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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why Christians Should NOT Be Concerned About the Supreme Court Decision


It seems that everybody and their brother now wants to weigh in on the implications of this week’s Supreme Court decisions regarding same sex marriages.  Whether you support it or you find it an abomination, everyone has an opinion; and it is becoming such a divisive and controversial issue that it has the potential to seriously polarize our country – check that – it has already seriously polarized our country.  I have really struggled as to whether or not I should weigh in on the situation for several reasons.  First, I don’t want to be just another contributor towards the din and cacophony.  There is enough of that out there already.  Second, it’s only been a day (at least at the moment I write this) and already there are so many posts and blogs and editorials out there that adequately articulate my views that another blog would do little more than add accession to the ones already out there.  More importantly, though, I am not sure I want to contribute towards the divisive tempest that is already out there.

Instead, I would rather take a different approach.  I think we ought to see the reasons why Christians should NOT concerned about what happened.  I am not suggesting that the ruling is bad for our country.  Indeed, I agree with so many others out there that this is a watershed moment for our country and represents a tremendous turning point in the direction of our country.   Similarly, I am not suggesting that we ought to acquiesce to what has happened and pretend to be happy and joyful about it.  Jesus has called us to be salt and light in this world.  That means we have an obligation to perverse the Judeo-Christian moral culture and shine the light of truth.  We are apparently failing in that regard and that is a reason to be concerned.  However, we are salt by being a pleasant seasoning and we are light by being an illumination of truth.  We are not to be an overpoweringly bitter flavor or a light that blinds.  So while we don’t stop doing what we can to influence our society, we simply can’t force society into our way of thinking.  That has thus far been (and will always continue to be) met with anger, hatred, and resistance.

So exactly what am I advocating?  Why is this admittedly dreadful situation something we should not be so terribly concerned about?  I see several reasons why.  First, we should not be so terribly concerned about it because we should expect nothing less.  We like to think of our country as a godly, Christian country, but let’s be honest about that.  We are not really a Christian country.  Sure there is a large number of people in this country who claim Christianity as their stated religion, but the percentage of true, fully surrendered, Christ-following believers is becoming less and less every year. More and more, those who claim the name of Christianity demonstrate no difference in their lives than those who claim no religion at all.  As a result, more and more are rejecting Christianity altogether.  That may be partially our own fault because we have failed to evangelize our own.  Part of the reason we have failed to evangelize our own is precisely because we have looked at our country as “Christian” so long that we presume there is no need to evangelize our own.  Look around your own neighborhood and ask yourself how many people go to church.  Look around your church on Sunday and ask how committed to Christ those sitting next to you really are.  Ask yourself how committed to Christ YOU really are.  As a country, we are far less “Christian” than we like to believe.  As a result, why should we expect anything less than for the direction of our country to go in a way that we feel is un-Christian?  Even amongst ourselves, we argue as to what it really means to be a Christian and we disagree on the moral absolutes.  If we disagree amongst ourselves on the moral absolutes, why are we surprised our secular government would come to any other conclusion than it has?  We should expect nothing less than for our godless government to move in a godless direction.  It is the natural progression of the ungodly.  If you do not agree with that, just read Romans 1:18-32.  God is pouring out his wrath on our ungodliness by allowing us to become even more ungodly.   This should not be a surprise.  What is happening in our country is precisely what the Bible says will happen in the last days.  We must expect our world to get worse and worse as we hurdle towards the coming of the Lord.  As Peter says in 2 Peter 3

(1)    This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,
(2)    that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,
(3)    knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.

Likewise, as Paul told Timothy in his 2 Timothy 3

(1)    But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.
(2)    For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,
(3)    heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,
(4)    treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
(5)    having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

How well does this describe even you and I, who claim the name of Jesus?  The world – our country – is headed exactly where scripture says it is going to head.  I get it; you want our country to turn back to its roots and become “Christian” again.  I want that too, but I can’t help but think about what Paul goes on to tell Timothy in 2 Timothy 4

(3)    For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
(4)    and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

I wonder sometimes if our desire for our country to return to Christ en masse through legislative or judicial action is not one of those myths.  Everything in scripture points precisely to the contrary.  That is not to say we don’t keep trying, but it is to say we shouldn’t be surprised when it does not happen.  In fact, scripture points more to the fact that we should expect our Christian liberties to dwindle away and to experience greater and greater persecution.  Again, not to say we continue to work against it… just to say we shouldn’t be so surprised by it.  Instead of setting your hope on the President or Congress or the Supreme Court, set your Hope on the Almighty, the only Sovereign God – which leads me to the second reason we should not be too terribly concerned about this.

