Trusting God

Trusting God

1 Kings 8:1-6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43    Psalm 84    Ephesians 6:10-20    John 6:56-69

Trusting God

 

A story has been told about a man who went hiking up Table Mountain. As he was walking, the famous tablecloth descended upon him in thick, impenetrable folds – so thick he could not see where he was walking. He knew he needed to get off the mountain as quickly as possible, so he gingerly picked his way forward towards the path leading down to the parking lot below. At one point, he misjudged his step, slipped on a wet rock, and went plummeting down the cliff side. As he fell he instinctively grabbed for something that would break his fall…and to his relief, a rather large bush just happened to be growing out of the side of the mountain, and he clung on for dear life.

 

But he knew this relief was only temporary…he had to find a way to get his feet on firm ground so that he could scramble to safety…but he could not see anything and, try as he might, swinging back and forth with his legs, he could not feel anything. Then he felt the bush give a little…some soil and a few pebbles fell on his head. It was only a matter of time before his weight would prove to be too much for the bush’s shallow root system and his perilous descent would recommence.

 

So he summoned every ounce of strength left in him and cried out with the loudest voice he could muster.

“Help! Is there anyone out there? Please, help me.”

To his immense surprise, he heard a voice remarkably close by…in fact it almost sounded as if the voice was close to his ear.

“I am here. Do not be afraid.”

“Oh, please,” the man cried. “Are you able to help me?”

“I am,” the voice replied, “Are you willing to trust me?”

“Yes!” shouted the man, “Yes, I am. Please help me. Quickly.”

“Let go of the bush,” the voice said calmly.

“Say what now?” cried the man.

“Let go of the bush,” said the voice.

“Let go of the bush? You’re kidding me, right? That’s not funny. Please, I am very scared…and I’m slipping…the bush is giving way…help me. I can’t hold on much longer, please. I don’t want to die!”

“I am here to help you. You will not die if you just trust me. Let go of the bush…there is a wide ledge a few feet below you. Trust me. I give you my word. Just trust me. Let go of the bush.”

For a brief moment the man hesitated. Then he screamed: “Is there anyone else out there?”

 

It is interesting to me that at the very heart of Solomon’s Temple – in the holiest place – the Holy of Holies – was a box containing just three rather ordinary things. One was a simple earthenware jug filled with a flaky substance…a small sample of Manna …the other was a simple wooden staff that had once budded…and the other was a block of stone with some words carved into it. If you didn’t know what these things were, they would look very plain and ordinary…

 

But in the right context, these things were very precious, not necessarily because all three were miraculous, but because they each had a remarkable story to tell…the strange, unknown bread graciously provided from heaven to feed God’s people in the desert… the dried out walking stick that had miraculously sprouted buds and flowers to confirm the God-given leadership of the High Priest, Aaron, Moses’ brother…and the Ten Words of God, or the Ten Commandments as we call them, carved out of rock by the very hand of the Almighty Himself.

 

You see, what made these items worthy of their placement in such a hallowed space was that each one represented the trustworthiness of God’s Word in the past…and, in the belief system of the Ancient Israelites, if God had done it before, He could be trusted to do it again in the present and in the future.

 

Or to use the words of the great King Solomon: “Praise the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, just as He promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises He gave through His servant Moses. May the Lord our God be with us as He was with our ancestors; may He never leave us or abandon us.”

 

God’s Word is trustworthy…what He says He will do. But how can we be so sure? Well, basically because He has a proven track record. The stories in the Bible are there to show us that in spite of what humans think…in spite of what humans fear…in spite of what humans do…in spite of doubt, skepticism, cynicism, weakness, despondency, indifference, and sheer unbelief…God has always proved to be faithful to those who trust Him…and, graciously, sometimes even to those who do not trust Him.

 

Trust. I want you to see that this one word is key…it is central to our faith…trust. But not just a disembodied trust…it is a trust that is founded on His proven and tested Word.

 

When King Solomon dedicated the Temple, his focus was on the Word of the God Who had proved Himself faithful to His people and to His king. “You have kept Your promise,” he said, “You made that promise with Your own mouth, and with Your own hands You have fulfilled it today.”

 

And based on the fact that God is a promise keeping God, Solomon could confidently pray: “May You always hear the prayers I make…May You hear the humble and earnest requests from me and Your people Israel…(may You hear the prayers made by) foreigners who do not belong to Your people Israel…when they pray (to You)…May Your eyes be open to my requests and to the requests of Your people…May You hear and answer them whenever they cry out to You.”

 

The message seems clear: just as God heard the prayers of His people down through the ages, so surely He will hear the prayers of His people today and tomorrow and for all time, because He is a promise keeping God…He is a faithful God…and His Word is trustworthy.

