Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An Adopted Son...

This Christmas we have been reading a little devotional book called Immanuel: Praying the Names of God through the Christmas Season. It has been wonderful to meditate on various aspects of Jesus' name, birth and life as we prepare to really celebrate Christmas as a family here in Uganda. As we've been reading and praying together as a family, one person in particular has really struck me. I mean, the kind of struck where you just sit and think about it for a long time. The person is Joseph.

I wonder what it would be like to hold the very Son of God in my arms. In fact, Joseph would have been the very first person to hold Jesus period, even before Mary herself! When my three sons were born, I was privileged to be the one to catch each of them as they came out into the world, but I had doctors there helping me. Even if I missed or the baby slipped through my hands (they come out slick!), there was an extra pair of hands there with mine. But Joseph was in it alone! Talk about pressure! How do you catch the Son of God? I had nurses there to show me where to cut the cord, and of course they took care of cleaning the babies properly. Joseph did not have any of these things either, and I don't think that men were typically "in" on births in Israel so he could have had very little idea of exactly what to do. Actually, there were midwives who normally handled these things, but cows in a barn are not very good midwives. I can just picture Mary there telling Joseph what to do, Joseph scared to death, tears and laughter. What an emotional experience that must have been, to catch, cut and clean the very Son of God Himself! The humility of God will forever stun me just as greatly as His sovereignty.

One other thought has struck me within the whole Joseph side of things. He bore the public "shame" of taking into his home what was thought to be an "ill-begotten" baby boy. But then he went further than this, Joseph in all reality adopted the Son of God into his own family, he himself becoming the boy's father. Growing up I never quite thought about this, and it never really hit home until I heard a message by my friend Justin on Joseph. But what really amazes me is this- could Joseph have known that it would be through this very Son that he was adopting that he himself would be adopted by God who would become His very own adopted Father? I don't think Joseph could have grasped this apart from faith, but how amazing are God's ways!

I hope you all have a very blessed Christmas as you celebrate the birth of the one who was born to die for the Glory and unveiling of the Father, the one who has promised, "I will not leave you as orphans (Jn. 14:18)" because He Himself has died that we might be justified from sin and adopted into the family of God. We are orphans no more.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Ugandan Thanksgiving

I LOVE Thanksgiving! In fact, there are very few holidays that get me as excited as this one. I thoroughly enjoy being with family, hanging around in the kitchen, talking, laughing, and of course expectantly looking forward to the coming feast. I enjoy reflecting with my family on the things the year has held, while also looking ahead to the coming year yet to unfold.

Here in Uganda, it is a bit tough for us to be away from family during this holiday. The weather is hot, Christmas is on the horizon, and there is nothing here to remind us of this distinct mark in the American calendar- no media pounding us with images of turkeys or the coming great shopping deals, no signs hanging in the stores, no music, nothing.

But we do our best to “get into the groove” of the holiday season. We have some fake colored leaves that we scatter on the table, along with a fake pumpkin, and even a funny looking decorative turkey. TURKEY…yum…my favorite. Actually, I can only remember one Thanksgiving when I did not have turkey on Thanksgiving and that was when I was in college and decided to stay at school for the holiday in order to study! I went out with a friend for Giordano’s Pizza hoping they’d be serving a turkey pizza, but to no avail.

So what exactly DO we do here for Thanksgiving? Well, the first thing we have to do is procure some turkeys from the village. Since we were over 30 Westerners (including children) gathering together to celebrate the holiday (yes, we invited our British staff members, after all, weren’t some of the original celebrators of Thanksgiving British?), we needed to find two good sized turkeys, which we found- though I must add that not many villagers raise turkeys so it can be a bit of a hunt. Since I am the only Westerner with a chicken house, we were the privileged ones to house and feed the turkeys, which I promptly named Miles and Standish. Our dog Mountie was so excited about the turkeys that she jumped over the mud wall and under the chicken wire in an attempt to have her own Thanksgiving feast- luckily we heard the turkeys going crazy and out of the cloud of feathers we pulled the dog out of the chicken house.

We set the execution for dawn on Thanksgiving Day- well, actually it was around 8am (after we spent time as a family giving thanks to God for His work in our family over this year- Noah was also thankful for the turkeys God gave us to kill and eat). My boys were as excited as I was (see the picture above), and with the help of our friend Kibeti (and my panga/machete), I got ready to let loose the two fell swoops. The first mighty swing was just a tad bit not mighty enough, because the head came mostly off (I apologize for the details, but this IS Uganda : ). I went executioner style with the second one and it was enough for a clean strike. I promise, both turkeys didn’t feel a thing! We then poured boiling hot water over the turkeys to make plucking them much easier. After a few hours of cleaning and gutting, the turkeys were prepared and in the oven.

What’s so funny to me is that my sisters and I have such DIFFERENT stories about Thanksgiving turkeys. My sister Angie went to the local grocer and bought her nice big turkey. I, of course, had to find and kill my own. And my sister Cara (a vegetarian) lives on a farm where she has a “pet” turkey named Phil who she would NEVER allow to be killed or to be eaten. How VASTLY different experiences!

Anyway, the rest of my story isn’t as exciting. I spent the morning painting my boys’ tree house, followed by an afternoon of “rest” and the holding of the elbow of my wife while she did what she does like no other- COOK. In the late afternoon (after the passing of the mid-day heat) we had an American football gave which was an absolute BLAST (Elisha made his football debut with one catch for a ten yard gain), and then we gathered and feasted on Miles and Standish- who were both a bit tough by the way. But I guess you could call these official “organic” turkeys. The food was wonderful, the people were wonderful, the kids running all around and playing were wonderful, and of course, back at the homestead “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and the “Mayflower Voyage” were also wonderful. I hope you all had just as wonderful of a Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Heart of an Orphan- Part 1

When Laura Beth and I first came to New Hope Uganda in 2002, we were a part of the first class of the New Hope Institute of Childcare and Family. Needless to say, the course rocked our worlds (or we wouldn't be working with it as passionately as we are!). One of the most powerful teachings came to us from one of the sons of New Hope named Paul Kusuubira. Paul walked us through his own story growing up as an orphan. He then opened up for us what he called the "orphan heart". It was a teaching that was both eye-opening and heart-rending. Eye-opening because suddenly I realized why the kids I was trying to work with at New Hope met me with such resistance, why they did the things that they did and why they responded like they responded to different situations. I also realized that the kids that I had worked with for four years in Cabrini Green (government housing projects in Chicago) were fatherless (orphans), which was KEY for me looking back and trying to understand the hearts of the kids I had wrestled with for those years.

Paul's teaching was heart-rending because I realized that the heart of an orphan is simply the human heart, the sinful human heart, drawn out in specific ways because of the circumstances of becoming orphaned, and in that my own heart was also revealed. The Gospel became so much bigger to me as a result, something I hope to draw out in the following posts.

But let me begin by simply putting Paul's story here so you can understand a bit better the characteristics of the "orphan heart" that I will post next. Here's Paul's story:

Paul Kusuubira lost his parents during Uganda’s civil war in the 1980’s that shook the country shortly after Idi Amin’s regime collapsed. The bloody war centered 35 miles north of the capital city Kampala in an area that became known as the Luwero killing fields. Paul’s family fled from their home and spent three years hiding in “the bush” . They were constantly running from the warring soldiers, barely able to survive. The family ate whatever food they could gather from the “bush”, mostly wild yams and papaya. They drank any color of water they could find. They slept on leaves under the stars. During the rainy season they huddled together under trees. On occasions when they heard bullets coming from one direction they could walk all day in the opposite direction only to be met by more gunfire. Exhausted and too tired to walk any further, the family would simply lay down on the ground to sleep, prepared to die there if need be.

Through these years God miraculously protected Paul and his family. They all survived the war. It was with great joy that the family was finally able to return to their small home in late 1986. Shockingly, shortly after returning, Paul’s father fell sick and died. As the family was still grieving the loss of the father, the pain still fresh in their hearts, Paul's mother fell sick and died as a result of tuberculosis. The family was in shambles, and as the community gathered around the grave, Paul could only weep and weep. The war had taken his father and mother, leaving Paul, his three brothers, and one sister, all alone to struggle for survival.

As they buried their mother, the realization of what they had become, orphans, quickly set in. Men and women from the community roamed freely through their house, helping themselves to whatever they desired. Cooking pots, plates and clothing disappeared. The children were helpless to do anything. Where could they turn? Who would care for them now? They were rejected by their community, including those they thought were friends of their family. No one wanted the responsibility of caring for more orphans. The title “orphan” became a label that led only to mistreatment and abuse. Food, clothing, and warm blankets, items that their parents had always secured for them, were now hard to come by. Paul gave up all hope for living. He would rather die than live in such despair. He was ten years old.

Immediately after Paul was orphaned, a sense of abandonment overwhelmed him. He felt abandoned by both of his parents, abandoned by those he had always counted on, loved and trusted. He felt helpless and scared. A deep loneliness came into his heart. He felt like he did not belong to anyone anymore, including his brothers and sister. He simply existed as an outcast, a nobody. Rejection by friends and the community left him feeling betrayed. Hopelessness marked his sense of the present and the future. He felt worthless. He had lost his identity, no longer bearing his father’s name but taking on the name mulekwa, which means orphan. The joy that he had known as a boy was turned into extreme sadness, a feeling that went as deep as the pain in his heart from losing his parents.

Paul’s struggles continued to grow as mistrust guided his dealings with people. He felt he could count on no one and that he would only be abandoned, betrayed, or let down by all people. Even when people would approach him to help, he found himself hiding his true self from them out of fear. He would only open up what he thought would help him to get something from people, keeping all relationships on a superficial level. Manipulation and deceit were the keys to getting what he wanted from people. Fear became the defining mark of his life- fear of man, fear of rejection, fear of failure, and fear of death. All of these things led to a deep sense of independence where he would only do things “his way”, refusing to be accountable to anyone and pushing away any who might get in the way of his accomplishing what he wanted.

