A Helpful Book Review

As you know by now, I'm really excited about "Through the Bible Through the Year." I have been resisting the urge to get started... so I have read some random entries far ahead in the schedule, hoping that they will be fresh again when I get to them. LOVE IT! I also really want to share the experience with all of epic. I am as excited about the sharing of the experience as I am about the book itself.

Anyhow, for those of you who are considering joining me and the others for the journey, here is a link to a book review that may be helpful to you.

You can order yourself a copy online reasonably at Amazon. If you are going to be at epic on Sunday, you can get a copy for the same price there.


Starting New Daily Devotional - Join Me

I have long loved John Stott. I was first acquainted with his work in college and immediately loved the depth of his thoughts and the clarity of his explanation. I never cease to be challenged and encouraged by my encounters with his work.

I have used his commentary on Ephesians often and referred to his commentary on Romans as a necessary part of any study in that book. I have recently added his Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ to my list of necessary volumes for any serious student of Biblical Christianity.

Recently, while at the Catalyst Conference, I came across his recent book - Through the Bible Through the Year. It is a daily devotional, written with concise daily readings to inspire connection to God and reflection on His revelation in scripture. This devotional is designed to follow the Christian calendar so that in one year's time the devotional user will have covered the entire story of scripture, coinciding with the holidays we celebrate as they fall on our standard calendar. Thereby, we learn God's story and discover his portrait of Jesus in the order of his revelation and in the annual rhythm of daily living.

I am so excited about this approach to the Bible that I am planning to use it as a guide for our entire congregation in the coming 12 monthes. I'm recommending it to the whole community of worshippers at epic and planning to preach the story of God in conjunction with this reading plan. In addition to all this, I am planning to celebrate the feasts of our Jewish heritage in conjunction with the Christian calendar which we will be observing in our daily reading and weekly messages. I think this journey will prove to teach all of us to know God better as we see his revelation unfold in order.

I'm gonna try to blog a couple of times per week as part of our shared journey. I look forward to your comments on this blog, sharing your reflections as I share mine. Amazon has a great price on the book. We will also offer the book at epic very reasonably. Get information on the epic reading plan on the epic site. Click here.


Unceremonial Hand Washing: A Ugandan Moment

There are some experiences in life that bring tangible understanding to lofty ideas. I had plenty of those experiences in Uganda. On experience in particular taught me something about humility.

This is Charles -

Charles is connected to the missionary team through one of the churches they have established in Uganda. The missionary team uses Charles as a professional painter for various projects they may be connected with.

Charles was raised in typical Ugandan poverty. He is now married with 3 children of his own, including a set of twins. He is in his early-twenties and the eldest of 3 sons (that I know of from our conversations), and his parents are dead. He and his wife now are raising his younger brothers along with their own children. And regardless of their financial limitations, this is not at all a burden to them. Charles seems to consider it a privilege. It was my experience that Charles has a pervasively generous spirit, gracious, kind, and humble. His faith is unencumbered by the complications of worry or overly ambitious personal aspiration.

Well, I'm getting too philosophical too soon. I haven't even begun the story that I want to share.

On our days of working around the missionary compound. I was on the painting team. This put me in close contact with Charles. And I had the privilege of working closely with him. His english is fairly weak. But we managed to do more than communicate. We were able to connect. And we were able to build one another up in faith toward the fullness of Christ. I know that sounds just like a preacher talking. But I really felt the dynamic of our exchange was fundamentally spiritual and a direct expression of Ephesians 5.

Well after a full day of painting with oil based paint (and of adapting to a very different approach to applying paint than I am used to - which did not seem at all wise to me) it was time to clean up. I began to work at cleaning up my tools. Charles tried to stop me. I persisted and then began to clean up trash and other items. Charles again began to resist my assistance and I eventually realized that he was trying to communicate to me that he wanted things done a certain way and that I was not understanding how he wanted those things done. I acquiesced and went in to clean myself up.

I washed my hands and resigned myself to the idea that I would just have to wait for the oil-based paint on my skin to just be sloughed off in a week or so. I wasn't bothered by that at all. I was just so glad to have had a great day of work. I went inside to change my clothes for dinner, putting my shower on hold since there was not going to be time. When I came out of my room, Charles - still in his blue coveralls, was looking for me. He grabbed my wrists and guided me outside.

Everything was put away except for a can of diesel and a rag. Charles, still gripping my wrist squatted to the ground and pulled me along with him. He picked up the rag, wet it with diesel and began to silently clean the oil-based paint from by hands and fore arms. Slowly, caringly, generously, he found each splotch and scrubbed them away.

My initial instinct was to resist. My personal space was being invaded. My sensitivity to having another man hold onto my hand as he washed me up was raging. But I knew that to resist his offer of service would be a rejection and I adopted a receptive attitude. And I realized how humble he was to serve me this way. And I realized how proud I was. I realized it because although I was surrounded by only Ugandans and missionaries, I was practically embarrassed by my situation. Eventually I got that emotion under control and I could just appreciate Charles' gift of service.

I have been in foot-washing services on multiple occasions in my life. I have had my feet washed and I have washed feet all in the name of practicing humility and faith. Each of those experiences was challenging and moving. Each was led by God's Spirit and significant to my spiritual growth. But none was so significant as my hand-washing experience with Charles. It was not a planned event. It was a generous offer of service in a real life circumstance and God altered me much more significantly than my previous experiences.