I agree, just because we shouldn’t be surprised by it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be alarmed by it.  I am alarmed as well.  However – believe it or not - what has happened is all part of God’s plan.  Yes, God intended for this to happen.  Sometimes when things go in a direction we do not like we tend to forget that we are supposed to be living by faith every day, trusting God.  God is timeless.  He is eternal.  He is omnipotent.  He is omniscient.  He is completely sovereign.    We forget that nothing happens that surprises God.  Nothing happens that that will thwart the purposes of God (Job 42:2).  Regardless of the plans that man may have, it is God’s purposes that ultimately prevail (Prov 19:21).  We may rail against our government for such godless acts, but we forget that it was God who put this government into place (Romans 13:1).  After all, it was God who called the godless Assyrian king, Cyrus, his “anointed” one to carry out his purposes. I realize we could get into a big theological debate about God’s will – his permissive will versus his perfect or his revealed will versus his hidden will.  At the end of the day, though, God allowed this to happen because somehow it fits into his perfect and holy plan.  That thought may offend our sensibilities, but our calling is to live by faith, not question the Almighty.  I have no idea what God’s plan is for our country, but I do know that if it were not part of his plan, he would not have allowed the Supreme Court to make such a decision.  God is working out his plan and his purposes in a way that we may not fully understand, but it is his plan and he is in control of it.  Our world is hurdling through time towards a rendezvous with the triumphant return of Jesus Christ.  How all of this plays out in that plan has yet to be revealed.  However, one thing is certain: the world must get darker and darker as we approach that rendezvous. 

So what shall we say about all of that?  I say we trust God.  We continue being salt and light in our world.   We do everything in our power to continue to influence, flavor, preserve, and shine the light of truth on our culture – without becoming a bitter flavor or a blinding light.  We stop holding to the myth that we can force our country to return to Christ and start obeying the command to call individuals to repentance – making disciples for Christ.  That is how we influence our world  – not by whining and complaining about the fact that same sex marriage will ultimately be the law of the land – but by telling just one person that Jesus can save them from their sins… and then by telling another…and then another…  Our country will return to Christ when the people return to Christ.   Spiritual change happens from the inside out in the person and so it will happen from the inside out in our country.  Stop pretending we live in a Christian culture and start introducing Christ to the culture.

Yes, we should be concerned about what happened this week in the Supreme Court.  But our concern should not be over the fact that same sex marriage will soon be legalized. Instead, our concern should be that there is all the more reason to proclaim to truth of the gospel.   We don’t need to scream and holler about whether or not homosexuality is or is not sinful.  We need to proclaim that ALL men are sinful and in need of a savior.  When someone comes to Christ, Jesus himself reveals to him what is true and what is false. We will not convince the world otherwise until the world has Jesus.  So… same sex marriage gets legalized.  So what?  Is it a bad thing?  I think so, yes.  Does it indicate problems for our country?  Again, Yes - but I know that God is in control.  Trust Him in that.  Does it change you?  No. Does it change your mission in Christ?  No; rather, let it be a wake-up call not to neglect that mission – the mission to evangelize the world.  Listen to what God is saying (paraphrased): “Don’t worry.  I got this. Just go make disciples.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Designs for Hope Uganda Devotional 8 of 12: Your Commissioning



Luke 10:1-12
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, fit will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.  (ESV)

When Jesus sent out the 72 missionaries, he sent them to prepare them for the fact that Jesus would be coming to them.  Jesus never just "shows up" unannounced.  Jesus never goes anywhere that he is not welcome.  Beginning with John the Baptist, who was a voice calling out in the wilderness to "Repent," there have always been those preparing the way for Jesus.  As we go to Uganda, we need to keep in mind that we, too, are preparing the way for Jesus.  Like the 72 commissioned by Jesus, we too have received a commission from Jesus.  Looking at the commissioning sermon above, there are several important facts we need to remember about our time in Uganda.

First. The harvest is plentiful.  Just as we are preparing the way for Jesus by declaring the good news of the gospel, the Holy Spirit has been preparing the way for us by drawing those whose hearts are receptive.  The harvest is ready; all that is needed are the workers.  

Second. It may seem strange that Jesus told the 72 missionaries to pray that the Lord of the harvest send workers when the 72 were the workers.  The reason is that 72 workers would not be nearly enough to do the work the father has planned.  The work we will be doing is only one small part of the work God plans to do in Uganda.  Pray that God will continue to send workers into his harvest.

Third. Trust in God's Provision.  Jesus specifically forbade the 72 from "going prepared."  That is not to imply that we are to go unprepared to Uganda, but it is to reinforce that it is God who will be meeting our needs, not ourselves.  Pray that God will meet all our needs during the trip.  Not only the ones we know about and have been preparing for, but also the ones we do not yet see and cannot prepare for.

Fourth.  Expect Difficulties.  Every mission of God will face resistance.  The devil works diligently to thwart the efforts of believers and works even more diligently to silence the message of the gospel.  We do not yet know how we might experience resistance, and we should pray that God will clear the path so that we don't experience that resistance, but we should not be surprised by it when it happens.  Jesus didn't prevent the 72 from experiencing that resistance, but rather encouraged them by reminding them that the Kingdom of God will not be hindered by it.  When we face resistance, shake it off and move on.  Do not let it discourage or cripple our mission.