The survival mentality that was birthed in him led to a deep seated greed, always wanting more and more, never content with what he had. He developed a poverty mindset that told him that he never had enough, even when living in plenty. He would eat each meal as if it was the last he might have for a long time, even when he was promised many meals to follow. He was always striving, striving for acceptance, striving for approval, striving for success, striving for love.

For many orphans in Uganda this striving leads to the practice of witchcraft to try to manipulate the spirits in order to secure success in various areas. Because death for a Ugandan is never by “chance”, but is always caused by someone, feelings of anger and revenge begin to rule the heart as they seek to find out who killed their parents in order to pay them back. This is often done through the local witchdoctors. Escape becomes the main “coping” mechanism for dealing with the pain and struggles, escape through sexual relationships, drugs, alcohol and even sports.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

An Institute of Ethnic Reconciliation

(George Opuche- my Ugandan partner- and myself at a baptism for Kasana Community Church)

The New Hope Institute of Childcare and Family would not typically be thought of as a place where ethnic reconciliation would be on the forefront of happenings. After all, isn’t it a training for people wanting to work with orphans or in the area of family? Yes, it is an Institute for training and equipping people to work in ministry to children and family, but in actuality the training encompasses worldview-confronting, life-changing issues, none bigger than the racial issues that divide nations and tribes and that our unique context presents to us in an “in your face” manner.

Can you (as a Westerner) imagine sitting in a room with three or four other Westerners (perhaps coming from the UK, Canada, or from east and west-coast America? Perhaps across the room sits a Congolese and beside him sits a Kenyan couple. To their right and left are twelve Ugandans, but seven of these come from different tribes within Uganda, some tribes extremely different from the others in terms of cultural beliefs and practices. And to top it off, just to your left sits and man or woman from India! Talk about a cultural melting pot!

One of the most exciting times in the course is right at the beginning when we begin exploring the different worldviews of the cultures represented. The Westerners are typically very shocked at how vastly different their own culture’s beliefs and values differ from one another. The shock becomes even greater as they uncover the vast differences in beliefs and values from one African country to the next, and then from tribe to tribe within the same country! You find Westerners saying of Africans, “You all really believe that?!?" And then the Africans say of the Westerners, “You are really believe that?!?" And all stand with gaping mouths at the vast difference of belief systems in an Indian context! And what is also quite shocking is to look at how each of the Christian cultures have been greatly influenced by the “secular” cultures they are a part of. Wow! The question then becomes, “So, who’s right?” Which “Christian” culture has it right? The obvious answer is no one, and it gets to be our joy together to work towards building a Biblical worldview that transcends culture, confronts “fallen” culture, and unites together in “redeemed” cultures that together unveil the beauty of the Kingdom of God. That’s what our little 20 week course is all about! And you thought it was just a course on “how to” work with orphans : )

Now to the point of this article- after we have explored the above, which is always a very humbling process, we then take a look at how we as cultures view each other. Talk about opening a can! It is here that the roots of “racism” or “ethnocentrism” really come out. Americans and British folk view each other vastly different then one might expect, and Ugandans from various tribes still carry much pain and anger towards others because of past atrocities committed against one another. But when one begins talking about Westerners views of Africa, and then Africans view of the West, oh my! Though of course, the true pain comes out when Africans talk about what they have been told about the West and Westerners in general. Without taking the time to explore this here, let me sum up what typically is presented as being passed on by media, family, and parents, by saying that at the core of many Ugandans is the belief that ultimately all problems in Uganda are a result of the West.

The first time we “uncovered” this fact in the Institute, as I stood and read on the board all that the Ugandans had written there about what they have been told or believed about the West, I wanted to run and hide in a hole somewhere! Though not all of what was stated was true, there were yet many that were true! I found myself standing before the group and simply repenting for the things that the West HAS done here in Uganda. Tears flowed from a few and it was obvious that these issues were very deep for many and that healing was coming. I should also note that when we asked the Ugandans what they thought of all that was written on the board, one young man spoke up, "We can't blame the West for all of our problems! We need to own our own failures and mistakes!" Amazing.

After that class time ended, one of our students asked to talk with my wife and I privately. She confessed to us that she had heard this and that and that she had vowed never to step foot in our home and never to eat in our presence! We were shocked. We were shocked because we had always thought of this woman as a friend. We enjoyed being around her and always had warm greetings from her, or so we thought. We forgave her and after time praying together she promised that she would begin to be a regular visitor to our home. And you know what- she has been, and to this day she is one of our closest friends and a dear “daughter” to our family.

One final note- I have been privileged to serve together with two other men who also reveal to me the amazing beauty of ethnic reconciliation that is found in the Gospel alone. George Opuche is my Ugandan partner. He comes from eastern Uganda from the Soroti area. Interestingly, when New Hope began as a ministry, it was in response to the orphans left as a result of the current president’s bush war with the former president, Obote in the 80’s. Many of the soldiers that fought for Obote were from the Soroti area. How beautiful to have not only George, but others from Soroti whose people were a part of the killing that took place in this area, now here as agents of healing and ministry to the children of this area (now orphans as a result of AIDS). My Indian partner also represents reconciliation, as typically Indians are not “liked” here in Uganda. Many of the store and business owners in this country are Indian, and for the most part they are not thought of well here. My partner is actually the first Indian Christian most Ugandans have ever met! They are amazed that he is here NOT to make money, but to serve Uganda and the children and families here at New Hope.

What a blessed privilege it is to serve here in the beauty of such a multi-ethnic community that truly is a picture of the throne room of God where men and women from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation will worship together forever and ever! Glory to the Lamb that was slain who has brought about (and is bringing about) such great and beautiful reconciliation of the nations and cultures of this fallen and broken world!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Emergency Surgery at a Bush Hospital!

This story took place in the lives of two of our Institute students, both from the Chicago area. It's a GREAT story and gives good insight into not only the workings of a village hospital, but also God's sovereign purposes in his orchestrating of events and lives. This story is (of course) part of a much bigger story of God's work in the lives of these two. Enjoy.

