“You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.”
— Psalms 63:1
This prayer is becoming the cry of my heart. It expresses so beautifully and powerfully how I feel and what I desire my life to be about. I want God! To know Him; to serve Him; to obey Him; to love Him! There is nothing else in the world that can compare. There is nothing that is more worthy of my time and resources and energy and affections. “Earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you!!!”
Mustard Seed Fellowships.
Yesterday was Tuesday - which means Jill, Philip, and Success (the daughter of our good friend Pastor Kasozi) spent the afternoon in the village of Kigato. They have made a number of friends in this small community, and gather each week with a few of them to read the Bible, discuss how to obey it, encourage and pray for one another, and just spend time together. These gatherings have become an important rhythm for all involved. Through it, some have given their lives to Christ. Others are still listening and participating, questioning and wondering. Some come and go. A few are consistent each week. They help one another in times of need and rejoice together when a member receives a small blessing - an answer to prayer, an unexpected gift, news that a child is doing well in school. Right now one of the older ladies, or Jjajjas, is very sick, but yesterday they received the good news that she is improving and should be released from the hospital today.
On Sunday afternoon we’ll meet with a dozen or so others who lead similar fellowships. Betty is one of these dedicated leaders. Recently she told us that August to October of last year was a really tough period for her. She was in a lot of pain physically and wanted to do nothing but lay in bed. However, she felt the Lord impressing her to get up and go be with one of the groups she has started (nine of them at last count!). She did so, and found that as long as she was there - listening, praying, instructing, encouraging - she was pain free. Then the moment she dropped exhausted back in bed, the pain returned. This pattern was repeated numerous times over those months. The only pain relief, she told us, came when she went out to share the gospel, pray with people, and lead discipleship groups.
In a couple of weeks, Philip and I plan to spend time in the mountains with two groups who we’ve been training to do this same disciple-making work. It will be good to be back with them, to hear their testimonies and challenges, and in God’s grace encourage and help them.
The smallness of this endeavor - a scattering of small groups meeting with just a Bible and a trust that the Holy Spirit is present - is sometimes inspiring and sometimes frustrating. Because I can be impatient. However, in times of doubt and angst, I am lifted again by two realities: (1) When I look deeper into these groups, I see genuine transformation in people’s lives. Even to see one person truly born again and living a new life is miraculous. To see several in a given area is truly significant. These are actual people, delivered from the kingdom of darkness and welcomed into the Kingdom of Jesus. They are growing to know Jesus more closely, to obey Him more fully, to make Him known more truly. Beautiful! (2) My doubts are also cut short when I remember Multiplication. We are believing that these small ‘mustard seeds’ of the Kingdom will grow and produce more just like them. And they in turn will produce more. And more and more and more. God seems to love working like this. Small. Underground. Unimpressive. Who can tell the work He is even now doing beneath the surface in unpercieved ways? Please join with us in praying for more transformation and for multiplication.
We have the privelege of partnering with some incredible ministries as we seek to make disciples and equip leaders in Uganda. One of these is All Nations, led by our good friend Wilson Namuwazo. A couple of weeks ago I spent a day with him and his team for their annual CPx (Church Planting Experience) - a training and equipping intensive for selected members in their disciple-making movement. As always, it was an inspiring day. I shared with the group about training in godliness (1 Tim 4:7). They were incredibly responsive and engaged, making it a wonderful experience for me. Even more than that, I loved hearing stories from the field - addicts burning their drugs, prostitutes being born again and given new life, the poor ministered to, communities served, and the gospel proclaimed in any setting you can imagine. What joy!