In your quiet time today, pray for the harvest in Uganda.  Pray that God will continue to send laborers to Uganda.  Thank God in advance for the provision he has already given and for the provision he has yet to give.  Finally, pray for courage, endurance, and boldness in the face of any resistance that may come our way.

Father, I pray that each member of this team recognizes the commission we have received as your Ambassadors.  Like the 72 you sent out while on earth, help us understand our part in our greater mission.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Designs for Hope Uganda Devotional 7 of 12: Your Mission Field



Psalm 10:17-18
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (ESV)

Psalm 72:12-14
For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.  (ESV)

Isaiah 53:7
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (ESV)

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (ESV)

James 1:27
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)


As we prepare ourselves to go to Uganda, it is important that we know and understand our mission field so that (a) we can pray for those to whom we are going to minister and (b) we can be prepared ourselves for meeting them when we get there.

For over 20 years, the northern region of Uganda suffered under one of the worst civil wars Africa has ever known between the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).  Both sides have been known to have committed unspeakable atrocities against the native people of Uganda in the name of war.  The number of Ugandans who have been killed cannot be counted.  It is estimated that over 10,000 children have gone missing - many of them used as child-soldiers by (allegedly) both armies.   Human rights violations ran unchecked for the duration of the war resulting ultimately in the destruction of the Ugandan social and economic infrastructure.  The UPDF ultimately drove the LRA out of Uganda in 2008 and the region has experienced relative peace and stability since.  As a result of the war, Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Uganda fled south, with Lira being one of the logical places of refuge for many.  Because of the atrocities, there are over 2 million orphans in Uganda. For this reason, Uganda is a major hub for numerous missions efforts and a common destination for short term mission trips like our own.  There are many ministries that call Uganda their home, including African Children's Mission - the ministry that runs the ranch/orphanage we will be visiting on Sunday and Monday.

Likewise, it is out of this horror that Pastor Anthony Ogwang's ministry was birthed. In the aftermath of civil war, Pastor Anthony found himself ministering to hundreds of refugees.  Through his work, Pastor Anthony was able to start 37 churches.  Many of the villages and churches have adopted the orphans but the aftermath of the Ugandan civil war will have an effect on the people and the economic order of Uganda for decades to come.

Jesus identifies with these people.  Jesus was oppressed, crushed, displaced, and killed without cause by ruthless men.  God's heart is with the downtrodden and the oppressed and so God's heart is with the oppressed of Uganda.  God has called us to remember and minister to the oppressed and the orphans.  We will hopefully be enriching the lives of pastors by providing them battery powered lighting for their homes.  However, we will also have the opportunity to love and encourage each and every person we meet.  We have an opportunity to be Jesus to them for just a few days.

In your quiet time today, pray for the people of Uganda.  Pray for those who are still suffering from the effects of the Ugandan civil war.  Pray for the orphans who have lost their parents.  Pray for the villages, churches, and ministries that are taking care of those orphans.  Pray for African Children's Mission and the ranch it runs in central Uganda.  Pray for Pastor Anthony Ogwang and for the 35 churches he started.  Pray that God will soften your heart to the plight of these people and that you will be able to be an agent of mercy while you are there.

Father, I thank you for Pastor Ogwang and for African Children’s Mission.  I pray for the work that they are doing as well as for the many other Christian ministries in Uganda.  Bring your comfort to these people as they strive to overcome their past.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Designs for Hope Uganda Mission Trip Devotional 6 of 12: Your Team

Designs for Hope Team:
This marks the half-way point through our devotionals before we leave for Uganda...


Philippians 1:3-6
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

One of the things that has always amazed me about the Apostle Paul has been his unwavering concern and consideration for his partners in the gospel - despite whatever difficulties or hardships he may have been facing himself.  There is a saying that says no man is an island unto himself.  Similarly, Ecclesiastes 4:12 says "And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (ESV).  We all need each other - in life - and on this mission.

We are more than just a group of people going on a mission trip together - we are a team.  The problem is that for a team to be truly effective, they need to know each other and work with each other enough that there is trust and mutual respect between them.  Like many short term mission trips that are pulled together from a group of people who may not know each other well, our "team" is not likely to be up to the desired standards for effectiveness. While everyone knows somebody on the team fairly well, it is unlikely that we all know everyone well - and there is a good chance that there is somebody that you do not know at all. 

Make no mistake, though, we are still partners in the gospel.  That means we will be depending upon each other during the trip, expecting one to have the other's back.   How then, can we trust the ones we do not know?  The answer is that we trust first and foremost in the one that all have in common - our Savior Jesus Christ.  Paul reminds us in Philippians 2 of our common ground in Christ... our encouragement in Christ, our comfort in love, our participation in the Spirit, and our like mindedness.  In these we find common ground enough to love, trust, and pray for one another.  By the end of the trip, we will know each other very well.  Until that time, let us commit ourselves to praying for one another.