A few days ago, we woke up with some excitement to celebrate our very first Uganda Independence Day. The date was 10/09/08 a day that stands out for another significant reason. However, neither of these reasons are the reason why this day will forever be engrained in my heart as a day that I will remember.
The day started out with some celebrations. I played in a football match and we had the special treat of being able to watch baby Hope (one of the orphaned babies). However, in the afternoon Tiziana began to experience some sharp stomach pains, which she suspected to be due to constipation, a longstanding problem. Yet even after a bowel movement, the pain continued. This caused her major concern, especially due to the abnormality of her pains, which seemed to be ongoing but spike into sharp almost unbearable pains. Later in the evening, her stomach began to swell in the abdomen and we decided we needed to have New Hope’s nurse evaluate Tiziana. After the visit we had planned to try to wait out the night and go to the clinic in the morning for some testing, but when we arrived home, her stomach would not allow the wait and we immediately picked up the nurse and rushed to the hospital. On the way, her pains increased to the point of screams and cries. It was as if the pain was thwarting her body and could only be alleviated by her screams for a moment. Our cries to Jesus began to match the intensity of hers as we called upon Him name.
When we arrived at Kiwoko Hospital, it was 11:15pm just after the outpatient care had closed. Unfortunately, there was no real system for emergency care so we ended up being put in the female ward of the hospital and the nurses seemed to be unprepared to handle the urgency of the situation. As Tiziana lay on the hospital, vomiting from the intensity of the pains, the doctor was not in sight and I continued to helplessly watch the minutes pass praying with faith that Jesus was with us but struggling to see Him. After nearly an hour, I went and found the doctor busy with another patient in serious condition, and explained the urgency of the situation to him and that we had been waiting already over and hour. Thankfully, he arrived in about 15 minutes and began to take assessment of her condition. Before he could even talk to Tiziana, he began an IV and injected pain medicine to calm her down. After some assessment and evaluation he realized that he needed to consult the surgeon who is one of the senior staff and by now it was about 2am. The surgeon came in and took her to have and X-ray and CAT scan done to see what they could find. In the meantime, they sent me back to retrieve the X-ray results of the barium enema that we had done in August. So I brought them back to the doctor who had just finished his tests. He found so much gas inside her large intestine and some other abnormalities. However, when he saw the barium enema X-rays he saw another piece in the puzzle, which was a genetically elongated large intestine. She had a significant extra length large intestine which he suspected could be twisted, but he still considered that a big enema flush would work even if it was slightly twisted. So the doctors went back home and the nurses began to carry out the enema. In about a half hour the enema began and the second flush of the enema brought an unwelcome sign of internal trauma. Blood began to pour out of her bowel and my heart sank as the bridge of hope we received from the doctors (regarding the enema) gave way and we sensed the desperation of that moment.
When the nurses saw the blood coming from her bowel, one of them left to go and find the doctor, while the other stayed behind. My mind was racing and I found myself crying out to Jesus, “Lord, we desperately need you right now. Please come and show us that you are with us.” Not knowing what to do, I was moving back and forth from my wife, to the nurse to ask the whereabouts of the doctor, to the door awaiting his coming. The minutes dragged by and I felt as if I might see my wife bleed to death before my eyes. The nurse arrived back and I was awaiting the doctor behind her when she told me that the doctor did not answer to her knocks. My frustration arose higher as I exclaimed, “What do you mean he doesn’t answer? Go back and knock louder! Take me with you and I will make sure he comes out because this is an emergency!” The nurse refused to allow me to go with her, but left again to find him. Tiziana continued to lose blood and I again felt so helpless. However, I noticed the peace that she had. She was not panicking, but had certain calmness about her countenance. This gave me some comfort, but I paced and checked my watch noting that 45 minutes had gone since she started loosing blood and it was nearing 4am. Then the nurse returned and again was without the doctor. By now I was sensing the frustration and anger swelling up within me. It was difficult because I wanted to communicate the absolute urgency of the situation to them but not lose control and make the situation worse. Finally, I decided that I was going to go back to New Hope and pick up Keith McFarland to rush her to Kampala (capital 2 hours away), giving the nurses and ultimatum that I would take my wife out of there to get help if they could not help her. On the way back, I was continuing to pray asking the Lord to bring his peace to us in this trouble.
We arrived at the hospital to find the doctor at the edge of the bed as he had seen the blood and contemplated a decision. The momentary relief I had in finding him there crumbled as I saw him look down as he exhaled the internal pressure of the situation shaking his head with deep concern. Then he looked up to find us and told us of the weighty decision we now had before us. He told us that the worst-case scenario was now upon us as her large intestine had literally twisted itself forming a “kink” inside her body. The incredible pain and pressure was a result of this kink which could let nothing in or out including large amount of gas and stool which was lodged insider her. Anyone who has ever had gas pain or indigestion has knows only a fraction of what was happening inside because of a temporary struggle for the gas to move through the system. However, her intestine had begun to expand and could be visibly seen as her stomach swelled. The doctor told us that we would risk her bowel bursting if we try to make it to one of the large hospitals in Kampala recommending that we stay and have the operation immediately under his care at Kiwoko Hospital. Now, Kiwoko is that it is a village hospital near New Hope, which was started by a Christian doctor from Northern Ireland at the same time as New Hope in response to the war in the late ’80. Admittedly, I was concerned about having the surgery mostly because of how little we knew about the abilities of the hospital. Our experience at the beginning with the nursing staff was upsetting, but the surgeon’s presence did much to reassure us.
In lieu of our urgent decision, I asked the doctor if we could pray, thinking that he was going to step out and allow us to pray, but without hesitation the doctor grabbed her hand and began to take us directly before the throne of God as he pleaded for the Lord to give us wisdom and he entrusted himself and her to God. The peace that followed was a peace that can only be described as the peace surpasses or is beyond all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). With hearts set at ease, we were ready to go for surgery. Tiziana was full of faith and trust in God knowing that she was in the caring arms of her Father. She calmed my own heart, which was struggling with the possibility of losing her. She wiped away my tears and told me not to cry as she pointed me to trust Jesus. She said, “He is with me” and “There is no reason to fear,” words, which I knew, were from God’s Holy Spirit, which dwells in her. The Holy Spirit is the comforter and we knew no greater comfort than that which he brought us (John 14:16). It was as if at that moment, the Lord was answering our questions of his purposes in this and reminding us that this has not caught him off guard, but that He had ordained this to come at this time and with the staff of this hospital. We rested in him and I remember releasing my wife not into the care of the physicians, but into the care of the “Great Physician” trusting that come what may, he was with us.
The surgery was estimated to take about 1-½ hours. The doctor explained that the procedure was to take out the twisted section (turned out to be over 2 ft.) and sew together the two ends of the large intestine. In the waiting room, time trickled by as I continued to check my watch awaiting news. As I waited, my thoughts went back to home as I realized that in all of commotion we were experiencing, back home our parents remained oblivious. Again, I was reminded that He was with us as I sent word back home and I was reassured that they were with us and calling more people to pray. The time passed by and when the surgeon came out I was trying to read his face before his words came and he showed little emotion. Then he assured me with the wonderful words, “Your wife is fine”. My soul was stirred to worship God who had worked his miraculous power to reveal himself in our lives here. Today as I write this, I am still in awe of the power and complexity with which God orchestrated this event.
God brought us to Uganda to this little village hospital to unleash his wisdom to this world, which boasts of its great medical advances. God brought us to a Christian surgeon and missionary from Germany who had performed these surgeries in his training. God brought us to Kampala in August to have a barium enema test done which would be a key factor in the doctor diagnosing the problem. God put it in the heart of our friends to lend us the car for the night “in case” we needed to go to the hospital. God helped me find the keys to the house in the middle of the night when I returned for the barium enema X-rays, and had dropped it on the ground. God brought a nurse from Alaska who worked in post operation surgery on a short-term trip to care for Tiziana in the hospital and watch for infection. God put it on the heart of an anonymous person to pay our bill in full. God brought a wonderful support of people to care for us with food for me and care for her through those days in the hospital. God is intimately involved in our lives we know with deeper conviction that “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Today she is recovering and gaining more and more strength. I can say with all my heart, “Lord, thank you for your wonderful work on our behalf, and not to us, but to Your Name be the glory”.

If you would like to see more about Kiwoko Hospital you can look at their website:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Update on Curse, Death and a Stolen Bicycle...

As David and Dennis arrived at Wandera's place in the afternoon on Wednesday, it was obvious that the family was still a wreck. Wandera's father, as well as three of his sisters were still at the home, all asking the same question- "Why?"

The day before Wandera and his sisters gathered around the father to ask him why this thing was happening, not just to Wandera, but the the family as a whole. You see, not only had the baby and his own daughter died, but the same type of death was happening throughout the family. His father, though old, has young children, a few who within the past few years have died a similar death. They wanted to know what the father had done to bring this curse on their family. His father dodged the questions. Wandera's wife had enough of THIS family and had decided to leave Wandera for good, figuring it would be better to be back in her parents' house then to watch her other children die a similar death over the years to come. That is when our guys came and found the family sitting around Wandera's house.

The family greeted David and Dennis very warmly, receiving them as true guests. They sat around and talked for some time before the two began asking specific questions related to the death and the family. After some time, the true question surfaced once again- WHY? And out came all that I wrote above. Wandera admitted that his wife had been involved in witchcraft, and that at first things seemed to get better, but now it had come to this- death.

As David and Dennis spoke the truth of the Gospel to them, that Jesus died to set them free from sin, free from fear of death, and free from slavery to Satan, they all listened very attentively. They spoke of the spiral of witchcraft and the ensnarement it brings, the deception that holds its powerful sway over people and the bondage that results. They spoke of the hope that only comes through Jesus, and many other words of truth. Then they prayed for the family, prayed over the house, and prayed for the Spirit of God to bring them to understand their words. The wife of Wandera was so moved by the men and their "talk" that she decided not to leave, and told them that she would remain with the family now that she felt some hope.

Wandera has yet to turn to follow Jesus, but he is being pursued, he and his family. We were able to raise enough money to buy him a new bicycle so that he doesn't have to walk the almost 4 miles to work each day. He was ecstatic! Please continue to pray for this young man and his family, that the power of the Gospel would transform their lives and set them free from the bondage to sin, death, and Satan that keeps them in a constant state of fear.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Curse, Death and a Stolen Bicycle

One of the things that is a powerful controller here in Uganda is the FEAR of being cursed. Of course, FEAR is always at the heart/root of fallen worldview and culture, it's just how that fear is played out that differentiates one culture from another. Satan is crafty and tends to root fear so deeply within a worldview that it is often unnoticed and the power of its control in maintained with little effort. Both Islam and Catholicism maintain much syncretism within their respective religions, keeping close ties to the culture of witchcraft and practice.

With that background, I want to introduce you to my friend Wandera. Wandera has been working at NHICF since we first came in 2002 to go through the Institute. He is a groundskeeper, faithful, steady, and quite a humble young man. He must be around 27 years old, married with three kids. I can go some time without seeing him, so when I passed him on Friday, I stopped to ask him how he's doing. "Uncle, not good" was his response. He went on to tell me that his bicycle had been stolen while he had been at the hospital. Feeling sad for him, since a bike is a big deal, especially when you have to come 4 miles to work, I told him that if he saved a certain amount of money toward the bike, I'd help with the rest. He was very excited.

This past week I taught on Suffering and the Gospel, laying both foundation for suffering, the Biblical view of suffering, and practical response to suffering (of course, this topic is NEVER taught disconnected from HEART- as there was MUCH suffering represented in our classroom). I say that because it's what came next that really stunned me. On Saturday, Wandera was at my house, but with a graven face. He said, "Uncle, my baby died." My mind immediately shot back to my 30th birthday when I was greeted with similar words from a friend here. I found myself responding the same way I had then, "Was it malaria?" Only this time, it was not- he didn't know what it was. He said she was fine the day before, started getting sick in the night, and then in the morning she was jerking (I'm guessing convulsing). Half way to the hospital she died. They turned around and went back home.

Now, as he stood before me, he was asking for around $20 as a loan so that he could have a grave dug and cemented inside to bury his 3 year old little girl (his other children are 4 and 6). I asked if he was going to buy a coffin, but he said that it was too much money. Quite moved, and also fresh from the days of discussion on entering into suffering, I knelt down, held his hand and just prayed for him. As I prayed, he began to weep- which is not normal for this culture, and I could sense my Father wrapping His arms around Wandera. After I finished praying I was able to give him (not loan him) around $55 to meet the different expenses for doing a "proper" burial.

The burial was set for the next day, Sunday, at 2 sharp. Church, which began at 10:30, ran a bit later than usual and we were out at 1:15. I scarfed down some food and heading over to the Institute where my car was packed out with people going with me to the burial. Since burials are about the only thing that even remotely begin on time, I hightailed it out to the village and we arrived at Wandera's mud house just after 2pm. Of course, the last leg of the journey found the road becoming a path, so I pulled my car into someone's house and got permission to leave it there as we walked the path to Wandera's.