Thank you Charles. While you washed away visible marks on my hands and arms, you imprinted indelible marks on my soul.


HIV, Tuberculosis, Demonic Spirit, and Salvation

While in Uganda, on our first day of medical ministry, I had a powerful experience of God on the fringe. ("God on the fringe" is a phrase from a book by a similar title to describe and evaluate how God works powerfully among the people who live life on the fringes of middle class society.) In Uganda, we engulfed ourselves in the fringes.

On this first day of medical ministry, we had finished setting up the clinic and most of us from epic were milling around looking for the areas in which we could be useful. I, myself, was feeling a bit like a third wheel when our missionary approached me to go out on a "house call." I had heard the muffled conversations about a woman out in the bush who could not make it to the clinic for care and it was obvious that the missionaries and the medical team were trying to decide what to do about it. Well, it was decided that Justice (mentioned in a previous post - "By the Hand of God") would take a team out to the house to treat the woman. We knew that she was being treated for HIV disease by a government program and that she was unable to make it into our clinic for treatment, which meant she had also been unable to make it the even further distance to the government clinic for help.

Scott, our missionary, asked me to pick a someone from the team to go along, and to quickly get ready to take off. My head spinning from the unexpected opportunity, I silently asked God who I should invite along. His answer was swift and specific. "Get Jordan," is what I knew God was saying. My impression was so strong that I immediately approached him and gave him the low down.

Soon we were loading up in the bus for our journey out to serve this lady who we only knew through the description of one of her neighbors. ( I found out later that the term neighbor would be very loosely defined in this circumstance. The ladies lived about 1.5 miles apart and could only travel to one another by foot.) We drove out of the village (we had set up our clinic in a church there) and down the road for what seemed like about 6 miles. We had the neighbor woman along for a guide. We made a turn or two and then quickly stopped near a walking path. We could see a hut off to the side of the road, so Jordan and I began to prepare ourselves to disembark. Well, the bus took a sharp left turn off of the road and onto the walking path (not that it fit on the single person foot path worn into the savanna grassland). We drove for just a little bit and then parked and got off the bus. As we began to walk out further into the bush, it began to rain and Jordan and I knew that we were on a genuine adventure.

We soon reached a mud and stick hut with a metal roof and a sheet hanging over the door. We waited outside for just a moment as Pastor James (one of our team hosts for the missions trip) called inside. Soon we were invited in and made our way through the dark, windowless front "room," past a dividing wall into a sleeping space at the back of the house. (There were 2 other sleeping spaces in the hut. Both more private than this one.) We found a young woman ( I guess in her upper 20s) lying on a mat with a bowl of very humble food sitting next to her. She tried to raise herself up to address us and it was obvious that she was paralyzed.

Justice began to discuss her medical condition and the course of her treatment with her. She was not improving in regard to her paralyses and the tuberculosis which had settled in her spine, causing an enormous deformity there. It looked as if it was very painful and the obvious source of the paralyses. Pastor James tried to keep us informed of the conversation and I was trying to pray for the situation, my thoughts interrupted occasionally by new revelations of other persons in the hut - previously undisclosed in the remaining sleeping spaces.

Eventually Justice turned around to face us and explain that he was instructing her to continue her treatments for HIV and for the Tuberculosis. He explained that her prognosis was very poor without physical therapy and that it was very unlikely that she would be able to get it out in the area where she lived. He then invited us to pray with him for her. He spoke to her and turned around to tell us that she had decided to invite Christ to be her savior.

We all prayed as Justice prayed directly with her in their native language. As we were praying, the woman jerked back violently and fell to her back, laid out flat as if in a seizure. We instinctively moved in closer to pray more fervently, and then the woman screeched in her own voice. Pastor James turned to us westerners and explained that an evil spirit had revealed itself.

Once again we pressed in closer to the woman, laying our hands on her legs and praying as strongly as we could. And after several long moments, there came a peace over the room. The oppressive environment that we had become accustomed to, almost unaware because the entire space was so foreign to us, was lifted. We finished praying.

Justice gave the woman some further medical instructions. Pastor James gave her some spiritual instructions. Jordan and I smiled to give her the only thing we felt we could: silent encouragement. Then the group began to leave the house. I felt so unfinished that I spoke in English to the woman to tell her that God would be with her and that He would bless her. I didn't know what to say and I know that all she could understand was my spirit, so the words didn't really matter.

Just outside of the house (the rain stopped), Pastor James told us that the demon had said, "I came here to kill her. But since you are not going to let me do that, I am going to leave."

Back in the bus, Jordan and I sat unnerved. Excited, thankful, worshipful, relieved, and I was feeling unsure about how to retell this story to anyone. Jordan told me that he had experienced praying in other tongues during the most intense season of prayer. And He was obviously thrilled to have had God prove Himself present in that way.

Before we left Africa, we were informed by our missionaries that the woman had been approved by her attending physicians to be moved to the missionary complex in Masaka for physical therapy under the constant supervision of the staff nurses there.

God in the fringes. Powerfully working for the sake of the down and out. Making Himself plain to see for those who seem to see nothing more than pain and struggle in everyday life.

I did not take any pictures during this outing. You will have to rely on your mind's eye for the images of this encounter.

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