In your quiet time today and each day from here forward, let us pray for our fellow team members by name.  Pray that God will be with them as they prepare for the trip.  Thank God for the privilege of being able to serve with them.

Father, I pray for each member of our team, that you will prepare each and every one of them for Uganda.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Designs for Hope Uganda Mission Devotional 5 of 12: The Gospel

Designs for Hope


Romans 1:16-17
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

The reason your story (see previous mission trip devotional) is so powerful is because it is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation.  There are numerous reasons why we don't share the gospel, including fear, guilt, even embarrassment.  However, not knowing how to share the gospel should never be the reason we don't share the good news.  Every now and again I get the opportunity to ask Christians whether or not they can explain the gospel and how to be saved.  I am always amazed at the number of people who call themselves Christian who cannot do that.

There may be many complicated and mysterious aspects of our Christian theology, but the gospel itself is elegantly simple without complication.  Paul explained it clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5...

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (ESV)

The simplicity of the gospel is exquisitely beautiful.  Jesus, the one and only Son of God, came to this earth according to the Scriptures to die so that our sins may be forgiven.  But that death was not the end, because he arose from the dead, defeating death so that we may have eternal life.  That is the gospel.  We can have that forgiveness of sins and the accompanying eternal life when we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:9-10...

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (ESV)

There are many ways in which this gospel can be shared.  In the previous devotional, I spoke of the importance of knowing and being able to share your story.  Incorporating the gospel into the second part of your story - how you met Jesus - is a very effective way to do so.  There are numerous others that you can explore, including the Romans Road, the four Spiritual Laws, the F-A-I-T-H method, the color wheel, the Evangecube, and others.  One of the simplest methods is the one often used with children in VBS and other places - the A-B-C method. 

A - Admit that you are a sinner,
B - Believe that Jesus can save you, and
C - Choose to follow Jesus (or Confess Him as Lord).

I have personally found that in cross-cultural situations where a translator is involved that the Evangecube works really well because it allows the hearer to focus on the cube's pictures.  If you are unfamiliar with it, you may consider looking into it.

In your quiet time today, meditate on the very nature of the gospel.  Consider the significance of what Jesus did for you in dying on the cross.   Consider further the eternal implications of his resurrection from the dead.  Thank him for the sacrifice that he made so that you can be saved.  If you do not have a favorite or preferred method of sharing the gospel, consider researching some of the above methods (they can all be found easily using internet searches) or perhaps search for others.  Over the next few days, choose the method that you are most comfortable with and begin to practice using it so that by the time we leave for Uganda you will be proficient with it.

Father, I pray that each of us will become comfortable sharing the truth of the gospel with others.  Give us wisdom as we consider how we may be able to share your word on this trip.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Superhero Substitutes for the Savior


OK.  I am a geek.  I love superheroes.  I’m not sure what it is about them, but like most boys, I grew up pretending and wishing beyond hope to have super powers.  My super power of choice – the one that I knew I could get if I just concentrated and strained hard enough – was to have energy blasts coming out of my fists.  Sure it was a common trope among superheroes, especially villains, but I could have done so much good with it.  Despite my desire for hand-blasts, my hero of choice has always been the big guy himself, Superman.



Superman is the ultimate, iconic good guy.  He doesn’t have a dark side to his psyche that constantly haunts him like Batman (at least not as originally created).  His powers aren’t the result of some advanced technology like The Green Lantern.  He’s not lame like Aquaman (really?  He swims and talks to fish – give me a break).  And his powers are not the result of some tragic accident or ecological disaster (a.k.a., Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, Flash, etc.).  He doesn’t make big ethical mistakes.  He is purely and simply the perfect, iconic superhero.

Now that I am an adult and I am more mature, I can honestly say that absolutely nothing has changed.  Deep down inside I am still that same little boy wishing he could do something spectacular and (dare I say) “worshipping” his favorite superhero – Superman.  Granted, it is not worship in the traditional sense of the word, but Superman remains – in my view – the ultimate (and nearly perfect) Superhero.

While I didn’t closely follow the comic books per se (I really didn’t have the money growing up to spend on a regular installment of comic books), I have seen every movie and TV incarnation of Superman (with perhaps the exception of some of the more recent cartoon versions) – from George Reeves to the SuperFriends – from Christopher Reeve to the Justice League – from Lois and Clark to Smallville - even Brandon Routh in Superman Returns.  I haven’t yet seen Henry Cavill as The Man of Steel, but despite the really poor reviews it seems to be getting, I expect that I will not fail to make my way to the box office at some point in the next week or so.  I just can’t help myself – it’s Superman, after all.