As is customary, upon arrival, we all packed into the four room house. The women were all sitting on mats around the "living room". The wailing came and went in waves. The center piece of the room was a small mattress and lying on the mattress, dressed in a cute blue dress, was the little girl. She was beautiful. I immediately thought of my little Noah (3 years old) and what it would be like to lose him so suddenly. We stood around for a few minutes before exiting the house. The body was then placed in the small wooden coffin and carried to the place of burial.

Wandera is Catholic, and I had never been to a Catholic burial before, so I did not know what to expect. The crowd of gathered villagers all moved to the site (around 100 men and women), and the singing began. One song said, "We are grieving, Holy Mother pray for us". The priest was there and conducted the ceremony, which consisted of his reading and people's responses intertwined with songs. At one point I asked one of my friends with me what he was saying and he responded, "That God has killed this baby. And that they had all better be ready because they don't know when their time will come." Regardless of what your view is of God's sovereignty over death (which I agree with), those are NOT words of comfort to be spoken in the midst of such fresh loss, nor are they the best motivators for someone to truly turn to God. Of course, we had just been talking about this in the Institute!

After the coffin was placed inside the ground and the cement was mixed (and boy did I get hit with a good splash of cement, right on the shirt and pants- of course there was an obvious sound of disapproval from those around), a cross was placed into the wet cement. As everyone turned to "jet" away (remember, the cultural belief is that if you are the last one to leave, the spirit of the deceased might attach itself to you), I spotted Wandera walking back by himself. I went up and put my arm around him, walking back with him. As we talked, he was still stunned at how suddenly the girl had died.

It was only after that conversation that I found out that when his bike was stolen from the hospital, he was there with his niece- who had been abandoned to his house by the father. She died a few days later. So first the bike, then the death of the niece, and now the death of his little girl quite suddenly. Without saying it, I knew what he was thinking- witchcraft. You see, here, nothing just "happens". Everything has a cause, and something like this was sure pointing to the fact that someone is against him.

I wish I had a happy ending to the story. I don't. I gave him the week off of work to just be with his family, and on Wednesday two of our students (both Ugandan) are going to his house to try to bring him REAL comfort, that which only comes through the Gospel and the hope found therein. Please pray for Wandera and for others here who are bound in fear to Satan and witchcraft. Pray that he may come to know the One who took the curse for him and who alone can set him free from fear of death and Satan. Just a tidbit from the "other side" of life and ministry here. And just so you know, as a class we are planning to buy him a bike.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Your Heavenly Father Feeds Them...

A few weeks ago I was up just before sunrise. The power was on, which meant that I was able to make coffee for an extra early morning treat! I opened the shutters next to our table so that I could watch the sun rise as I spent time with my Heavenly Father. I was reading in the Sermon on the Mount, and interestingly, as I read I kept hearing "flapping" just outside of the window. As I looked up watchfully, sure enough, a multitude of birds were swooping down from the trees all around where they were perched, watching. I was further amazed as I rose and walked to the window, beholding the object of the birds excitement: white ants.

It's an amazing site to behold on the day that the white ants come up from the ground in droves. These are ants with wings, sent out to begin new colonies, but in our Father's great wisdom they are also sent out as dessert for the birds. As the ants leave their holes, they fly in every direction, thus making quite a fun sport for the birds! It was awesome to watch one ant flying through the air, tracking him with my eyes, and then suddenly...GONE! Man can birds hunt!

As I turned my thoughts to Matthew 6, I knew I was watching a living example of my Father's incredible provision for the birds- and of course, I had to ask myself, "Am I not of more value then they are?" It was at that moment that my smile turned into utter laughter. Just to the right of where I was watching the birds feasting on white ants, there was one of the young children from Jonathan Family (the family group just below our house), grabbing the ants out of the air and popping them into his mouth! Yes, my Father not only feeds the birds, but He feeds His children as well!

Actually, when the white ants come out, it is feasting time for almost everyone. Once I sat on the ground to help some old women who were piling the ants still on the ground into baskets for later eating. And actually, they aren't too bad. I mean, they are not my first choice for flavor, but they're not bad- well, if you take the wings off before you pop them into your mouth! Or you can roast them and add some salt. Either way, "Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all (food, clothing, etc.). But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Yes, even white ants.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Relatives are Here to STAY!

When I was growing up, I loved going to visit our relatives. Whether heading to Ohio or Florida, I always looked forward to the trip, to sleeping on cots, to just being with family. Of course, after about a week, everyone’s ready for the time to come to an end. We were always ready to get back to our own house, and I’m sure our relatives were ready to get rid of us!

Here in Uganda things work quite a bit differently. When relatives come for a visit, there is often no planning for the event. One day you come home to find the house full of people, often up to ten or more relatives, depending on the number of children brought along for the “visit.” They are simply “there” with no plan as to when they’ll be going, and of course, it would be rude to ask. Your job is to provide food, medical care, and whatever else might be needed during the stay. Sleeping arrangements are quite interesting, since most houses typically consist of one or two (at the most!) bedrooms, a sitting room, and then an outside kitchen. I’m not quite sure how people sleep, though I would assume quite a few sleep on mats on the floor. Of course, most visits do eventually come to an end, and the house gets back to normal.

It was a different situation for my friend Kibeti. A few nights ago, he arrived home to find that his sister, her husband, and two kids had arrived from a long journey. Only they had not come for a visit, they had ARRIVED. Suddenly, memories of “Uncle Buck” (John Candy) come flooding back to me. I wonder how it went. “Oh, hello my sister. It’s great to see you.” “Yes my brother, we are here.” “Yes, you are here.” “Yes.” “You are welcome.” “Thank-you.” “How is there?” “There is not fine. There is no food and the water has been hard to get.” “Oh, I am sorry.” “So, we are here.” “Yes, you are here.” And so it ends. You know exactly what has been said, “We are here without plans of going back. Glad we can stay with you.”

Unfortunately for Kibeti, his other sister has already been staying with him in their two room house, along with his own wife and two children. Now it’s nine people in a house about the size of most Americans’ living room. There is one up-side to things, though. Kibeti has been adding on to his house, a third bedroom, so his sister can have her own room and so he and his wife can sleep alone! He’s been working on this project for around six months now, building slowly by slowly, ten or fifteen dollars a month going into the project. Actually, Kibeti just sold his gigantic female pig (not long ago she produced 13 piglets!) in exchange for a smaller pig and some money- just enough to finish the room so his sister could move in. It is that money that Kibeti had in his pocket (over two-month’s wage for him!) when his sister and family found him.

I asked him what he was going to do. He said, “You know, God has blessed me in that my sister found me with money in my pocket. I will find for her a room to rent and pay three months rent, and I will buy for her cooking pans, plates, cups, and a hoe and slasher so they will be able to find some jobs and earn some money.” He wasn’t complaining, though now I’m not sure how long it will be for him to finally finish that room. The words of I Timothy 5:8 hit me hard, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Talk about the need for living out the Gospel! In the West, we have little idea what this verse really means or how to live it out. What would you have done in Kibeti’s place? How can you live out this verse in your own context?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Celebrating 20 Years of Family!

Godfrey stepped off the taxi and began walking up the familiar drive that leads into New Hope Uganda’s Kasana Children’s Center. A smile lit up his face as he beheld the giant “Welcome Home” banner that stretched over the road just before the gate leading into New Hope. Uncle Tony, Godfrey’s former principal and a Senior Leader at New Hope, rose quickly from the welcome station and hurried to meet Godfrey, embracing him with a warm hug. Godfrey was home.

Godfrey is a son of New Hope. He has been in and out of the family over the past few years for many different reasons, the latest being continual drug use. He has been living in Kampala at a Christian run drug rehabilitation center and has been doing wonderfully, most clearly seen in his renewed heart for God that previously had only been seen in short flashes. Godfrey, along with a few hundred of his brothers and sisters who also grew up at New Hope, returned home to celebrate 20 years of New Hope family. The weekend celebration rejoined and rekindled relationships of all sorts including many who had not seen each other in more than 10 years! And how exciting to find many of those who have been sons and daughters of New Hope coming with their sons and daughters, grandkids of the ministry!

It was exciting to hear the testimonies of those who have been living “outside” for so many years, to hear of God’s faithfulness to all as well as His relentless pursuit of those who left New Hope in a “bad” way, to hear of the fruit that is being born through those who at one time were considered “hopeless” by their families and community, to see the reach of these men and women throughout Uganda and even into Rwanda, and to hear the sons and daughters exhorting their young “brothers and sisters” who are currently at New Hope to follow their true Father and to accept the family that they have here. Powerful.

Isaiah 60:4 came alive for all of us- in fact, Laura Beth could not read it without crying throughout the weekend! It says, "Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar and your daughters shall be carried on the arm."

