share those things with you...and to let God cause the right things to "Stick".

Here's an important point, however: You don't have to go to Africa to let those things impact you. God might be teaching you things right where you are--in fact, I'm SURE He is.

What does He want YOU to let "stick"?

Monday, September 21, 2009


Today I had the experience of a lifetime!

We were able to go on a ‘safari’ around the Muranchu Falls National Park, and view the beauty and the wildlife! Seeing giraffes, water buffalo, hippos, several kinds of antelope, baboons, in their native habitat was an amazing experience! The ruffed beauty of Africa is amazing!

From there we went on a cruise down the Nile River, and saw Alligators, Hippos, and various kinds of cranes and other beautiful birds…ending up at Muranchu Falls—a POWERFUL place!

These experiences reminded me of the creative handiwork of Almighty God, his power and majesty!

It was a breathtaking, wonderful experience.

After all this, we traveled about 7 hours to see Pastor Solomon and his church again…we hoped to get back in time for the service, but were quite late…in spite of that, many people stayed to greet us and thank us for coming, and some of our “Armor Bearers” were there, asking us to come back soon…it was humbling!

I noticed some things on the way back to Kampala, however: The beauty and freshness which had been so wonderful at the National Park were quickly replaced by pollution, crowded roads and noise as we got back to the city. This is a big city—approx. 1 million people…but the roads are chaotic and exhaust-filled, and there is not a lot of room to move anywhere!

I found myself not wanting to come back…I didn’t like the idea of staying in the city a couple more nights. I wondered why people would CHOOSE to life here, when there was so much beauty available in the countryside.

I found out why: The countryside is a life-and-death existence…desperately trying to figure out a way to grow enough food to feed your own family, how to make any money for buying necessities, etc. There are VERY few jobs in the countryside…and if a person wants to have ANY opportunity for advancement…for breaking out of the cycle and doing something one enjoys or is good at, the city seems to be the only real option.

The numbers of people trying to find work and ‘a way out’ around here is staggering. Crowding each other in the streets, cutting each other off in traffic trying to get to the next place…they are everywhere!

Interestingly, Muhamar Khaddaffi, the president of Libya, has seen this—he has placed a HUGE mosque on one of the highest points in the city…he has bankrolled schools…he has bankrolled shopkeepers…all to get the message of Islam out.

But—and I’m going to be very politically incorrect here—I believe the message of Islam is the wrong one! I believe the message of Jesus is the right one—Gods’ grace, as seen in Jesus Christ—paying for our sins and making “the Kingdom of God”—both here on Earth, and later in Heaven—possible.

Jesus said “Lift your eyes and look at the fields…they are RIPE with harvest!” As I look at the city here, AND the countryside, I’m realizing that God loves these people just as much as He loves me…and we must do what we can to get the message out—because others are trying to get a VERY different one out, and they’re not wasting any time!

So Many Options…

I met some people today (Saturday) who welcomed us like Kings! The entire village seemed to come out and welcome us with a song and dance—young and old, men, women and children…we were treated like royalty!

They shared with us the reality of their situation in this remote African town of Nebbi. They have many orphans, not much opportunity for employment, but they have a LOT of natural resources, and some good ideas. One thing they do NOT lack is vision!

As we listened, they explained their plans for making a Mango factory, using the labor around the village and some property which had been donated, along with the natural resources of the Mangos. This area is STUNNINGLY beautiful, and there really are opportunities…

They also shared how many in the village have taken children in because of parent deaths due to AIDS and war. Amazing and staggering!

When we went to see where they were thinking of the Mangos, we saw their goat operation (great idea—they have several goats and give out female goats to widows—to provide for their children—under one condition: the first female that one has, they must give to someone else—in this way, they’ve gone from 4 goats to 18 in just over 1 year, and have blessed many!

Again, they are very resourceful and very dignified people. The fact that many have been forced out of their homes by decades of bloodshed and war causes them, at times, to live in clusters of thatched huts. Educated, skilled farmers who once had land and a profitable farm are now living, eating and sleeping all together in a hut the size of most of our large bathrooms!

Another stop took us to a boarding school, at which dozens of kids among the 100 students are AIDS orphans, and are sponsored. Their building (2 story brick), serves as a High School for these kids. They don’t have walls and windows…yet…but they DO have plans!

There are so many choices. They ALL deserve help! Combining would make sense—and they are open to it…but what is the wisest way to go? How can we get our churches involved in ways that make sense, but are not too lofty—at least for now? Sponsor a child at the school? Sponsor a goat? Buy a mango making machine? Many choices.

We need wisdom, and guidance from the Lord as to how to best do this…but one thing is for sure: We need to do SOMETHING! We cannot simply sit in our part of the world and say “not my problem…I have to make my loan payments!”

I believe the Lord is waking the Church up to the world around, and is calling us to Repent for our self-centered lifestyle, and to get busy helping our neighbor…even the ones in Nebbi!