Despite my own fascination with Superman, there is something about his character and his portrayal that has really started to nag at me.  I know it probably has always been there, but I really noticed it with Superman Returns.  Superman is a substitute for Christ. It hit me the hardest in the scene where Brandon Routh is hanging high in the stratosphere with both arms outstretched – an iconic image of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Then I see the FoxNews article titled “’Man of Steel’ filled with Jesus, Christianity References” (http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2013/06/14/man-steel-filled-with-jesus-christianity-references/?intcmp=features#ixzz2WC651wNr).  

It is true.  For some reason, we tend to view Superman the way we are supposed to view Jesus – as our Savior.  We love that he will help us save the world, even from ourselves no less.  Looking back, I can see now that it was there in the original Superman movies as well – particularly when Christopher Reeve takes a strong-handed approach to the problem of nuclear proliferation (one of the worst Superman movies ever, but the Christ stereotyping was there nonetheless).  The article above, though, makes the point that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster go out of their way to intentionally create the imagery that Kal-El is a new Jesus – and acknowledge as much.  Like I said… it has probably been there all along… probably even from the beginning.

When you think about it, there is much of this Christ-stereotyping in all of our literature fantasies.  It is, after all, a common literary theme – good versus evil, with the good guy willing to sacrifice himself to save all of humanity.  In fact, I distinctly remember the topic of one of my high school English literature term papers being “The Picture of the Gospel in The Lord of the Rings” – with Sauron being a type of devil ( with orcs, goblins and trolls being demons) and Gandalf being a type of Christ (with elves and dwarves being angels – well, elves anyway – who could ever classify a dwarf as an angel…but I digress).  So whether it is C. S. Lewis intentionally creating Aslan to be a metaphor for Christ because he wanted to explain the nature and work of Christ to his children -  or Bruce Willis’ Die Hard character, John MaClane, being a heroic cowboy that no one in their right mind would compare to Christ - our fantasies are nonetheless filled with images of the “good guy” giving his all to save the world.

To me it really begs an important question. Why are we so eager to create a substitute savior but are so quick to reject the archetype of the messiah character – the only real savior of the world – Jesus Christ himself?  The answer is that, deep down inside of us, we all know that we NEED a savior.  Jesus said in John 12 that when his is lifted up (on the cross), he would draw all men to himself.  The problem is that Satan is doing everything he can to distract us from recognizing that need.   Every false religion in the world is merely Satan’s attempt at confusing us with false gospels and false hopes.  Create enough noise so that the true gospel message appears to be merely one message among hundreds of others.  His influence on the entertainment industry is no different.  Sure, it is just entertainment, but I really think Satan’s goal remains to distract us from the truth.  Give us a fantasy.  Distract us with a make-believe savior and we will forget our need for the real savior.  They are fallible substitutes for the infallible savior.

Everything these substitutes represent in greatly imperfect form, Jesus IS perfectly.  We may identify with the fact that Bruce Wayne has all of the same struggles we have, but we ignore the fact that he is such a failure at dealing with those struggles.  Jesus experienced every struggle we experience, but he has overcome and conquered them all without even the hint of moral or character failure.   We take great hope in the moral purity and child-like innocence of Clark Kent/Kal-El, but we overlook the fact that even Superman can be brought down by kryptonite.   Jesus was morally perfect, sinless in all respects, and without any weakness whatsoever.  He has overcome the world in every respect.  We “worship” our heroes for their willingness to sacrifice themselves into the hands of the bad guy to save the world and then rejoice whenever they somehow escape from their imminent doom – even when it comes as a result of the Deux Ex Machina rather than through their own effort.   Jesus truly sacrificed himself – not being overcome by his enemies, but willingly laying down his life for our sins – not being rescued through random circumstantial events of the Duex Ex Machina, but because HE WAS the Duex Ex Machina.   He said himself – I have the power to lay down my life and I have the power to take it up again (paraphrased from John 10:17-18).

I’m not sure how I feel about the Christ-stereotyping of Superman in general and in The Man of Steel in particular.  I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are so open about their intentionality of putting those images in the movie.  Is it blasphemy?  I don’t know.  I’m curious what you think, so comments are certainly welcome.  However, as a friend of mine put it… “I can say Jesus is THE superman, but I can’t say Superman is Jesus.”  Nicely put, John.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Designs for Hope Uganda Mission Trip Devotional 4 of 12: Your Mission

Designs For Hope

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (ESV)

People go on mission trips for various reasons.  Some go for humanitarian reasons, seeking to make some difference in the life of others less fortunate than themselves.  Some go for altruistic reasons, seeking to make themselves feel better about themselves or to sooth their conscious in some way.  Some go because they genuinely desire to serve God and wish to be obedient to his commands to tell the world about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission tells us that we go to make disciples.  Whatever our reasons for going may be, if it is not in line with the Great Commission, then we are no different than any other humanitarian effort. 

Designs For Hope's mission is unique.   We are going specifically to minister and serve those who are already ministering and serving God.  We will be giving the opportunity for a more productive life to those who are already proclaiming the good news of salvation.  Despite that, our primary goal still remains The Great Commission - making disciples for Jesus Christ. 