The weekend was also a fun time together, as Saturday was filled with foot races, sack races, races with bottles on the head, bike races, and football (soccer) matches (of course, the current kids defeated the “old boys” as well as the staff!). One of the highlights was Saturday night at the bonfire when those who had returned gave testimonies about their lives and their time at New Hope, honoring their fathers (Uncle Jay Dangers and Uncle Jonnes Bakimi) and giving Glory to God. Sunday was our day of Thanksgiving, complete with the family march around the circle with banners flying and branches waving, and then a five hour church service filled with singing, thanksgiving, and testimonies! Yes…5 hours! (and I wasn’t even tired afterwards! Yes, I’m becoming Ugandan : ). We then had a gigantic community meal for the over 1,500 people present! You should have seen the lines for the food!
Mukama Awebwe Ekitibwa (To God be the Glory)

Please continue to pray for the ministry of New Hope Uganda and for the sons and daughters that are currently here as well as those who are now grown and living out on their own. Pray that the love of the Father, the true Father of the fatherless, would melt and bind up the brokenhearted in our midst, that the Gospel would penetrate hearts, that fatherhood and motherhood would be received, that family would be established, and that God would make His Name known in Uganda through those He has entrusted to us here at New Hope. Please also pray for our next site of ministry in Kumi that will focus on children who have been recovered from the fighting in the North, those who have been abducted by Koni and the LRA and recovered from the fighting. Also pray for our coming Manhood and Womanhood camp on Lake Victoria that will be a place for discipleship and retreats for our children as well as others from around Uganda, as we are still trying to secure the land so that we can begin building there and developing the site.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

7 Year Anniversary!

Today Laura Beth and I are celebrating 7 years of marriage! I had the privilege of preaching in church today out of II Samuel 7 on God's covenant with David- what sweet timing, as I was able to stand before the church and rejoice in the marriage covenant that our Father has given to us together. As I was speaking about God's "steadfast love" or His Covenant Love, I read this poem that I wrote for Laura Beth and read to her just before I proposed to her. Here it is:

The Day That I Met You…

The day that I met you, Who ever would have thought
The girl who smiled so softly, Would be the one God brought

The day that I met you, I never would have known
The dimpled girl who made be blush, Would one day be my own

And girl you are no longer, For before my very eyes
Through pain I’ve watched you blossom, To a pearl of greatest price

This pearl I greatly treasure, Handed down from up above
For the more that I’m around you, The more I learn of love

Love not from self-ambition, Nor a seeking of my own
But sacrifice and giving, Yielding all is love alone

Though my heart was cold and bitter, Sinful, hardened to the bone
Your love came in and gave me, A heart of flesh instead of stone

While all around were screaming, “You’d be a fool to let love go”
I sought the Lord, our Father, And He clearly let me know

That love is to be cherished, And treasured in the heart
That through loving you I’d love Him, And that’s the greatest part

Our love is not from us, It’s rare, a precious thing
And so to symbolize this love we share, I bought for you this ring...

And she said YES!!!

And just for fun- here are the vows that we wrote for that special day:

Keith’s: Laura, you are the one my soul delights in, and today I take you as
my wife. I covenant to make you the sole object of my affections, and to be single-mindedly devoted to you and you alone. I commit all that I am to loving you as Christ loved the church, giving Himself up for her, and I take full responsibility for seeking to present you to Him a pure bride. In this, I commit to love you above myself, serve you even when empty, and to provide you shelter and security. I covenant to remain by your side in whatever circumstance of life our Shepherd might bring, until I lay you in our Savior’s arms.

Laura’s: Keith, you are the one my soul delights in, and today I take you as
my husband. I covenant to make you the sole object of my affections, and to be single-mindedly devoted to you and you alone. I commit all that I am to submitting to you just as Jesus submitted to the Father in order to carry out His will. In this, I commit to love you above myself, serve you even when empty, and provide encouragement and bring joy to your life. I covenant to remain by your side in whatever circumstance of life our Shepherd might bring, until I lay you in our Savior’s arms.

It is true that marriage just keeps getting sweeter- but it's sweeter as the Gospel keeps meeting us in new and deeper ways!

So what do you do when you live in the BUSH of Uganda to celebrate an anniversary? Some friends of ours (the Vogt's) are cooking us dinner and then they are coming over to our house to watch the boys while we go and have a "romantic evening" at their house- dinner and a movie!

I'd love to hear any of your marriage stories- poems, vows, etc.

If you like the ring (which are the rings that we have), you can find them on: http://www.porat-jewelry.com/

Monday, May 12, 2008

Orphan Conference, Adoption, and Multi-Ethnicity (or the lack thereof)

My wife and I recently attended a conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida called “Hope For Orphans”. It was probably the biggest gathering of Christian men and women from various organizations and ministries that focus specifically on orphans to ever take place. Represented were people with a passion for foster care, local and foreign adoption, and international ministry to orphans. It was an amazing and refreshing time for us, as we have never been around so many people so passionate about the same things as us. It was exciting to network with others laboring in the fields of the fatherless, and it was fun to hear the same language being talked about- from the church's desperate need to recover the front lines of orphan care (both locally and globally) to the church's need for a solid understanding of spiritual adoption and what it means to be adopted sons and daughters of God. It was also fun to see so many families exemplifying the doctrine of adoption in their own families through adopting children from around the world. Just a glance around the room and one would quickly notice children from China, Ethiopia, and various ethnicities from within America. How beautiful!

Yet, even as I smiled at such beautiful diversity within various families, my heart was yet saddened by one stark reality- the room itself lacked diversity. Granted, there were a few African brothers and sisters in the room, mainly because they work with orphans in Africa, and there were a few brothers and sisters of color scattered here or there, but overall, a good 95% of the people in attendance of this Orphan Summit IV were white American. My heart could not help but feel saddened. Is this really a conference reflective of the church in America in terms of orphan care, concern, and ministry? Where are my African American brothers and sisters? Where are other established minority church groups? Are these church's simply not involved in orphan care or was the conference targeting one specififc ethnic group (white churches)? I don't have an answer to these questions(though I have some ideas), but I've been thinking about it non-stop since the conference. I am really interested in your feedback in this situation, because I think this is a sad reality on a much bigger level than simply this conference.

It also seems to me that a people so passionate about and so committed to the doctrine of adoption and its implications for the church in both life and practice (in terms of the adoption of orphans from various different ethnicities) should be just as passionate and just as committed to pursuing multi-ethnicity in both church life and ministry practice. It also seems to me that the doctrine of adoption provides a paradigm for multi-ethnic ministry (or the pursuit of unity within the ethnic diversity within the body of Christ)- something I'm working on teasing out in an article form (I'll post that when it's done). How beautiful it will be one day when families, men and women, who are passionate about the doctrine of adoption and who reflect the beauty of that doctrine in their own families, form but a small picture of the larger gathered diverse Body of believers, whether gathering to talk about ministry to orphans, or gathering to worship on Sunday morning.

I guess for now, I'd love to hear your take on these things.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Answering My Own Questions

Well, since I haven't heard much back concerning the questions I posed in my last post, I'm going to enter in and offer up my own answers. Let me know what you think.

* Are we born as “literal” children of Satan (is he our natural father?), or are we yet children of God who have rebelled against Him and therefore come under submission to Satan as our “father”?

Jesus spoke to some Jews in John 8 and told them that they are of their father the devil. The Apostle John split the world into two groups, children of God and children of Satan (I John 3:10). The question, then, is in what sense are people actually children of Satan?

First off, we are not Satan's natural children. When Paul was preaching to the Areopagus in Acts 17, he was speaking about God as the maker of the nations, nations that trace back to one man (Adam), nations that God set in place that they might seek Him. He then quoted one of their own poets saying, “'For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver... (28-29).” The implication of what Paul is saying is that though humanity is fallen, God is still the Father of all humanity! Satan is not our rightful or natural father.

Second, when Paul was speaking about our state before following Jesus, he said that we were "dead in trespasses and sins" and at the same time we were "following the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:1-2)" who is Satan. So, though God is the TRUE Father of humanity, because of the fall and original sin, we are each born spiritually dead, and therefore we by nature follow Satan, in the sense that we DO NOT by nature follow or submit to God. In a very real sense, Satan IS our father, but it's more of a father by choice through the rejection of our True Father God. This goes back to the failure of Adam, the first "son of God (Lk. 3:38)", and this is where the process of regeneration comes in, where God redeems, justifies, and then adopts us back into His family because of the obedience of the true Son of God, Jesus, who then becomes our brother (Heb. 2:12-13) by spiritual adoption.

* Is it wrong to use language like “orphan heart” to describe the tendencies of a wounded orphan's heart (and thus our own hearts), when it's not Biblical language per se?

I have no problem with the use of language outside of the Bible to describe concepts found within the Bible. For example, the term Trinity is not found in the Bible, but the Trinity is clearly there. In the same way, the concept of the "heart of an orphan" is there in that it is simply the sinful, human heart, but it describes those sinful tendencies that tend to be more specifically at work in the heart and life of an orphan because of the trauma they have faced in life. Though spiritual orphans are never talked about, either, it is assumed within the usage of the term adoption within the writings of Paul, since it is both slaves and orphans that need adopted.

* Why do people have such a hard time applying the Gospel outside the context of “sin”, in terms of the ongoing healing of the heart (psychology term?) through the wounds that we have received from others?

I think most of this goes back to the Reformation and the emphasis that we have had over the last three hundred years on the doctrine of justification (a much needed emphasis by the way!). As a result, the Gospel has been clearly defined, but it has been applied simply in terms of salvation of sins at the cost of understanding the death of Jesus in the defeat of death and Satan. In Uganda this has led to a division of the Gospel into two Gospels, one of salvation and one of deliverance (from Satan/demons). In the same way, here in the West, we have proclaimed our need for the Gospel in terms of salvation from sin, but have failed to present our ongoing need for the Gospel in all areas of life- even where we have been sinned against by others.

* Why does the Christian church throw up flags when emphasis is made on God as Father and our need to relate to Him on the level of “Daddy”?

This one is sort of the "hum dinger" of the questions, since history and the feminist movement come into play with the answer. Without going into those things, I will simply say that Jesus clearly revealed the Fatherhood of God and the access we are granted in terms of the "Abba" cry of Jesus. Most of us naturally relate to God as the King that we have offended, but because of Jesus we are pardoned by Him (again, going back to the emphasis on justification). The result is often a life lived relating to God as a slave or servant, and the fruit is a much easier job relating to Jesus (lover, friend) then to God as Father. The breakdown in fatherhood in our culture also adds to this inability to relate to God in terms of Fatherhood and sonship. Many translations are moving towards the neutral God (Father/Mother) which affirms the cultural outcries against a masculine God and creates more alarm when God is spoken of as He has revealed Himself (as Father).