This truth is crucial to our lives as followers of Jesus especially when it seems as if all hope is fading…when we just don’t understand…when we cannot understand…when we are hanging on by our fingertips…perhaps hanging on to things that are in themselves not trustworthy…things that are fragile and feeble and weak and failing.

 

Now, for a moment, I want you to put on the sandals of the disciples in Capernaum as they heard those baffling words spoken by their Rabbi, Jesus. Ready?

 

There you are listening – all anticipation – what is He going to say and do this time? And then you hear Him say: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him.” You do a double take? What was that? Eat human flesh and drink human blood? Cannibalism? Seriously? Surely that can’t be what He means, right? It has to be a metaphor…bread of life…bread of heaven…flesh and blood…this is really so hard to comprehend.

 

And then as you are still scratching your head, you see many other followers leaving…and they are leaving in droves!

 

Now, don’t judge these deserters too harshly…theologians are still arguing about the meaning of this text…during the Reformation, people lost their heads and were burned at the stake because someone did not understand what Jesus meant by “Eat my flesh and drink My blood”.

 

But then Jesus turns to you and says: “Are you also going to leave?”

 

Can you hear it? What is behind this question? “Do you trust Me?”

 

How did Simon Peter respond? Listen carefully to what he said. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the WORDS that give eternal life. We believe and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

 

How on earth did they know?

 

Well, during the time they had spent with Jesus these disciples had come to believe and know first-hand that the words of Jesus were trustworthy. He had not failed them before. He had done all things well. Why then would they abandon Him when the going got tough…when things were hard to comprehend…when it seemed as if they were on the losing side?

 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about fatalism. I’m not espousing a “Let go and let God – a que sera, sera attitude to life. I’m not even talking about blind faith.

 

No, what I am referring to is the Word of a God Who has made promises with His own mouth and has fulfilled those promises time and again. The Scriptures and history itself testifies on His behalf. What He promised He did…His Word is trustworthy…

 

And it is this Word that helps us through trials and tribulations and troubles…it is this Word that defeats unbelief…it is this Word that quenches the fiery arrows of the evil one…it is this Word that keeps us afloat in the storms of life…it is this Word that is our only offensive weapon in the armoury of God.

 

What God has promised, He has done…what God has promised, He will do…what God has promised, He does. He is trustworthy…the Scriptures testify to the fact…the saints throughout history testify to the fact…and I am sure your own lives testify to the fact.

 

This is one of the reasons why I love the Eucharist so much. This is a picture…a portrait of our Lord’s trustworthiness. Way back when sin first entered our world, God promised that He would send someone…the Seed of a woman, as the older translations have it…to set things right. And He did. The second Person of the Trinity…the Son of God Himself…left His glory…He set aside His majesty…so that He might take on human form to annul a penalty that was mine…to die a death that was mine…to pay a ransom that was mine…

 

Here at His Table, we see His Word re-enacted…performed…demonstrated…with simple and ordinary elements…bread and wine…as simple and as ordinary as an earthenware jug, a dry walking stick, and a piece of stone. But in the context of this gathering of His people, these ordinary, simple elements take on a whole new meaning…a profound meaning…a life changing meaning…here these elements tell us a story of promise and fulfilment…a story of faithfulness…a story of love…a story of trust.

 

So when the clouds descend upon your life as a blanket…when you simply cannot see one step ahead of yourself…when you are hanging on for dear life…when others are losing hope…when so called common sense and logic fail you…trust Him…trust His Word.

 

Dearest beloved brethren, place God’s Word in the most sacred space in your life…at the very centre of your existence…and allow it to be the governing force behind everything you think and do and say. Only then will you be able to trust Him…

 

Johannes W H van der Bijl © 2018-08-20

From every tribe, tongue, and nation…

From every tribe, tongue, and nation…

One of the most intriguing and different parts of life in Africa is the abundance of different languages. In Uganda alone, there are more than 30 languages spoken. I live in Mukono, near Kampala, the capital, where many people from around the country have moved to this area to work. Most it seems also keep in contact with relatives in the village they are from, go back to visit, have second homes in the village (for those who can afford it), and also continue speaking their tribe’s language, teaching it to their children at home. Most people at Uganda Christian University and other professionals here speak English and Lugandan in addition to their native tribe’s language.

Many times here, friends have asked me what my language is where I’m from. They are surprised when I just say “English”. I try to share some of our Texan modifications, but “Howdy” and “ya’ll” seem to pale in comparison to the rich variety of languages in Africa.