Another partner is Global Advance (GA), based in Rockwall, Texas. After my time with Wilson and team in Kampala, I traveled to Mukono to spend a couple of days with our GA Uganda national leaders. This retreat was led by the ever-zealous and energetic Wilberforce Owori, GA’s national prayer coordinator. It was a beautiful time of intercession, deep connection, and laughter. Each participant was able to share their vision and plans for 2023 related to the various ministries within GA that they lead - NextGen youth ministry, Esther Initiative women’s ministry, pastoral training, church planting, marketplace ministry, and prayer - and to be prayed over and encouraged in their efforts. I’m really grateful for such an incredible team. My role is to be kind of a coach and consultant, but the lion’s share of the work is done by these wonderful servants.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
-- Matthew 13:44
Jesus is the best, and when we truly see Him we understand that nothing in life can compare to knowing and following Him. He is the greatest treasure. He is worth it all! I want to know Him more! And I want to make Him known to others. What a gift!
For almost four weeks in May and June we hosted an amazing missions team from Oral Roberts University. It was an incredibly full time and a joyful and fruitful one as well. Together we shared the gospel all over Masaka and some in western Uganda and Kampala as well, and we saw many people turn to Jesus. We were able to return multiple times to a good number of these and begin the process of discipling them and helping them to settle into small simple churches that we call Mustard Seed Fellowships. It was a powerful time.
One day a couple of team members shared with a barber named John who has a small shop near our home. John readily responded to the call to salvation and our team prayed with him to receive Jesus. Over the ensuing weeks, they had several Bible studies and prayer times with him in his small barber shop. Since the team left, Philip has been faithfully discipling and spending time with him.
Another group shared with a lady named Regina for whom Jill has been praying since October. Regina lives near where we stayed our first four months in Uganda last year, and Jill became fiends with her on her frequent walks through the village. Early on, Jill had an impression that the Lord wanted to bring Regina to Himself and that she would be a “person of peace” to influence others towards Christ as well. For a long time Regina showed little interest in the Gospel, but then she responded to Jesus’ call when the team shared with her. Jill has had several follow-up Bible studies and prayer times with her since then, and Regina has invited several of her neighbors to join these weekly times of fellowship.
There are many stories similar to these, and we are so grateful and excited about the work of God in Masaka and other parts of Uganda. It is a thrill to be part of it!
Our wonderful friends Darren and Fatuma O’Quinn have given us a plot of land right next to theirs.(!!!) We are blown away by this generosity and are very excited to see what the Lord may do with this incredible gift. After a season of prayer and seeking wisdom, our intent is to build a small training and retreat center on the land, with a space for our family to live as well. The plot is on top of “Hallelujah Mountain,” the location of the ministry Darren and Fatuma lead in taking care of street kids and welcoming them into family (https://www.loveandcareforall.org). The Lord has already provided enough funds to get started on the construction, and we are currently waiting for the process of our blueprints being approved by the necessary government entities. The idea of building is quite intimidating to us, but we are trusting the Lord and moving forward. If you’d like to know more about this, or donate funds for the ongoing construction once it gets going, please let us know.
Our son, Peter, came to visit for two weeks, and man it was so amazing. We are more grateful than we can say. We played games, attended discipleship groups, ate good food, had wonderful conversations, went swimming in Lake Nabugabo, and just enjoyed every minute of it. How amazing!
We are planning to be in the US soon and are hoping to catch up in person with many of you. If you are interested in meeting up or in us sharing in a small group or church, please let us know. We plan to be in Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, and maybe other states.
Thanks for your interest in our lives and for reading this update. We would greatly appreciate your prayers if you think of us. We’d also love to hear from you and know what is happening in your lives. God bless you!
Tim and Jill (and Philip and Hannah)
Dear Family and Friends,
“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
— Isaiah 52:7
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” — Matt 13:31-32
Jesus is like no other, isn’t He? He is utterly worthy of any and every gift we could offer Him; any task we could seek to do for Him; any sacrifice we could make for Him. He is always worth it. And indeed, how good and wonderful and beautiful it is to bring Good News of His love and salvation to others - to those who are lost and trapped in all manner of brokenness and bondage. What a thrill and an honor to be part of His work in the nations!
There has been so much going on that it’s hard to know where to begin. Our vision and our work is to train people who love Jesus in making disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples… We long to see many people born again into His wonderful family and growing into maturity in Jesus. By the end of last year we had four training groups made up of believers who were interested in knowing more about how to make disciples. One of these groups dissolved, and so we began January 2022 with 3 groups. By God’s grace and power, in the past 4 months these 3 groups have grown to 16!