Friday, September 18, 2009


What is ther RESPONSIBILITY of a follower of Jesus Christ in a world which is racked by sin, corruption, suffering, and poverty?

Where does our responsibilty start and stop to "Love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul and mind", and to "Love our neighbor as ourselves"?

Honestly, I'm struggling a little bit to figure that out today.

Today we had the last 1/2 day of the Pastor's Leadership Conference and it was GREAT! The speakers were very good, and the worship...well, it was FREE and total!

The people were, as always, gracious and thankful...I tried to tell them that THEY were the blessing, and that WE were humbled to be there...I guess it was mutual.

One really neat thing about the conference...Pastor Solomon had set up "Armor Bearers" for us--personal assistants that carried our bags, got us water, and helped us in every way...VERY neat people, and after only 1 1/2 days, we developed a real bond with them. I really enjoyed all of them...Richard and Johnathan especially....anyway, at the end of the conference, we wanted a way to show them honor and appreciation, so one of our Pastors' came up with the idea of washing their feet--like Jesus did with His disciples. I had never done that before, but I found that to be one of the most beautiful, meaningful things I've ever done! It was very powerful, for us all. (Pastor Solomon joked by asking "When was the last time you saw a white American wash a black Ugandan's feet!" I thought it was hilarious!)

After the conference and lunch, we went to visit a typical rural village...VERY poor. Many families have 2, 3, and even 4 families (or what's left of them) living together. Parents have died (from Malaria, AIDS, or accidents), and other family members take them in. Only problem: How does a poor family of 4 fit in another 4 or 6 kids and still survive?

Not very well, apparently.

We learned all about the living conditions, the sweet potatoe and banana planting and harvesting they must do to survive. One family owns a cow...they used to get 7 quarts of milk a day, selling 6 and splitting one among their 4 children and relatives' 4 also. Now they only get 3 quarts a day, and they sell it all because they need the money more than the milk!

This is a woman who's a Christ follower, and both she and her husband serve in the church!

So...I ask again: Where does our responsibility lie?

Our team has been trying to process this, and we know that we don't have to sell everything and move to Uganda...but what SHOULD we do? How SHOULD those of us who "Love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds" and "Love our neighbor as ourselves" respond to Uganda, and in America?

Chew on that for awhile.

I know I will!

Genuine Worship

Genuine worship

I participated in the Pastor’s Leadership Conference here in Kampala, UG today.

It was an experience I’ll never forget!

The people were so gracious and enthusiastic!

The worship was “all-out”—lots of energy, dancing, enthusiasm, volume…great! I felt the Spirit’s movement very strongly, and it allowed me to really worship the Lord with focus.

The conference itself was a neat experience too. I went last today, and tried to relax and let the Lord speak through me. I have to say, I believe—based on the response—He did!

The people were so kind, and seemed to be so genuinely grateful that we would come and speak to them. What’s more, they seemed to be convinced that we—us guys from Kalamazoo—really had something to say that they needed to hear! They were attentive, and positive.

It reminded me—their hunger for the Word of God, and their desire to ‘get better’ at Pastoring—that we should ALL have that mindset, Pastors or not! If we believe in God, and have faith in Jesus Christ, then the Holy Spirit DEFINITELY wants to bring us closer and closer, and He definitely wants to help us become more like Christ.

I don’t have to ‘wonder’ about that—He does!

That means that, if I’m NOT becoming more like Christ, it is NOT because He’s not working on me—it’s because I’m not putting myself in the right mindset, the right places, etc. to learn! It’s up to me to cooperate with Him!

As our host, Pastor Solomon, says “If you want to get better (at leading, following Christ, or whatever), you must put yourself in places or around people who are already further than you.”

That means that I must humble myself, ask Him to show me where He wants to work, then let Him lead…

I’m ready! I say “Lord, Bring it!”

Will you join me?

“Humble Yourselves therefore, before the Lord, that He may lift you up, in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A vision...

Pastor Solomon has BIG dreams, and
 a big vision! Today we saw the clinic that Good News Church sponsors (they were giving free baby immunizations today), ranked 13th out of about 400 in UG!

They do LOTS of services for the poor.

We also went to the school and saw some really sweet kids and dedicated teachers...go his vision for continuing to build on the new school.

Finally, we went to their farm--at which they reaise chicken (for eggs) and mango's...lots of further potential here!

Solomon only allows kids in the school who are homeless or "REALLY" poor.

He's a good man, making a difference!

Big day tomorrow--Leadership Conference! Pray!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Uganda, Pt. 1

Today, after about 16 hours on various planes, we pulled into Uganda (thank you, Lord, for a safe trip!)

When we had been in Kazoo--as plain as it is--and then Detroit (which is really a pretty nice airport), then Amsterdam--which was really nice (but strange to hear all the different lanuages--and see all the blonde people!)...we flew into Entebbe.