Uganda is a highly evangelized nation, but there will still be numerous opportunities for making disciples. While we are there, we should all be looking out for those opportunities and act upon them when they present themselves.   That means you need to be ready at any time to share your story.

While he was on the earth, whenever Jesus did something amazing, the people told everyone they could about what Jesus did for them.  Each of us that has accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ has a story about what Jesus has done for him/her.  Jesus says we will be his witnesses to all the earth, and our story is the testimony of that witness.   Your story is easy to tell and you know it well. It has, at minimum, three components

1.         Your life before Jesus
2.         How you met Jesus
3.         Your life after Meeting Jesus

Your story is an incredible testimony to the power of Jesus Christ to change lives – because he has changed yours!  There is no such thing as a boring testimony.  To believe this is to believe the lie that Satan has planted in your heart to keep you from being an effective witness for Jesus Christ.  If Jesus can save you, he can save others as well and that alone is a powerful and effective message.  After your quiet time today, find some time to sit down and write out your story on paper.  Over the next few weeks, pull out your story on a regular basis.  Read it and familiarize yourself with it so that as opportunity arises to share your story you will be comfortable sharing it.

In your quiet time today, take time to think and pray about your story.  Thank God for saving you and changing you.  Praise him for the power that the gospel has to transform lives. Pray that God would help you see the value of your testimony in being a witness for Christ.  Pray that he will help you write down your story in such a way that you will be able to use it to share the gospel. Pray that God will begin opening doors for you to share your story even before you leave.

Heavenly Father, I pray right now for all of the members of this trip that they would see how infinitely powerful their stories are and that they would be able to use that story as a powerful witness for you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Gospel in 140 Characters


Social media has seriously “dumbed down” the average modern reader.  While the amount of communication taking place is quickly reaching a singularity, the average size of the communication is becoming smaller and its content is become more destitute. Between Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and the plethora of other social media sites, our social communication has been reduced to a series of quips, memes, social media shorthand, and photo commentary.  Seriously, when was the last time you actually sat down and wrote someone a real letter?  For that matter, even emails that actually communicate are becoming less commonplace.  They have been replaced with texting and instant messaging – both of which are reduced in scope and content due to the limitations of the medium.  As a result, proper grammar and spelling have become nonexistent and the art of communicating through the written – or spoken - word may be in danger of becoming extinct.   

Hopefully, that will never take place.  Nevertheless, the world is quickly becoming filled up with the noise of social media balderdash. The virtual sphere of the internet is brimming with tweets and posts of “Checking in at” and “Look what I ate” and “See how cute my dog is” – most of which the rest of us (except Grandma and perhaps Aunt Jilian) could care less about.  We are reaching more and more people, but we are actually communicating less and less meaningful content.  Let’s not even talk about the narcissistic tendencies that social media is uncovering as we all strive eagerly to see how many “likes” we can get (for the record, there is absolutely nothing sadder – or more disturbing - than a middle aged man posting a “selfie” – I’m just saying).

Within that abominable pandemonium of substandard vocabulary and second-rate grammar has risen a new genre of literature that can only be described as Pithy Philosophy – the “art” of divulging one’s own philosophical ideals in 140 characters or less.   In the midst of all the megalomaniacal posts there are actually those using social media to promote their personal philosophies.   A short tweet here or perhaps a post there and before we know what has happened, everyone is an expert in something. It has become too easy for people who only a few decades ago would never have been able to garner an audience of more than 5 or 10 people to have tens of thousands of “followers” or hundreds if not thousands of “friends” who have philosophical and metaphysical commonality with them.   Is there anything wrong with this new genre of literature?  I would say no.  If social media can be used to get out whatever message you want to promote, and if people are willing to read what you post, then more power to you and your cause. 

Christianity is not immune to this modern cultural phenomenon. We love to post Bible verses – which is admittedly a fantastic way to get the Word of God “out there” – and to espouse our personal versions of Christian Philosophy through either our own quotes or those of our favorite Christian or inspirational figures.  I am personally “guilty” (if guilt is the proper term) of this myself.  My personal favorites are A. W. Tozer, C. S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, and of course quotes from my own books (www.amazon.com/author/joeldison) – not that I am vainglorious or anything.   :/

However, the question must be asked: Can we really be true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ by spouting off self-contained 140-character epigrams?  There was a time in days gone by when the title or by-line of a work of literature would be as many characters as most of our modern day tweets.   Our would-be profundities on the Love of God and the work of Christ would not even suffice as an introduction to the masterful theological dissertations of days gone by.  For example, the English translation of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion is over 1800 pages long.  Similarly, Augustine of Hippo’s City of God was broken down into 23 separate sections or “books” because of its length.  Sure, there are good books being written today – perhaps more books now than ever before.  However, when we spend all our time scrolling through our timelines, who has time to actually read a real work of literature anymore?