Part of the training involves beginning a new group - which we are calling ‘Mustard Seed Fellowships.’ These fellowships are basically simple churches, and are formed by sharing the Gospel with the lost and inviting both believers and unbelievers to gather together to read God’s Word. These 16 groups range in size from 3 people up to 15, and are a mix of new believers, mature believers, and people who are still seeking. They meet each week to worship, discuss the Word and how to obey it, pray for one another, etc. Nearly every week we are hearing about people gaining courage to proclaim the gospel and people coming to faith. We have received reports of demonic influences being expelled from families and of new fellowships being launched in homes and businesses.
Jill and Michayla began meeting people in the village of Kigato, just outside of Masaka, late last year. Over time they shared Jesus with their friends, and a few gave their lives to Christ! For the past several months they have been meeting together with these new believers as well as some who are not yet following Jesus. It has been so beautiful! Hannah shared the gospel with a shopkeeper whose vegetable stand is about a five minute walk from our home. At first this lady did not want to give her life to Jesus, but was interested in more Bible study. After three weeks of meeting together to read the Word, she surrendered her life to Christ. Now, Hannah goes every week along with Jill and our friend Success to discuss the Bible and train their new sister in how to make more disciples.
One old friend who has been part of the training group has been going from house to house in her part of the city sharing the gospel, and has started 4 fellowships herself in the homes of people who are receiving the Word. Another participant and her daughter began inviting people in their neighborhood to come read the Bible together just about a month ago, and now around 15 people gather at their home each week. Another testifies that now she shares the gospel wherever she goes, and still another is rejoicing that, though she never used to have the courage to share Christ with strangers, now she hardly ever goes a full day without telling someone about Jesus. God is doing beautiful things, and we are so, so grateful!
Four days from today, by God’s grace, I will collect 16 wonderful ORU students from the airport. For the following four weeks, we will together proclaim the gospel, share Jesus’ love with street kids and orphans, and pray for a move of God’s Spirit in Masaka and beyond. The team will be working directly with our Mustard Seed Fellowships in every neighborhood where they exist, and our prayer is to see many people come to Jesus and more fellowships planted, including second generation groups that come out of existing ones - which will then continue to multiply.
Finally, we are planning a trip to the US. If you are in the Oklahoma / Texas area, we’d love to connect sometime during August or maybe September. If in Colorado, early September. We’ll also be in Michigan and Virginia and maybe other places. We would love the opportunity to share about the work here or about being part of God’s mission in the world. Mostly we’d really love to see you and hear about your life and get caught up.
Thanks so much for being interested in us and for reading this letter.
God bless you!
A couple of nights ago I drove to the airport in Entebbe and dropped Nathan off to begin his long journey back to the States (he made it to Tulsa late Friday night). Yes, my eyes were full of tears as he turned away to enter the labyrinth of security screening and health checks, and yes it was a sad night. However, I must say that my heart is so filled with gratitude and joy that I can’t stay depressed. We had the gift of Nathan spending seven weeks with us in Uganda, and that fact blows me away. We made many wonderful memories and had such good times with him. In addition to being our son whom we love more than we can ever say, Nathan is such an incredible man of God who is filled with kindness and compassion and zeal and love for Jesus. His company challenges and comforts us constantly, and even though we miss him a lot we are very, very thankful.
The morning after my emotional farewell to Nathan, I drove to a retreat center to spend the day with around 75 leaders from various parts of Uganda. We gathered together as part of Global Advance (GA), a ministry that has become one of our primary partners in the work of the Gospel in Uganda. The GA Uganda team put on a wonderful event, and it was an honor and pleasure to be part of it. Each participant came with a particular area of focus and were able to join others in learning and strategizing about making disciples within that sphere. The focus areas included making disciples among the youth, marketplace leaders, women, pastors, and church planters. We also had a team coming together to discuss and plan for mobilizing prayer for the work of the Kingdom in Uganda and beyond. It was a thrilling moment to stand with these men and women and to dream together, pray together, challenge one another, and commit to labor together as servants of God and of each other.