The other night, I was blessed to be invited for dinner at another lecturer’s home with his family. We had delicious traditional food, watched a World Cup game, and enjoyed good conversation. After we finished eating, I was asking about which area of the country they are from and about the language spoken there. The family’s 5 year old daughter was an eager teacher when I requested to learn a few words. She would say a phrase, then I would try to repeat. After a time or two of that, giggling, she exclaimed “she’s saying it wrongly!”. But her persistence to teach me didn’t stop there. By the end, she was walking me through the phrase syllable by syllable, “counting” on my fingers as she went for emphasis! The whole group had a lot of laughs. What a fun family dinner!

A good friend who also works at UCU has been helping me to learn some Lugandan words mpola, mpola (slowly, slowly), but this afternoon, I got a chance to expand my horizons to another language too. Our neighbor and her husband are from Western Uganda where they speak Runyankole. As we enjoyed a cool late afternoon on our back patio, she taught me some phrases.

Greeting: Hello, how are you? – Agandi  / Reply: I’m fine – Nimarungi

Thank you very much – Webare munonga

God is good – Mukama nimurungi  – All the time – obwire bwona

Because that is his nature wow – ezo nizo mberaze

My Friend – munywani wangye

I even got to learn a few short songs in Runyankole. They go like this:

Yesu nankunda, Yesu nankunda, Yesu nankunda, ahakuba ndyowe

“Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you because you are His.”

Ruhanga akantorana… ntine karungi kona. Yanyekundirawenka yanyozyahoebibi mbwenunka…marayonta ibanja…ryangyeryona

“God chose us even when we had nothing good in us. He washed away all my sins. How can I ever repay my debt?”

As I meet all these new friends, many with different native languages, these verses come to mind.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Philipians 2: 9-11

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:9-10

What a beautiful day that will be when every knee bows and every tongue, from every tribe and nation and language, confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord! As we who know Christ as our Savior long for that day, may we be bold in faithfully proclaiming the Gospel that none should perish!

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

Anglican Youth Fellowship Band – Mission Trip to Bukedea

Anglican Youth Fellowship Band – Mission Trip to Bukedea

Last weekend, I had the honor of being part of an Anglican Youth Fellowship Band mission trip to Bukedea District in eastern Uganda. AYF Band is a group over 30 years old with a passion for proclaiming the Gospel and bringing people to Christ through music ministry.

We left Mukono on Thursday afternoon, stopping about an hour down the road for chicken on a stick! As we stopped, 3 or 4 men with 15 skewers of chicken ran alongside our costa (bus) hoping to sell to us. Cue Joke #1 of many!: “See it’s fast food, it chases after you!” Two of our team members did a great job of finding fresh pieces that had more time on the fire to ensure they did not make us sick. It was delicious!

About 7 hours later down a long dirt road with maize growing on each side, we arrived at our destination in a village in the Bukedea District. We were blessed to stay at an AYF member’s home, close to 25 of us!

After taking some tea and dinner of traditional food, we all turned in for the night to be ready for an early start the next morning.

Friday, we began our mission at Bukedea Primary School. The children were very excited to see the costa pull up and even more excited to see the instruments and sound equipment be unloaded! The team set up the “stage” area under a tree in the middle of the school, while children poured out of every building, carrying wooden desks to sit in to watch the performance. The Band is full of so much musical talent which the kids and adults very much enjoyed. Between songs, the team members shared powerful testimonies and the gospel. Later in the program, one member told the story of the prodigal son while the rest of the team acted out different roles for the kids. My favorite part was watching the kids enthusiastically take on the role of pigs in the part of the story when the prodigal son has to take a job keeping pigs. At the end of each program, there is an explanation of the gospel and a team member will lead those who want to accept Christ in a prayer to do so.

The day continued with a Kyondong Primary School then Seed Secondary School. At the Secondary Schools, the program is adjusted to suit their age group and includes an altar call at the end. How encouraging to see so many students come forward wanting to accept Christ! The group of new Christians is then brought outside and given a booklet called “Welcome to God’s Family” which explains the gospel and next steps for new Christians. Each student also completes a contact information card that is passed on to a school chaplain or other appropriate local person so that they can follow up in discipling these new Christians.

Saturday was spent visiting Bukedea Boarding Secondary School, the Kidongole Health Centre, and Bukedea Local Government Prison. Our team of 15 doctors saw 540 patients in 2 days at the Kidongole Health Centre while AYF performed in the various locations. Then on Sunday, we were invited to a village church and enjoyed being in that community as we ended our trip.

 

Overall, I was so blessed to get to know some amazing people with bold faith and powerful testimonies of the ways that Jesus has transformed their lives. We will continue to pray that the seeds sown last weekend will continue to grow and flourish in Bukedea District!