More and more, we are reducing the message of God’s word into smaller and smaller bites.  This may have been good when we children, but we are (educated?) adults who are supposed to have the capacity for something greater.  Admittedly, social media has created a greater and greater opportunity for exposure to the gospel – and that is most certainly a good thing – but one has to wonder whether or not the bigger picture of God’s word is being missed due to the brevity of the message being presented.  I’m not trying to say that posting the “verse of the day” is a bad thing, but if our daily devotional time is reduced to hitting “like” on a couple of bible verses posted by our friends or re-tweeting an inspirational quote from Billy Graham then we have somehow strayed from the path. True discipleship requires in-depth study of and meditation upon God’s word.   If we are not careful, we will fall into the same trap as the readers of the author of Hebrews, who in Hebrews 5:12 chastised them for still feeding on spiritual milk when they should be maturing and teaching the deep mysteries of the Word of God.  That’s what I think most of our Pithy Philosophy is at best – milk.  I believe it was mega-church pastor David Platt who once said that 15 minute sermons make 15 minute Christians (how is that for Pithy Philosophy?).  If that is true, though, what do 140-Character sermons make?

With that said, I asked myself (just because I was curious) whether or not the gospel really could be shared accurately in 140 characters or less.   The depths of the gospel may take a lifetime to discover, but the gospel itself is quite simple.  Can the message of Jesus Christ be condensed into a single tweet and carry with it everything needed for eternal life?  I am still not sure about the second half of that question and would love your thoughts on it.  However, as to the first half of the question and after careful consideration, I did manage to get what I believe to be the full gospel into a single tweet.  And so without further commentary, here is the gospel in 140 characters (actually it is 137 characters, but who’s really counting):

Jesus was God, but became a man. He lived perfectly, but died unjustly. He arose to grant eternal life. Repent of your sin. Trust in Him.

By the way, I tweeted that before publishing this blog.  @jjdison

LOL >>> by the way... a good friend of mine read this post and reminded me that John 3:16 is less than 140 characters. ***FACE PALM***

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Designs for Hope Uganda Mission Trip Devotional 3 of 12: Your Focus



Psalm 96:1-6
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (ESV)

Over the next few weeks, you will be scrambling to get ready to leave for Uganda.  There is certainly much preparation work to do, and the immediately preceding devotional (Devotional #2) pointed out the importance of making your own spiritual condition a priority in that preparation.  Perhaps as important as the preparation of our souls is the focus of our priorities.  The next devotional will look specifically at our mission, but before we get to that, we need to focus on the author of that mission - Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3).    It is through Jesus Christ that God will forever be glorified (Romans 16:27).   Through Jesus Christ, God's glory is manifested in the church (Ephesians 3:21).  By his glory in Jesus Christ in accordance with his riches God supplies all of our needs (Philippians 4:20).  He has eternal honor and dominion (1 Timothy 6:16).  To him is ascribed all glory, all majesty, all dominion, and all authority (Jude 1:25).  That is why his name has been lifted above every other name (Philippians 2:9).

Ultimately, Jesus is the reason we are going to Uganda.  We should neither desire nor expect to accomplish anything else other than the exaltation and glory of Jesus Christ.  Many wonderful and exciting things will happen while we are there, but each and every one of them should bring about God's glory through Jesus Christ.  This is a great responsibility that each of us bears, but it will also be the source of a great blessing to each of us.  Think about it.  God will use the actions of you and me to bring glory and honor and majesty to himself and to Jesus Christ.  What an awesome blessing... but what an awesome responsibility as well. 

In your quiet time today, meditate on the great glory of Jesus Christ.  God has put everything under his footstool, including the trip we are about to take.  Consider Christ not in his humble, earthly, servant state as he existed here on earth.  Rather, consider Christ in his elevated state as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As you consider his majesty, think of him as Isaiah saw him (from our first devotional):

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5 ESV)

Christ's glory was so great that Isaiah fell on his face as if he were dead.  This is who Jesus is today, and yet he says to us: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15 ESV).  Think about how amazing that is!  Then consider the blessing/responsibility associated with representing him as Ambassadors of Christ in Uganda. As you think about that blessing/responsibility, remember these words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (ESV)

Father, you are indeed glorious and holy above all others and that glory is manifest in Jesus Christ our Lord.  We praise you for your greatness and we pray that everything we do demonstrates your majesty to the nations.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Uganda Mission Devotional 2 of 12: First Things First


Psalm 51:1-2
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your  abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!  (ESV)

Psalm 51:7
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (ESV)

Psalm 51:10
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (ESV)

Psalm 51:12
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (ESV)

How does one go about getting ready for a trip like this?  Certainly we need to figure out what kind of clothes to take, what accessories we might need, how much money we need to take, etc. However, before we do all of that, there is something so much more important that we need to do first.