January was a busy month for us. We moved into our house the first week of the month, and two days later began a five-day disciple-making residency. We learned some significant things through the experience, had a lot of fun, encountered the Lord, and rejoiced in fruitful Gospel outreaches. As we went into various communities to share Jesus and make disciples, several people committed their lives to the Lord and are continuing to come together to be encouraged and learn what it means to follow Jesus. It is a beautiful thing, and I’m so happy and thankful.
We are continuing our ‘Mustard Seed Fellowships’ - small groups that gather together to be discipled and learn how to disciple others. Again, we are learning a lot through this process and are also seeing some fruit. It is a simple and yet awesome thing to walk with people who are eager to learn how to make disciples and partner together in the gospel.
A huge highlight for me recently came on a trip to Kampala to see our friend Wilson and join in the CPx (Church Planting Experience) that he leads each year. I was overjoyed to find that three of the participants at this years month-long training are from the Mening people group of South Sudan. For the past couple of years, the Boiler Room and Believers Church have been partnering with All Nations and Wilson to send a Ugandan missionary to this previously unreached and unengaged people group. What an amazing answer to many prayers to actually meet three new believers from that group who now have a passion and the training to go reach their own people with the love and power of Christ. This is amazing!
There is so much more I could write. It has been so great having Emily and Michayla here with us, adding significantly to our mission and to our lives. Our family is doing well. Philip and Hannah are champs, plugging along with online school while participating in various mission endeavors with us. They make me so happy. Jill is busily setting up our home (and by the way, that phrase does not come close to communicating the work and frustration and sweat and difficulty of the task) as well as forming simple discipleship groups with new believers, building relationships, being a loving and caring mama to all, and doing so much more of course. What can I say? She’s incredible.
We miss you and really love hearing from you.
God bless you!
Dear family and friends,
One day just about twenty-one years ago, I stood to worship the Lord with a discouraged heart. We had recently launched a training program for pastors and church planters in the town of Masaka, and the first couple of months had gone really well. I remember clearly the first day we gathered, and how I had felt such joy in the Lord and His work. I had returned to the room where I was staying with Jill and our three little kids that day, and told them I could do this for the rest of my life. I was so excited and full of hope and expectation. But just two months later I was facing deep disappointment.
What had been a strong group of twenty eager pastors had apparently dwindled to three. And, to be honest, I was not so sure about the three who remained. They did not strike me as the cream of the crop. They were not pastors of respected town churches or leaders of church networks, but people who served in remote villages, laboring among small flocks of believers. And so as I stood to worship that day with these three “unimpressive” students, I was confused and unhappy and frustrated. I had put so much work and vision into this endeavor, and I was watching it disintegrate right before my eyes. As we began to sing, my heart was certainly not very worshipful.
Praise Him! Praise Him!… As we sang this simple chorus in Luganda that day so long ago, I slowly became aware of the presence of Jesus in a beautiful and powerful way. Hope and faith filled my soul, and I repented for the discouragement and for despising what God had sent me. I felt an assurance that the Name of Jesus surely would be praised across this land, morning, noon, and night, and that He would somehow use us four unimpressive vessels - and others who would gather with us - in this great work. As it turns out, the following day around a dozen students came together, and for the next two years remained faithful. Six of them eventually joined us as co-laborers at the end of their studies, and with the exception of our friend Kayita who passed away a decade ago, we have been partnering in the Gospel together ever since.