What do you think?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Orphan Heart and Opposition

Last week in my home church I preached a message on the story of Abraham and Lot and the journey of an orphan heart, tying it into spiritual adoption and the need of us all to relate to God as Father and trust Him alone for our identity, provision, protection and security. Afterwards, one woman came up to me absolutely livid. I was caught off guard by her, since I had just been talking with a woman who was in tears at how moved and encouraged she was by the message. On the contrary, this woman told me that I was on a dangerous path and she pleaded with me to seek God in prayer about the direction I was heading. She likened my teaching to what she called, “Focus on the family and Josh McDowell” Christian-psychology, family idolatry. She began defending the Gospel like I was denying the depravity of man and everyone’s original spiritual state as “dead in sin” and therefore “children of Satan,” claims that I completely agree with. She went on and on with great emotion and passion for the things she was calling me out on.

My initial reaction was to defend myself. I knew that she had misunderstood me and I also knew that I agreed with most of what she said about the Gospel. I also knew that I don't even read Dobson or McDowell, and I wanted her to know it! But that would have been fruitless in that situation, and to my great rescue, along came another man who wanted to encourage me and I was able to turn my attention away from her. When I turned back she was gone.

After that it did not matter how many “well done”'s I got, I was shaken up and hurt. My father-in law pointed me to David's response to Shemmi's stones, and I began seeking my Father as to what He wanted to teach me through this direction opposition. And that is where I want to get your feedback.

* Why does the Christian church throw up flags when emphasis is made on God as Father and our need to relate to Him on the level of “Daddy”?

* Are we born as “literal” children of Satan (is he our natural father?), or are we yet children of God who have rebelled against Him and therefore come under submission to Satan as our “father”?

* Is it wrong to use language like “orphan heart” to describe the tendencies of a wounded orphan's heart (and thus our own hearts), when it's not Biblical language per se?

* Why do people have such a hard time applying the Gospel outside the context of “sin”, in terms of the ongoing healing of the heart (psychology term?) through the wounds that we have received from others?

If you'd like to hear the sermon yourself you can at: http://www.gracecommunitybible.org/listen/podcast.php

Thanks for the help! Keith

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Though Fatherless and Widowed- God is Father and Husband

My cousin Mike and I have talked much over the years about the fatherless. He has visited us twice in Uganda, so he has not only heard me teach on the fatherless, but he has seen firsthand what it means to labor in the “fields of the fatherless.” He has come to understand God's Fatherhood to the fatherless as unfolded throughout the Old Testament. He has understood what Psalm 68:5 means when it says, “A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling.” And he has delighted in the culmination of all that these things point to in the Gospel and the doctrine of adoption, where God Himself adopts spiritual and physical orphans into His family and Himself becomes “Daddy.”

Last year Mike took all that I have written concerning God's heart for the fatherless and the widow and he taught it in a Sunday School class at his church. He has spoken on spiritual adoption to the church and he has been my constant encourager as I've labored to begin writing a book on these things. Yet these are not just things that Mike has “learned” like you would learn that 2 + 2 = 4. No, you don't become passionate about “facts” or “truth” for truth's sake. Mike has become passionate about these things because they have been “revealed” to him and they have affected and changed the way he relates to God.

I am convinced that Mike's ownership of these things, his longing to know God intimately, his realization that though he has had a father, spiritually he was fatherless, but in salvation, in the Gospel, he has been brought into the family of God where God IS his Father, all of these things were preparation for what was coming. When Mike was woken up at 4:30 in the morning to his mother's desperate cries, he knew what was happening. He ran out of his house to find his father, dead. In those desperate moments as shock and pain shot through his body, as he was helpless to do anything to bring his father back, the realization of what Mike had become sank in.

When I called him the first thing he said to me was, “I'm fatherless, my dad is dead.” He went on, “But my Papa's with me, he's the best father in the world, and it's good.” He went on to tell me the horrible story of what took place when he found his father, yet the peace and comfort he had in it all was the knowledge that His Father was with him. Suddenly, what Mike had been so passionate about was more of a reality than it ever had been.

That verse in Psalm 68 also says that God is the defender of the widow. Though Mike's mom, my Aunt Nancy, had become fatherless six months before, she now has to face life as widow, a young widow, and she has the daunting task of forming a new identity apart from the one who's life had also defined her own.

When Mike asked me to speak at the funeral I did not want to at first. How could I stand before my family, all of us full of emotion, and deliver the Word of God. But then God brought me to John 11 and the message I was to speak, so I agreed. I spoke out of John 11- the story of Lazarus. It's an amazing passage relating to death, the depth of pain and grief that we bear, the questions that naturally arise during grief, Jesus' response to these questions, and his entering into our own suffering, as he weeps right along side of us, though he knows the purposes and the results of such tragedy in our lives. What came out powerfully is the great hope of the Gospel for us both in resurrection and life to come, as well as the healing and comfort in life now.

I can not enter into the grief of another and feel exactly what they are feeling, even if I've been through something similar. But there is one who himself as suffered just as we have, and He alone is able to enter in and bring the healing and comfort that we so long for. He is the Father to the fatherless, and the defender, the husband, of the widow. I'm so thankful for those beautiful pictures found in Scripture! And I'm so thankful for His Spirit's help to deliver His message of hope in the midst of such grief.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Funeral and Family Revival

Act 2:39- “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”

I'm back in West Virginia right now, all alone and missing my family. It's never fun or easy to travel home for a funeral, thoughts and feelings come at you strangely since you are not “there” yet, though you feel the pain and hurt through the distance...but it's still not the same. My Uncle died a couple of days ago, suddenly and tragically, but not altogether unexpectedly, though we all thought he was doing well. He had triple bi-pass surgery and seemed to be improving well enough, though he was having a bit of trouble breathing the last couple of days he was at home.

My family buried my grandfather, my mom's dad, around six months ago. My Aunt Nancy (sister to my mom) was left with a mess to sort through after that death, including baggage from a father who wounded more than he loved, though he did love. In fact, all four of the daughters have been forced to deal with the wounds of a father longed for and lost. When Aunt Nancy found out that Uncle Rick (her husband) needed heart surgery, it was about enough to toss a goat off a hillside. Overall, we were all positive about the surgery, all of us but Uncle Rick himself. His last few weeks were extra hard on Nancy, as she was still grieving her father while her husband was retreating into himself, coming face to face with the reality of death.

But before the surgery came, he gained renewed hope through a meeting with an old buddy who had successfully had the same surgery. The surgery came and went on the day after my birthday. I visited him in the hospital the day after and was stunned by how good he was doing after just one day. After he was brought home he began struggling to breath. My cousin Mike (his son), who is like a brother to me, was not able to visit his dad until the day before he died, because Mike had the ol' stomach flu that was passing around our family. Their time together was sweet- and as Mike prayed for his Dad, praising and worshiping God in the midst of the pain and struggle his father was facing, his Dad was “amen”ing.

That may not sound significant to most people, but I've sat with Mike on many occasions and listened to his own pain and grief for his father, his longing to see a spiritual thirst in his dad. I had never heard of Uncle Rick even uttering an “amen” in the midst of prayer. Mike left after that and the night came. He had been struggling to breath enough that they almost called an ambulance a couple of times, but he did not want to go back to the hospital. At one in the morning, my Aunt Nancy woke up, changed his towels and checked on him. Surprisingly, he said, “Nancy, come and pray with me.” And the words of the prayer, though I'm passing on now third-hand (paraphrased), still cause me to cry- “Dear Lord, I know that you are a Sovereign God, and I know that you are with me, but I'm hurting, and I don't like it. I know that I haven't lived my life for you, and I'm sorry. Please forgive me for the things I've done wrong. Amen.” I'll try to update the exact words when I can get them from Aunt Nancy. Sometime in the next two hours he likely had a blood clot go to his heart or lungs, and he died. I won't go into the details here, but the trauma that both Nancy and Mike faced over the next two hours is somethign I pray I will never have to face with my own father.

As I told this to my own father as we drove to the airport to pick up my sister, he cried and cried. It's what we've all longed for, prayed for, hoped for, for Uncle Rick- that his heart would be turned TOWARD God, and it was. The hardest part for our family was the disappointment for the hope of the next phase of Rick's life, a life lived for something greater than himself, life lived outside of himself, the continued fathering role he would have with his grandkids Austin and Abbey, and a chance for those of us outside the immediate Ervin family to truly KNOW the man. Yet, he has gained new life, a life that non of us would want to pull him away from, where he is free and where death has been swallowed up in victory. Our hope for him is far “less” than the true hope he has gained in new life. We prayed that his physical heart problems would lead to the healing of his spiritual heart, and truly it did. And that was the greatest healing of all.

The first time I spoke with Mike on the phone, I was at a loss as to even what to say. I was stunned too. The first thing he said to me was, "I'm fatherless, my father died. But I have my Papa, and He's the best Father." He is the Father of the fatherless, and in Mike's initial grief, the Father's comfort was with him in a way that truly amazed me. That comfort continues to be with him, even as he cares for his mom who in six months has become both fatherless and widowed. We are praying that she comes to truly know the One who is both Father and Husband, the father of the fatherless and defender of the widow. Onl He can bring that depth of healing.