Not many lights...the airport smelled like old carpet (like we used to have in our family room!). It wasn't NEARLY as nice, and it was muggy, etc...the 'creature comforts' were all gone!

Throughout the baggage claim, passport validation, etc. process, I was reminded that I'm DEFINITELY not in Michigan anymore!

But then a neat thing happened...we got ready to be picked up, and about 10 young people came, along with Solomon, to pick us up! They greeted us with welcomes and hugs, as if we were old friends and they were GENUINELY happy to see us!

Granted, we then had to drive 1/2 hour on roads that...let's just say they don't really have much in the way of TRAFFIC LAWS here--and we got to the hotel...we realized it was as if everything was only partially streetlights, no neon signs, no welcome lobbies in the hotel.

Then it hit me--maybe part of the problem is that we in America get too used to using that stuff all the time--we are TOO dependent on the 'creature comforts'. It makes us soft...and maybe even a little spoiled...

The brightest thing I've seen in Uganda? The smiles of the people! THAT"S what I'm going to try to focus on this week--being willing to see past the 'stuff',and see into the hearts!

Maybe we could all do that--wheter we're in Uganda or not!

till next time,


Monday, September 14, 2009

The Comfort Zone

It's nice, isn't it--our comfort zone.

It's different for everyone, but everyone has them...the place where things are safe, predictable, and...well, comfortable.

I like my comfort zone. My comfort zone is with my family, and involves lots of 'safe' things: hanging in my backyard, planting things, watching movies, and so on.

Comfort zones are nice...but they are NOT the places to live for anyone who wants to make a difference in the world.

They are NOT the places to settle if I want to grow.

A wise friend shared a phrase with me yesterday: "You can change without growth, but you cannot grow without change."

If I want to grow, I've got to be willing to change, and this means getting out of my 'comfort zone'.

Over the next 2 weeks, I'm going to be in Africa (Uganda and Kenya) with a group of pastors, and this is DEFINATELY out of my comfort zone...but I know it will be a great experience, and place of growth for me.

I pray that I can contribute something of consequence to them, and the people we're visiting.

Jesus said to Paul, in response to a prayer for healing that "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness" 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul response? ' If that's true, then I'm going to embrace my weaknesses--because that's when Jesus' strength comes through!' (my paraphrase).

I am stepping out, but doing it on my knees. I pray that the Lord would give strenght for anything that comes up, that He helps me to hear His voice and learn what He wants me to, that He uses me in the lives of others, and that He keeps me remembering that "When I am weak, HE is STRONG!"

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Process IS the Point!

Many of you know I'm getting ready to head to Africa next week. In the meantime, there's LOTS to do (make sure I know how to use this Blog, among other things!). So many times I look at this time of preparation as just 'something to get through' as I move on to the "main event".

But I think that's wrong...I think that kind of thinking leads to us missing TONS of opportunities for growth, impact, and glorifying God in the here and now. The "process" isn't to be merely IS important in it's own right.

The Process IS the point! In that process of preparation--whether for a big trip, a big move, a marriage, a new job, a class, or any one of a million other 'events' we prepare for, let's not miss the "God Moments" along the way.

"Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16)

I want to keep my eyes open to God in the process...because that's often where He shows up! It may be a difficult preparation, but He is right there with me in it, teaching and leading me--if I'll listen!

Don't just go from one big 'event' to the next, assuming the time in between is a waste--the Process IS the point!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Worship with Life

Worship...we think of it as a specific task, usually done in church (mostly through music and songs)...but is that all it is? I think we miss it--I think Worship is much broader and more meaningful than that.

What is "worship"? It's the thing I'm focused on...the motivation that's in my heart...the purpose that drives me. I can 'worship' lots of things...I can worship money, success, a dream, a look, popularity, good grades...I can worship anything!

As a pastor...somebody who gets up in front of a lot of people each week to talk and (I hope) help them move closer to the Lord, I know that I can 'worship' public opinion! If someone likes what I said, it 'validates' me; if someone dislikes it, it 'invalidates' me.

That's why we get into trouble when we "worship" the wrong thing.

There is only ONE who is really WORTHY of worship...and that is the truine God of the Bible. He is the one who is perfect, and truly deserves our "worship"--our attention, our love, our service, our adoration.

Can we do that with songs? Sure! But it can be so much more!

We can "worship" God with our lives!

HOW we live, WHAT we do, our ATTITUDE with which we do it. All of these can convey worship to God.

There are times it's tough to worship God. Times when our circumstances change for the worse, our dreams go unfulfilled, our desires--for ourselves and others--don't pan out. It can be tough to move beyond those feelings...but that's when real WORSHIP can happen!

When we can stand up, look up to our Lord, raise our hands, and let those things go...when we can say "Lord, here it's my desire..take it and do with it whatever you will...I trust you!" then go on from there, living in love and obedience to Him...THAT's real worship.

...and that's what He deserves!

Romans 12:1 "Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him."