And that brings me to yesterday. Our vision in Uganda is to see disciple-making movements that lead many people to Jesus, using ordinary believers who are filled with the Spirit of God and willing to experience hardship and discomfort out of love for Him. Our first step was to gather a small group of pastors for a church planting training cohort that will emphasize church planting movements and making disciples. Yesterday was our first session, and I had been slightly anxious and not very excited about it. Honestly, I was feeling unsure of myself, questioning our strategy, and a little skeptical about what the results would be. Yesterday morning as I prayed before heading out, the Lord unexpectedly filled me with joy and assurance. By the time we reached the Mt of the Lord Church, where the training would take place, I was genuinely excited. Before I began to teach, our host and long-time friend and partner, Pastor Kintu, asked to lead in a time of worship. The very first song he sang was that simple chorus that God had spoken to me through so wonderfully twenty-one years ago: Tumutende! Tumutende! It all rushed back to me in a moment. We were standing in the same place as the four of us had been on that day, and I remembered it again so clearly. I sensed the Lord speak to me again the same assurance and encouragement, and I could hardly sing as the tears threatened to flow. Jesus is so kind and loving to us, and it is a wonder and a gift to be part of His great work in the nations.
We have been in Uganda for a little more than five weeks now. We are slowly adjusting and re-acclimating to life here. It’s been quite a ride so far. Philip and Hannah are absolute heroes. I am so thankful for them. They have great attitudes and are entering into the missionary life with grace and determination. They are a joy to be around, and we are having wonderfully fun and meaningful times together. They spend the majority of their time during the days doing online school, and the evenings we generally play games or have worship and Bible discussion times. Jill is amazing as well. She has made this temporary accommodation into a home for us, and brings such encouragement and life and peace. She is helping the kids with school, joining me in the church-planting training, overseeing the household, making friends, and generally enjoying life and being a blessing to all around.
We have been staying in the team housing of our friends at Love and Care Uganda, and it has been a wonderful blessing. This is a ministry that takes in children who have been living on the streets and welcomes them into family. It is amazing. However, we are also excited to have made an agreement on a house of our own to rent. The owner is making some improvements on the house that we requested, and we hope to move in a couple weeks or so. We are also grateful to have bought a car - a Toyota “Super Custom” four-wheel drive van. It is making life easier and helping us to accomplish more.
Life has been full these five weeks. I am grateful for a peaceful village environment, and a beautiful small mountain on which to take walks and spend quiet time in prayer. I am also grateful for old friends and some new ones as well. Of course, it has not all been easy and fun. Each of us have days when we just want to go back to the States. We profoundly miss our incredible Tulsa family and all the good work the Lord had for us in Tulsa. We have moments and days of discouragement and “what-in-the-world-have-we-dones!?!” But He is so good to us! We expected those challenges, and they don’t last. We are playing lots of games, going on walks, laughing, and enjoying one another. The Father has overwhelmed us with good gifts.
One of our favorite things is hearing from you. We’d genuinely love to know what is happening with you, how you are doing, and how we can pray for you. Thanks so much for reading this (rather long) letter. We love you and are grateful for you!
Update June 2021
We are overwhelmed with the love and support and prayers and encouragement we have received from you, and want to say thank you so so much! As we move into high gear in preparing to move to Uganda, we are amazed at how we have been lifted and strengthened by the generosity and love of our friends and family. Wow. Thank you! You are making the move more difficult because of the waves of affection we feel for you, but easier because we feel the strength and support and prayers that you provide for us.
Whew! It has been quite a spring, and summer is promising to be pretty crazy as well. PHILIP and HANNAHfinished school a few weeks ago, and are enjoying the summer break. They did really well, enjoyed good friendships, and made an impact on those around them. We’re really thankful for Legacy Alliance / CEA and all this community has meant to our family over the years.
JILL, of course, also finished her school year. She taught 5th and 6th grade for the past two years, and I am so incredibly proud of her. She poured her heart and soul into teaching, and loved each of her students deeply. She went above and beyond to do the very best job she could and to lift and support her students. I am so amazed at her, and often wondered how she managed to do it all. Jill has loved teaching in the classroom these two years, and is now tearfully putting away her teaching materials as she looks to the next season. I am confident that the Lord will continue to use her to demonstrate his love to children and to help disciple them into strong followers of Jesus. One of the attributes that sets her apart is how deeply she cares - about the kids in her class, about the work of teaching in general, and about the families that she serves. She is a wonder.