As I look back over my family during the past 30 years, one thing becomes OBVIOUS- God is redeeming our family. Though we have our issues and struggles and just down right weird aspects of our family, the Gospel is penetrating into heart and lives and changing them. We are being redeemed. In my own family there is a maturity and love for God, for Jesus, that I couldn't have imagined 15 years ago. In Mike's family (the Ervin family) the same work is being done. In cousins, aunts and uncles, hearts are turning toward Him and lives are being lived for him. None of this has been in our time or our way, but in God's timing, the fruit of His consistent and steady work in our lives...much through pain and struggle, just like we are facing now.

I sit here amazed at God's grace in our family, at the redemption He has brought to torn families and the healing He is bringing to deep wounds, and I can only smile. How fun it is to be a part of His work in our family, in our community, and in our world. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and earth is named...” We do bear His name, and the promise is for us and our children and all who are far off- as many as the Lord our God calls to himself. I love being a part of family revival...where will we be in 30 more years?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Listen in to the orphan heart

Hey guys, here are some links to some talks I've done on the orphan heart. If you've been reading some of what I've written you'll see some obvious overlap. If you haven't, then no worries either.

The first was a sermon given at Grace Community Chapel (it's their podcast website) and the other two were me sitting down at Shoney's with my buddie Moles who is the pastor of that church. Feedback is most welcome!




Thursday, January 24, 2008

Part 3: Ex 22- God as the Defender of the orphan and widow

Imagine if one of the first things you were taught after professing faith in Jesus was that God wants you to care for orphans and widows. Imagine that you came across James 1:27 while reading the Bible or you heard it preached in church. You might wonder what was so special about orphans and widows that God would call caring for them “true religion.” Perhaps a mature Christian would point out that the command flows out of the Fatherhood of God Himself to us as those who were spiritually fatherless, but have now been adopted into the family of God (Gal. 4:4-7). You would learn very quickly to take seriously the call to live out the faith by caring for the fatherless and widows in your midst. In ancient Israel God wanted to make it clear to His people right at the beginning of their relationship with Him that they had a responsibility to care for orphans and widows in their midst as an outflow of the Person of God Himself as the defender of the orphan and widow.
God’s command to Israel in Exodus 22:22 takes place in the context of His entering into covenant1 with His people, so before we can look at the command itself, we must first understand the context of that command. When God took Israel to be “a people for Himself” in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, the Scriptures say that He brought them out of Egypt “with a mighty hand” by the Passover and then through the Red Sea to the foot of Mt. Sinai. It is here on Mt. Sinai that Moses then went up to meet with God, and it is here that God affirmed the covenant that He was making with his people saying: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:5-6a).” In Exodus 19 God laid out the fact that he was entering into a covenant relationship with Israel that had expectations and stipulations. They were to be a kingdom of priests (representing the nations to God and teaching them about God), a holy nation (representing God’s holiness to the nations), and they were to obey and keep the covenant (which by faith upheld the other two).
The covenant was confirmed in chapter 24 after the reading of the Book of the Covenant to the people (24:7). When they heard the stipulations of the covenant, the people declared: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” This proclamation was then followed by sacrifice and the shedding of blood.2 God then said to Israel through Moses, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words (24:8b).” “All these words” were the words of the Book of the Covenant that was read a few verses earlier in the hearing of the people. So what was this “Book of the Covenant” and what does it have to do with orphans?
Up to this point, the Book of the Covenant consisted of those laws that were given in chapters 20-23 after God called Israel into covenant (Ex. 19) and before he ratified the covenant (Ex. 24). It functioned as the initial stipulations of the covenant- what the people were to obey, beginning with the Ten Commandments and then other laws that unfolded the various forms that this obedience would constitute. These laws included various topics ranging from laws about alters, slaves and restitution, to laws about social justice, Sabbath and festivals. At this point in the giving of the Law there was no mention of sacrifices or instructions for the tabernacle (this came shortly after and would continue to unfold throughout the Pentateuch with the Law). Yet these laws were specifically chosen to make up the initial “Book of the Covenant” for a purpose- they revealed God Himself (the Lawgiver) as well as His expectations for His people to reflect His nature through obedience.3
This is the context of our passage at hand. Right at the beginning of His relationship with Israel, within the initial “Book of the Covenant,” God said to His people: “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless (Ex. 22:22-23).”
I can remember the first time I read this passage; I gasped! Did God really say THAT! That if orphans and widows were mistreated and cried out to God, then He Himself would kill them, leaving their wives to be widows and their children fatherless! That is what the command says. The question must be asked then: Why such severity? The answer to this question lies within the heart of the Lawgiver, but becomes clearer when seen in the light of the nations around Israel in the Ancient Near East. The protection of the widow and the orphan was the constant claim of the “ideal king” of the Ancient Near East. In their boasting, the ancient kings were portraying themselves as “ideal” in their rule and just in all their ways.4 In a very real sense, without meaning to, these kings were at least pretending to reflect the nature of the one true ideal King.
In Israel (and the world) Yahweh is the ideal King who truly cares for the plight of the widow and the orphan as their true defender and protector. Yet this King has chosen to care for the widow and the orphan through his people- those in relationship with Him, those who will reflect His own character and holiness. If the people fail to care for the orphan and widow, the character of Yahweh’s own nature as the defender and protector of the fatherless would be compromised, as God had called Israel to reflect His own nature in the keeping of the Covenant. Therefore, failure to accurately reflect the nature of God in properly caring for orphans and widows would bring severe punishment!
God made it clear to Israel right at the beginning of His relationship with them that He takes seriously the care for the fatherless and widow! He bound the care of the fatherless and widow right into the fabric of the covenant itself within his covenant expectations of His people. When they cried out with one voice in Exodus 24, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!”, they understood the magnitude of what they were saying, and the depths of God’s heart toward the fatherless and widows in their midst.
This passage holds three main truths for Christians today, each with very specific application and all three pointing to and unfolding the beauty of the Gospel itself.
1. God Himself is the defender of the Fatherless and Widow. There is something about this group of people that evokes God’s heart above the general category of “poor and needy.” The Book of the Covenant speaks in many places about the poor and needy, but it is here that God’s own character is seen to be linked to the fatherless and widow, where He shows that He Himself will move on their behalf. It will be unveiled later by David in Ps. 68:5 that God is the “Father to the fatherless” and the “defender of the widow” and this passage is the first to point us there.
The Gospel reveals that each of us is born spiritually “fatherless”, dead in sin (Eph. 2:2), and in desperate need of One who will move on our behalf. It is God who has taken the initiative in our salvation and drawn us to Jesus (Jn. 6:37, 44). This is the very heart of the Gospel itself- that God is not watching our pain and suffering, our struggles against sin and injustice on this groaning planet from far away. God is not ill-concerned and removed from our pain. Instead, He is near to us, concerned, and filled with compassion and mercy for those who are in need, especially the fatherless and widow.
2. God’s heart is toward those who recognize their need for Him. This is found in the statement, “If…they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” If the fatherless and widow are mistreated or taken advantage of but do not cry out to Yahweh then they suffer in vain and without hope. The promise is to those who “cry out” to Yahweh who then Himself will move on their behalf. This is the heart of the Gospel as shown in the Beatitudes. When Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are the poor” he is not pointing to blessing for the sake of poverty in itself (whether physical or spiritual), but blessing unto those who know they need God! “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” It’s the same for the fatherless (physical or spiritual). One could say, “Blessed are the fatherless and blessed are the fatherless in spirit, for they shall find their Father.” The blessing is not to the fatherless for the sake of the fatherless, but to the fatherless that recognize their need of God! The same could be said about the widow. The Gospel is not for the righteous, but for those who know they need God (see Luke 18:9-14)!
3. God expects His people to bring His care (His Fatherhood) to the fatherless and widow. God still brings His Fatherhood to the fatherless through those of us who bring His compassion and care to these needy ones. This is the heart of James 1:27 and the heart of the Gospel itself- the very outflow of the person and nature of God being made manifest in us (see II Cor. 3:18). God made it clear to Israel right at the beginning of His relationship with them that they were to care for the fatherless and widow as a reflection of His character, and He makes it clear to us that we are to care for the fatherless in our midst.
The care of the fatherless is more than just a “good thing,” but is grounded in the Gospel itself, the good news that sin, death and Satan have been defeated on the cross and that God adopts us as His very own sons and daughters. This is a greater adoption than any of us could picture even if we adopt a child into our own families (which is great!). May our Father use us to bring His Fatherhood to the many physical and spiritual orphans in our midst, even as we bask in our own adoption as God’s sons and daughters!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thoughts...Part 2 (Lot)

Thoughts on God’s Heart for Orphans and Widows by Keith McFarland
Part 2: Abraham and Lot- the journey of an orphan heart