For you to be most effective on this trip, you must begin first with yourself.  I believe it is a fairly safe thing to promise you that there will be many joys and many rewarding experiences while we are in Uganda.  However, it is equally as safe to say that there will be many challenges and difficulties that we will face as well. The optimal word for all of us will be "flexibility," because things will not always go smoothly or as planned.  What you do in those moments will speak volumes about your testimony and commitment to Christ.  The best way to be prepared for those difficulties and challenges and the best way to take maximum advantage of the joys and rewards is to be spiritually pure and blameless before God.

Summertime has increasingly become one of the most stressful times of the year.  We are hard pressed to find the time to do the many things we have planned, including VBS, vacation, and yes, even this mission trip.  If we are not careful, we can quickly become overwhelmed by the tyranny of our schedules and lose the joy of our salvation.  We can easily lose our spiritual edge and allow unconfessed sin to fester in our lives until we become ineffective in our Christian service.  It can happen to the best of us despite our good intentions otherwise.

True revival always starts in the same place - in "me" (or in your case - in "you").  The verses at the beginning of this devotional are all part of one of the greatest prayers of repentance ever prayed - that of King David after sinning with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  The words of that Psalm remind us of the four steps of any spiritual renewal process:  Repentance, Cleansing, Renewal, and Restoration.  These four steps are essential to our being in the right place with God. 

In your quiet time today - and regularly over the next few weeks - be very intentional about going through these four steps.  Confess your sins.  Seek cleansing from the impurity brought about by that sin.  Desire a renewal of your soul.  Pray for the restoration of the joy of your salvation.   There is a verse that I found about a year ago that comes to mind often when I realize that I have lost the joy of my salvation.  It is found in Psalm 90:14.  I suggest memorizing it and making it a regular part of your daily meditation and preparation for this trip.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (ESV)

Father, I pray for the spiritual condition of every member of this mission team, beginning with me.  Restore us to a right place with you and satisfy us with your steadfast love.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Uganda Mission Devotional 1 of 12: Are You Ready

In approximately 6 weeks from today (6/3/13 - leaving 7/13/13), a group of 15 individuals will be leaving for Uganda going on a mission trip with Designs for Hope (www.designsforhope.org).  They will be distributing Designs for Hope bicycle generators to Pastors in northern Uganga as well as doing discipleship training, evangelism, and other things.  I will be posting about 2 devotionals per week from now until then as we prepare spiritually for this journey.   You are cordially invited to join us as we go through these devotionals and to pray with us for our trip.  Devotional #1 is below.


Devotional #1: Are You Ready?


Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (ESV)

In a few short weeks, we are going to be setting out on an amazing journey.  We have agreed to go on mission with Designs for Hope to a place most of us have never been to minister to people who we not only have never met, but who are also of another culture - speaking another language - and who are in every way possible different from you and from me.  It will be both a physical journey and a spiritual journey and I can assure you that if you pour yourself into this effort, you will be forever changed for the good as a result. Our physical journey will not begin until midnight on July 12th; however, let there be no mistaking the truth:  Your spiritual journey begins right now.

The very first step on that journey is to ask yourself this important question: Are you really ready and willing to go and be used by God on this trip?  It has always amazed me that God chooses to fulfill his purposes through human agents.  The God of the Universe who created everything through his Word is capable of accomplishing anything through his Word.  Yet, despite that omnipotence, it has always been his good pleasure to use mankind, like he did with Isaiah in the scripture above, to work out his will on earth.

Just like in Isaiah's day, God is still asking the question: Whom shall I send and who will go for me.  I believe that each and every one of us are together on this trip because we have received a calling from God the same as Isaiah.  Perhaps our calling is not to go into a lifetime of prophetic ministry, but he has called us to mission nonetheless.  By signing up to go on this mission trip, you have responded in like kind to Isaiah, saying "Here am I; send me."  So today you need to ask yourself that very important question again (stated more simply this time): "Did I really mean that?"  When you signed up for this trip were you saying to God, "Here am I; send me"?  If so, then you have agreed to become an Ambassador of Christ to Uganda for approximately 1 week.  How seriously will you take that responsibility?  In the coming days, these devotionals will speak more to the significance of that responsibility.  For now, however, suffice it to say that if you really did mean it and you really take that responsibility seriously, then together we need to prepare for this amazing journey.

The purpose of these devotionals is to get you to think and meditate on important aspects of the trip that we are about to take.  Hopefully, they have been crafted in such a way as to prepare you for events to come.

For today, however, I would ask that you focus your quiet time on those five words spoken by Isaiah and presumed by each of us going on this trip: "Here and I; send me."  Do you truly believe that God has called you to this mission?  Are you willing to do what God wants you to do - starting with preparing yourself over the next few weeks spiritually and emotionally through these devotionals and/or other means?

Father, I pray that as we prepare for this mission trip we will come to realize how significant your call has been on our lives.  Show us the eternal value of our obedience.  Encourage us even as we labor in the midst of our commitment.  Prepare us for your will.