I am writing this from beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia, where I am on a quick visit to see my Mom and the rest of the family. I’ll be back home in Tulsa this weekend, and then, by God’s grace, Jill, Philip, Hannah, and I will set out on a great adventure next week. Over the coming month and a half or so, we intend to make stops in Colorado Springs, Denver, Helena, Detroit, and Charlottesville. We plan to be back in Tulsa in mid-July and for the month of August, with a brief trip to Austin thrown in, before heading to Uganda. WE’D LOVE TO CONNECT WITH YOU IN PERSON IF YOU ARE IN ANY OF THOSE AREAS.
In addition to graduations, end of school stuff, and family visits, the month of May has been full. We finalized many of our responsibilities in Tulsa, participated in a Solemn Assembly with our friends from Tulsa House of Prayer, visited old friends in Daingerfield Texas and preached at Church on the Rock Daingerfield, were prayed for and sent out by our Believers Church friends and oversight, taught “Hands on the Nations” with BC kids, helped to equip ORU students preparing to go on domestic mission trips, celebrated and dedicated a new crew of boiler room babies / toddlers, Hannah had her first piano recital (and also attended her first high school youth group), we lead our final elder meeting, helped to encourage and equip a group of Burmese young leaders in sharing the gospel, continued facilitating an Antioch course (Biblical Theology - the Writings), hosted Saturday “spud” (house church), enjoyed lots of good time (but never quite enough) with really special people, tried to get work done on preparing for the big move, etc.
We love you and appreciate you so much. It would be great to hear from you, and we hope to see many of you in the coming weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns and restrictions have impacted us all in one way or another. Life is certainly different. For many, it has been incredibly difficult. I’d like to share with you a couple of opportunities to help some folks who are really struggling this month.
Uganda Care. Several of our friends and co-workers in Uganda have been struggling - both personally and in trying to serve and care for the poor in their communities. The price of food is rising, and yet money is more scarce than ever. People are feeling desperate. We are partnering with several trusted leaders who serve the poor day in and day out.
Last week, through the generosity of our friends at Global Advance, we sent much needed funds to a couple of church network leaders who daily work with the poor. Through this aid, hundreds of people are receiving food which will last them 1-2 weeks. Because of stringent lockdown measures, these faithful friends had to get special permission from the government to deliver the food. Fortunately, they were able to do so, and many people were greatly encouraged with this outpouring of Jesus’ love.
A few days ago we were also able to send a gift to our beloved friends, Fatuma and Darren O’Quinn. Fatuma and Darren take children in off the streets in Masaka, providing a home and family for many. During this crisis, the local government has requested them to expand and care for even more children. They happily (and in faith) agreed, and have set about the task of winning the hearts of these desperate youth and providing them with family, clothes, food, and the love of Jesus.
I know many of you are also feeling anxiety over finance and an unknown future. That is understandable. At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we can always afford to be generous. If the Lord touches your heart with this particular need (and there are certainly many out there), would you consider giving to help us continue to support our African brothers and sisters? For more information, click here:
Another group in my world that has been hard hit is the homeless population. A number of outreaches that provide food and other basic necessities have closed temporarily. Others are limiting how many they can serve. We are doing our best to fill in some gaps by providing meals and staying connected. The ministry of Thursday Night Light, though not meeting in the usual way, is still providing to-go dinners each Thursday. Also, our friends Paul Schmidt and Mark Hodge are providing almost daily sack lunches with the Share A Meal truck. The Tulsa Boiler Room is providing meals for this once per week. Yesterday as we went into camps and under bridges to deliver food, I encountered a number of people I have known for some time, and also met a lot of new ones. We received many warm smiles and God bless you’s, as hearts that are often hard and suspicious were softened by the warmth of the Father’s love and care.
If you would like to contribute or serve this population in any way, you can donate in one of the following ways, or contact Mark Hodge (firstname.lastname@example.org).