The book of James makes it clear that Christians today are to care for the fatherless in their midst, yet the task of working with the fatherless can be quite daunting. Whether one is in the bush of Uganda or in a Sunday School classroom in Chicago, there remains no greater challenge then to get into the heart of an orphan. The challenge is especially tough when the life of an orphan has been characterized by hurt, pain, lack of discipline and lack of love that seems to manifest itself in the present in a lack of trust, disobedience, selfishness, and all out rebellion. Often times it’s easier to remove these children or “distractions” from the rest of a group or just ignore them all together, yet this serves only to reinforce the hurts and pains that fatherless children carry in their hearts. They are simply acting out of their orphaned heart. What is one to do? The Biblical story of Abraham and Lot provides a powerful beginning for understanding the heart of an orphan as well as the place where that heart must be led if true healing is to take place.
We are told in Genesis 12 that God chose Abraham and directed him to leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house, to go to a land that God would show him! In this very command, God was calling Abraham to lay down his identity in the land of his birth and as a son in his father’s house, and to trust God alone for both his identity and provision!
Not surprisingly, the heart of an orphan is often besieged with the same issues Abraham faced; only theirs is not by choice. An orphan has lost one or both parents, thus a part of their identity, who they are, is lost. One friend of mine here in Uganda has never known his father, and he spent the first 25 years of his life struggling to know who he is or where he came from. He felt purposeless and empty, as if he were a nobody! Couple this loss of identity with the loss of familiar surroundings and familiar people, especially family, and most children retreat into themselves, build walls of protection, and become fearful of any kind of change. This is the heart of an orphan.
God, however, did not call Abraham to be an orphan but to find his identity, provision, and protection in Him. God promised Abraham three things in return for his faith and obedience: to give him land, to make him into a nation, and that blessing would be to him and through him to all the families of the earth (12:2-3). Abraham believed God and obeyed what God told him to do. It was Abraham’s faith in the promises of God that would result in his faith being “credited to him as righteousness (15:6)”, thus making Abraham the father of all who would then follow his faith. Abraham’s faith must be the beginning point for any orphan seeking to find true healing, and this faith in God must be seen as the cornerstone for a new identity found in Christ (II Cor. 5:17).
When Abraham set out from Ur, he took along his nephew Lot, who was a physical orphan from Abraham’s brother Haran (11:28, 31). Lot, too, was leaving behind any kind of identity, familiarity, and security that he might have had in Ur. Lot journeyed with Abraham as he entered the land of Canaan where God appeared to Abraham and affirmed that this was the land his offspring would inherit (12:7). Lot watched as Abraham built alters to the Lord, and as he called on the name of the Lord near Bethel. Lot saw God’s faithfulness to Abraham during the time of famine as they made their first journey to Egypt, and as God afflicted Pharaoh’s household for taking Sarah into his home. Lot watched the blessing of God come to Abraham as he left Egypt and returned to the land of Canaan rich in livestock, silver and gold (13:1). And Lot himself was rewarded for his faithful following of Abraham, as he too came with flocks and herds and tents of his own! Surely Lot had been blessed as he walked in relationship with Abraham and Abraham’s God! But having material possessions (security) does not remove the heart of an orphan.
A crucial thing happened in the lives of Abraham and Lot after they came out of Egypt and returned to Canaan, near to Bethel where Abraham had first made an altar and called on the Name of the Lord. Abraham and Lot had grown too large in possessions, flocks, and herds, so that the land could not support both of them. It was necessary for them to part ways. Why? Because the Canaanites and Perizzites were also dwelling in the land and probably held the best parts! What would Abraham do? Would he tell Lot to “get off his land,” as the land was promised to Abraham and his descendents! Would he send Lot packing back to Ur? Would he take first choice of the land and tell Lot to dwell where he could? NO! Abraham demonstrated amazing faith in the promises of God and in God as his provider as he allowed Lot to choose whatever part of the land he wanted to settle in, himself taking from what was left over.
Lot, on the other hand, demonstrated his own “orphan spirit” when he “lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord (13:10)” and selfishly chose to dwell there, moving his tents as far as Sodom.
The author then inserts an interesting note: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord (13:13).” The choosing of a well-watered valley would be very important for supporting large flocks and herds, yet it is Lot’s choice to move toward Sodom that stands out further to the reader and that the author of Genesis is stressing. Lot, who had been blessed by the God of Abraham, made his choice based on what externally seemed best for his own benefit (Sodom would have provided excellent trade for him), but in the long run would have disastrous consequences.
This aspect of choosing in the short term what seems “best” even when it carries negative consequences for the future is a typical thing for an orphan. A few years ago an orphan walked me through his own struggle to overcome what he called “the orphan spirit” or “the heart of an orphan.” His greatest challenge was his own heart that was naturally very selfish (protective of what he had or could get). Being exposed to the pain of losing his parents, the loss of identity, and the insecurity that followed him, led to a survival mentality (what can I get now?) that told him he can never have enough, even when he was living in plenty. This becomes very relevant when dealing with Lot and his choice of land and eventual move into Sodom, and it becomes very relevant when dealing with the hearts of fatherless children anywhere in the world!
In contrast to Lot, Abraham’s choice to give Lot the best of the land demonstrated his faith in God, as well as his contentment with what God had given to him and his trust in God for all of his needs, present and future. This faith was immediately rewarded by God “after Lot had separated from him (13:14).” God appeared to Abraham and affirmed His earlier promise to give Abraham’s offspring the land of Canaan forever. This time, however, God invited Abraham to walk around the land and “explore” what was to be his inheritance. Abraham’s identity and trust was in God alone as His provider. This rest in God as provider for all needs (not necessarily wants) is where the heart of an orphan must be led.
Another contrast between Abraham and Lot is set forth in chapter 14. After the defeat of Sodom in the battle of the kings, the city was sacked and all material possessions were taken, as well as the people! The text states clearly that “they also took Lot…who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions…(14:12).” It’s a bit surprising to find Lot now living in Sodom, not just near Sodom, which reveals the appeal that the city had for him, despite the wickedness taking place there. The appeal for physical protection and increase in provision was too strong of a draw for Lot. Despite the fact that he was wealthy and had good land to support him and his family, he was willing to compromise living in the midst of wickedness for what would prove to be false “security.”
Abraham, on the other hand, rested in God as his protector (remember Egypt?). He was just as vulnerable as Lot, yet remained faithful to God and content in his provision and secure in his protection. This security in God’s protection is demonstrated when he gathered together his 318 trained men and routed the kings who had taken Lot captive, bringing back “all the possessions, and also…Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people (14:16).”
Abraham was then presented with an interesting offer that will again challenge where his trust for provision truly rested. The king of Sodom offered Abraham all of the recovered possessions! If Abraham accepted the offer, the wealth he would amass would set Abraham apart as even higher than the kings he had just saved! What a temptation for a man wandering in a country not his own, especially when it was promised to him by God Himself! On top of this, all of Lot’s possessions would be his as well! Yet Abraham, the man of faith, wanted no one to be able to say, “I made Abraham rich (14:23).” Abraham refused the offer because he trusted in God alone for his identity, provision, protection and for the fulfillment of His Word to him. The heart of an orphan must be led to find security in the protection of God the Father, as well as for identity and provision.
God immediately responded to Abraham’s trust in Him by appearing to him in a vision. God’s words to Abraham ring loudly across time and space, through the pages of Scripture: “Fear not, Abraham, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great (15:1).” Abraham had demonstrated faith that he believed this to be true, and God removed any possible doubt that might creep into Abraham’s mind, even as he remained childless in awaiting God’s fulfillment of His word. God promised Abraham an heir from his own body and then sealed the covenant He was making with Abraham by passing through the sacrifice he required Abraham to make- God Himself would uphold His Covenant! Abraham could get no greater security than God’s own Covenant promise! This is the same assurance God gives to those who trust in the death of His Son Jesus!
Lot’s final appearance in the book of Genesis is a tragic one that occurs at least 13 year later. He did not learn from the earlier defeat of Sodom and Abraham’s rescue. Lot remained in the city with his family, the lone righteous man in the midst of such wickedness, tormented in soul (cf II Pet. 2:7-8)! Yes, Lot was righteous, he believed in Abraham’s God, yet he failed to lead his family in the righteousness of the God of Abraham, which ultimately, would cost him his family. Lot’s wife was tragically destroyed for “looking back” as they fled the city, his daughters’ fianc├ęs were killed in Sodom (what was he doing allowing them to marry into such wickedness in the first place!?) and his daughters themselves manifested the perversion of the city through their own unrighteous acts of committing incest with their father (19:30-38). Tragically, nothing more is heard of Lot.
Abraham, on the other hand, was informed of the coming destruction of Sodom. Just before Abraham was made aware of God’s plans, God says of Abraham: “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him (18:19, italics mine).” God knew that Abraham would lead his household in following God’s ways through living lives characterized by righteousness and justice. This is God’s heart for His people!
What a picture of where the heart of an orphan must be brought from and to if genuine healing is to take place and the orphan spirit truly overcome! The only hope for a fatherless child is to be brought to a place where they find their complete identity, provision, and protection in God alone, and where they are leading others in these too! A child must be brought beyond the point of belief in Jesus as his or her Savior- though this is the beginning point! Their hearts must be brought to day to day submission before this Father who has revealed Himself as the “Father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5)” and who through the Gospel of Jesus Christ can give them new life and will adopt them into His own family (see Romans 8:15-16, Eph. 1:3-6, and Galatians 4:4-7)! This is where the orphan heart is set free and where true healing takes place and where vision for some day leading a family is found. Yes, Lot had faith in Abraham’s God, but he failed to walk fully in the faith of Abraham and he failed to lead his family in that faith expressed in righteousness. In many ways, Lot always remained an orphan, while Abraham knew his Dad.
After searching for 25 years, the friend that I mentioned earlier accepted Jesus as his Savior and found new life in God. Sadly, his orphaned heart remained restless and he found himself struggling in his identity and struggling to lead his family. He attended church, but wasn’t experiencing the joy he saw in others. Even after his wife gave him a son, he was insecure at how to father this gift from God. After his wife’s tragic death as a result of AIDS, he was forced to be the sole caretaker of his son, yet as his own heart struggled, so did his parenting and so did his son. It wasn’t until three years later that my friend made the most exciting discovery of his life- God is His Father! Suddenly, his struggle to know who he is came to an end- he is a child of God! He has found his identity in God as his Father, provider, and protector, and has sense been leading his son in these things as well!
In reality, whether or not we are physical orphans, we are ALL born spiritual orphans, dead in sin and separated from God. All of us face the challenge to live like Abraham or Lot. And many of us live the Christian life like my friend, with Jesus in the heart but an orphan in the soul. Life is lived in slavery, not in sonship. May we all come to find our identity, provision, and protection in God alone as sons and daughters of the King, and may we lead both physical and spiritual orphans to this well-spring of life!