“so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  Isaiah 55:11

Adventures in Kampala

Adventures in Kampala

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made more trips into Kampala. Although it’s just about 14 miles from Mukono (where Uganda Christian University is located) to Kampala, because of the large amount of traffic on few main roads between the two places, it takes at least an hour, if not more, to get there. For those who don’t have a car, the standard transportation method is by taxi.

Taxis are 14 person vans that work a little like a bus route (point A to point B and back with ability to get off at a few places along the way). There is a driver and usually a conductor who manages the sliding door on one side and collects the fee from passengers as they get off, as well as, calling for more passengers whenever there is room (and at times, when there is not room!)

My first trip to Kampala other than just passing through, I was accompanied by a UCU friend, another lecturer at UCU. About 15 minutes into our ride after setting off from Mukono, we were pulled over by the traffic police who do random stops on major roads to check for brake lights, licenses, etc. Our driver handed his license to the police woman who had him get out, look at the tires…then we notice that as she turns to talk to another officer, our driver walks across the road and keeps walking away from our taxi! Apparently, he did not have the right credentials for that taxi so to avoid getting arrested, just walked away! All 14 passengers piled out and hopped in other taxis within a few minutes. That’s one way to do it!

 

Once in Kampala and along the way, there is often “jam” (or traffic), but while you putt along in the taxi, there are many people selling snacks and drinks along the road. The one I have enjoyed are the bunches of small bananas. They are sweeter than the larger bananas and a delicious snack for the journey. A more exotic option is cooked grasshoppers sold in large plastic buckets. I asked my friend if she liked them. She said, “Yes, but it’s better if you cook them yourself.” Who knows? Maybe one day I will try…

The “point B” of the journey to Kampala on the trips I have taken has been the old taxi park. It is an overwhelming place, but the system works! (I am borrowing the photos of the traffic and the old taxi park because having your phone out in town is not advisable.)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…

Mornings here during the week usually begin with greeting Paul who takes care of the garden outside our house. He is a joyful person who is always wearing a big smile. We prepare our coffee and sit down for a small breakfast of jam and toast (though Paul highly prefers his bread untoasted) and morning bible study (currently the book of Galatians). During our discussions, Paul often shares cultural insights that give me a better understanding of the Ugandan culture but also often sheds new light on part of scripture. For example, as we studied Galatians 5:1, Paul was able to share with us his experiences of training oxen with a yoke in his village.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

He shared that early in the training, the ox goes this way and that and has to be trained to go straight in order to plow the fields. At times, the yoke is left on its neck overnight so that the ox can get used to it. When they finally submit to the yoke and the training, plowing with these 2 giant animals can be done with just one person quietly instructing, back and forth down the rows of the field. As he shared, Matthew 11:28-30 came to my mind.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Let us not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery, but by the grace of God through the cross, let us submit each day to His leadership in our lives, knowing it is an easy yoke and much lighter burden than we carry when we choose to go it alone!

P.s. The picture above is from a Friday morning when we treat ourselves to mandazi (a Ugandan doughnut).

(Photo of oxen borrowed from http://blog.peaceharvest.org/2009/10/third-post.html)

StartHub Africa

StartHub Africa

One of the projects that the Entrepreneurship Faculty at UCU has been facilitating for interested students in all courses of study is StartHub Africa (fb.com/starthubafricaa).

The StartHub course involved approximately 11 lecture sessions presenting material to help student entrepreneurs develop business plans and create businesses using tools like the “Business Model Canvas” shown below. The UCU students have been meeting Saturday nights from 7 pm – 10 pm. Now, that’s dedication!

The StartHub course ends with a final competition for $5,000,000 UGshillings (about $1,400 USD) called the StartHub Africa Pitch Event. It will be held this Friday May 18th at International University of East Africa (IUEA) in Kampala. Guests will include students from all universities around Kampala, entrepreneurs, companies, investors, and the general public, and will come to see groups presenting new businesses from seven universities including International University of East Africa, Kampala International University, Kyambogo University, Ugandan Christian University, Ugandan Martyr’s University, Ndejje University, and Bugema University.

The event will begin with a business fair where the public and the judges can visit the booths of each team to learn about their business and ask questions. After lunch, the judges will select 9 teams, plus 1 selected by the public as a favorite, to present on stage a 3-minute pitch on their business to compete for the award money.

Last Friday, the faculty members helping with StartHub gathered with the students for an “Internal Pitch” to help them prepare for the final Pitch Event this Friday. Teams brought prototypes of their products and powerpoint presentations to explain their business and entice investors or the Pitch Event judges. Our students have come up with a variety of products including mixed fruit trays, a bakery business, a backpack manufacturing company (which has already made sales to some schools!), a mobile app for small business owners in all industries, and affordable home décor. I look forward to seeing how the students refine their businesses and presentations as we help them to prepare for the event on Friday. We will hope for a great outcome!