2. text ‘GIVE’ to 918-992-3366,
Thank you so much for allowing me to share all this with you. I so appreciate you, and am praying for you. Please let me know if there’s anything I can pray with you about.
Good Friday, 2020
“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.”
We are all excited for Sunday. We’ve been hungering for something significant to celebrate. For some really Good News. Thoughts of the resurrection and Christ’s victory over death bring us renewed hope. Maybe we’ll eat special food with our family - or enjoy something we’ve been denying ourselves for Lent. Sunday is coming, and I’m so so glad.
But let’s not hasten there too quickly. Let’s do our best to sit for a time in the horror of Friday and the awful silence of Saturday. Before Sunday’s resounding Alleluia, we are called to contemplate Friday’s agony. And Friday’s gift.
Today we remember the sufferings of Jesus. He was crucified for me. For you. Apparently a quick and relatively painless death would not have sufficed. He was tortured and humiliated. He suffered horribly. We know this. Why did it have to be so?
In Jesus’ suffering on the cross, the terrible weight of our sin is revealed to us. The ugliness and the awfulness of it. This is what sin does. Not just the spectacular kind, but your kind and my kind. When was the last time you were aware of your sin? The weight and the darkness and the wickedness of it? The cross forces us - if we will pay attention - to face the fact that our sin is so deep and so dark that it required the blood of God Himself to get rid of it. The consequence of our sin is Jesus hanging on a tree, in blood and gore and unspeakable agony.
Yes, this is on us. On me. My petty jealousies and unrelenting selfishness. My pitiful greed and lack of love and my laziness and my unbelievable inability to think of someone besides myself for more than 5 minutes at a time. My unholy thoughts and cutting words and mystifying lack of faith and my brazen arrogance. And yours, too.
Look what we have done to this world that He entrusted to us.
Why must we face this? Why ‘celebrate’ such a thing every Good Friday? Because without an honest appraisal of our own lostness and hopelessness, we can never taste the absolute wonder of His grace and His love. If all was fair and just in the world, the cross would have been for me. But in this case God’s mercy trumped fairness, and I go free.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:21
The scandal of Christianity is not that God demands holiness and purity from us. It is not that He must be Lord of our money and our sexuality and our time. It’s not that He calls us to sacrifice and lay down our lives. It’s not even that He will one day judge the world, no matter how harsh that idea seems from our vantage point. The true scandal of Christ is the cross. The true scandal has always been grace. It is that God made Him to be sin for you and me. That wasn’t fair. The biggest injustice ever carried out. It is that we become, shockingly, the righteousness of God. The unfairness of Christianity is that I have been declared not guilty and have been welcomed into the very family of God, set free to enjoy all the benefits of such ridiculously unwarranted favor. The scandal is that it was Jesus hanging on that cross and not me and you.
On Good Friday we remember the beautiful unfairness of God. We mourn deeply the fact that our sin did this to Jesus. We receive the offered exchange, because what else can we do? And so we repent. Genuinely, thoughtfully, and sacrificially. And we humbly take our place among the holy and the eternal. Clean. Free. Without guilt. No shame. And we celebrate - yes, on this day shrouded in darkness, we celebrate - that we are loved this much.
“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.”
— Colossians 2:8-10
From Hollywood to news outlets to podcasts and books and blogs and social media, the so-called wisdom of the world is available at every turn. We find helpful advice from the “experts” on every imaginable topic or issue. Finance, self-care, meaning, work, politics, health, time management, food, culture, and on and on. Relationships, marriage, parenting. Mental health and emotional strength and what to think about so-and-so’s speech and what to eat (or not eat) for breakfast and how to keep yourself regular. Has there ever been a time when pop psychology and pop philosophy so dominate our conversation and convictions?
What’s even better (?) is that we can get all the above in whatever flavor we prefer — liberal or conservative; Christian or materialist; baby-boomer or gen-z. This ensures that we can easily find ammunition to prove that which we already know (want? feel?) to be true.
As devoted followers of Jesus, I’d like to make a radical counter-proposal. Read the Bible.
In the above passage, the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, warns the church of Colossae to not be captured by what the world teaches. Oh how we need to take this to heart in our time! We are in grave danger of basing our lives on ‘empty philosophy’ and ‘high-sounding nonsense’ that originate in ‘human thinking’ and ‘the spiritual powers of the world.’
Friends, we have available to us the very wisdom of God. Why would we settle for human thinking? Perhaps because it is easier to access a blog than to dig into God’s Word. Maybe because we so much prefer to find ‘high sounding nonsense’ that strengthens our own opinions than to allow ourselves to be challenged by God Himself. Or maybe we are taken in because the blogger or author or expert we count on carries the label Christian and attaches Bible verses to their opinions. Perhaps we simply don’t believe that the wisdom we need is accessible in the Bible - at least not to ordinary folk like you and me. Or maybe we’re duped by the often self-proclaimed title of ‘expert.’ They’ve studied this stuff. They know things that I don’t.
Perhaps you have fallen prey to the assault on the validity of the Bible for us today. After all, it is so... old. We’ve made lots of advances since that time. Things are just different now. The Bible is good for things like affirming that Jesus loves us and died for us and rose again, but in the nitty gritty of life we need experts. Brothers and sisters, do not be taken in by that lie. The Creator of heaven and earth and of you and me knows best, and He has revealed Himself.
“In him [Jesus] lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
— Colossians 2:3
We need to learn to think biblically. We need to get beyond ‘that sounds good’ and ‘I’ve never seen this verse like that before’ and ‘I need to post that quote’, and instead move on to ‘is that what the Bible actually intends to teach?’ and ‘What does the Bible have to say about...?’
The Bible does reveal God’s wisdom regarding money and relationships and parenting and life-controlling habits. It may not answer every question we have in all the details and specifics, but it does provide a framework of how God intends us to think about and live in these various arenas. What does the Bible teach about raising kids and spending money and overcoming anxiety? Before turning to the experts of human thinking, shouldn’t we at least put some work into discovering what God has always said about these things? And then we can begin to filter all the other information and opinions and ‘wisdom’ through Him. There is good advice out there - and lots of the other kind. The problem is that we are so immersed in our culture that we don’t naturally have what it takes to determine the difference. But, as we intentionally immerse ourselves in the Word of God, we develop the ability to see what is gold and what is garbage.
“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”
— Hebrews 5:12-14
I am sitting in the airport in Brussels, processing my time in Africa. I went to Cameroon with a Global Advance team whose primary purpose was to preach in young adult conferences and to speak to pastors about raising up young leaders. We also had the opportunity to preach in churches, Bible training centers, and schools.We worked with a truly fantastic ministry called Discipling Nations Ministries. This wonderful team is committed to making disciples in Cameroon and beyond. They are innovative, strategic, and passionate. I learned a lot in the short time I was with them and have been challenged and inspired.
Around noon on Wednesday I was in a sweltering high school classroom with about 85 students crammed into a space clearly designed for something more like half that number. They were a bit rowdy and distracted as I was introduced. This was my third such meeting of the day - and the largest. I breathed a quick prayer and took the next ten minutes to simply tell them the Gospel - who Jesus is and what He has done. In moments like these I am thankful for scriptures like Colossians 1:6: “This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.” The Good News - the Gospel - has a way of bearing fruit and changing lives. It is the “power of God that brings salvation...” (Rom 1:16). I asked if anyone had questions...
How can you trust someone you don’t know (referring to Jesus)?
If Jesus died for our sins, why is there still so much bad in the world?
If God is good, why is there a lot of evil in the world?
How do you not give in to temptation?
How do you follow Jesus?
After some more discussion, several students stood to say they want to follow Jesus. JOY! Jesus loves people! — And welcoming them into His Father’s family brings Him such happiness.
I am so grateful that the Lord gave me this assignment and opportunity in Cameroon to pour into young leaders, encourage pastors, and share the gospel. Jesus is so amazing, and He is working in the nations, bringing salvation and transforming lives. I’m so glad He’s doing it in Tulsa, too.